Skip to main Content

There’s still time to stop invasive plants from harming Alaska — if we act now

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published August 10, 2017

The loyal reader knows I am having a crisis of conscience with regard to the proliferation of invasive, non-native plants into our Alaska yards.

It stems from the fact that Alaska might be able to preserve its ecosystem if we act now. If we wait much longer, it may become too late, and we will suffer the fate of the Lower 48 states, where a staggering amount of ground cover is now non-native, as is much of our urban forest.

In short, introducing non-native plants crowds out natives. In so many instances this has a negative, spiraling impact on the other life that depends on local flora. These non-natives have been compared to tumors. They start small. At some point they grow and multiply and they impact everything around them.

Think dandelions are hard to get rid of? Try eradicating sow thistle. (Getty)

After my June column arguing for an end to planting mayday trees — which are starting to choke riparian banks we would rather remain as salmon habitat, and have actually proven to be poison to moose — I had a "discussion" with an old friend who thought I was being silly. He proudly announced that he had planted one in McCarthy. (I can see it now: McCarthy in 2035 with no moose, few fishing streams but beautiful mayday flowers).

I asked my friend why he would want to move a part of suburbia, in the form of a landscape tree, way out to rural-as-it-gets McCarthy. However, I could just as easily ask myself why I felt the need to plant ligularia on my property. It is at least slightly invasive and has started to escape from our perennial gardens.

What is it about human nature that we think it necessary to bring as much Lower 48 yardscaping to Alaska while "The Last Frontier!" is on our license plates? And don't each and every one of us tell our Outside family that we came here to Alaska because it is so specially beautiful and unspoiled?

And then we come up here and we sully it.

If my past experience is any guide, some of the comments that follow this column will note they think I am crazy. I probably am, but I am also responsible for popularizing a lot of these plants that I am now questioning. So even if I am not crazy, I am at least guilty.

Again, I am calling for debate here. Pointing out that I am nuts is not the answer. Things can only get worse. This week, walk along any road in this state and you will see we have a problem with rapeseed, sweet clover, vetch, cornflower and a whole host of plants that are allowed in the seed mixes sprayed along our byways and then picked up and spread by passing autos and trucks.

If you think dandelions have a tough root to eliminate, wait until you try to deal with a 6-foot-deep sow thistle (Sonchus arvensis). You can't. And they are here.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Here are two resources to help you identify invasive plants in your yard and garden:

The first is the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension's page on invasive species: It includes links to a variety of resources, including ways to report invasive plants and even a "Alaska Weeds ID" mobile app.

The second is a resource page on invasive plants in Alaska from the U.S. Forest Service:

On Saturday, Aug. 12, there are two great events using the same parking lot outside the Alaska Botanical Garden (actually owned by the Benny Benson School):

1. ALPAR and ABG's annual Plastic Pot Recycling Day: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. No sorting this year. Bring any cleaned plastic pot or tray. (But no early or late drop-offs; the area is under video surveillance, methinks.)

2. The Alaska Master Gardener's Late Season Plant sale: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. These folks know what to grow, and this is one of the best sales around for perennials.

3. Visit the garden while you are there!

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.