What is an Invasive Plant?
Cleveland Metroparks is home to many native flora and fauna. It is also home to a multitude of invasive plants. Invasive plants are considered any plant that is nonnative, not originally found here, and reproduces at an excessive rate while having a negative effect on native flora and fauna. Since most native animals will not eat these invasive plants, invasives don't struggle to survive so they are able to spread seeds and grow.
Invasive Plants in Cleveland Metroparks
Every Cleveland Metroparks reservation has invasive plants. However, Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation, the Hidden Valley, has an extremely large quantity and variety of them. The geological formation of the valley containing the Cuyahoga River and the Ohio & Erie Canal, combined with the disturbed area with a variety of wetlands, gives invasive plants the room to spread their seeds and grow, grow, grow. All of these water sources aid in the seed dispersal of many invasive plants throughout the valley. This causes a struggle between native and invasive species.
As you walk through the Hidden Valley, you will start to notice several invasive species of plants, the most dominant being the Japanese knotweed, which grows all along the Towpath. This plant has a hollow stem that resembles bamboo, it has larger broad leaves, and flowers that look similar to little white knots. Knotweed has a large root mass and is known for growing in wet areas. It uses these floodplains and wetlands to spread pieces of its root system downstream to start a new cluster of knotweed.
Common Reed (Phragmites)
Throughout the wetlands and along the Ohio & Erie Canal you will also find common reed, which is known as phragmites. The tops of these tall stalks resemble a feather duster and spread seeds all along the Valley. Another way, similar to the Japanese knotweed, is underground through the release of pieces of its root system.
How to Slow the Spread of Invasive Plants
There are several things people can do to slow the spread of invasive plants. First, learn what invasive species are growing around your home or local park reservations. Once you have identified them, find out what you can do to stop them from spreading. While hiking, biking or picnicking, be careful not to aid in seed dispersal. Check clothing, shoes and pets for any unwanted seeds that may be trying to "hitch a ride" with you or your pet.
Another way to fight off invasive plants is to fill your gardens with native plants and pull out any invasive plants on your property. You can also encourage neighbors and local nurseries to plant and stock native plants. You may even want to join Cleveland Metroparks in an Invasive Species Pull program. If we all do our part it will help slow the growth of invasive plants and give our native plants a fighting chance.
Jill Hauger, Naturalist I, CanalWay Center