Japanese barberry has gotten a very bad rap over the past 20 years for being an invasive shrub. Introduced into the US in the 19th century, in many areas, it has ‘hopped the fence’ and taken over rural hedgerows and woodlands. A lot of people like it, though, because it’s colorful, makes a great hedge and it’s something that deer won’t eat. It does, however set up shop in native areas and push out native plants – it’s a real bully.
But landscapers and home and garden centers keep selling it and home owners keep putting it in.
Well, if you need a reason to a) not put it in or b) to get rid of it if it’s on your property now (and to encourage others to get rid of it, including going to your town or city planning folks to talk to them), here you go:
University of Connecticut at Storrs has, through a multi-year study on their properties, found that Japanese barberry harbors white-footed mice (field mice), and black-footed ticks (aka: ‘deer ticks’, Lyme disease ticks), two out of the three pieces of the puzzle which have produced the almost wild-fire increase in the growth of Lyme disease (and the other diseases that black-footed ticks carry).
Wait a minute — aren’t white-tailed deer the villains of this disease-spreading piece? Yes, deer are one of the vectors, especially for adult ticks. But in terms of sheer numbers of tick nymphs (the babies) getting their first ‘meal’, being spread over wide areas and living to become disease-ridden adult ticks, white-footed mice are the real culprits. And guess what — white-footed mice love living conditions under Japanese barberry shrubs even more than deer ticks do.
Here is what research at University Connecticut found that the higher the density of Japanese barberry (such as would be found in Connecticut woodlands), the higher the density of all stages of ticks, nymphs and adults, infected and non-infected. The more control measures that were taken against the shrubs (such as chopping down, mowing, or burning), the fewer and fewer the density of all stages of ticks. In the area where the Japanese barberry was eradicated completely, there were few, if any, ticks. Lyme disease and Japanese barberry
So, what do you do if you have Japanese barberry on your property? Well, if you have a whole hedge of it, you might want to call in the landscapers and have them rip it out (if you decide to do this yourself, make sure to take precautions in terms of long sleeves, long pants, with perhaps the addition of an anti-tick spray (hopefully one that is pyrethrum based) and perhaps use a technique where you are pulling the bushes out with the use of a long rope to put some distance between you and the ticks. If you have only a few bushes, then University of Connecticut advises using a propane torch. Control Japanese barberry to control Lyme disease
Now, let’s say you are concerned but don’t have any bushes on your property but it’s prevalent in your area? Well, now’s the time to get active locally and go speak to your local government officials to establish an eradication program.
Lyme disease is nothing to take lightly. The health implications of being infected and going untreated are very very serious. Lymne Disease Complications
And if you can keep your family and pets safer by removing an invasive non-native shrub, why not?
(Photo at the top, courtesy of Vastateparkstaff)