BY MARK ELGIE
Students and staff were invited to bring their lunch and learn about invasive species Tuesday, March 15.
The event, hosted by the Office of Sustainability and featuring the Ontario Invasive Plant Council’s Colin Cassin as speaker, touched on invasive plants and insects, and how they can be identified.
Not all invasive species have harmful effects. However, event coordinator Wai Chu Cheng stressed that there needs to be a balance where there is plant and animal life.
“The nature of invasive species is they tend to out-compete other species around it,” said Cheng.
“When invasive plants establish in a place or area, the surrounding plants will start to die out, because of the fact that the invasive plant will take away water in the soil, and perhaps because it grows faster, it takes all the energy, all nutrition, from the other types of plants surrounding it.”
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“However you want to score it, however you choose to chalk it up, invasive species have a measurable and serious impact on how many species we have in a given area, what our biodiversity levels are. Frankly that can be very expensive to clean up, ” said Cassin.
“And they affect everybody. Municipalities, communities, individuals, folks concerned with their garden, folks concerned with ‘what is that weed at the end of my dock that I can’t swim in the lake anymore.’ ”
Several examples of invasive species were mentioned and shown at the hour-long Lunch n’ Learn, which drew about 11 people. Plants that were discussed ranged from giant hogweed, known for its sap that causes severe burns on exposed skin or blindness, to garlic mustard, whose leaves can be used as a basil substitute in Italian dishes such as pizza or pesto. Insects shown ranged from the emerald ash borer to the vastly larger asian longhorned beetle.
Some invasive plant species, such as phragmites, have native counterparts. These native plants are not known to out-compete other plant species. For Cassin, it’s critical that something be done about the species, be they plant, insect, or pathogen, that have yet to arrive in Canada, such as the aforementioned asian longhorned beetle or oak wilt disease, saying it would be of immense financial benefit to Ontario.
“If we can just prevent one of these, we can literally save millions, sometimes tens of millions annually, in the province alone.”
However, that doesn’t mean that no further action will be taken on the species that already exist here.
“[They] are very worth action on, and interest in, and education on,” said Cassin.
The Ontario Invasive Plant Council is in charge of funding educational sessions on invasive species in the Southern Ontario, and the Invasive Species Centre is responsible for funding sessions in Sault Ste. Marie and Northern Ontario.