I was doing a little research for my wetlands class when I was struck with an idea. I am going to officially join the battle against an invasive species that threatens the natives and future generations. To what am I referring, you ask? The industrious and invasive Tamarisk, of course.
What is it?
It’s a weed. In fact, it is a highly aggressive, water-hogging deciduous shrub. Also known as the salt cedar, it is from the family Tamaricaceae, genus Tamarix. While considered a shrub, tamarisk can grow as tall as 25 feet. Its flowers are small and pink, white or reddish. The bark is generally purplish or red-brown and the leaves resemble a cedar, which is why it is often referred to as salt cedar. The shrub is actually native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, and has no natural predators in the United States. Each plant can produce 500,000 seeds per year! They are dispersed by wind, water and animals, and are quite easily germinated within 24 hours of dispersal. (Moab Travel Area Council, 2015) Talk about a spunky plant.
How did it get here?
It arrived in the United States in the 1800s via humans. Apparently some humans decided this shrub would be a nice addition to decorative shrubbery, an ornamental they said. Well, guess what! It has proven so hardy that it now has infested over 1.6 million acres in the United States, and primarily those along riparian systems in the west. The Colorado River Corridor has an estimated 300,000 acres of tamarisk infestation. This is a huge problem. This shrub easily recovers from fire and mechanical removal, as it can form an extensive root system and quickly spread.
Why is it so BAD?
It’s not so bad, you say. It’s sort of pretty, you say. Perhaps. But here are the facts: It corners the market on water and valuable nutrients that other species also rely on. It is a relentless hog. The problem here is that other species, both plant and animal, starve and die out in areas where the tamarisk has taken over. For me, it’s the water-hog characteristic that inspires me to justice—especially in the drought-ridden Southwest. This invasive plant is responsible for narrowing streams, crowding out native plant species such as cottonwoods and willows, increasing wildfire hazards and hindering the use of the water system by both humans and animals. (Moab Travel Area Council, 2015)
What is being done to control the infestation?
Efforts to control the infestation are many—mechanical removal by cutting it down and then applying an herbicide to kill the roots is generally the most reliable, while it may not always be the best option. Controlled fire is only a temporary fix, as the hardy shrub recovers even better after fire if the root system is left intact. Invertebrates such as the tamarisk beetle may be the most sustainable and long-lasting method. Six states have released the beetle into infested regions since 1999 in controlled releases. The expectation is that within 10 to 15 years, the tamarisk infestation should decrease by around 70% due to the biological control the beetles provide. It is also estimated that the beetles will reduce in population along with the reduction in tamarisk.
How do we join the fight?
First of all, DON’T insert a non-native species into an ecosystem. Ok, too late. Search your local parks and land management agencies for more information about controlling invasive species. Sites like the Bureau of Land Management, state or county parks and recreation, and the Environmental Protection Agency are a few of the sources that can provide information. I will include a few links also.
Moab Travel Area Council. (2015). Tamarisk Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from discovermoab.com: http://www.discovermoab.com/tamarisk.htm