Invasive Beauty

I am an undergraduate student at Princeton University, studying ecology. Princeton is a beautiful place, complemented by the range of native and exotic plants planted around the campus. In the fall, these trees and bushes burst into bright reds, oranges, and yellows.

With my foldscope, I examined a leaf of a Winged Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus). This is a common ornamental plant around the Princeton area. It is planted around campus and in people’s gardens because of the striking red color it turns in the fall. The leaf I got a closer look at was from a bush that was at the peak of this fall coloration. A problem with this bush is that once it is introduced, it is able to spread on its own in the environment. It is a prevalent invasive in central Jersey forests, meadows, and roadsides. I spent this past summer working with an environmental organization removing invasives and I quickly learned that this bush was quite pervasive. Despite this, they continue to be planted for ornamental reasons.

I’ll assume that most people who are planting this bush do not know about its invasive tendencies. For some, the fall beauty the bush provides may be a significant enough benefit to offset any of its bad qualities. The average person will likely not be affected by the increased presence of this bush in forested landscapes, but everyone can enjoy how pretty they look in someone’s yard. As someone who cares about natural ecosystems, I would like to see a drastic reduction of ornamental introductions that turn invasive. But this is often difficult to justify to the general public. What are some ways we can evaluate these tradeoffs? How can an institution like Princeton University educate the public or act as an example for responsible planting and landscape design?

I conducted this project as part of
Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University

Leave a Reply