News, Culture and NPR for Central & Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
91.7FM Alpena and WCML-TV Channel 6 Alpena are off the air. Click here to learn more.

Invasive Species!

Garlic mustard is a common invasive species.
Matt Lindauer
Garlic mustard is a common invasive species.

JW: Invasive Species, we may envision plants that are sprawling and climbing and choking out everything around them-- and just being a nuisance. But let's get to the root of the matter. I'm Judy Wagley, this is “From the Ground Up!” My guest today is Matt Lindauer, from the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, and Matt, you have a big long title.

Matt Lindauer is the Central Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area Coordinator.
Judy Wagley
Matt Lindauer is the Central Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area Coordinator.

ML: Yes. My technical title is Central Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area Coordinator or Central Michigan CISMA. coordinator.

JW: Matt, what is an invasive species? And how does the plant get that very dubious designation?

ML: Yes. So the definition that we operate off of is any non-native species whose introduction is likely to cause harm to Michigan's human health, economy or environment. That is roughly the definition given by But essentially, it's any non-native species that's going to cause harm in some way.

JW: Non-natives are not from here. How did they get here?

ML: You know, it's a good question. It varies depending on the species we're talking about. It's anything from something like garlic mustard that was originally brought here some time ago, as an herb used in food and stuff like that. There are other species like Japanese still grass that was used as packing material from stuff coming in from Asia, and those had gotten out somehow from this packaging material, and they get introduced that way. So there's a number of different ways.

JW: Packaging material?

ML: Yeah, this kind of bushy sort of grass and it was just used to cushion whatever they were shipping in there. And presumably, it just got dumped out when they were done with the box and it was introduced--and started spreading.

JW: What are some common invasive species here in central and northern Michigan?

ML: Some of the really big ones are, if we're talking kind of woody invasives, we call them sort of trees or more bush-like stuff, we have autumn olive, which is everywhere. Two different kinds of buckthorn, glossy and common. Several different types of honeysuckles are some of the bigger woody ones. Then you get down into smaller herbaceous things. Like I already said, garlic mustard is one, purple loosestrife is another big one. There's a couple different types of vetches. It's a pretty long list. Phragmites is another one that people are probably pretty familiar with on the roadsides-- and of course, talking about insect species, the emerald ash borer is pretty infamous.

JW: Oh, yes, yes. Well, getting to the plants, I mean, like-- purple loosestrife, and autumn olive--they're so pretty, and they smell good. What's the problem?

ML: So that is good question. And that's one of the hardest things that we have to explain to people, especially when we're treating them, but autumn olive, for example--and even the buckthorn, they will change the kind of soil composition that they live within. And they will make it harder for other native species to grow in the area. And it makes it easier for them. So once they show up, the problem just gets made worse. And they take over areas of land, and they crowd out native species. So typically, in a healthy forest or an ecosystem, you'd have, let's say, a maple tree, the seed comes down from the maple tree gets into the soil, and in time it will grow into another big full-size maple tree. But when you have an area that's crowded out by autumn olive, it's taking nutrients from the soil, it's shading out the plant and the chances of new growth for stuff again, like the maple tree in this example, it just doesn't happen because there's no more real estate for it to kind of set root and grow into a full-size tree.

JW: That's so interesting. Obviously, we think about an invasive species choking out other plants. But I had never thought about it actually changing the composition of the soil.

ML: Yeah. And it kind of has already beaten out these other native plants before they've even gotten a chance to start essentially.

JW: Now, you mentioned you said when we treat those plants, what do you do to treat those plants?

ML: It all depends on the plant and how severe the infestation is. Some stuff like garlic mustard, it'll take over the forest floor. And the easiest way to do that is to go and spraying herbicide treatment on it, that will kill that off at the roots. A lot of these plants, you'll find that, you know, if you just cut them down, especially with the woody invasive species, they'll grow back from that stump. If you leave the root structure intact without treating it in some way. It will just keep coming back and sometimes--not to apply emotions to plants necessarily-- but they it seems to anger them in a way and they've doubled their efforts when they when they finally come back.

JW: It reminds me of that show “Little Shop of Horrors.”

ML: Yeah, very much, very much. So herbicide treatments, some stuff, you can just pull it up by han-- some of the stuff in the garden. If it's a small infestation of garlic mustard, that one comes up pretty easily, actually pulling it by hand. So in other areas we've taken on projects where an area is so totally overrun, that the easiest thing for us to do is to actually bring in a forestry mower or a big tread piece of equipment with a rolling bar on the front with carbide teeth to chew up these plants, you know, essentially deforest an area because it is just invasive species at this point, and then we treat re-sprouts from there. And once we've gotten a couple steps into that treatment process, then we can reintroduce some of the native plants. So depending on the scale we're working with, we take a lot of different approaches.

JW: Where do you do that?

ML: Well, we have done some work like that at Chippewa Nature Center. In fact, we've had a couple projects there and another upcoming one-- buckthorn is a big one there that that we've done some treatment with. And we have a big project coming up in the city of Gladwin. Actually, they have a plant in Gladwin City Park, oriental bittersweet. And you were talking about plants that actually will physically choke out other living plants. And that's exactly what's happening. They're this climbing vine that has gone up into trees, and it's preventing them from growing, it's girdling them, as we say, and it's all over all of the trees, and it's choking out young stuff and old stuff and creating hazard trees. So that's another one. We're going to apply some forestry mowing.

JW: And that's really hard work too, isn't it? So what if we have some of these invasive species plants on our property? What are some things that we should do or shouldn't do to treat them?


ML: That is a great question. I will say actually, one thing that we really want people to know --there's a specific plant called Japanese knotweed. There's also Bohemian knotweed and a hybrid version, but knotweed will spread from fragments. So that is one where you do have to treat it chemically. If you want to get rid of it, people will mow it or weed whip it and it makes the problem 1000 times worse. So the first step is knowing what you're looking at. And then contacting us or looking up in an article either from the DNR or Michigan State Extension. They have a ton of great stuff on how to treat some of this stuff specifically. But identifying it and know what to do-- but almost more importantly, what not to do in the case of knotweed.

JW: Matt, is there ever a time when an invasive species plant is beneficial?

ML: The answer is sort of. Actually-- in the case of autumn olive--that was actually something that for a time conservation districts were trying to encourage people to plant before we knew the harm it was going to cause, because it roots deeply and quickly and is great at preventing erosion and giving ground cover. And a lot of these flowering species will be used by bees and other pollinators. So they're not totally without worth. But overall, they tend to do much more harm than they do good.

JW: This may seem like a strange question, but will there always be invasive species?

ML: I think so-- unless we totally stop moving from place to place or stop shipping things from different countries or moving around at all. They will always find a way to show up someplace they're not supposed to be so

JW: There's a lot of work to do isn't there?

ML: Yes, unfortunately--good job security.

JW: Matt Lindauer from the Chippewa Nature Center, give us that title again?

ML: The Central Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area Coordinator.

JW: Thank you for joining me today and thank you for all you do!

ML: Thanks for having me.


Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.