Push on to combat invasive plants

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By LUCAS DAY

Capital News Service

LANSING –  A Northwest Michigan program to get nurseries and landscapers to avoid using invasive plants is expanding across the state.

The Traverse City-based Go Beyond Beauty program has received $215,150 in funding from the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program to tackle such unwanted plants as Japanese barberry, baby’s breath and blue lyme grass that spread by people planting them in gardens.

The program is operated by the Northwest Invasive Species Network, which serves Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie and Manistee counties. When it expands, environmental groups across the state will act as hubs to work with businesses in their area, said Emily Cook, the network’s outreach specialist.

Advocates say the program is a key to preserving Michigan’s diversity of native plants.

Plants need pollinators like bees to move pollen from male plants to female ones to reproduce, Cook said. Invasive plants steal the attention of pollinators, which can hurt native species.

“That’s what we’re really trying to work to manage, keeping the biodiversity of these areas intact,” she said.

The program works, she said. Participating businesses say more people are asking for native plants.

“As the conversation about native plants and invasive species grows, the demand for certain plants is shifting,” she said.

The Invasive Species Network promotes businesses that participate in Go Beyond Beauty. The organization spoke to almost 4,000 people at presentations where it listed businesses participating in the program, Cook said.

However, she said most businesses join not for the business perks but because they want to be a part of the solution.

Bob Dompierre a landscape designer with Old Mission Associates in Traverse City, said he’s more confident talking with clients because the endorsement from the Invasive Species Network brings credibility.

When first meeting with a client, “I feel a lot more confident saying I’m backed by this Go Beyond Beauty Program,” Dompierre said.

When clients ask him to plant invasive species, he explains why not to use them and recommends an alternative.

Cook said Michigan needs to better regulate invasive plants. Other Great Lakes states such as Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio do a better job.

“Michigan — while I love this state — we’re a little behind on the plants that we regulate,” Cook said.

The grant is for three years, but there is a chance for an extension.

“Our goal is for it to be a long-term, statewide thing,” Cook said.

The first year of expansion is expected to be spent mostly planning. The Invasive Species Network needs to hire a new employee to help with the expansion and decide which environmental groups can act as hubs, Cook said.

Results of the expansion will be evident in early 2021.

Lucas Day writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Japanese barberry is a popular choice for gardens. Go Beyond Beauty is trying to end that. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture.