By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
What better way to start off the New Year than with another invasive species! Although time keeps rolling on, these invasive species keep persevering and making a huge impact on our environment. Today, I stumbled upon one that is very common, but also commonly mistaken for another, non-invasive species. Winter creeper, also known as climbing euonymus or gaiety, is all around us in the woods and possibly even in neighbor’s flower beds.
This invasive species was introduced from Asia in the early 1900s and is commonly found in this region as ornamental ground cover. Unfortunately, it has left its ornamental roots behind and can now be found as an evergreen vine that can reach heights of 70 feet! The leaves of Winter Creeper are very thick and dark green, but variegated (green and white combined) combinations can also be spotted. While the vine is young, it climbs into the tops of trees and goes through a flowering phase which burst open in the fall. Once mature, the vine remains evergreen and thrives in the crowns of trees. The stem of the vine is lime green and hairless, but the color begins to fade as the vine matures. The leaves themselves are perfectly opposite (opposite the stem from each other) and can be glossy. The flowers that burst open from May to July are small, yellowish flowers and have about five petals. Elongated fruit soon follows the flowering phase. In the fall, reddish pods split open, revealing many seeds. Unfortunately, Winter Creeper is cold AND shade tolerant making it very hardy. It forms dense thickets that climb trees and/or form their own shrubs that can grow up to 3 feet tall. The seeds that are inside the pods give birth to many more colonies of Winter Creeper because those seeds are dispersed by birds, mammals, and water. This invasive species will not survive in wet areas (this is probably why this species is not found in LA). The rest of the states in this region experience high infestations of Winter Creeper.
Unlike Kudzu, this invasive species only gets stronger in cold weather, but don’t let that dishearten you. Let 2018 be the year you start maintaining your land and exterminating any and all invasive species! It’s not too late to put a habitat management plan together and get your land back to its native vegetation. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
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