Friday, May 04, 2007


Today's post is a story about community action, complete with a happy ending.

I'm a new homeowner (four years this month) and as such I've been making various attempts at landscaping. Mostly this involves removal of invasive species (and some native weeds), but I have also been making some attempts to add new plants to the yard - always something native or non-invasive, of course. I've already made enough purchases to get on the mailing list of pretty much every major gardening catalog and website there is.

Late last year I received an email from Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co. touting the benefits of ornamental shrubs. When I clicked through to the website I ended up on a page selling dwarf burning bush (Euonymus alatus var. compacta). It always annoys me to see invasive plants being given the hard sell to the gardening public. But now, things are different: in 2006 the state of Massachusetts enacted a ban on over 100 different invasive plants. Burning bush is on that list, with an importation ban as of Jan. 2006, and a propagation ban that goes into effect Jan. 2009. The ban does cover cultivars of invasive plants, and Gurney's is importing plants into Massachusetts from out of state, which means Massachusetts should have been on the list of states Gurney's cannot ship this species to...but they weren't:

burning bush for sale, even in Massachusetts

So I did what any concerned citizen would do - I emailed Gurney's and asked them why Massachusetts wasn't on their "unable to ship to" list. The response from Customer Service was pretty straightforward: "...At this time, burning bushes are not restricted for spring delivery to MA..."

Problem with that response was that it was wrong. I contacted the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to check, and also mentioned that Gurney's was selling Norway maple (Acer platanoides) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), both currently banned in Massachusetts. The MDAR verified that import of these species was indeed prohibited, and promised to contact Gurney's. After a few back-and-forths, this was the result:

burning bush no longer for sale in Massachusetts or New Hampshire

As of late January 2007, Massachusetts was added to Gurney's "unable to ship to" list for burning bush, Norway maple, and Japanese barberry, and also to some other catalog storefronts (Spring Hill and Audubon Workshop, at least - they all seem to be owned by the same company). I even tried putting the plant in my shopping cart and when I filled out the "Ship To" section as Massachusetts it bounced me back out. Even better, some time between January and today (when I finally got around to getting a screen grab and completing this post), someone in New Hampshire apparently did the same thing, because NH is now on the "unable to ship to" list too!

Sure, seeing positive effects from a small action like a few emails feels good. But wouldn't it be better if there were a system in place where sellers of plants could easily keep up to date about the changes in prohibited plants? Rules are only going to get more restrictive (and more complicated!) as more and more official invasive plant lists are implemented at the state level...never mind the county and town-based regulations. In the meantime, I am happy this was resolved and I even purchased many of my vegetable seeds from Gurney's this year. Also, Audubon Workshop seems to have a nice selection of native Northeast U.S. shrubs in their mix this season.


Anonymous said...

Believe me, you do not want to plant the Burning Bush. I'm still sore after trying to remove all traces of it's root system from our foundation plantings. We tore it out with a chain and pickup truck. I live in New Hampshire and was dismayed to still see it offered for sale at Agway. Avoid this plant (along with Autumn Olive, Bittersweet, Rosa Floribunda). Check out my blog entry

Anonymous said...

I am appalled. I will plant what I want on _MY_ property. In fact, I am more likely to seek out these plants and plant them as a protest of this attempt to curtail my liberties and individual freedom.

Jennifer Forman Orth said...

Unfortunately, invasive plants don't pay attention to most property boundaries. When people plant species that have been scientifically reviewed and categorized as invasive or potentially invasive, they risk spreading those species (by root or by fruit!) onto nearby properties. This can impact adjacent natural habitats, and it can certainly impact neighboring property owners, who probably won't be too happy to be pulling out, digging up or spraying the offspring of anyone's liberties or freedoms.

I actually inherited several dwarf burning bushes with my house, and have been gradually replacing them. Over the past four years I have had to pull out dozens of seedlings all around the yard and in the woods behind my house.

Anonymous said...

Yay for helping Gurney's obey the law of the Commonwealth of Mass.! As a Mass. resident, you have my thanks. On another note, before we moved into an apartment, we used Pinetree Garden Seeds for vegetable seeds -- I liked that they were local New England company, and they offered a number of native plants that were hard to get elsewhere (including local cultivars of Jerusalem artichokes).

((As for anonymous above, here in New England we have this cultural notion of being a good neighbor. No more would I plant poison ivy where it could spread on a neighbor's land than I would plant a burning bush. But maybe that's just a New England thing.))

Anonymous said...

I will soon be reporting on similar efforts with respect to sales of euonymus alatus by an institution in the Northeast usually thought of as a "good guy" among those concerned about invasives. The ending in my case is as yet uncertain, and the situation a bit less clear because my state has no regulation of invasives at all. I'm hoping to receive word of the outcome soon and will be in touch.

Anonymous said...

Burning bush is a terrific specimen. If you want to talk invasive....forsythia is worse!!

I've tried to get rid of two forsythia for 3+ years now without much success - the shoots are horrible!!

Also, my entire yard is monochromatic in shades of pinks, blacks & YES Burning Bush fits in wonderful.

Having burning bush shipped to NH, you certainly can!! I just go 8 delivered!!

Anonymous said...

I also just got 15 delivered to my home in NH. It's my property, I 'll do what I want!! I don't want dogs on my lawn so these will make a great hedge out front!!!!

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate to see some people interpretting the ban of these invasive species as a threat to their personal liberties to do what they want on their land. That is not the intent. There are much better species to plant than burning bush or any other invasive for that matter. Species that aren't invasive. And better yet, species that are valuable natives that if they did spread a bit, it would be a good thing. But the ban is not directed at the property owner - - it is directed at the landscape/nursery industry that has not found a way to wean itself from these harmful plants and provide the good ones. Without the legislation, they will continue to sell you the same old crap and tell you it's the best plant available and even good for wildlife WHICH IT IS NOT, all because their real concern is making a sale - - the environment be damned. I'm being a little hard on them to make the point. It is a difficult and serious problem - - import bans are just one tool needed to turn the industry around so they are providing plant materials that do not cause environmental harm. Too bad such laws weren't in place when some person thought it would be a good idea to import Johnsongrass to North America. Also, to those intent on planting invasives on their property as a statement of personal liberty, then I should be able to bill you for the cost of removing your invasive plants from my land when they spread from your property. C'mon people - - this is not Big Gov't infringing on your rights - - there is a huge number of species both native and non-native that don't cause problems available at nurseries, but it is time to correct some past mistakes of species that should have never become available in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely with 9/22/08 Anonymous.

I have three acres of empty field. We thought it best to let some of it just fill in naturally with plants and trees. Big mistake. Every unmowed area filled up with multiflora rose, Canada thistle, Japanese honeysuckle, Siberian honeysuckle, and mulberries in a couple of years. This stuff spreads like mad and doesn't support wildlife here.

So, we've been mowing/cutting it all down and planting native species + some cultivars.

I even bought a bunch of dwarf burning bushes last fall to plant along a retaining wall. I had heard that they were native (or at least not invasive). I've been looking around the Internet (why I'm on this site) and I've read enough from different places that I plan to burn them all this spring. Not sure yet about a replacement, but I'm thinking arrowwood or Virginia sweetspire.

Thanks for your help!