Grit Blogs > Going Native

Prairie Invasive Plants

A profile pic of MaryInvasive plants are affecting the health and sustainability of our native ecosystems.  Since habitat loss impacts many species of birds, amphibians, and insects, we must deal with alien plants that are invading what otherwise would be good habitats.  Some definitions may be useful here.  A native plant is any plant that grew in North America before European settlement.  Invasive plants are non-native plants that have escaped the confines of where they were originally planted and have displaced the native plants in the wild.  Invasive plants do not have natural enemies here so they out complete native plants for space and water.

It is a continuing struggle to keep invasive species out.   One of the things property owners can do is grow native prairie plants in open fields.   Once prairie grasses and wildflowers establish, it is harder for invasive plants to move in. Many prairie plants are long-living perennials and are able to withstand poor growing conditions and periodic grazing. The native grasses, such as big bluestem, Indian grass, and prairie cord grass, grow close to 6 feet tall with root systems growing 9 to 12 deep. This deep root system helps the plants survive drought and prevents shallowly rooted non-prairie species from gaining a foothold.  And unlike many non-native pasture grasses, the sturdy stems of native prairie grasses remain standing throughout winter, despite heavy snowfall accumulation. These stems provide cover in early spring, when waterfowl and ground nesting birds need it most. 

For those of you with waterfront property, think phragmites, those tall, feathery-topped plants that are in the process of replacing beach grass, cattails, and iris along our waterfronts and wetlands.  Invasive plants do not have natural enemies in North America so they can out compete the native plants that provide food for many insects and plant-eating animals.  To go back to phragmites, in Europe, phragmites supports over 170 species of insects while only 5 species of North American native insect use this plant.  Some invasive plants to remove from grassland and prairie are Russian olive, garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed, buckthorn, reed canary grass, and thistle.