Of the 2814 species of plants growing wild in Massachusetts, fully 45% (1276 species) have been introduced (either on purpose or by accident) from other parts of the globe. Many of these are agricultural weeds that began arriving in grain or ship’s ballast soon after European colonists came here in the early 1600’s. Others were introduced by horticulturists or the federal government for use in gardens or soil stabilization, reforestation, and the like. It is impossible to know what effect this monumental immigration has had on native plants and animals. Certainly, of the thousands and thousands of plants introduced in the US and Canada from abroad, only a small number (estimates range from 3-7%) are thought to pose a serious threat to native ecosystems. These problem few are quite a problem, however. These invasive exotics have few if any natural predators to keep them in check, instead running rampant and displacing entire communities of native plants as well as the insects, fungi, birds, mammals, reptiles, bacteria, etc that have come to depend on them…. Invasive species have the potential to completely alter habitats, disrupt natural cycles of disturbance and succession, and most importantly, greatly decrease overall biodiversity, pushing rare species to the brink of extinction. Many ecologists now feel that invasive species represent the greatest current and future threat to native plant and animal species worldwide – greater even than human population growth, land development, and pollution.
It is high time that we horticulturists recognize our responsibility to both cease the importation and introduction of new and potentially invasive exotic plants and to stop growing and planting known or suspected invasives regardless of their ornamentality or consumer demand. I believe that we need to adopt the precautionary principle as far as plant introductions are concerned, and assume a species (including all of its cultivars) is invasive until proven otherwise (rather than the current approach of “innocent until proven guilty”). At least let’s not make this situation any worse.