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A Guide to Invasive Plants in Massachusetts


Paul Somers of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program

          Rachel Kramer, Karen Lombard of The Nature Conservancy

          Bill Brumback of the New England Wild Flower Society

Published in 2008 by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife


Reviewed by Kerry Lake, Master Gardener

In Massachusetts over 65 plant species have been identified as invasive, likely invasive, or potentially invasive. Invasives actively impact our state through the destruction of the biodiversity of the existing ecosystem.  Invasives left behind the herbivores and any disease that would control or slow down their growth in their native habitats. Without hindrances such as natural predators and diseases, those plants with rapid growth and very successful reproduction, can quickly dominate and spread in its new territory, earning the title of Invasive. They alter existing ecosystems processes such as hydrology (the branch of science concerned with the properties of the earth's water, especially its movement in relation to land), soil chemistry, and through its destruction of neighboring natives, even contribute to the frequency of natural fires.

This 2008 Guide to Invasive Plants in Massachusetts includes 5 Tree species, 13 shrubs, 8 vines, 22 herbs, 8 grasses or sedges, and 10 aquatic plants. We are all familiar with the Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), a beautiful tree that is spreading into and taking over our wooded areas. It is fast growing and able to displace our slower growing native Sugar Maple and American Beech. Tree-of-heaven, Copal Tree, or Chinese Sumac (Ailanthus altissima) caught my eye in this guide book. This prolific seed producer and fast grower, and form impenetrable thickets producing toxins or growth inhibitors in the soil that affect neighboring plants, known as allelopathy. Another of the allelopathic plants is the Common or European Barberry (Berberis vulgaris). The Barberry produces abundant fruit which the birds enjoy and disperse throughout our woodlands. The seeds germinate at a high rate, and begin to dominate their new environment. The Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) is another plant that produces abundant fruit that is enjoyed by the birds. Unfortunately, it is so attractive in the fall with its brilliant shades of red and orange that it remains a favorite with many people.

In the herb and vine categories, we are all familiar with Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) and Porcelain-berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), both very attractive, but also destructive to any tree or shrub it is growing on. Garlic-mustard (Alliaria petiolatea) is another invasive here in Western Massachusetts, and pulling it out of any environment has almost become second nature where ever we find it.  One of our WMMGA members, who is much more acquainted with invasive grasses and aquatic plants, has taken on a personal crusade to rid our area of Japanese Stiltgrass.

There are many Invasive Plants in our Commonwealth that I did not know the names of or did not know were considered invasive until I read this book. This guide book provides important information on each of the 65 Invasive plant species. Each Invasive has its own page with:

  • two photographs, including a close up of leaves, flowers, and/or fruit
  • common name and botanical name
  • a description of the plant with its growth habit
  • favored habitat
  • the threat it poses to our native plants
  • distribution or preferred location
  • ·origin of the plant
  • and similar species, so we don’t remove native species

Not only does this guide help us with the identification of invasives in our area, it includes information on how to evaluate the threat they pose and what we can do about them.  Changes in our ecosystem affect every aspect of the environment from the microbes in the soil that in turn affects the growth of native plants, and that in turn affects the animals who depend on the native ecosystem for food and shelter.  Keep this guide book handy for identifying what is invading and changing our own landscape when we take a walk, hike, or bike and even in our gardens. One more great way we can be curious, learn more about the plant life around us.

For more on our native Massachusetts environment:   New England Wild Flower Society conserving and promoting the region’s native plants to ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes   The Nature Conservancy. Check out their field trips and events.     Natural Heritage & Endangered Species program       Mass Division of Fisheries and Wildlife    Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs     Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association, 1270 Whately Rd, Conway, MA 01341






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