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The aliens are here: Invasive Dog-Strangling Vine threatens Lindsay’s ecosystem

in Around Town/Education/Environment by

After a quick summer stroll through downtown Lindsay, one can see that this little town of ours is full of life. Trees and flowering plants take refuge on lawns and in neighbouring yards, and yet some of those plants are less than welcome. Dog-Strangling Vine is a highly invasive species which was introduced from Eurasia to the United States as a garden plant in the mid-1800s.

Now, in the 21st century, it has become increasingly prolific in Southern Ontario, competing with native plant species that are essential food sources for our insects, birds, and mammals. For those who can recognize its characteristic oval-shaped leaves, arranged in pairs on its fleshy stem, and seed pods which resemble green chili peppers, it is a frightful addition to Lindsay’s list of flora.

Dog-Strangling Vine spreads with impunity from woodlots and forests to lawns and backyards, winding its way around fence posts, tree trunks, and woodsheds. The plant is a gardener’s worst nightmare, as its root systems (called “rhizomes”) form underground mazes that twist and tangle through the soil, requiring extensive excavation in order to be eliminated.

It smothers the colourful blossoms of favourite daisies, petunias, lilies, and orchids, cutting them off from their supply of sunlight. What’s more, it drowns-out bushes like Choke Cherry and Wild Currant, reducing food availability for species like White-tailed Deer, American Robin, and Wood Thrush.

To many, Dog-Strangling Vine is a species which seems to be relentless — a plague for which there is no cure. Fortunately, this is far from the truth.

At Fleming College, Frost Campus, my colleagues and I have been tasked to contain and eliminate rampant colonies of this plant from our campus, and our efforts have not been wasted, nor have they gone unseen. Numerous black tarps cover the roadsides of Adelaide Street south towards the college campus, attracting the attention of residents and passersby.

These tarps have been strategically placed over large patches of Dog-Strangling Vine, which were reduced from tall, outward-stretching tentacles to small, nubby stems just a few inches high, using garden clippers and lawn mowers. Cut-off from the sun for prolonged periods of time, these tenacious colonies will soon wither-away and fade into the soil, leaving space for native plants to repopulate and recover from the effects of the invaders.

Jason Kerr, a technologist with Fleming’s Ecosystem Management Program, and coordinator of operations for on-campus invasive species removal, projects that a three to five-year time period is needed to reduce the populations of Dog-Strangling Vine to manageable levels. Three things are required for this undertaking to be successful: time, money and volunteers. 

Lindsay and the Kawartha Lakes region is a testament to Canada’s natural environments. However, at this point in time, it will take more than just a handful of people to conserve this beauty for future generations. Keep your eyes open and your shovels handy, because you never know when the aliens might come knocking at your door.

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Luigi Richardson is a student in the Fish and Wildlife Program at Fleming College’s Frost Campus. He is a lifelong angler and birdwatcher, who also enjoys reading, as well as writing in various genres of literature in his spare time

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