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Battling invasive plants: Chinese Privet

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Thursday, July 15, 2010

"On a global basis...the two great destroyers of biodiversity are, first habitat destruction and, second, invasion by exotic species" - E.O. Wilson

As anyone who keeps a garden knows all too well, weeds can be a big pest. Any plot of ground, no matter how productive, can be made to look like an untamed mess if the task of pulling weeds is overlooked. Such undesirable plants are not only aesthetically unpleasing, but they can have a detrimental impact on the plants that produce the fruits and vegetables we love to eat. By blocking sunlight or spreading harmful diseases and insects, weeds can reduce desired plant populations.

ANHC’s System of Natural Areas provides a landscape where biodiversity is able to flourish. But like vegetables in a garden, this biodiversity is under constant attack from invasive species. Recognized as one of the major threats to a natural area’s ability to maintain biodiversity, invasive species can be native or non-native. Some are native to the state but have become overgrown due to outside stresses to the environment. Others arrived from far away ecosystems and have reached epidemic proportions because natural predators are not present. Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) is one of several non-native, invasive plants that can be found on ANHC natural areas, as well as throughout the state of Arkansas.

Originating in East Asia, this densely growing shrub was first planted in North America in the early 1800s. It was favored for its ability to grow in dense thickets and was planted along fencerows and in domestic landscaping. Today, however, this vigorous evergreen has proven to be an aggressive and troublesome invader of Arkansas’s natural ecosystems. Chinese privet multiplies rapidly, colonizing by root sprouts, and can grow under a variety of environmental conditions. Also, its seeds are widely spread by birds and other animals. These things allow it to infest a large area of land in a relatively short period of time, dominating the landscape and choking out our state’s rare and endangered biological life. ANHC staff defends natural areas against invasive species in a variety of ways. Land Managers have access to a large array of tools that can effectively eradicate unwanted plants. These tools include chemical and mechanical removal, fire and other biological methods. In several cases it is necessary to utilize a combination of these tools in order to be effective. Early detection and a quick response are also key factors.

Byrd Lake Natural Area, located in Jefferson County, is one of several natural areas where ANHC staff has been battling Chinese privet. Representative of the boundary between the Arkansas Delta and the Coastal Plain, this 144-acre natural area is a unique blend of succession pine-mixed hardwoods, pine-mixed hardwoods, wetland, floodplain, and an oxbow lake. Lack of fire and past land disturbances have allowed non-native, invasive species to become established here. So far, ANHC has worked to remove Chinese privet from 13 acres and has plans to extend work to an additional 21 acres. Management techniques have included a foliar application of herbicide and cutting the stems and treating cut surfaces with herbicide. Future work may employ the use of a forestry grinder that will mulch large privet stands, followed by foliar spraying of re-sprouts. Prescribed burning will also be employed if needed.

The ANHC recently received a grant awarded through the Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) to improve the health of forested habitats by reducing the impacts of non-native, invasive plant species at five natural areas (including Byrd Lake). Federal funds are available to states in the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region through the Forest Health Protection Program, which is administered by the AFC in Arkansas.


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