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Non-native plants pose biodiversity threat; Nature center holding info sessions on invasive species

While most of us are aware of the things we commonly do that are harmful to the environment, few know that many people, unknowingly, harbor plants in their backyards that alter natural processes and reduce biodiversity. They're called invasive plants, or non-native species, and they were brought to the United States from foreign countries for horticultural purposes.

In order to help the public identify invasive plants, Thacher Nature Center in Voorheesville conducts Invasive Sundays all summer long, from 9:15-11 a.m., in which visitors are given a tour of the invasive plants within and surrounding the park and taught how to practice removal techniques.

So what exactly are invasive plants, and why are they such a threat to the survival of our natural habitats?

According to the North Carolina Botanical Gardens at the University of North Carolina, at least 4,000 invasive plants have been brought to the United States, and most of them are not harmful. Yet their research also shows that 79 species of these plants that now grow wild throughout the country and are commonly purchased in nurseries and gardening centers have cost the U.S. economy more than $97 billion annually as a result of crop failure, efforts to save endangered species, and efforts to control and eliminate them.

Although they look innocent enough, and are often aesthetically pleasing, invasive plants often produce copious amounts of seeds, and have aggressive root systems that grow so densely that they smother the root systems of other plants.

Frequently things that are invasive tend to seed prodigiously, and whatever might have kept them in check in their old environment is not doing so in this new environment, said Laurel Tormey Cole, an expert on invasive plants who leads Invasive Sundays at the nature center. She noted that invasive plants are the No. 2 threat, besides habitat loss, to biodiversity in the world.

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