The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Conservation district sets sights on Japenese barberry

Invasive species threatens native plants


Submitted photo

JAPANESE BARBERRY, an invasive species often used for landscaping, is pictured. The plant has teardrop-shaped, red berries and oval leaves. The Gogebic Conservation District in Bessemer is working to stop the plant's spread.

BESSEMER - The Gogebic Conservation District in Bessemer is working to stop the spread of Japanese barberry, an invasive species brought to the U.S. for landscaping purposes more than 100 years ago.

"It isn't Audrey, the man-eating plant from the movie 'Little Shop of Horrors,' but it's bad enough in its own right," GCD administrator Jim Finley said.

The plant is spreading into northern forests, a news release said. "The plant has no natural enemies here, and its berries are eaten by many animals, which then spread its seeds around," GCD director Ron Zaleski said. Zaleski coordinates invasive species eradication work for the district.

The plant prospers in many settings and is resistant to drought or wet conditions. It forms dense stands when allowed to grow wild. "Its sharp spines make these thickets nearly impenetrable," Finley said. "It comes to dominate the forest understory by shading out native plants and changing foraging habits of wildlife."

Zaleski said since whitetail deer avoid it, the plant has a competitive advantage against native plants.

Research has tied the plant to an increased incidence of Lyme disease, Finley said. "The plant seems to be a haven for ticks, and the ticks that grow there have higher rates of infection with Lyme disease," he said. "This is altogether a bad plant to have around. There are many suitable substitutes for it in landscaping, but nurseries keep selling it and cultivars, or variants, of it, which have the same bad nature."

The GCD has sent letters to area plant sellers asking them to stop selling Japanese barberry. The letter has been copied to state and local political officials to alert them to issues posed by the plant.

"It comes down to a political issue: When will governments ban its sale and use?," Finley said.

Anyone who spots Japanese barberry in the wild should contact the District at 906-663-4512 or "We will take appropriate action to log it in the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network database and then kill it," Finley said.


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