By Caroline Schultz

With spring just around the corner, the gardeners among us are already browsing through seed and plant catalogues, daydreaming about our planting plans for when the ground thaws.

There are always spaces to fill, things to move around and new ideas to try out. When it comes to plant choices, I, like most gardeners, think first about colour, form and function. There’s a patch to brighten up, ground to cover or a fence to clothe. But now there is another important detail to consider: is my garden going to be a source of plant species pollution?

More and more people are thinking about the effect the plant species they choose may have on native habitats should these species escape the confines of our backyards. Yes, we know about poster child invasive species such as purple loosestrife, which gained its foothold as a seemingly harmless garden plant and went on to wreak havoc on wetland biodiversity. But people can still innocently buy many others that can cause great damage and are currently sold – without warning labels – in plant nurseries across Ontario. A couple of years ago, I accidentally planted an Oriental bittersweet, an introduced invasive vine, which was mislabelled American bittersweet, an Ontario native.

In her article on page 22, Lorraine Johnson explores the issues and challenges involved in the sale of invasive plant species at nurseries. The big debate is whether education initiatives can be designed to really make a difference to the behaviour of the nursery business and consumers or whether we need to regulate the sale of certain species.

We agree with Dan Bissonette of the Naturalized Habitat Network, who says that education is somewhat helpful but will not take us far enough in achieving what needs to be done. Bissonette, along with Anita Caveney of Nature London, sponsored a resolution at Ontario Nature’s 2010 Annual General Meeting calling for a ban on the sale of invasive plants. The Naturalized Habitat Network and Nature London are two of Ontario Nature’s 140 member groups (see Allan Britnell’s story on page 18 to learn more about the work of our member groups).

The battle against invasive species is extremely challenging and, in terms of some species, almost a lost cause. But there is still time to control others or prevent their entry into Ontario. The sale of invasive plants must be regulated to close off their major point of entry. The key is to keep the worst offenders out of plant nurseries while mounting a wide-scale public education campaign to highlight the potential hazards of others and to encourage people to think about getting rid of the “baddies” they may already have in their gardens. It’s clearly time for my Oriental bittersweet to go! Now I wonder what I’ll plant in its place. Virgin’s bower sounds like a good “green” choice.