BY LORAINE ANDERSON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The battle against invasive plants continues to spread across the Grand Traverse region.
Eight nursery owners and six landscaping firms have enrolled in a new “Go Beyond Beauty” program to reduce sales of invasive plants and to educate the public about the critical habitat role native plants play for wildlife.
More than half of the invasive plants found in high-quality natural areas originated in area gardens, said Matthew Bertrand, invasive species specialist for the Grand Traverse Conservation District, which established the initiative.
The eight participating nurseries are Bellwether Gardens, Garden Goods, Greystone Gardens, Green Lake Gardens & Goods, Northwoods Landscape & Nursery, Misty Ridge Greenhouse, Four Seasons Nursery and Pine Hill, Bertrand said.
All have committed to stop selling popular invasive plants and shrubs that are on the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network “Top 20 Least Wanted” list, including the region’s most troublesome plant invaders — garlic onion, Japanese barberry and Japanese knotweed.
The six landscaping firms are Silverman & Company, Designs in Bloom, Grand Traverse Organic Landscapes, Bloomin’ Buddies, Old Mission Associates and The Mossy Tree. The landscape professionals have signed a commitment for 2013 not to purchase or plant high-priority invasive ornamentals on the region’s Top 20 list or early detection species listed on the network’s ornamental plants list.
The goals of the voluntary Go Beyond Beauty effort are to protect the region’s natural areas, parks and wildlife habitat from losing more ground to invasive plant species and to help educate gardeners on the threat invasive plants pose to birds, butterflies, other insects, wildlife and native habitat in the northern Michigan ecosystem.
State and federal governments have considered invasive plant species a critical environmental problem since 1999 for several reasons. They crowd out native plants. They threaten biodiversity by harming wildlife. They disrupt complex food-chain interactions that have evolved over thousands of years between native plants, insects, birds, butterflies, frogs, deer, elk and other wildlife. They can hinder forest regeneration and diminish the amount and quality of recreational opportunities in state forests and natural areas.
Invasive plants often are unpalatable or toxic to wildlife. Some can kill or suppress growth of surrounding plants by shading them out, chemically poisoning them, or out-competing them for food and water.
“Insects are the number one food source for birds,” said Kay Charter, owner of Save the Birds Sanctuary near Omena who for 20 years has been removing invasive plants from the 47-acre private preserve.
“We can see the power of native plants,” she said. “Ninety-seven percent of all terrestrial birds must have insects for their young. There are many species like warblers and vireos that depend exclusively on insects for their own health. If they don’t get enough, they won’t be healthy enough to breed and bring their young off the nests.”
Gail Ingraham, who owns Bellwether Gardens near Suttons Bay with husband Bart, said she joined the effort because she’s been concerned about bird populations for eight years since reading Douglas W. Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.” Tallamy, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, has spoken twice in Traverse City in recent years.
The Go Beyond Beauty commitment has little effect on Bellwether since red barberry was the only plant on the Top 20 list the Ingrahams sold. Gail Ingraham said she’s had a couple of requests for barberry this year but was able to tell the customers about its invasive qualities and steer them to other red foliage plants.
Paul and Jody Zemsta, owners of Misty Ridge Greenhouse north of Mesick on 11 Road, also are part of the initiative. They run one of the few nurseries in the state that collect seeds from native plants within a 50-mile radius and grow them for sale at their greenhouse, farm markets and area conservation districts — their biggest customers — for native plant sales and restoration work.
They also collect seeds and grow other non-invasive plants, wildflowers and vegetables for sale.
“We grow everything from seed,” Paul Zemsta said. “We don’t buy from anybody.”
Julie Sovereign, who owns Garden Goods in Traverse City with husband Gordy, said 80 percent of the plants on the Top 20 list aren’t popular landscaping plants.
She praised how the Grand Traverse Conservation District approaches and works with nursery owners. The initiative started two years ago when the district’s invasive species specialists surveyed several nursery owners to determine what they were selling and asked what they thought could be done to curb the planting of more invasive species in the area to better sustain birds and wildlife.
One of the network’s goal is to get people in area communities excited about their landscapes and to plan before they plant, Bertrand said.
“We’ve seen so many changes in our natural areas,” he said. “We’re trying to get people to see the ecological effects of what they plant. The kind of plant is important to habitat and to insects. A monarch butterfly needs a milkweed and we need the bugs for the birds.”
Removal highlights 2011-2012 In 2011, partnering organizations in the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network surveyed 3,638 acres of public and private land and 167 miles of shoreline and treated 570 acres of invasive species and reduced the presence of phragmites along Lake Michigan in Grand Traverse Bay by 78 percent, said Robin Christensen, invasive species coordinator for the Grand Traverse Conservation District. In 2012, the network surveyed 170 miles; treated 1,352 acres and controlled invasive plants on 1221 acres. Removal sites included: Grand Traverse Commons, DeYoung Natural Area, Hickory Meadows, Misty Acres Nature Preserve, Glacial Hills Pathway, Brown Bridge Quiet Area, Sparrow Circle neighborhood, Lighthouse West Natural Area, Arcadia Dunes Nature Preserve, Boardman Pond Bottomlands, Maple Bay Natural Area, Nature Education Preserve, Miller Creek and Dry Hill Grassland.