Missouri released its list of expanding invasive plants—here’s why you should care

Illustration by Camille Caparas

They come flowered, full and green. Often, they’re somewhat attractive and at first glance might not seem problematic. They may not look like your typical weed, but invasive plants are a serious threat to the natural ecosystem.

That’s why Missouri established its own Invasive Plant Task Force, a networking and advocacy group made up of folks from fields of conservation, agriculture, botanical science, ecological services and more.“We meet quarterly,” says Carol Davit, head of the Missouri Prairie Foundation. “One of our top goals is to make early detection and control of invasive plants a high priority in our state. Back in 2015, when we started, the highest priority was to create a ranked assessment of known and potential invasive plants in Missouri because there wasn’t any comprehensive updated list.”

Recently, the Missouri Invasive Plant Task Force released a list of the twenty-five most-expanding invasive plants in Missouri, assessed by the abundance of plants compiled and reviewed by twenty-six Missouri field biologists.

If invasive plants are left to their own devices, they will rapidly multiply and their ranges will expand. Invasive species aren’t just costly to eradicate; they can take up resources from people who make a living off their land. “They’re competing for space, they’re competing for soil resources, they’re competing for water, they’re competing for sun,” Davit says, adding that invasive plants taking over can disrupt the ecological function of existing habitats. “In an area you might have thirty to fifty different kinds of plants. All of those plants might have specific relationships to native insects or other creatures.”

If you find what you think is an invasive species in your area, you can report it using the EDDMapS app, which can help track invasive plants across the nation. Davit quotes Dr. Quinn Long, the head of Shaw Nature Reserve near St. Louis: “His analogy is if you live in an apartment building and three doors down another apartment is on fire, do you wait until the fire gets to your apartment before you leave?”

Here are the top five most-expanding invasive species in Missouri.

1. Callery Pear: The most popular cultivar of this tree, Bradford, is known for its funky-smelling yet attractive white flowers.

2. Garlic Mustard: These green bushing plants grow tiny white flowers in their second year and give off a garlicky odor when the plant is crushed.

3. Sericea Lespedeza: This slender-stemmed plant grows up to six feet tall and has thin leaves. It blossoms creamy white flowers with purple throats in late summer.

4. Invasive Privets: Native to northern China, these semi-evergreen shrubs can mature to fifteen feet tall. The creamy flowers are known to have an unpleasant aroma.

5. Reed Canary Grass: This plant looks like your typical prairie grass but with shorter and less clustered seed head spikelets.

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