You may not realize this, but much of the natural landscape in and around Columbus and Central Ohio is threatened by unwanted and aggressive invaders. To be more precise, our open spaces, our parks, and our backyards are all-too-often dominated by non-native invasive species, or “NNIS” for short.
When NNIS invade, they push out beneficial natives. The result is the degradation and destruction of native ecosystems. The native plant world suffers. Beneficial insects and pollinators suffer. Birds and many other animal species suffer — humans included. The good news is that we can fight back. And, the first step in pushing back against NNIS is being able to identify them.
Before Europeans arrived, Central Ohio’s landscape looked different than it does now, both in forest cover and types of plants and animals present. Westward migration of European settlers led to a drastic reduction in forest cover, as well as unintended consequences.
As trade and commerce gained a foothold, goods and services started flooding into Ohio. Many Europeans settlers brought plants and animals from home that would lead to catastrophic situations for native species. Over time, other species have been introduced for a variety of reasons, including as cover crops, for medicinal purposes, horticultural beauty, and erosion control. A number of species came as stowaways on ships or cargo.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of natural controls and a high reproductive rate, hundreds of these species have started to take over landscapes, outcompeting and displacing native species. According to the Ohio Invasive Plants Council, approximately 50,000 non-native plant and animal species have been introduced to the United States. Of these, more than half are plants, contributing $34 billion a year in damage to agriculture, forestry, recreation and human health. In Ohio, 25% of plant species found are non-native, accounting for 700 species. Of these, 100 are known to be problems in natural areas.
The Central Ohio region needs your help! Only by taking a holistic approach to eradicating these invasive species can we protect our native landscapes. Many of these invasive plants can be found in your yard, your neighbor’s yard, and in our green spaces throughout the state. Take action by clearing your yard and volunteering with your local parks. Even though it’s cold outside, you can start getting ready to take on NNIS now.
Over the next several months we will release our Central Ohio’s Most Wanted NNIS list. You can refer to this list to learn to identify some of the principal NNIS offenders. Once you learn about an invasive species, you may suddenly see it everywhere. “Plant blindness” is real. Curing that blindness by learning to see the invasive plants around us is the first step towards victory.
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