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National Wetlands Research Center

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Invasive Plants

Invasive plants have been recognized as playing a large part in the loss of wetland and coastal habitats. Scientists at the National Wetlands Research Center are investigating several invasive species.

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Chinese tallow tree (Triadeca sebifera): The Chinese tallow tree, one of the greatest threats to habitat in the South, rapidly replaces native plants and trees, radically altering marsh, forest, and coastal prairie ecosystems. NWRC scientists are investigating the role birds play in the dispersal of Chinese tallow and exploring the value of tallow fruit to wintering birds. Researchers also use satellite data to map and monitor invasive species within the native landscape.

Common reed (Phragmites australis): Common reed is native to North America and is one of the most widespread plant species in the world. In 2002, three genetic lineages were identified in North America. One lineage of European and Asian origins was introduced to North America in the 19th century; this lineage is aggressively invasive and can form dense single-species stands. The other lineages are distantly related. One of these is native to North America and the origin of the other, found along the Gulf of Mexico coast as well as in South America, is uncertain. NWRC research indicates that the Eurasian lineage can displace plants of the Gulf Coast lineage and may significantly alter native Gulf Coast plant communities and the animals that live there.

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria): Purple loosestrife is a perennial plant native to Eurasia, where it grows along streams and rivers. Seeds were inadvertently brought to North America in the ballast water of ships. Purple loosestrife was also intentionally planted throughout North America for its ornamental flowers but has since escaped cultivation to spread to wetlands. When purple loosestrife invades a wetland, the species sometimes becomes more dominant than the original native wetland species.

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