The federal government's definition of invasive species is that they are "non-native species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health."
The term invasive is reserved for the most aggressive species that grow and reproduce rapidly, causing major changes to the areas where they become established.
Not all non-native species are harmful, and some can be beneficial. However, most non-native species are, in fact, detrimental to their new environment. Think of Burmese pythons in Florida, Asian carp in the Great Lakes and Japanese beetles everywhere. These invasive species have no natural predators in their new environment, so they spread quickly.
Similarly, invasive plant species spread quickly and can cause economic and ecosystem damage.
According to the Nature Conservancy, the annual cost of impacts and control efforts to the U.S. economy is estimated at $120 billion a year. In addition, invasive species contribute directly to the decline of 42 percent of the threatened and endangered animal and insect species in the U.S. by choking out native plant species these critters rely on for survival.
Here in central Ohio, invasive plant species unfortunately are abundant.
Did you know that the Bradford/Cleveland/Callery pear trees are invasive? The trees grow quickly, often invading roadsides, fields and meadows, preventing colonization by native species. (Incidentally, this fast growth is one reason why pear trees are so susceptible to breakage).
The Callery pear now is on the Ohio Department of Agriculture's list of 38 species that have been "banned." Banned species no longer are allowed to be sold in stores in Ohio.
You can check out all 38 banned Ohio species at the website of the Ohio Invasive Plants Council, oipc.info. The OIPC is working with the ODA on identifying additional species that will be considered invasive and eventually added to this list.
So should you rip out invasive species of plants growing in your yard? In most cases, yes. But if you can keep the spread under control by removing and destroying seed heads, or if that honeysuckle bush, another highly invasive species common to Ohio, is keeping erosion from occurring at a stream bank, you might want to leave that plant and gradually plant native plants around it to establish their own roots.
Be aware which species are considered invasive and plant alternative species. Fantastic native alternatives are available to use. You can find information on both invasive species and alternative native species at oipc.info and mipn.org, which is the website of the Midwest Invasive Plant Network.
Remember, native plants are cheaper to grow, they are adapted to central Ohio's soil and weather conditions and our birds, bees/insects and mammals derive the proper nutrients from these native species.
Melissa Muth is a member of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.