If you google the plant “Euonymus fortunei,” or “wintercreeper,” you’ll get two different kinds of results. The first kind will detail a plant that has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, has cultivars named “Emerald Gaiety” and “Emerald Surprise,” and may be on sale at your local garden center for $39.99. The second kind details a plant that is listed on the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States, was named an “alien plant invader” by the Plant Conservation Alliance, and often is accompanied by the words: “DO NOT PLANT.”
We sure got an “Emerald Surprise” when we realized this plant was growing rampantly at our Smart Property this summer. The Smart Property, one of our newest acquisitions, is a 3-acre floodplain forest on the banks of the Androscoggin River, filled with towering silver maples and green ashes and home to warblers and waterfowl alike. We first noticed the mysterious emerald evergreen vine climbing nearly to the tops of some of these trees, and saw that where it touches the forest floor, it transforms into a blanket of dense groundcover growth. We can’t know for certain how or when wintercreeper first appeared at this property, but its proximity to the riverbank indicates that it hitched a ride on the Androscoggin River, likely after getting washed out of somebody’s garden upstream, and was deposited during a spring flood.
As stewards of our conserved lands, it is our responsibility to protect our properties from invasive species—which reduce biodiversity, threaten rare species, and choke out native trees and herbs. But there are many occasions and circumstances where the battle against invasive species feels futile—that you could spend your whole life cutting brush and yanking weeds, and you’d hardly put a dent in the waves of bittersweet, knotweed, honeysuckle, and barberry that seem fated to overtake our native landscape.
However, this time is different: because this is only the second known wild population of wintercreeper in the state, treating this infestation means that we have a real chance to prevent this plant from creeping into the rest of the state and strangling floodplain forests from Salmon Falls to the St. John. And we weren’t about to let that chance pass us by!
So we spent a few days with our Regional Field Team yanking the vines down last week—they come off the tree with a satisfying zzzzzip!—and digging the roots out of the ground, but it will likely take a few years of active management to fully remove wintercreeper from the Smart floodplain forest.
So if you’re looking for new plants to put in your garden, don’t just go with what’s on sale at your local garden store, because it may have ulterior motives for world domination. Please consider buying New England natives! The Native Plant Trust has published a database of great garden plants that also support our native biodiversity—learn more by visiting their website.