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A Nature Journal

Experience the natural world with east central Illinois master naturalists
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Invasives: They're Everywhere!

Posted by Bethany Semancik -

Diane and Ed Wilhite (MN 2009) recently traveled to New Zealand. Here's what Master Naturalists do on vacation.

While in New Zealand, we spent some time removing invasive plants on a stretch of coastal land that is being restored to a native environment. With their remote, fragile biome, New Zealanders are quite vigilant working to extirpate existing invasives and to restrict the introduction of new non-native species.

Our mission: out with the bad grasses, in with the good. But who can tell one grass from another? Certainly not I. So I got to work with the biggie- gorse (Ulex europaeus). Gorse is to the Kiwis what Japanese bush honeysuckle is to us. It was imported by early residents for hedges. It is an evergreen shrub that grows in full sun, partial sun, or full shade- up to 12' tall with trunks up to 8" in diameter. The seeds can lie dormant for up to 50- count 'em, 50!- years.

The plant is basically a stem with thorns. Picture honeysuckle crossed with bull thistle. It just looks evil. Gorse grows quickly on disturbed ground or untouched forest. Fire does not kill the roots or most of the seeds. But the plant sure likes the temperate climate of New Zealand. Despite being outlawed for over 100 years, gorse covers over 1,700,000 acres of this largely agricultural country. We did our best, but the gorse lives on.

Story and photos by Diane and Ed Wilhite (2016).

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