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Homeowner ‘devastated’ after discovering mystery plant on their property: ‘Do I cut them all down?’

“This is a big setback.”

"This is a big setback."

Photo Credit: Reddit

A gardener was devastated when they found out the area they’d been nursing for years featured invasive bushes masquerading as natives beneficial to local wildlife.

At the end of summer, the Redditor hit up r/NativePlantGardening, stating that what they had assumed were American highbush cranberries — or viburnum trilobum — were actually viburnum dilatatum. At least 10 of the plants had exploded to heights up to 20 feet in perhaps 50 years of growing.

“I was taking photos yesterday and used Google lens only to find out that they’re actually Viburnum dilatatum, from Asia and considered invasive in many US states!!” the poster wrote. “The berries definitely get eaten during the winter but now I’m not sure if this is beneficial to my wildlife. Do I cut them all down and replace with natives?? Or are they ok to keep ?”

"This is a big setback."
Photo Credit: Reddit

One can imagine the beauty of the poster’s four-acre plot, situated along a river in New England. When they entered the picture, it was “completely overrun by invasives,” including burning bush, barberry, autumn olive, multiflora, and bittersweet. It took two years to hand-clear the intruders and for seeds and native species to succeed.

“This was the first summer I could look into my woods and see majority native,” they wrote. “And I’ve been supplemental planting in the woods with native trees and shrubs, while also creating a massive native perennial pollinator garden.”

As commenters concurred, invasive species have to go.

They crowd out natives by soaking up all the sunshine, moisture, and nutrients, degrade wildlife habitat and water quality, and worsen soil erosion. According to the U.S. Forest Service, invasive species are the primary cause of the decline of 18% of endangered or threatened species in the country and have also aided the decline of 42% of other endangered and threatened species in the U.S.

Their introduction to environments results in takeovers worthy of apocalyptic fever dreams and can cause human health hazards such as the West Nile virus and even economic harm to the tune of $423 billion annually.

In this case, the seeds of the linden viburnum are consumed by birds and spread via their guano.

That was the crux of the issue, and one commenter hit the nail on the head by sharing a fascinating article about “why birds often go for non-native berries, and why that doesn’t mean the berries are necessarily good for them.”

The poster replied: “That fact about the Cardinals being brighter and ‘fake healthy’ is crazy!! I guess that seals the deal, as my primary focus for my restoration has been focused on supporting birds and other pollinators. It’s always 2 steps forward 1 step back, but this is a big setback because of how established these viburnum are. On the other hand, now I have a great excuse to buy more plants and woodland garden this fall!”

Another user added: “A native viburnum will provide more for wildlife, not just berries for birds. Highbush cranberry is a larval host plant for the spring azure butterfly (celastrina ladon), for example. Native viburnums are a better choice as viburnum dilatatum tends to become weedy, creating dense thickets and shading out other lower growing native plants.”

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