Lexington, KY – A friend, a long-time hiker, recently inspired me to join her on several treks to the Red River Gorge -
something I haven’t done in way too long. The trails there are amazing, combining undulating pathways through the woods with incredible views from the rocky promontories.
Sadly, the wild perfection of this area is marred by a jarring element: the ornamental grass Miscanthus sinensis (aka Maiden grass or Chinese silver grass) growing all along the road sides. I also saw it in open areas along the beginning of the trail we hiked. This grass is a gorgeous tan color now, with dried, fluffy seed heads held high. The seeds are by now long gone, busily preparing to make still more plants come spring.
Such gorgeous grasses, and so very wrong.
The original Miscanthus sinensis, from which many horticultural selections have been made, still grows wild in eastern China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. This imported ornamental grass, which quickly became a favorite with gardeners, was planted at Natural Bridge State Park about 80 years ago. It escaped into the wild and is now a noxious invasive menace. (It is reported that not all Miscanthus species are invasive. There are hybrid forms that produce mostly sterile seeds. It is, nonetheless, noted that the various cultivars could cross pollinate, resulting in progeny that revert to the invasive species. Seems the jury is still out on this matter.)
This is by no means the only invasive plant that is threatening to overtake native habitats at the Red River Gorge. In fact, there is a long list of culprits, many of which are also cultivated plants gone AWOL.
The Well-Intentioned Gardener
As gardeners, we are crazy about plants. But despite our best intentions, this love story has gone awry, sometimes with grave repercussions. If we can balance our desire for plants in general with a deep caring for our local ecosystem, refusing those plants that are a threat and embracing those that nurture our insects, butterflies and birds, then we can give this romance a happy ending.
In short, we must become aware and caring gardeners. To this end, here are my three New Year’s gardening resolutions: