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The First Blush of Spring

The First Blush of Spring

Multiflora rose, Photo by Rob Routledge, Sault College,
April 14, 2020

Nature’s first blush of green is a sign that spring is officially here. Whether you are hiking, driving or just looking out into your backyard, you will notice green starting to appear. It may come as a surprise that these first glimpses of green are often non-native invasive plant species. The early budding and long growing season of these invaders is what makes them so successful in their takeover.

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,
Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). Photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,
This competitive head start offers these invasive plants an advantage over our local native vegetation. But, this early reveal can also be used against them. Many of our native flora have not yet begun to green, leaving the invasive species to stick out like a sore thumb. Early spring makes for the perfect time to identify these problematic plants for removal. 

Competing with Spring Ephemerals: 

It is important to note that not all green in early spring is non-native invasive plants. This is also the time when native spring ephemerals begin to appear. An ephemeral is a woodland plant that completes its entire lifecycle before the deciduous trees above have a chance to leaf out and block sunlight from reaching the woodland floor. One of the many reasons these species are so important to protect is that they are the first nectar source of the season for our pollinators. Those first early rays of spring light are crucial for ephemeral survival.

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is a “spring ephemeral,” a group of wildflowers whose leaves emerge before trees leaf out to take advantage of bright sunlight.
Example of a native spring ephemeral: Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica). This plant is one of the earliest bloomers in spring and is typically found in or near woods or streams.
A native spring ephemeral, Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)—a shrub, not a wildflower—is common in wooded areas and thickets.
Example of a native spring ephemeral: Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). This shrub bears small green-yellow flowers along its delicate branches in early spring, and is common in wooded areas and thickets.
Unfortunately, because invasive species leaf out early, they shade out and overcrowd ephemerals. This means that ephemerals are not likely to survive in areas heavily invaded by non-native invasive plants. Human intervention is critical for the protection of these spring ephemerals. 

Treating invasive early-spring plants:

Bush honeysuckle (Lonicera spp. L.). Ryan Armbrust, Kansas Forest Service,
Bush honeysuckle (Lonicera spp. L.). Photo by Ryan Armbrust, Kansas Forest Service,
Winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus). Photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois,
Winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus). Photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois,
If the area of invasive plants is of manageable size, mechanical removal is recommended. They can also be treated with foliar spray herbicide during this time. If herbicide application is necessary, use extra precaution to avoid non-targeted plants. For example, avoiding application during windy days can decrease the chance of any drift reaching ephemerals. 

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii). Kristen  Frentzel, Brandywine Conservancy.
Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii). Photo by Kristen Frentzel, Brandywine Conservancy.
What to look out for in early spring:

The next time you are outside, take note of the green you see around you. Some of the more common invaders of our area to look out for are Japanese barberry, multiflora rose, autumn and Russian olive, bush honeysuckle, burning bush and Norway maple. 

Click here for informational sheets on these and other common invasive plants in our region. If you notice invasive plants on your own property, utilize this season to target them as they reveal their literal and figurative true colors.



Header image: 
Multiflora rose. Photo by Rob Routledge, Sault College,