I love to explore new parks. One can find parks at the city, county, state and national level. Each one is a chance to explore the unique plants and communities found in those preserved spaces. There I often find other people enjoying the spaces: walkers, runners, dog owners, and families exploring with their kids.
Sometimes it is all I can do to keep from stopping every visitor and saying “This is not the way the land is supposed to look. This place is overrun with invasive plants from foreign lands and doesn’t reflect the beauty of Georgia.” I’m sure that most of them would look at me strangely and sidle around me as quickly as possible. Most people are content to have clear paths and green plants in their outdoor experiences.
|All that's green here is non-native|
Canopy trees like oaks (Quercus) and sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) soared high into the sky, immune to the invasion below.
One might wonder why green is not good enough. What is the difference between one shrub and another? The issue centers around plant diversity and the role that plants play in the greater community. An area that is choked out with one or two species of plants is not more diverse even though those plants came from another continent. The area becomes less diverse due to excessive competition.
|Bush honeysuckle (Lonicera)|
Over time, the shift in the plant population tilts more in favor of the newcomers. Canopy trees may fall with age or due to storms, with few youngsters available to take their place due to reduced germination of their seeds. In order to restore diversity, often humans have to step in.
I was heartened at the end of the day to find signs about invasive eradication efforts getting started. These signs were there to educate the public about what they were doing, how they were doing it, and why it was important. They've got a long way to go, but volunteers will be there to help, especially when they start to see the benefits: plants often return on their own when given a helping hand.
If you've got a chance to help out at a local park with invasive removal, please do so. The benefits to the local ecosystem are immense, and you get a chance to make Georgia more "Georgia" again!