Invasive plants are species that are not native to an area and cause harm to their new environment. In many cases, they simply spread unchecked by the diseases and herbivores that kept their populations balanced in their home ecosystems. Sometimes this spread is accelerated by traits like releasing chemicals into the soil to harm competing native species.
As invasive plants spread they edge out the native plants that provide clean water, clean air, abundant wildlife, and beautifully diverse natural landscapes. These plants are usually introduced by us as we plant our gardens, landscape our properties, and ship our products over oceans that they could never have crossed without our help. Because native plant communities cannot halt the spread of invasive species on their own, it is also up to us to maintain and restore their ecological balance.
Since 2007 Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has fielded a team of biologists every summer whose sole objective is the control of invasive plant species. The focus of this program has been on a handful of particularly damaging invasive plant species that threaten the integrity of the Lake Michigan shoreline and nearby areas. Among the most damaging of these is baby’s breath, which was introduced to dunes south of the Lakeshore when it escaped from a commercial grower. Its long taproot helps it to access water more than 15 feet below, which makes it ripe to live on the surface of the dunes and causes the over-stabilization of the naturally shifting dune environment. It produces up to 14,000 tiny seeds per plant, and disperses them by the wind when the top of the plant breaks off and blows like a tumbleweed across the sand.
Partnerships with The Nature Conservancy and the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network as well as countless hours by volunteers have helped to remove baby’s breath from thousands of acres of critical beach and dune habitat in the Lakeshore. But, like all worthwhile work, this is an ongoing project that requires additional effort to help hold the progress that has been made. Volunteers have played an essential role in treating invasive plants at Sleeping Bear Dunes since they were first identified as a threat to the lakeshore’s resources.
In 2018 the ‘Invasive Plant Brigade’ program was piloted in partnership with the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes to continue this work. Last year, the Plant Brigade’s focus was on removing baby’s breath from the areas around the dune climb trailhead, reducing the opportunities of visitors to accidentally pick up seeds and spread them throughout the Lakeshore.
Manually removing Baby’s breath is physically demanding work. Each individual must work at their own safe pace. This work will be in areas with uneven terrain, direct sunlight, as well as high heat and humidity. Like all natural areas, you may also encounter biting insects and inquisitive visitors. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will provide you with shovels and gloves and some strategies to work effectively and safely.