With June newly proclaimed as Invasive Species Awareness Month by Governor Kim Reynolds, it’s the perfect time to get acquainted with those pesky invaders threatening Iowa’s beautiful landscapes. These uninvited guests are more than just a nuisance; they can outcompete and destroy our native species, disrupting ecosystems and causing serious damage. But don’t worry, we’re here to give you the lowdown on these invaders, divided into three main categories: plants, insects, and animals/fish. Let's dive into a few and nip these problems in the bud!

Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva
loading...

Invasive Plants: The Garden Party Crashers

These plant invaders might look pretty, but they’re bad news for our native flora. The Forest Invasive Species Guide is published in cooperation with the Iowa DNR and USDA Forest Service. The available pocket guide highlights 19 invasive trees, shrubs, and plants to watch for and identify. Let’s weed some of them out:

Credit: Bugwood.org/Leslie J. Mehrhoff, Univ. of Connecticut, Linda Haugen, USDA Forest Service
Credit: Bugwood.org/Leslie J. Mehrhoff, Univ. of Connecticut, Linda Haugen, USDA Forest Service
loading...

Oriental Bittersweet: This vine might sound like it’s just trying to sweeten up the forest, but it’s actually a strangler. It wraps around trees and shrubs, leading to their slow demise. To spot it, look for its bright yellow berries in fall. Remember, this bittersweet tale ends badly for our native plants.

Credit: Bugwood.org/Daniel Herms, The Ohio State Univ., Richard Gardner, UMES
Credit: Bugwood.org/Daniel Herms, The Ohio State Univ., Richard Gardner, UMES
loading...

Garlic Mustard: Garlic in your garden sounds delightful until you realize it’s not the culinary kind. Garlic mustard is a leafy plant that spreads like wildfire, outcompeting native herbs and tree seedlings. Its roots release chemicals that hinder the growth of other plants. Talk about bad breath for biodiversity!

Credit: Bugwood.org/David Moorhead, Univ. of Georgia, Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Admin., John Cardina, The Ohio State Univ.
Credit: Bugwood.org/David Moorhead, Univ. of Georgia, Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Admin., John Cardina, The Ohio State Univ.
loading...

Japanese Knotweed: This bamboo-like plant isn’t interested in a peaceful coexistence. It grows aggressively, forming dense thickets that crowd out native plants. Its underground stems can spread far and wide, causing trouble for local vegetation. Knot gonna lie, it’s a tough one to eradicate.

Credit: Iowa DNR
Credit: Iowa DNR
loading...

Buckthorn: Both common and glossy buckthorn are frequent offenders. These shrubs or small trees invade forests, wetlands, and prairies, outcompeting native plants and creating dense thickets. Their berries might look enticing, but they’re a real thorn in our side.

Credit: Bugwood.org/Rob Routledge, Sault College, Chris Evans, Univ. of Illinois
Credit: Bugwood.org/Rob Routledge, Sault College, Chris Evans, Univ. of Illinois
loading...

Multiflora Rose: Roses are red, but this one’s a spreader. Multiflora rose forms impenetrable thickets, making it difficult for native species to thrive. It was initially introduced for erosion control, especially along roadways, but now it’s just a prickly problem.

Invasive Insects: The Creepy Crawly Culprits

These insects aren’t just bugging us; they’re devastating our trees and plants. Let’s squash the details:

Credit: UKNOW How-to Videos YouTube Channel Adult Emerald Ash Borer
Credit: UKNOW How-to Videos YouTube Channel
Adult Emerald Ash Borer
loading...

Emerald Ash Borer: This little green beetle is like kryptonite for ash trees. The larvae burrow under the bark, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients, ultimately leading to its death. They’ve caused extensive damage across Iowa, turning our ash trees into kindling.

Credit: Heiko119 Asian longhorn beetle
Credit: Heiko119
Asian longhorn beetle
loading...

Asian Longhorned Beetle: With its distinctive long antennae, this beetle bores into hardwood trees like maples, elms, and willows. The larvae create tunnels in the wood, weakening and eventually killing the trees. It’s a boring job, but they’re doing it well. Too well.

Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar) in the night"r"n
Credit: phototrip
loading...

Spongy Moth: Formerly known as the gypsy moth, this insect’s larvae have a voracious appetite for leaves. They can defoliate entire forests, leaving trees weakened and vulnerable to other pests and diseases. Their egg masses hitch rides on outdoor equipment, spreading the problem far and wide. Time to clean up and mothball those invaders!

Top view of spotted lantern fly, Chester County, Pennsylvania
Credit: arlutz73
loading...

Spotted Lantern Fly: this one is closing in on our state and is unfortunately spreading quickly. It feeds on the sap of a wide variety of plants, including fruit trees, ornamental trees, and vines, which weakens and can eventually kill the host plants. The "honeydew" excreted by the spotted lanternfly also promotes the growth of sooty mold, further damaging plants and making outdoor areas unpleasant.

Invasive Animals and Fish: The Unwelcome Wild Ones

AM 1490 WDBQ logo
Get our free mobile app

These animals and fish are making waves and causing havoc in Iowa’s ecosystems. Let’s fish out the facts:

Credit: Three Minutes Outdoors YouTube Channel
Credit: Three Minutes Outdoors YouTube Channel
loading...

Asian Carp: This fish isn’t a welcome catch. Asian carp species like bighead and silver carp outcompete native fish for food and habitat. They’re known for their dramatic leaps out of the water, which can be hazardous for boaters. It’s carp-e diem in all the wrong ways.

Credit: USDA
Credit: USDA
loading...

Zebra Mussels: These tiny, striped invaders latch onto anything underwater, from boat hulls to water intake pipes. They filter out plankton, disrupting the food chain and outcompeting native species. Talk about musseling in on the local aquatic scene!

Credit: USDA
Credit: USDA
loading...

Rusty Crayfish: This aggressive crayfish displaces native species and damages aquatic plant beds. Their rusty-red spots make them easy to identify, but their impact is harder to manage. They’re the bad boys of the underwater world.

How You Can Help: Tips to Stop the Spread

Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva
loading...

Now that you’re well-acquainted with these invaders, let’s talk about how you can help prevent their spread. Here are some simple yet effective steps:

  • Be Plant Wise: Before buying plants for your garden, make sure they’re not invasive. Check the Iowa DNR website for quick ID photos and management techniques.
  • Inspect and Clean: When traveling from areas known to have invasive species, inspect your equipment for hitchhikers. Clean your boots before and after hiking to avoid spreading seeds.
  • Firewood Awareness: Don’t transport firewood from outside your county. Buy local firewood to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. Burn all firewood at your campsite and avoid taking it home or to another location.
  • Get Involved: Work with your local private lands district forester to create plans that make forests more resilient to invasive species. Utilize the resources available on the Iowa DNR website.
Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva
loading...

Invasive species are a serious threat to Iowa’s ecosystems, but with awareness and action, we can protect our natural landscapes. By following these simple steps and spreading the word, you can be a part of our state's solution. Let’s work together to keep Iowa’s woodlands, wetlands, and waterways thriving and free from these unwelcome invaders. Remember, every little action counts – let’s root out the problem and ensure our native species can flourish!

Photos: Iowa's Backbone State Park

Dedicated in 1920 as Iowa’s first state park, Backbone State Park is one of the most geographically unique locations in Iowa. The steep and narrow ridge of bedrock from the Maquoketa River forms the highest point in northeast Iowa - The Devil’s Backbone - giving the park its legendary name.

Gallery Credit: Tom Drake

Hiking Trails and Nature near Dubuque, Iowa

Nature and hiking areas around the Dubuque, IA area.

Gallery Credit: Tom Ehlers