The Introduction of Non-Native Plants into Massachusetts

The landscape of Massachusetts began to undergo drastic changes as soon as the first settlers arrived from Europe centuries ago.  One constant method of change has been the introduction of non-native or "alien" plants, which have drastically altered the New England landscape from its original pre-colonization form. While some of these introductions were purposeful, as a means of decorating gardens and providing familiar food, many non-native plant introductions were accidental, having been caused by contaminated grain, dumping of ship's ballast or wool-waste, or simply by the constant trekking of humans from one region to another (see Crosby 1986).

While there are thousands of plants that grow in the United States that are not considered native, only 1400 of them are considered "invasive" (FICMNEW 1998), meaning that they spread aggressively and/or invade ecologically or economically important habitats.  This part of the Conservation New England web site will explore the history of 14 different non-native plants.  Some are considered invasive, while some are not, and they were introduced through several different vectors.  Many, many hours were spent poring over the dozens of local floras that have been published for Massachusetts to collect data for this project.

As you browse through the descriptions, animated maps and related links, think about the fact that more than one-third of the plants growing wild in Massachusetts are non-native (Paul Somers, pers. comm.).  The continued introduction of alien plants into this state, whether accidentally or on purpose, displaces the native flora and destroys the uniqueness of the entire region of New England.

 This project was created by:  Jennifer Forman and Jim Stark

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