Saturday, May 07, 2005

Barberry Dilemma

For some years environmental groups have been attacking the Japanese barberry, scheduling “pull ’em up” parties and conducting anti-barberry education programs. The prickly import that has been spreading through woodlands can push out native species.

However, the folks at the Highstead Arboretum in Redding, Connecticut, have been noticing an unusual phenomenon: Barberry bushes are sheltering native wildflowers.

Probably because the shrub is covered with thorns, deer that have been decimating many woodland plants do not eat barberry. In fact, they tend to keep away from it. As a result, arboretum staff have been finding native wildflowers that the deer normally consume, including Trout Lilies and Bloodroot, blooming away under and around barberries while the plants out in the open have been mostly eaten.

It presents a dilemma. Should we spare some of these alien invaders to protect the native flowers from the native deer?

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