Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Ear to the Ground November-December 2013

by janem on November 13, 2013


Rich Finzer’s article on invasive woody species in the last issue caused quite a stir. One reader questioned whether Mr. Finzer was really talking about Russian olive, Elaeagnus angustifolia, or if he meant autumn olive, E. umbellata. Below, another reader disagrees with two native plants being lumped in with invasive aliens. Keep those letters coming. We love them!


Dear Ms. Milliman,

I have just read the article “Invasive Species” in the September-October 2013 issue. Clearly it was written by someone who manages his land with some environmentally unsound practices, as noted by the interjected editorial comments. One can only imagine how much compaction of the soil and carbon emissions Mr. Finzer has contributed with his pickup truck. He does have some valid points about the invasiveness of alien species and how they have filled the niches of native plants that provide habitat for wildlife. However, while he initially seems to promote biodiversity, he does not discuss replacing these alien species with competitive native plants.

I am bewildered that on his eighty-acre farm, he cannot tolerate the native staghorn sumac, an attractive succession shrub or tree, that provides nourishment for many birds in the dead of winter when few other food sources are available. According to [native plants expert] William Cullina, sumacs are the larval host food of the red-banded hairstreak butterfly. I could not find any references online or in books that state that rabbits consume the fruit and are the primary dispersers of the seeds. Sumacs retain their fuzzy, red fruit throughout winter at the tips of their branches, making them accessible only to birds and climbing mammals. Rabbits mainly gnaw on the bark and nibble off young shoots, so they may actually help curb the spread of sumacs. Mr. Finzer describes the wild grape as a “bane of landowners everywhere” and I do not agree. It too, is a native that is a natural source of food for wildlife and can be controlled without the need for complete eradication. Without the hardy, robust rootstocks of Vitis riparia and other native grapes, viniculture might not be possible in North America.

In my opinion, these two native species should not be lumped into the same category as Japanese honeysuckle, Russian olive, multiflora rose, and giant hogweed. It appears that Mr. Finzer has based his article largely on personal experiences and less on scientific research. I hope that in the future, your publication will improve its refereeing and the content of the information presented to the public.


Judy Bigelow, M.S., D.V.M., Master Gardener CCE Monroe County

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: