States Weigh Ban of Shrubs that Threaten Native Plants
SUSAN STAMBERG, host:
A number of popular shrubs that landscapers use could become scarce. Some scientists think that certain cultivated varieties are threatening native plants. Nancy Cohen of member station WNPR reports.
NANCY COHEN reporting:
Workers at Prides Corner Farms in Lebanon, Connecticut, are sliding pot after black plastic pot off flatbed trailers and into greenhouses. President Mark Sellew says these small thorny bushes are worth more than half a million dollars a year to his wholesale nursery.
Mr. MARK SELLEW (President, Pride's Corner Farms): This is crimson pygmy barberry, a very, very valuable landscape plant; doesn't need much pruning; very popular plant.
COHEN: Crimson pygmy is a cultivated variety, or a cultivar, of the species Japanese barberry. The difference between a cultivar and a species may seem academic, but to those who sell plants, the distinction cuts to the heart of an ongoing debate, whether states should ban valuable cultivars along with certain species which many agree are invasive, including Mark Sellew, who doesn't sell such species.
Mr. SELLEW: What I have here are all ornamental cultivars that have great landscape value that I don't see in the woods.
Mr. LES MEHRHOFF (Director, Invasive Plant Atlas of New England): Multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, burning bush...
COHEN: Botanist Les Mehrhoff, director of the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England, is walking along a trail at the Eagleville Nature Preserve in Mansfield, Connecticut. He points out invasives every step of the way.
Mr. MEHRHOFF: Burning bush--you know, this forest has pretty much been taken over by these non-native species that are outcompeting and forcing the native biodiversity either out of the forest or into situations where it can't do as well.
COHEN: As a member of Connecticut's Invasive Plants Council, Mehrhoff would like to ban both species and cultivars of these plants.
Mr. MEHRHOFF: We know that some of the cultivars produce copious amounts of seeds. We can watch the birds take those fruits and carry them into the wild. And it probably is very likely, because there's no other plausible explanation, that the plants that grow up in the wild have their origins in those cultivated plants.
COHEN: The invasive plants don't look exactly like the cultivars. Scientists don't know for sure whether the barberry and burning bush in the wild sprouted from the seeds of cultivars or species. Either way, Mehrhoff says, we're losing something precious. But such a loss isn't easily calculated in the marketplace, unlike the loss of cultivars. Connecticut is considering a ban on the cultivars and species of Japanese barberry, burning bush and Norway maple. If banned, these plants couldn't be grown, transported or sold even on the Internet. Mark Sellew says this could damage his sales to out-of-state garden centers.
Mr. SELLEW: If we are not allowed to grow them in the state of Connecticut, it puts us at a severe competitive disadvantage when our competitors in the other states will be able to.
COHEN: Sellew says one answer is give scientists time to develop sterile cultivars that won't spread. But those concerned about invasive species contend more time means more invasives in the wild. For NPR News, I'm Nancy Cohen in Hartford.
STAMBERG: This is NPR News.
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