It’s the heart of summer and the weeds in my garden are taking over. Those I can control by pulling, but some of the plants along the edges are exotic invasives, unwanted plants from another land that seem to thrive right where you don’t want them.
What are exotic invasive plants?
Exotic invasive plants are those that are not native to the area in which they are transplanted and have abundant root, seed or other propagation systems, making them near impossible to get rid of. In the past, many exotic invasive plants were brought to other areas to control erosion or for their uniqueness. Not realizing the consequences it would have years down the road has cost us plenty – in land, native plants, and time and money.
One big example is Kudzu, the vine that ate the south. Originally it was brought to the US for erosion control, which it does admirably, often growing at a rate of 4 inches a day. But there are uses for it, along with many other unwanted plants that are not native to your area.
Uses For Exotic Invasive Plants
First, let me say I do not advocate growing any of these, or other exotic invasive plants, intentionally. In fact, to do so in many areas can result in fines from the Department of Agriculture. But, if you do have them and have tried to get rid of them unsuccessfully, there are alternatives. Many have uses that you would never have dreamed of. This is by no means an all-inclusive list as many new plants are being discovered each year.
- Ailanthus – Tree of Heaven can be used as an ornamental or shade tree. They are fast growing and can be used as coppice wood for outside fires. You can read more about coppicing here.
- Mimosa trees are great for filtered shade. Plant astilbe and lady’s slippers under them. They are also an important tree for bees.
- Garlic mustard can be ground up and used as a poultice. They can also be used as flavoring as you would garlic.
- Bittersweet can be made into decorations such as wreaths and swags. To make the dried vines easier to work with, and render the fruit and seeds unable to germinate, soak in very hot water for an hour or so.
- Russian or autumn olive can be coppiced and provide flowers for bees and fruit for birds. Some retain their leaves in the winter making them good for shelter for wildlife in the cold months.
- English ivy is good for ground cover in difficult areas like steep hills. The vines can also be used for basket weaving.
- Privet can be coppiced and used for firewood. It grows back thick and can be used for screening.
- Paulowania, or Princess or Empress Tree, is very fast growing. It makes a great coppice tree. Remove the flowers after they are spent so that seed head can’t form.
- Bradford Pear is often planted for beauty in the spring and fall. Its weak limbs often break in storms making it a good firewood tree.
- Kudzu has many uses. Its root has a starch that can replace cornstarch. The root also has phytoestrogens that can be used by women with reproductive system problems. An extract can also be made from the root that can help alcoholics in treatment. (Read more about this in a study from The National Institute of Medicine.) The vines can be woven into baskets, and the flowers have been used to make jelly and soap. The entire plant can be used for animal feed, often having up to 18% protein. It can also be baled and used later. Once cut and dried, it won’t take root anywhere.
- Multiflower rose runs rampant in this area. It has small flowers in the spring followed by tiny hips, or fruit, in the fall. They contain a very high concentration of Vitamin C and other antioxidants. I dry them by the gallon! The vine has numerous thorns and can be used for fencing. I found one growing near my bluebird house and wrapped it around the post. Now I have a very powerful snake deterrent without chemicals.
- Bamboo grows wild in many parts of the country. There are two types – running and clumping. Clumping will form a mat that stays as a clump. Running types are different in that they produce roots that will spread underground. To control them, simply mow over the growing tips a few times a year. They’ll stay contained if this is done. But if you find you have an overabundance, you can use it in many ways. Poles can be cut and dried for fishing poles, art projects, building materials, and even flooring. I’ve seen some very nice bamboo planks for inside the home. The shoots can be eaten steamed or pickled. When left intact, it creates a great semi-shaded area for planting under it.
- Air potatoes or wild yams produce a compound used for PMS and menopause.
- Crown vetch is a legume and provides nitrogen for the ground. Mow it while in flower to prevent seed head from forming.
- Burning bush makes a great screening plant and provides nice fall color.
- Mahonia, or Leather Leaf Holly, isn’t really a holly. It blooms very early and can provide winter color in the garden. It is also a great source of berberine, the same compound found in goldenseal. Make a tincture (see how here) from the roots and take a few drops a day to boost your immune system.
- Barberry – red or green – can be used in the same way.
- Scotch broom and gorse are invasive in some areas. Cut the branches and enjoy them as cut flowers.
- Water lettuce and hyacinth can be composted. I got three plants one year and ended up with six wheelbarrows full of them by summers end. Into the compost they went. Because they have extensive root systems, they mine nutrients out of the water and act as filters. Those nutrients will help fuel your compost and add much more to it.
You might notice that I have mentioned using most of the wood for coppicing in outdoor fires. Some trees contain toxins that are released when burned, so they shouldn’t be used indoors. Fumes can dissipate in the air easier when burned outdoors, so there is little worry there. And always be careful with what you use. Barberry contains numerous thorns and can really hurt! Seeds can be spread easily, so take care when harvesting that you don’t let them get away.
Again, I’m not advocating growing these plants, but if you have them, why not make use of them?
Do you have any interesting uses for invasive plants in your yard?