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Friday - March 26, 2004

From: Washington, DC
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Smarty Plants Exotic Species
Answered by: Jil M. Swearingen, National Park Service


What is an Exotic Species?


An organism is considered exotic (alien, foreign, non-indigenous, non-native) when it has been introduced by humans to a location(s) outside its native or natural range. This designation applies to a species introduced from another continent, another ecosystem, and even another habitat within an ecosystem.

For example, black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), a tree that is native to the southern Appalachian region and portions of Indiana, Illinois and Missouri, was planted throughout the U.S. for living fences, erosion control, and other uses for many years. Black locust is considered exotic outside its natural native range because it got there by human introduction rather than by natural dispersal. Another example is saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), a wetland plant that is native to eastern North American estuaries. Saltmarsh cordgrass was introduced to western North American shoreline habitats, where it did not occur previously. It has established and become a serious invasive species, displacing native species and adversely impacting wetland communities.

European settlers brought hundreds of plants to North America from their home lands for use as food and medicine, and for ornamental, sentimental, and other purposes. Introductions of exotic plants continue today and are greatly increasing due to a large and ever-expanding human population, increased international travel and trade, and other factors.

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