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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Thursday - May 09, 2013

From: Fairfax, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Invasives species experiment from Fairfax VA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I have some friends that need an experiment on Invasive Species fast. They are in 11th grade at Robinson secondary school. Are you able to help? Its due in June and they don't have a lot of time.


We are often asked by students and parents to write a term paper for them, by asking a supposedly innocuous question that is indeed the subject for the paper. We are always happy to give them links to references, especially online references, to help them structure their work. We are unsure how one would structure an experiment on invasive plants. For one thing, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which the plants grow; in your case, Fairfax County, VA. However, we are deeply interested in invasive plants and trying to stem the damage they can cause, so we will see what we can do.

Many invasives are not native to North America, having been brought in accidentally or intentionally for ornamental uses. Some plants native to North America become invasive when they are moved to another part of the country where they have no natural enemies, or where they got much more rainfall than they had become accustomed to. For instance, please read this previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer on the invasiveness in California of Agave americana (American century plant), which is a desert plant native to California. Then, read the response from that person and how we explained it.

We are not sure hunting invasive plants in a certain area, - parks, lawns, school grounds, one square block, etc., documenting where they came from and how they got there - counts as an experiment, but it is useful information. We found an enormous amount of information on invasives in Virginia online. We will link you to those sites; we noted on one of them that there are more invasive species in Fairfax County than any other county in the state.

The students should make sure to clear the type of investigation they are going to do so they know in advance if it will be acceptable as an experiment. A couple things we might suggest is they could go to plant nurseries and find out what non-native invasives are being sold; for instance, Paulownia tomentosa (Princess tree). We have found this being sold in commercial nurseries and even the front porch of the grocery store. Or, though you won't find it in stores (we hope) Pueraria montana var. lobata (kudzu) would be worth investigating to see where it is still flourishing in your area.

It will be challenging for the students to plow through all these references, but we hope it will spark an interest in some area of this very difficult and challenging subject.

Invasive Plant Species of Virginia

Invasive Plant Species List of Virginia
Invasive Species Fact Sheets - Virginia

Invasive  Species in Virginia

Resources on Invasive Plants

Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension Invasive Plant Program


Kudzu and Surface Ozone Pollution


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