Bradford pear

The Bradford pear, commonly seen around Columbia, is actually invasive in Missouri. 

It’s finally springtime in Missouri, which means the weather is warming up and most plants are roaring back to life after the winter.

Many of the early spring flowering trees are showing off their beautiful blooms, but that also means for one particular tree, showing off its smell. Yes, you know the tree I’m talking about. Its snowy white blooms dot Columbia this time of year, but wow, do they reek.

The Callery pear tree, or more commonly known as the Bradford pear, is planted for its showy flowers and tall branches. But what people might not know is that it’s actually considered an invasive species here in Missouri.

By definition, a native species is any plant that’s lived in an area for thousands, or even millions, of years, according to Washington University in St. Louis. An invasive species is any nonnative species that can cause serious harm to an ecosystem. There are roughly 50,000 nonnative species in the U.S., and about 4,300 of those are considered to be invasive. Because invasive species originate elsewhere, they have little to no natural predators in their new environments, which is part of what makes them so problematic.

“Invasive species are bad because they can take over areas where we have native vegetation,” says Nadia Navarrete-Tindall, a native plant specialist and associate professor at Lincoln University.

Vox compiled a list of what you need to know about three common invasive plants and some better alternatives.

1. Callery (Bradford) pear

Originally native to China, the Callery pear was brought to the U.S. as a means to improve disease resistance in the common fruiting pear. Starting in the 1950s, the Bradford tree was widely planted as a decorative tree because of the white flowers.

Why it’s a problem:

One tree can spread quickly through its seeds, resulting in a dense thicket of trees. Because Bradford trees leaf out earlier than other native trees, they shade forest floors, which prevents sun from getting to native wildflowers.

Flowering dogwood

The flowering dogwood is a native alternative to the Bradford pear. 

A better alternative:

Try the flowering dogwood, which is actually Missouri’s state tree. The flowering dogwood will show off with large white and pink blooms in the spring and scarlet-red foliage in the fall. Because it’s native to Missouri, it has a whole host of benefits for local wildlife including attracting several different kinds of birds and bees.

2. Wintercreeper

This leafy green vine is a perennial ground cover that can climb along rocks, trees and, well, the ground. People started planting them at their homes because of the dense evergreen foliage that grows quickly and in most conditions.

Wintercreeper

Wintercreeper can spread aggressively and quickly choke out native plants. 

Why it’s a problem:

Because it grows so quickly, the wintercreeper can choke out anything from tall trees to plants on the ground. Its aerial roots can climb up to 20 feet or higher, but can stem up to 50 feet.

A better alternative:

Try wild ginger. A native spring wildflower, wild ginger will slowly grow to form an attractive, lushy green ground cover for your yard. Although it’s not related to the culinary ginger, the roots have the same sharp peppery smell.

3. Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife is a perennial wetland herb that can aggressively take over native plant space. It was accidentally brought over from Europe in the 1800s and spread into U.S. wetlands with fervor.

Why it’s a problem:

This perennial has almost no nutritional value for wildlife, and once it’s established, it can decimate marshes and wet prairies.

A better alternative:

Button snakeroot

Button snakeroot will give you the same color and height as purple loosestrife. 

Button snakeroot, which is also known as prairie blazing star, will give you the same height as purple loosestrife, as well as purple blossoms when it blooms. It will attract bumblebees, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden in the summer.

Navarrete-Tindall also mentions how important it is for yards to have biodiversity, meaning the more native plants a person has in their yard, the better. It provides a haven for pollinators and visually looks beautiful.

“If people learn, not only how beautiful they are, but how important they are for pollinators — and just use them for therapy for their own minds,” she says. “They make me happy and I hope people can see them that way, too.”

To learn more, you can visit Navarrete-Tindall’s Facebook page at Native Plants and More, where she teaches an introductory class on native plants.

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