Attention to our Environment

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Burning Bush, Norway Maples and Autumn Olive; you might recognize these plant names if you care about your yard. Environmentalists know the names of these plants for a very different reason. These three plants are known as invasive plants. They are not native to this environment. Plants and animals can be introduced to environments and not cause any upset at all, but others overrun areas. Invasive species, plants or animals, are known for their aggressive tendencies and their ability to put their immediate environment in danger.

All life needs three fundamental things to survive. It needs nutrients, water and space. Invasive species take all of those necessities away from native ones. The lionfish is one of the most invasive fish species off the coast of Florida. Not only are they venomous and have a good defense mechanism, but they also out-eat all other competition in the waters they inhabit, allowing them to take over multiple environments. Now, the lionfish is just one extreme example of what an invasive species can look like, but here in Connecticut we have more of a subtle predator: the Zebra Mussel. The Zebra Mussel was originally introduced to the United States through the great lakes up in Michigan. This small mussel, barely the size of a dime, has been able to overrun waterways in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and here in our home state Connecticut. How did it do it? By taking up so much space and reproducing so fast that other native species could not even imagine keeping up. The Zebra Mussel was able to grow on boats that traveled through interstate waterways. From there this mussel could move around and start to invade other environments, like the Connecticut waterways. This one mussel has been filtering out algae that native species need. This leads to extreme environmental collapse.

Plants are just as important to protect. You’ve most likely have seen the plant bittersweet, maybe even heard about it. This one plant has caused too many problems to even count for my family alone. Bittersweet is a creeping vine and chokes out trees to gain access to the sun to photosynthesize. Because it climbs and chokes out trees, shrubs and bushes, it kills them in the process, leading to not only an eyesore but also the perfect opportunity for the plant. Bittersweet now has more nutrients that it can pull from the ground, more space for it to grow and expand and a greater access to water. Norway maples, one of the most popular trees in landscaping as of late, draws up extreme amounts of nutrients from the ground, allowing it to grow at an alarming rate. This growth allows it to start blocking out sunlight for other trees, making the Norway maple the aggressive and invasive tree on your property.

There are things that you can do to help mitigate and maybe even resolve this issue. First things first, educate yourself. If you are reading this article, then you’ve already taken your first steps. You can learn about the species you might have in your yard that you might be using for landscaping and find an alternative that might look as good and will be much healthier for the environment that you’re striving to protect. Another thing you can do is just make sure you clean your boat off. It might sound simple, but every time you take your boat out of the water, just check it over for anything that might look like it is growing on your boat and just clean it off. Also, if you encounter any invasive species in the wild, try and take care of it yourself (like cutting down bittersweet) or let the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection know (this should be used for bigger things like the mussels or fish).

But remember, if we continue to allow these invasive species access to our homes, what will our futures look like? Will you be able to be boating in Lake Congamond or will you let the zebra mussels overrun it and make it unswimmable and also cause damage to your boat in the process? Will you be able to go up to the Cape for the summers and enjoy an afternoon swim in the ocean, or will the lionfish make its way up and make it unsafe for us to just enjoy the beach? Will you be able to enjoy a sweet apple from either the small tree in your backyard or even the local orchard, or will you let bittersweet choke out all of the strong and healthy fruit trees around you? Just think about what you want to continue to enjoy in life. Think about what you want your kids to grow up knowing.

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