Ontario’s out-of-control infestation of foreign plants

By MPP Toby Barrett

A year ago, Ontario became the first province with a dedicated Invasive Species Act.

However, I question whether the legislation goes far enough, and in the right direction, given Ontario’s infestation of so many different types of foreign plants and creatures?

One concern is the law puts the onus on landowners to ensure there are no invasive species on their property, but doesn’t provide any tools or authority for removal.

As I now have more time to get out on the land, I am astounded to see the gulleys, marshland and fencerows on my farm over run with species that weren’t there just a few years ago.

Earlier this month I cut down a patch of wild parsnip. It contains the same toxin as giant hogweed that can burn the skin. It is invasive and out-competes native plants.

Giant hogweed is a member of the carrot family, and is a terrestrial invasive plant. Originally from Asia, it was introduced as a garden ornamental. It is naturalizing itself in a wide variety of habitats, shading out native plants. As with wild parsnips, the sap from the plant can cause inflammation, and even burns if exposed to sunlight. The Ontario Invading Species Awareness Program recommends hiring a professional exterminator to remove it. If you do decide to do it yourself, wear protective clothing, including gloves and goggles. Ensure you do not spread the seeds – each plant can produce more than 100,000 – and visit the program’s web site for more complete advice.

Another concern is the insidious common buckthorn. This shrub is native to Europe and Asia and was also introduced as an ornamental. A thorn at the end of mature branches gives it its name. It is typically four to 10 feet in height. It has smooth dark leaves that are finally toothed and arranged in pairs along the stem. It grows densely, crowds out native plants, and in my experience, when cut, seven grow in its place.

Over the years, my concern has been phragmites in my pond and no legal way to effectively control or eradicate it.

Last summer, Long Point was one of two phragmites-infested areas where the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry had an emergency registration for aerial application of the herbicide glysophate (Roundup). Last fall 1,200 acres were treated with a combined aerial and ground treatment at Rondeau Provincial Park and Long Point. These two locations were chosen because the phragmites invasion is so serious both are at an ecological tipping point. According to MNRF literature, “If action is not taken these values are at risk of becoming critically imperiled.”

Of the 1,200 acres, nearly 1,000 were in the Long Point area. Rolling of the treated stalks and a prescribed burn were planned as a follow-up during the winter. Evaluation and monitoring will follow this summer, and in subsequent years. On the north side of Long Point’s main thoroughfare, a sign adjacent to mixed vegetation states the area was part of the experiment. This was an area previously thick with phragmites.

My hope is landowners can be given the same tools for their properties. It’s one thing to make landowners responsible for the invasive species their property harbours, but they have to be able to get rid of them.