Environmental weeds and education

When I started working at a nursery after completing an environmental science degree I was horrified. Plants that I had noted down on plant surveys as being nasty weeds in the bush were being sold. Plants like English Ivy (Hedera helix), that I had struggled to eradicate from my garden, and Agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox), which is on many councils’ lists of environmental weeds, were freely available and listed on planting schedules.

English Ivy (Hedera helix), which keeps popping up in our garden - presumably from bird droppings
English Ivy (Hedera helix), which keeps popping up in our garden – presumably from bird droppings

I have now been working in the nursery industry for 18 months and I have thought much about this issue and why there is such a big gap between what government organisations (usually local councils) are telling us not to plant and what is being sold. Below are some of my thoughts. I would love to hear others’ opinions as well.

When I was studying environmental science, I had to learn about what constituted an environmental weed and I had to note these down on bush surveys. I also was eager to get my hands on brochures put out by different government authorities on what were weeds in my area. The truth is that most people are not even aware of what is a weed, nor are they really interested. They don’t walk around local bushland and see plants choking the local species, which then affects the ecological balance of the area.

Education is the real key in my eyes. However, education is difficult when you go to a nursery (or any store that sells plants) and the plants are readily available for sale. There are few warnings on plant tags saying that they could cause an issue so most people are oblivious. Out of curiosity, I had a look at the back of tags of a couple of weedy varieties. On the back of a tag of English Ivy it said “can become invasive, so control growth of outdoor plants and dispose of pruned material appropriately”. However, this wasn’t in bold and I assume that most people are unaware that birds can eat the berries and deposit seeds in their local bushland. Similarly, the usual agapanthus that people purchase in Victoria (Agapanthus praecox) is still widely sold, despite some local councils stating that they are an invasive weed. Some responsible garden owners do dehead the flowers before they set seed, however, most don’t and some even think they are native to Australia!

Education can always be difficult when popular organisations espouse advice that is irresponsible. We recently received a quarterly magazine from a reputable gardening organisation who extolled the virtues of Sweet Pittosporum (Pittosporum undulatum), which is listed as an environmental weed where I live. It is okay in many areas of Australia, but considering the magazine is sent all over Australia it should have noted its weediness in some areas. Thankfully, I couldn’t buy one from a local nursery if I tried.

Large-leaf Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster glaucophyllus) is a common garden plant in my neighbourhood that is also a weed.

I wondered about how education could be improved if environmental weeds are still able to be sold. Perhaps a bright eye-catching sticker saying “weedy” should be put on the front of every plant label of a plant that can be a serious bush weed? This surely would discourage many to buy them. Nurseries could educate their staff too, however, even better would be for the nursery not to sell any plants that can invade bushland. Could this be something that Nursery and Garden Industry Victoria could look into? I also do wonder how councils can better educate the public – especially those that aren’t the type to pick up a brochure on environmental weeds in their area. Perhaps flyers could be put in the letterbox of those who have a weedy plant? There are plenty of gardens in my estate, which were originally built in the 1960s, that contains weeds such as Gorse (Ulex europaeus), Large-leaf Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster glaucophyllus), Ivy, Morning Glory (Ipomoea indica) and Agapanthus. Plants like Large-leaf Cotoneaster and Morning Glory are not readily grown by the nursery trade anymore thankfully, however, I’m sure they can be picked up from church fetes or market stalls where there is no regulation. This will always be an issue.

I’m sure this is an issue that I will be mulling over for some time.

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