Fending Off a Vegetation Invasion: Overrun to Overjoyed


Early stages of a flower glade by Sarah Joplin

Early stages of a flower glade
Photo by Sarah Joplin 

We’ve all had our breath taken away by the truly awesome transformative powers of nature. Think tornado strike images of communities leveled overnight, buildings rendered to rubble, floodwater-made moonscapes or landslides suddenly shapeshifting neighborhoods; habitation buried in an instant. Mother Nature has remarkable powers to envelop, transfigure and destroy.

There are, however, pervasive metamorphoses that nature ushers at a slower, even imperceptible pace. We’re not talking an evolutionary timeline here but rather the steady advance of vegetation deemed “invasives”. These are not dramatic overthrows, but instead quiet assaults that first encroach and eventually overwhelm a landscape. Such is the case with Eastern Red Cedar trees overtaking hardwood forest, underbrush and even pasture land throughout parts of the Midwest and specifically here at Redbud Farm.

Invasives Threatening the Midwest

Invasive species are highly problematic in a number of respects. For instance, according to the Missouri Department of Conversation, a 20% Redcedar overtake reduces forage for livestock and wildlife by 75% in a given area. The expanding reach of these trees increases risk of wildfires; they displace upland game animals, grassland bird species and small mammal diversity as they overrun the land as a monocrop. Further, there is a stark 90% reduction in undergrowth plant diversity in Red Cedar woodlands. With erosion resulting beneath these woodlands, surrounding watersheds have seen up to a 40% decline in streamflow. And Red Cedar is only one of the invasives threatening the Midwest. Others include Winter Creeper, Sericea Lespedeza, Multiflora Rose, Bush Honeysuckle, Johnson Grass and the Common Teasel. These all pose real threats to the environment, the agrarian economy and thus Midwest society as a whole.

When my boyfriend and I arrived in the Fall of 2010 to steward the more than 100 acres of family land largely neglected since my father’s passing 7 years prior, it was showing signs of my negligent absentee land management and upkeep: fence lines collapsing and overgrown, pasture overgrazing by my land tenant, banks of ponds trodden by livestock or breached by floods, and a poorly-maintained barn. All of these were troubling enough, but a most striking presence was the density and expanse of the Eastern Red Ceder groves.

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