Battling Invasive Plants  


By Kathy Figel 

What really aggravates me as a gardener is an invasive phragmite plant called Giant Reed. This species of grass is native to Illinois and very aggressive at the Edna White Garden.  

Giant Reed habitats include wet prairies, marsh areas, margins of ponds and rivers, drainage ditches and edges of poorly drained fields. In some of these habitats, it can become the dominant wetland plant.
It’s difficult to beat because it seeds and sends runners. Chemicals and burning did not remove it at the Edna White Garden, so now we usually whack it down and cover it with cardboard or fabric and mulch generously. Driving to Indiana or south on I-57, you see it growing in ditches with a proud, gorgeous seed heads. People cut it and put it in vases or use in their landscape before they realize it spreads everywhere. 
Years ago it popped up in front of the Edna White Garden. We didn’t have the time or energy to cut it back, so it seeded. Twenty years later it’s the garden’s nemesis. Giant Reed is kind of a metaphor for how things happen in life, right? We don’t have the time or energy to address an issue and years later it’s a major problem. 
The number two invasive plant in our neighborhood is buckthorn. This common enemy is bad for many reasons.  

Buckthorn doesn’t have natural controls such as insects or disease that would reduce the intensity of its growth. Instead, buckthorn “bullies” native plants for moisture, light and nutrients. This creates a toxic environment for the natural growth and progression of the non-invasive species you actually want to evolve. It hinders the flourishing wildlife that should occur in forested areas, endangering natural habitats such as prairies and wetlands. Buckthorn promptly colonizes any available woodland space and claims exclusive ownership of the territory. 

Any native vegetation will be choked out and smothered. and nothing will grow under it. So, in forests – like Dan Ryan Woods – buckthorn can ruin the habitat and not allow for any understory plant material to grow. This hurts the entire ecosystem.  

So, when a well-meaning but slightly eccentric neighbor comes off as pushy because you have buckthorn growing in your yard, try to realize that we all share the trees, and some can really hurt the environment.  

If you would like to help out our community by removing some of these bad boys, check out @ednacommunitygarden on Facebook to connect with me. Friends of the Forest Preserve – Dan Ryan Woods also has buckthorn removal dates. 

Garlic mustard, yet another invasive, is growing in the Dan Ryan Woods now. You can make garlic mustard pesto. It can be easily pulled; bring your children and friends to the woods. Years ago when my kids attended Clissold School, they brought classes out to pull these invaders.  

Maybe next month I should talk about foraging. The Black Forager has recipes and ideas for food and other household uses for some of the plants that we consider weeds but really have many uses.
When you get a chance, check out the Chicago Botanic Garden list of invasive species at Become aware of these plants and don’t add them to your garden or you’ll be sorry. I promise. 

Join me on this garden journey with comments or questions we can explore together,   




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