Tag Archives: native plants

Invasive Species vs. Non-Invasive Alternatives: Part 3

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

Round 3: English Ivy (Hedera Helix) vs Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides)

As we learned in our previous posts in this series, you can’t purchase Japanese Barberry or Burning Bush in Massachusetts because they’re invasive species. Though we often see English Ivy taking over landscapes and even houses, you can buy it almost anywhere plants are sold. This begs the question: is English Ivy is an invasive species? You betcha.

English Ivy is an aggressive exotic plant that outcompetes other plants. It can even kill off tall trees! Let’s get ahead of the game and consider a friendlier groundcover plant, Barren Strawberry, a groundcover that offers some excellent characteristics to enhance your garden.Barren Strawberry vs. English Ivy

Invasive Species: English Ivy (Hedera Helix)

English Ivy has been a standard go-to groundcover plant for years, especially in hard to grow, heavily shaded areas. It’s a rather hardy plant, but is not known for its flowering stage. In fact, English Ivy is most aggressive when it does go to flower. This is because it only goes to flower once it starts climbing. Once English Ivy starts climbing a structure, it must be heavily maintained. This is especially important around the home, where English Ivy is capable of damaging gutters, wood fences, and cracked masonry. If it gets to the point of having to be removed, English Ivy can cause damage at that point as well. It often leaves behind a residue that’s very difficult to remove.English Ivy

Non-Invasive Alternative: Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides)

Barren Strawberry is a groundcover plant native to the Eastern U.S. It can be a bit aggressive, but that can be a benefit when trying to fill an area quickly. Unlike English Ivy, though, Barren Strawberry is not a climber, so it won’t cause the kind of damage that many invasive species can cause when they spread. Personally, I notice this plant the most in the spring after the early spring show of bulbs and before the perennials and annuals really start rocking with the warmer weather of late May/early June. During this gap, I often see a solid blanket of yellow Barren Strawberry flowers in full bloom!  Barren StawberryOne significant advantage of English Ivy when compared to Barren Strawberry is its shade tolerance. If you need a groundcover plant in a deep shade, I recommend considering Japanese Pachysandra.

Here are some other great advantages with this non-invasive alternative:

  • Drought tolerant
  • Not too many ground covers have a showy flower, but this one does!
  • Excellent lawn alternative

This concludes our showdown between some of the most commonly requested invasive plants and more friendly, native alternatives! Many invasive species are not well suited (or perhaps too well suited) to our New England ecosystem. I hope you get to try out the alternatives mentioned in your own landscape – feel free to mention your own native plant alternative success stories in the comments!

Invasive Species vs. Non-Invasive Alternatives: Part 2

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

In Part 1 of this blog series, we talked about what the term invasive means in regard to plants. Another term that’s commonly used in this discussion is “native,” which refers to a plant that is native to the local environment. This term also can be dissected, argued and debated.

When we say a plant is native to our area, though, how far back are we going? When we go back about 12,000 years to the end of the last ice age, the glaciers that rolled down Route 128 almost certainly obliterated all “native” vegetation up to that point and transplanted them undiscerningly along its way. Let’s put a closer parameter on time: the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock will be our time cap. We have pretty good documentation about the plants that inhabited our area at that time and those that were introduced for various purposes.

Let’s get into another exciting plant showdown, shall we?

Round 2: Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) vs. Cotoneaster horizontalis

Japanese Barberry & CotoneasterInvasive: Japanese Barberry (Berberis thungerii)

Japanese Barberry is commonly requested – it be quite appealing to the eye! Visual appeal is typically what spurs a non-native plant’s introduction to an environment. Since Japanese Barberry is an invasive species, it can handle all sorts of difficult conditions including deep shade. It can thus outcompete native plant species, dominating edges of woodlands and choking out native undergrowth.

Non-Invasive Alternative: Cotoneaster horizontalis  

There are a few great alternatives to Japanese Barberry, but my choice would have to be the Cotoneaster. If you want a taller form, Cotoneaster divaricatus looks very similar but grows to about 6’ – 8’. I think the Cotoneaster has a very interesting, unique structure. This shrub offers a skilled pruner (ahem) all sorts of possibilities to accommodate a client’s style preference; from formal and tidy to a natural and flowing look to even accommodating water features.

While Barberry’s deep burgundy color certainly gives it much fall appeal, Cotoneaster has game too! Its foliage has a similar burgundy show, although not quite as deep a color. Where it really wins in my opinion is its bright red-orange fruits which appear in late summer and persist into early winter. I’d recommend Cotoneaster to anyone interested in a Barberry with the confidence that they’ll be pleased with its unique look.

Cotoneaster horizontalis

Here are some other great advantages of this non-invasive alternative:

  • Very hardy plant in all sorts of conditions
  • Much broader, year-round interest
  • No thorns! Barberry is thorny, a concern for little ones, 4 legged friends and your local fine gardener tending your gardens
  • Rabbit problems? Cotoneaster is seldom abused by rabbits

In the next and final round of our Invasive vs. Non-Invasive showdown, we’ll highlight a plant not yet technically identified in Massachusetts as an invasive species. Intrigued? We’ll discuss alternatives before it’s classified as such!