By Peg DiBenedetto

They trick us with their delicate white flowers; sweet fragrance wafts through the air so innocently, cloying us into submission. They do seem innocent, these attractive clumps upon the land, starting so slowly, so demure and modest.  But don’t be fooled—their beauty is a ruse to distract from their insidious march across the Catskills. Easy to appreciate, convenient to ignore, until one day we notice the white flowers scaling a tree nearly thirty feet high! And last year’s small clumps dotting a nearby meadow are this Summer so numerous that if we want to pass down through the field to the stream below, we’ll be hard pressed to find a break to squeeze through.

  Multiflora rosa has found the Catskills, and is most likely to remain. Introduced to the United States from Eastern Asia nearly 250 years ago, this invasive species has not just survived, but has happily thrived with no native consumers to keep it in check.

Why now is it so prolific in the Catskills? Farm fields once mowed and planted with crops, and pastures that held herds of cows now sit unused. Over the last several decades, more and more of our fields have gone out of production. With normal succession, the fields grow up and begin to revert back to woodland. However, birds and winds spread seeds, and when the Multiflora rosa shows up, it crowds out native vegetation, disrupting the natural cycle of vegetative re-wilding.

What can a landowner do? First off, act as quickly as possible to get rid of the scourge. The roots need to be removed from the soil or the plants come back. Small plants can usually be removed with a shovel and a pickaxe. Larger shrubs are dense and often require a chainsaw, a tractor and a chain. No matter what size, the thorns of the plant are very sharp and can result in nasty cuts and scratches, so dress accordingly and work carefully.

Regular brush-hogging after plant removal is vital and keeps the tricky trickster from returning. Generally a three-year mowing cycle keeps most woody growth under control, but more aggressive growth might require a two-year cycle. The preferred strategy for ecologically sensitive, pollinator-friendly mowing is to only brushhog in late Fall or early Winter after at least one hard frost (two is better). This allows the very last migrating birds and insects moving through our area to take advantage of the late seeds and grass cover on their way south.

Left unchecked, Multiflora rosa will fill in much of our wild landscape and choke out native plants, rendering fields useless for agriculture and recreation. Once out of control, our ecosystems will be changed forever. Responsible land ownership means dealing with this duplicitous deceiver sooner, rather than later!~