What’s a Red Chokeberry to do?

There have been lots of great posts on this site by various contributors about invasive plants – and the great native alternatives that we can all be using instead of them.  Many great regional posts of ‘Plant This – Not That’ – too many to try to link to all here – but be sure to look through the site if you haven’t read some of these posts already.

At the beginning of the year I wrote about New York State’s process of banning invasive plants from sale in the nursery industry.  You can refresh your memory here if you like. NY is way behind many of the other states surrounding us in terms of banning the sale of invasives.  For example – MA began its phase out of burning bush (Euonymus alatus) in 2006 – but it is still one of the most commonly used landscape shrubs in NY. I see it in every shopping mall, pharmacy, bank, and fast food parking lot that I drive past – not to mention in front of most homes as well.  And to be honest – I don’t even get it.  Sure – it is red in the fall – I get that.  But we have native plants like Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) that are also red in the fall – and they also have beautiful flowers in the spring and berries in the fall for the birds. To me it is a no brainer.

burning bush in the McDonalds parking lot.

burning bush in the McDonalds parking lot.

So back to the process – draft regulations were being developed, and were supposed to be in place by September.  Well, here it is the end of October and no regulations are in place. However, the good news is, that they are making progress, and just last week the draft regulations were posted in the state register and made available for public comment.

The regulations have a list of plants that will be prohibited  and regulated. The prohibited plants will mean that no person shall sell, import, purchase, transport, introduce or propagate any prohibited invasive species or knowingly possess with the intent to sell, import, purchase, transport, or introduce any prohibited invasive species. Regulated plants mean that no person shall knowingly introduce into a free-living state or introduce by a means that one knew or should have known would lead to the introduction into a free-living state any regulated invasive species, although such species shall be legal to possess, sell, buy, propagate and transport.  So essentially – the prohibited plants won’t be sold any more – but the regulated ones will. So – the big question is -which plants are on which list?

from left to right: burning bush, Jbarberry, and Norway maple

from left to right: burning bush, barberry, and Norway maple

Unfortunately – out of what I saw as the big three (burning bush, Japanese barberry, and Norway maple) – only barberry made it on the prohibited list.  It should also be noted that a one year phase out was given for barberry as well – it was the only species given this phase out period on the prohibited list.

Burning bush and Norway maple will just be ‘regulated’ – which in my opinion amounts to about squat. All three of those species were assessed as ‘highly invasive’ by the ranking system that NYS used to rank the invasiveness of plants being considered for these lists.  So what happened? Apparently the ‘socioeconomic’ impact of such popular landscaping plants won out over the potential environmental impact of these species.

It is a great step forward to even have the draft regulations for NYS – so I don’t want to sound ungrateful. And some invasive plants that are still being sold such as Oriental bittersweet and Yellow iris made the prohibited list – so it will make some impact. And maybe other species can be added down the line. That is how Vermont did it.  But still – I can’t help but feel like a big opportunity is being missed.  With all the great native (and even non-native – but just not invasive) plants available out there – why must we continue to use these plants?  I understand that they are seen as ‘reliable’ by designers and installers – but we have natives that could be just as reliable if given the chance.  But these invasives are mass produced and imported at such a large scale that it is hard for native shrubs to get a foot in the door.  What’s a red chokeberry to do?

© 2013, Emily DeBolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Janet Harrison says

    Thanks for the synopsis of NY’s state of mind with regards to invasive plants and prohibitions. If it’s any consolation, you are way ahead of us here in Ontario, or Canada for that matter. It’s the wild west up here because our regulatory body CFIA is only interested in restricting terrestrial plants that could carry pathogens which could impact agricultural industries. For example, there are restrictions on Barberry (including Berberis, Mahoberberis and Mahonia spp.), because they are host to wheat rust. Certain species or some cultivars of these species are still allowed because apparently, they aren’t hosts (yet?), even though they could be just as invasive. The only reason they would restrict an aquatic plant is due to its negative impact on Great Lakes fisheries. So, we have a lot of work to do to get to even the stage where you are. Keep up the good work!

  2. Marilyn says

    Being new to this discussion but determined to only plant natives from now on, I naively drove over to a nursery to look for native trees to replace some we had lost. I knew better than to try the big box stores, but thought a local grower would have what I was looking for. I could not find any native species. After tromping around the lot for some time, I finally spied a small area bearing the sign, “Grow Native!” The native plants available were a sad lot stuck back behind the rest like an afterthought. I wondered who would buy those when the other fine and prominently displayed trees were available. I left thinking, “No wonder people don’t plant natives. They can’t find them.” As you say, the non-native and invasive species are a lot simpler to “produce” and market. And who’s complaining? People don’t know better. They buy what is there. Although I live in a city of some size, I’ll have to order my plants or else make an hour’s drive to the closest supplier of native plants.

  3. Mechele says

    So glad to see your mention of red chokeberry, it’s one of my favorite shrubs. I purchased one years ago from Woodlanders after reading an article about it in Southern Living magazine. They are easily propagated from cuttings and have the most beautiful red berries in the fall and I love the open growth habit. I live less than an hour from McMinnville, TN which is known as the nursery capital of the world and a few times I have had the opportunity to speak with nursery owners and encourage them to consider growing this plant. I have always been met with blank looks because they are completely unfamiliar with it.

  4. Benjamin Vogt says

    What about eastern wahoo? http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=k240

  5. stone says

    Seems like a no-brainer…
    Threaten the big box stores bottom line, and compel them to practice conscious consideration of their affect on the area where they’re in business…

    In my area, Lowes used to request “Master Gardeners” to hang out in the store and help people to be plant knowledgeable… Hardly the same as hiring someone that knows plants to do their purchasing…

    There’s really no reason for continuing to sell plants known to be problematical… really shouldn’t require laws to stop these stores from offering known invasives…
    stone recently posted..Indian Summer



  1. More About the Lyme Tick Nurseries says:

    […] how to fix the problem through responsible landscaping, and the resulting increase in biodiversity. Emily Debolt always knows the latest legislative trends concerning invasive […]


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