Bad, Bad Barberry Plants Escape Gardens


A few weeks ago I touted the merits of barberry cultivars in my syndicated Yardsmart column.  And I got mail.   The gist of it was problems of barberry invasiveness in the eastern states.  It’s no surprise because barberry is listed as an invasive plant by the USDA. Invasive means a plant has the ability to grow wild on its own in a particular area.  When they do this in great quantity it displaces a lot of natural vegetation that’s vital to wildlife habitat.  Plants like barberry that are already well established in the wild are difficult if not impossible to control.  Many people feel that they should be banned from ornamental gardens because birds eat their seeds and disperse them over a wide range.  The same applies to other invasive plants such as popular fountain grass, maiden grasses, bamboo, spiraea, wisteria, Halls honeysuckle and privet.  The barberry listed as invasive is Berberis thunbergii, the species.  However, the cultivars that are planted today produce few berries, and they are sufficiently different to carry varying germination requirements.  In common terms this means that they may not be able to grow in wild places where the species can.  Their seed might not be so prolific either.  This illustrates a great dilemma of horticulture today.  The land conservators, native plants, wildlife people and botanists tend to view ornamental gardeners with disdain because so many of our plants come from outside the U.S. and even beyond the shores of North America.  Each plant has the potential to naturalize and become a problem, with some more capable than others. Whether stopping cultivation of these plants or their close relatives due to this problem is a realistic solution remains to be seen.  They say that all diseases are now a 24 hour plane ride from our front door evidenced by the West Nile Virus.  Many experts believe the idea that we can stop an insect or plant from making a home here is unrealistic.  Barberry has been busy reproducing on American soil since 1864 – well over a hundred years.  Suggesting we not cultivate them in the ornamental garden seems a lot like closing the barn door after the horse got out.  Barberries Reemerge From Hedgerow Persecution

Scotch Broom, Goats and Morning Glory Toxicity

morning glory

 Reader question:    I’ve been told by someone who has 50 goats and rents them out that you shouldn’t let the does eat Scotch broom three months prior to pregnancy as it causes miscarriages or deformed kids.  Our goats have other plants on the menu but it would be difficult to keep them away from Scotch broom.     MO-  Let me say right off that I am no expert in livestock and know nothing about goat health or diet.  However, I have lived in broom country and can give you some information an resources to help you find answers.  Scotch broom does contain a number of different alkaloids that are known to be linked to occasional livestock poisoning.  How it influences pregnancies in goats would likely be linked to just how much broom the animal ingests.  In heavily infested wildlands, broom can become the dominant vegetation, and there pregnant rent-a-goats could clearly have problems.  But if your goats nibble broom but are browsing on a wide range of other plants, that may not be enough to have much influence on the pregnancy.  For more information, two resources below give details on the alkaloids and nature of livestock problems with broom:  Poisonous Plants of the Southern United States USDA Natural Resource Conservation District  PLANTS database MO NOTE:  Members of genus Ipomoea, morning glory or bindweed species have significant effects on goats and can cause serious problems in very young and growing individuals.    Reader question:  I don’t think I came in contact with the sap, but I developed facial flushing and slightly swollen throat from Ipomaea species that was in my office for identification.  I am apparently so sensitive to it that despite removing the plant, vacuuming and wiping down surfaces in my office, my face still continues to burn when I have been gone and reenter my office. Have you heard of anything like this?  MO: Ipomoea sap has varying degrees of toxicity depending on the species you were working with.  However, there should be no residual problems after you cleaned up the area.  The only thing left to check is the filter in your heater/air conditioner/ventilation system in the office.  While it’s very unlikely that’s the cause, a clean filter might solve the problem.