Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Japanese Shrub Damaging State Forests

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Japanese Shrub Damaging State Forests

Article excerpt

Its burgundy foliage is the perfect accessory for a well-kept forest green yard. Exposure to full sun stimulates the richest leaf color, yet Japanese barberry is an extremely shade tolerant ornamental shrub that survives the coldest sub-zero winters. It leafs out early, thrives in diverse soil and moisture conditions and is deer resistant.

In Pennsylvania garden centers, a 1-gallon starter pot costs about $12.50. However, in Ohio, New York, Maryland and many other states, the sale of Japanese barberry is illegal.

That's because the biological features that make non-native Berberis thunbergii a resilient yard shrub also make it an unusually successful invasive plant - so invasive that some ecologists consider Japanese barberry a serious long-term threat to the ecological integrity and biodiversity of Pennsylvania forests. New research out of Chatham University has found that forests invaded by the bush harbor a lower density of native tree seedlings. The study by master's student Arthur F. Link and associates suggested previously unconsidered explanations for its hardiness.

"The first alarm bells went off 30 to 40 years ago when thickets [of Japanese barberry] were found to have a higher density of ticks that carry Lyme disease," said Ryan Utz, an assistant professor of water resources at Chatham, who provided oversight of the project. "This research shows that where there were thick clusters of Japanese barberry there were very few, if any, young trees of native species. The barberry was crowding them out."

Japanese barberry arrived in the United State as a garden shrub in the late 1800s. Several European species are also sold as shrubs, but they're less invasive. A North American species is not native to the Pittsburgh region.

Mr. Link and team member Sarah E. Daugherty, who graduated last year, and current Chatham students Cierra K. Snyder and Trey Turnblacer conducted most of their research on the university's Eden Hall campus in Richland. It's not clear if the ornamental shrubs were planted long ago, or whether birds found the plants adorning nearby lawns, ate the bright red fruit and passed the seeds, which then spread throughout the neighborhood. …

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