Ah, the colors of Fall. The brilliant scarlets and bright oranges of sugar maples. The ambers and honey golds of hickory and ash. The warm matte colors of oaks in their ox-blood and russet array. The quivering tamaracks with their needles of golden straw.
So much for the aesthetic of the native over story. What lurks beneath I find repellent in equal measure. The lurid, brazen pink of burning bush. The bilious yellow of shrub honeysuckle and the bloodshot, crusty eyes of bittersweet berries. The rusty blood of barberry that sprawls through our woodlands. The bleached mats of reed canary grass clogging our fens. The glossy green leaves and inky black berries of buckthorn. The dead wings of Norway Maple seeds and their tar-spotted leaves.
Yes, it is all about values. Learn to distinguish the invasive from the native and they become all your eyes can see. On my morning drive to work at 45 miles per hour on a twisting rural road I easily spotted and identified all of the invasive plants named above, as well as Phragmites reed, the dry husks of purple loosestrife in the wetlands, and rosa multiflora overwhelming abandoned pastureland. This late in the season, many invasive shrubs are the only splashes of color in the forest understory. There are dramatic drifts of Euonymus alata var. compacta, the burning bush from which the voice of God has yet to speak, throughout the natural areas of the Housatonic Valley. Yet in Connecticut, this invasive plant is not on the list of species prohibited for sale despite being listed by the CT Invasive Plants Council as one of the invasive plant species in the state.
Our neighbors in Massachusetts evaluated each species for invasiveness based on its documented behavior and biological attributes in the Commonwealth and made no exception for varieties, forms and cultivars of those plants deemed to be invasive unless they themselves had been through scientific evaluation that conclusively showed otherwise. Politics and the economic clout of the Nursery and Landscaping lobby intervened on the way to legislation in CT, however, with Public Act 04-203 exempting those invasive species of importance to the horticultural industry from any ban on sale, importation or distribution. There are barberry, glossy buckthorn and winged euonymus, readily available for your purchase and as uninterrupted vectors for the spread of seeds from your backyard to minimally managed habitats. There is Norway maple, that malformed, allelopathic alien monstrosity, and reed canary grass. Somehow Morrow's and tartarian honeysuckle made the ban, but these are hardly mainstays of landscaping anymore. Meanwhile, the invasions we are already contending with dwarf the resources that have been brought to bear for prevention and control. I have gathered gallon bucketfulls of burning bush seeds sprouting from the soil around the stumps of the parent plants in my backyard for 4 straight seasons.
In Massachusetts, the Nursery and Landscaping Industry leadership took a very different approach and was heavily committed to the collaborative and transparent assessment process developed for invasive plants in the Commonwealth. They acknowledged the need for a meaningful response to those plants in their inventories that were determined to be invasive and worked for a three year phase out of banned plants that were economically significant while they and Massachusetts growers transitioned to a more diversified, non-invasive palette. In stepping up on this issue, they have maintained both their integrity and their much-deserved status as green industry leaders. Would that their counterparts in the Nutmeg State, the land of oh-so-steady-habits, had followed suit.