Battling the aliens among us


To the editor:

I have been battling aliens for may years. Not with laser guns, but with clippers.

The aliens I fight are not little green men, but destructive green plants. One in particular, the porcelain berry, is especially damaging.

Introduced from Asia in the 1870s because of its beautiful bright turquoise-blue berries, porcelain berry is an invasive plant that long ago escaped to the wild where it overwhelms native plants. Drive any of the local parkways, and you can see its effects.

Bushes, shrubs and even mature trees along the margins have been smothered by this fast-growing vine, and the state’s transportation department lacks the money to resolve — or both — to stop its spread. Perhaps they will be galvanized into action when falling trees block the roadways.

Porcelain berry is a member of the grapevine family. It begins as an innocuous-looking ground cover until it finds something to climb on. Then it sends out multiple shoots that can grow 25 feet or more in a season. Native plants have no defense against this invader.

Using tendrils to grip branches, the leafy vines spread over an unlucky host, which is rapidly shaded out and dies. It loves edges and disturbed areas, and once it gains a foothold, it is difficult to remove. Short of pulling out the thick tuberous roots, the vines must be cut several times during a growing season, and again the following year, to kill it.

Riverdale is blessed with lots of public green spaces, but these are under threat. As I walk along Palisade Avenue bordering Riverdale Park, I see what appears to be a dense mound of green. But a closer look reveals that each mound contains a dead or dying bush covered in a network of flourishing vines.

Dead bushes, in turn, provide a foothold for stout, ever-grasping porcelain berry shoots to attack mature trees. In a few seasons, the vines reach 50 feet into the canopy and severely weaken decades-old trees, causing them to topple in storms. Young saplings have no chance. They become bent and crippled from the weight of the vines and quickly die.

The city’s Parks Natural Resources Group periodically cuts down the vines and applies herbicide to roots to control porcelain berry in the park. And a stewardship program sponsored by the parks department trains volunteers, which I am one of, to identify and remove invasive plants from city parks.

But it’s a holding action at best, in part because seed-containing berries borne by birds from nearby private properties are a source of re-infestation.

In communist China, the government might order a million peasants into the woods to cut down vines and pull out stout roots. Here, park volunteers do that. Private property owners should aid that effort by removing this insidious pest from their grounds as soon as they discover it.

They would not only be saving their own greenery, but performing a public service as well.

Saul Scheinbach

Have an opinion? Share your thoughts as a letter to the editor. Make your submission to letters@riverdalepress.com. Please include your full name, phone number (for verification purposes only), and home address (which will not be published).
Saul Scheinbach,