Invasive plants and beavers


Much has been written about kudzu, an invasive plant imported from China in 1876 as a cover plant to reduce erosion on exposed sites. As a child in Tennessee, my uncle paid me to plant kudzu sprigs on an eroded site. Within three years the kudzu had completely covered the site and erosion and soil loss was no longer occurring. Kudzu is a “nitrogen-fixer” and sites where it has grown for several years have a thick layer of rich topsoil covering the ground.
Livestock readily graze on kudzu and will ultimately kill it. Not far from where I live was a kudzu covered field. The owner installed an electric fence around it, introduced some sheep, and put a sheep dog inside to guard the sheep. Two years later, the kudzu was dead leaving behind a rich fertile field. I have seen a number of places where kudzu has been used successfully to control erosion. I suspect but cannot verify that all things considered the benefits derived from kudzu far outweigh the damage it has caused.
Another creeping climbing vine imported from China is far worse than kudzu. It is Chinese wisteria. Rarely, kudzu will climb into a tree and smother it to death.
Chinese wisteria on the other hand will climb much higher into trees than kudzu will and literally choke them to death. Livestock refuse to eat wisteria, and even goats, which will eat the paper off of tin cans, deign to eat wisteria.
To my knowledge, about the only thing that is known to eat wisteria is the so-called kudzu bug. Wisteria, once established, is difficult to eradicate. Cutting the vines near their bases and applying a herbicide to their basal ends is effective in killing this bad weed.
Not long after I moved to the country, a wildlife biologist suggested that I should plant some autumn olive shrubs (Elaeagnus angustifolia) on my property. “Birds really love the fruits of autumn olive,” he told me.
I did what he recommended, and planted three of the shrubs.
Big mistake. The damnable things spread like wildfire, and now they are all over the place, smothering out desirable understory plants.
They will grow in the woods, in clearings, and in just about everywhere else, and they are exceedingly difficult to eradicate. I assume birds were responsible for spreading them. So, dear readers, avoid planting autumn olive shrubs like the plague. If you thought privet is bad, autumn olive is far worse.
A Geezer friend of mine, Malcolm Prather (the “Railroad Man”), told me he was having a problem I wish I had, namely, beavers. I envy him. Beaver swamps are likely to support nesting, beautiful bright yellow Prothonotary Warblers and rare Red-headed Woodpeckers. Also several species of frogs.
Wood Ducks are often residents of beaver swamps, and Barred Owls are likely to inhabit woodlands in and around beaver swamps.
Some property I own about. 25 miles away has a colony of beavers, but I am seldom able to enjoy the sights and sounds associated with beaver activity.
Husky Kirkwood despises beavers because they kill some of his trees. I would gladly sacrifice a few acres of the forestland around my residential property if beavers should ever decide to construct a dam across my creek. So far, they have declined my invitation.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.


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