Time to get Tough

Many of us are involved in educational efforts to help get the word about native plants and all their benefits – case in point – this lovely blog itself! However, when is it time to reach into the toolbox and put away the carrot and take out the stick?  Balancing education with regulation is no simple matter, as I think many folks would agree – the two need to work hand in hand for either to be effective.  Well, when it comes to getting serious about native plants, or more specifically, banning invasive plants, some states are ahead of others in trading in their carrots.

Oriental bittersweet chokes out trees and native plants. It can  be seen moving along the interstate in NY in the fall.

Oriental bittersweet chokes out trees and native plants. It is easy to spot in the fall along the side of the road in NY.

In 2002, Vermont banned the sale of 31 species of plants (both terrestrial and aquatic species) and recently, just last year in 2012 they added another 7 species to the list. Those were the species that they didn’t want holding up the process in 2002, so they got the initial legislation through, and then just recently managed to add them on.  The seven species just added in 2012 were Japanese barberry, Common barberry, Burning bush, Norway maple, Amur maple, Yellow flag iris, and European naiad. So that is one aquatic species (the naiad), but the rest are common landscape plants. In fact, at least here in New York, they are very popular landscaping plants.  I don’t see many new landscapes going in that don’t have at least burning bush, barberry, or Norway maple in them. Add to that list Japanese spiraea and day lilies, and that is a pretty typical new landscape planting for a new home or business in our area.

Remember that whole carrot and the stick thing? Well, in addition to legislation, Vermont also has an extensive outreach campaign, complete with a voluntary pledge program that nurseries could sign prior to the updated legislation going into affect. And Vermont isn’t alone in their efforts.  In 2004, the State of Connecticut banned the sale of 80 species and New Hampshire banned the sale of 35 species. Perhaps the most comprehensive list I found for our region was Massachusetts, which banned the sale of over 140 species in 2006.

Where am I going with all this? Well, here in New York where I live, as I mentioned above, many invasive species that have already been banned in other states are still staples of the landscaping industry.  Our  nursery, Fiddlehead Creek, is the only nursery in the area that specializes in native plants.  In fact, until we started growing plants a few years ago, it was down right hard to find them.

Some days are good, and it seems like we are making real progress in getting the word out about native plants. But some days are not as good, and it seems that no matter how many native alternatives we suggest, and how many times we recite the impacts of invasive species, not only to the environment but also to the economy, these invaders are still just as popular today as ever. Well, for those days, there finally seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel!

While most of us will all agree that Japanese knotweed (pictured here) is highly invasive, not everyone seems willing to accept that some species such as Norway maple and barberry are as well.

While most people will agree that Japanese knotweed (pictured here) is highly invasive, not everyone is willing to accept that other species, such as Norway maple and barberry, are highly invasive as well!

Last year, legislation passed both the Assembly in April and the Senate in June and was signed into law by the Governor in July, to create a process and a regulatory list to ban the sale of invasive species in New York.  The legislation, like that in many other states, also says that it encourages the use of native plants.  In New York, Nassau and Suffolk counties had forged ahead and banned the sale of over 60 invasives in those counties in 2007. So the state is now moving forward with that model and expanding to the rest of the state.

The new regulations are to be in effect by September, 2013.  The legislation will probably include phase-out periods for species, as other states have done as well.  And there are penalties for breaking the rules too.  Just what species will be prohibited from sale? and which ones will still be allowed?  There is a ranking process being followed, first assessing the biological ‘invasiveness’ of each species, then considering its socio-economic impacts. But only time will tell just which species end up where – that is where the game of politics comes into play. Will NY have to make some serious compromises like Vermont did in 2002 and leave out highly invasive species such as burning bush and barberry? I sure hope not!   The draft rules are due out in a few months for public comment so until then, we will have to wait and see.

I am just familiar with some of the other states in the Northeast.  What about other states out there? Do they have similar invasive plant laws? and what species are banned?  I would love to hear back from some of you about what is going on in your state.

© 2013, Emily DeBolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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About Emily DeBolt

Emily has a Bachelors degree from Cornell University and a Master's of Environmental Interpretation from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She lives with her husband Chris and Greater Swiss Mountain Dog McKinley in northeastern New York where they run Fiddlehead Creek, a 100% New York native plant nursery that specializes in growing plants for water quality and conservation projects.


  1. Rudie Verougstraete says:

    I’m in Virginia, and we have an invasive plants list here, but it seems to be just a list of plants to avoid, rather than prohibiting the sale of these invasive plants. This year I intend to urge my legislators to push a bill that would give teeth to this list so nurseries here stop selling plants that are disrupting native habitats.
    Rudie Verougstraete recently posted..The Garden Chat

    • Emily DeBolt says:

      hopefully Virginia can look at what some of the other mid Atlantic states have done and get moving forward as well – good luck!

  2. Nicholas Weber says:

    Invasive plants have become a real problem here in Wisconsin and I don’t see the trend getting better in the near future. Like most states we have lists, but I have a feeling that most of the damage to nature is caused by the plants already out in the wild. This is especially true for rural areas here where a plant can sprout up and multiply into hundreds of new plants before being noticed on the back end of a 40. I remove many invasive plants each year using a number of methods and there is yet to be a year when I can sit back and relax. Having like-minded neighbors would really help.

  3. Linda says:

    In Ontario, Canada, there is no legislation at all regarding invasives. The only legislation on the books is to protect the horticulture and agriculture industries from ‘weeds’. There is little will or interest right now in new legislation.

    I am heartened by the work done in St Louis a few years ago to develop a code of conduct for gardeners, landscape architects, the horticulture industry and all interested parties. If you can’t get legislation through, at least we can begin by trying to get these principles accepted in our areas.

    you can read about it here. http://www.centerforplantconservation.org/invasives/CodesN.asp

    onwards. and best of luck to all of us in our separate corners.

    • Emily DeBolt says:

      yes – in the absence of any pending legislation – education is a great thing to focus on – and voluntary codes for nurseries and/or growers is a great idea I think. the issue of supply and demand always comes into play – I have had nursery owners tell me that burning bush is their top seller – and people come in asking for it – and don’t ask for any of the native alternatives that I have mentioned – so why in the world would they stop selling burning bush and sell something else that no one is asking for. So I think somehow we have to work on both sides – trying to help grow the demand and the supply at the same time. It sure isn’t easy – but it is definitely worth trying!

      • Linda says:

        Emily, sometimes no amount of education or suggestion works. I understand, but refuse to give up. Best of luck this spring.

  4. sue dingwell says:

    Emily, it is great to hear about progress, even if it seems infinitesimal to some of us. Steps in the right directions eventually add up, and without beginnings there would be no progress at all. It really is heartening to see that these issued are being brought into public discourse. Thank you for having a native nursery available for people near you, and never doubt in the importance of what you are doing. Cherish the successes!
    sue dingwell recently posted..The Colors of Winter

    • Emily DeBolt says:

      thanks sue. and yes – even if some compromises are made – a regulatory list will still be a huge step forward for NY. when dealing with invasives – we have to try to stay positive – and be aware of the small victories and relish in them – so that we don’t end up feeling helpless against such a large issue!

  5. Bradley says:

    Maryland passed a law in 2011 that will ban the sale of some invasives, and allow the sale of others with a stern warning at the point of sale. The law is in the process of being implemented – drawing up the regulations and the lists. I’m not sure when it will go into effect.

    • Emily DeBolt says:

      thanks for sharing. I hadn’t run across that yet in my research. It would be interesting to know what plants are on the list for Maryland. with global climate change – boundaries that we think of in terms of where plants can grow seem to be surprising us these days. some plants that might be invasive in Maryland now – could be tomorrow’s next invasives in NY!

  6. DeeDee says:

    I loved the article, great idea! I hope it happens in Illinois too! I’ve become more knowledgable about native plants sice I started my butterfly garden. It’s very frustrating when I try to explain to people & either they don’t care or continue to plant Barberry & other invasive species. We need to somehow educate the public & ban these species everywhere. I didn’t know Norway Maple was invasive, we have so many of those in the Chicagoland area. I learn something new everyday. It starts with the nurseries selling these invasive products. People believe that if the nurseries are selling them, they are ok to plant.

  7. Donna@Gardens Eye View says:

    I am hopeful they ban the most invasive as they had listed but as you say politically they are the most widely used…I hope there will be some well planned comment opportunities and petitions.
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Simply The Best Herbs-January

  8. Catherine Ludden says:

    Emily, I am very interested in the process of developing the list in NY. Do you know who is involved — what agencies, groups, individuals? I would love to get into the process on behalf of a couple of organizations with which I am involved….

    • Emily DeBolt says:

      Catherine – yes – NYS DEC and Ag and Markets co-chair the Invasive Species Council – which is just state agencies. then there is an advisory committee of interest groups that advise the council – including the Farm Bureau, Turf Assoc, Nursery and Landscape Assoc, Nature Conservancy, etc. so the best state agency contact would be the NYS DEC office of invasive species – Dave Adams or Leslie Suprenant. Here is a link to the DEC website with contact info: http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/61925.html. they could give you all the info about the council, advisory committee, how to get involved, etc. best of luck!



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