burning bush species in woods
NO INNOCENT PLANT: It’s pretty in landscapes in the autumn, but once burning bush escapes to a woods, often with the help of birds, it can choke out desired growth.

Once you see burning bush in a woods, you won’t forget it

Invasive species control has been overlooked for far too long.

My neighbor has two burning bushes outside his back door. They were beautiful all fall. They’re just green during summer. What could be wrong with plants that look so harmless?

Plenty, say people who own woodlots and battle invasive species. Burning bush is not native to Indiana. It is widely used as a landscaping plant. So is Bradford pear, a popular species with landscapers and homeowners.

Ray Chattin says these are just two of a long list of non-native plants that can choke out native Indiana plants, including tree saplings, once they reach woods or any area outside where they were planted. Birds carry seeds long distances, says Chattin, Vincennes, Ind.

When you hear the term “invasive species,” what comes to mind? Maybe multiflora rose or kudzu? Multiflora rose is an early example that took over many pastures. Today, many livestock producers have learned how to control it. Kudzu is more typically found in Southeastern states. The old joke is that if you stand still too long, it will cover you up! Although it’s been found in Martin County and elsewhere, it’s generally not a threat because it doesn’t like Indiana winters.

Invasive plants that are more of a threat include Asian honeysuckle, autumn olive and wintercreeper. “They’re taking over woodlots, and people don’t even realize it,” Chattin says.

See and believe
Recently Chattin invited me down for a drive through Knox County. Troy Hinkle and Willem Drews, both Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District employees, went along to identify plants. We didn’t go far before Chattin was telling Hinkle to pull over, right along U.S. 41 north of Vincennes. There were woods on both sides.

“See all that stuff growing in the understory,” Chattin says. It was hard to miss. There were colored leaves of burning bush still clinging to plants, and green wintercreeper and honeysuckle providing color where there shouldn’t be any that time of year.

I got the point. And Hinkle is right. It’s just like when you buy a different car or truck. Until you buy a model, you hardly even notice one on the highway. Once you buy model Z, suddenly model Z pickups appear out of nowhere. In the same way, once you’ve identified invasive plants growing rampant throughout a woods, you’ll see them in almost every woods you drive by.

“People don’t realize they’re out there,” Chattin says. “It’s a matter of education.”

That educational effort got a boost late last year when the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Southern Indiana Cooperative Invasive Management (SICIM) group partnered to provide funds to start cooperative invasive species management areas all over Indiana.

A cooperative invasive species management area, or CISMA, is basically a locally led group covering one or more counties. Individuals meet and assess the problem, then develop strategies for attacking it. SICIM is actually a very large CISMA. SICIM volunteers have held work days to kill invasive species, Hinkle says.

One of the biggest challenges is education, he says. People need to realize there’s a problem before they will act. Based on recent drives around the state, I’d say Chattin is right. Invasive species have a jump on Hoosiers. It’s time to take advantage of opportunities from NRCS and other groups, and develop locally led plans to bring them under control. 

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