Sunday, January 06, 2008

Such a handsome plant

Brazilian pepper

This is a plant picture I took last month at Disney World. At first I thought the plant was some sort of viburnum, but while catching up with Jenn Forman-Orth's wonderful Invasive Species Web log, found this post showing a plant called Brazilian pepper, considered to be a highly invasive introduced species in Florida. So I sent the picture off to several plant identification groups on flickr and the ID came back... Schinus terebinthifolius AKA Brazilian Pepper or Christmas Berry.

According to the University of Florida's Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, this species is from South America and has been aggressively colonizing a wide range of habitats in South Florida, replacing native plants. As so many other plants, Brazilian Pepper was introduced as an ornamental. The orange berries are attractive to birds and mammals and this combined with a high germination rate under a range of conditions appears to be the main factor in it's spread.

You might think that invasive species are just a major problem in places such as Florida but Kansas has it's own collection of problem introduced species. The USDA's list of Kansas invasive plants alone has 35 species on it and the list is very incomplete. Some of these species such as musk thistle are obvious pests, but others such as Russian Olive, Japanese Honeysuckle, Tree of Heaven and certain types of St. Johns wort are less well known invasives.

An example of a potentially invasive ornamental, one that I have in my garden, is "Zebra grass", Miscanthus sinensis. This plant isn't in the same league as Kudzu but it is a plant to watch according to the Global Invasive Species Database.

So think carefully before you buy that ornamental. Get the scientific name and find out if it is an invasive species-not all invasive species are officially banned so you can't rely on the plant being environmentally friendly just because it is at your local nursery.

If you want a particular type of plant, often there are native or a least non invasive alternatives. One useful source for alternatives from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens also has tips on garden design and gardening for wildlife. Another useful site is the Global Invasive Species Database, mentioned earlier. This is a good site because it will clue you in to potential problems, such as zebra grass so you can do a little prevention. Also check out the Invasive Species Weblog for quick updates. Of course our local extension agents can help you as well.
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