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Trouble Comes Disguised as a Beautiful Ornamental!


By John Anderson

A branch of burning bush, showing the distinctive winged structure of the twigs.

As mid fall approaches, the leaves of many plants senesce and change color. White ash trees are some of the first woody plants to drop their leaves, followed by the glorious colors of maples, birches, blueberries and spicebush. But amongst them are invaders, which can outnumber and choke out the natural vegetation. This season is a good time to spot some of these non-native invasive plants, and, once noticed, they can be shocking in their abundance.

One shrubby invasive in particular is the burning bush, Euonymus alata, also known as winged euonymus, due to the corky ridges along its stems. This is a common landscape plant, and many people will find it planted in their yards. Though highly invasive, it is not banned from sale in Connecticut due to the powerful nursery and landscape lobby in the state. It is grown as both a single specimen plant and en masse trimmed for hedges. Its foliage turns bright red or pink in the fall, hence its common name and its foremost aesthetic feature. But if you look along Norfolk’s roadside and into some of our woodlands (a good example can be seen at the Wood Creek Pond State Boat Launch), you’ll find thickets of burning bush crowding out most other shrubs and wildflowers. This is also a good time to spot Oriental bittersweet, an invasive exotic vine, with leaves that turn bright yellow and can be seen enveloping trees along roadsides and riverbanks. Once identified, these invasives should be eradicated or at least cut back to reduce competition and seed production.

The Norfolk Conservation Commission has made it part of its mission to educate the public about these noxious weeds and is actively working to diminish their presence in our town. As a public aid, the Commission will hang a large map at the Norfolk Hub for people to mark the location of any non-native invasive plants they find. Information about these species and their identification will be available with the map. Additional information can be collected about these sightings, though the Commission cannot be employed for their removal. Workdays will be planned on some town-owned lands, however. As locations are marked on the map with push pins, it will be an eye-opener to many just how widespread these plants are. Hopefully, this will stimulate more interest in removing these plants from the landscape.

So, enjoy the natural beauty of our New England woods and fields this autumn, but also keep an eye out for the invasives: though often beautiful, too, they are out of place and do harm to our environment.

Photos of burning bush by John Anderson.
John Anderson is chairman of the Norfolk Conservation Commission and executive director of Aton Forest. 

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