UNC botanist spearheads ongoing effort to curtail movement of pest plant species

CHAPEL HILL Whether theyre anthrax, West Nile virus or some other species, biological organisms moving from one region to another are big news these days and pose not only environmental, but political and social concerns as well.

Transport of pest plants, which attract less attention because they dont usually make people sick beyond allergies, are nonetheless important, says Dr. Peter S. White, director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Such plants can crowd out native species, radically alter their new environments and eventually damage agriculture and other economic and aesthetic interests.

No matter where you are in the world -- Japan, Australia, South America, North America, Hawaii -- pest plant invaders are coming from other places to compete with and sometimes wipe out native species, said White, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill biology professor. Kudzu, sometimes called the plant that covered the South, is the poster child of aggressive invaders, and it is by no means the worst.

White spearheads an international effort to protect native varieties from aggressive foreign flora. Earlier this month, with colleagues Sarah Reichard and John Randall of the universities of Washington and California, and Pat Duncan Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden, he helped mount a unique conference in St. Louis titled Linking Ecology and Horticulture to Prevent Plant Invasions. Experts from Europe, Africa, Australia and elsewhere met at the St. Louis garden, the nations premiere such facility, whose director, Peter Raven, hosted the event with Londons Kew Gardens staff.

We organized the conference around plant invaders and specifically plants brought purposely through horticulture to new areas, he said. The aim was to get the horticulture industry to adopt voluntary codes of conduct as a way of trying to turn down the volume of potential pest species released into the environment.

In 1996, the N.C. Botanical Gar

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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