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Japanese barberry, a haven shrub for ticks, could be banned in Pennsylvania

Patrick Varine
gtrbarberry063018
John Ruter/University of Georgia/Bugwood.org
Above, a Japanese barberry shrub.

Ohio has banned its sale. West Virginia will do so in 2020. Pennsylvania officials may act to ban it this month.

“It” is Japanese barberry, an invasive shrub that can easily take over large swaths of Pennsylvania countryside if left unchecked.

Deer won’t eat it, and so it is also a haven for ticks, who have done their unfortunate part in contributing to Pennsylvania’s current ranking alongside New Jersey as the top two worst states for Lyme disease, according to the CDC.

So why can anybody go to their local garden center and buy one of these invasive tick magnets?

“Part of the reasoning behind that is, when there’s a plant that’s extremely hardy, and looks good in people’s landscapes, and is disease-resistant, you don’t want to limit the ability of nurseries to sell that plant, because it’s a big money maker for them,” said Shannon Powers, deputy communications director with the state Department of Agriculture.

The decision to ban sales of Japanese barberry shrubs will rest with the recently-formed Pennsylvania Noxious Weeds Committee, which will meet this month. Barberry is on the agenda, Powers said.

Other states have taken measures to control it: New York banned it in 2015, but made an exception last year for certain varieties that do not produce seeds.

In Delaware and Maryland, it is classified as invasive but is not banned from being sold.

Pennsylvania’s noxious weeds list has three levels: Class A plants are limited enough geographically that they can be eradicated. These include things like giant hogweed and kudzu.

Class B plants are so widely established that there is little hope of eradicating them. These include things like multiflora rose, mile-a-minute and bull thistle.

Class C plants are listed in the federal noxious weed list, but are not yet known to be established in Pennsylvania.

“Each level triggers different efforts to address it,” Powers said.

None of the plants on the noxious weeds list can be grown, sold or transported.

When it comes to adding barberry to the list, committee members will look at all the factors involved, including damage to the environment as well as financial damage to those who typically sell the plant.

“You don’t want to make a snap decision,” Powers said. “That’s the reason it’s tied to a law. You don’t want to limit the ability of commerce. But if it’s a problem, you definitely want to have a mechanism to address it.”

Powers said she understands why garden centers and plant nurseries want to sell Japanese barberry despite its environmental downside.

“It’s pretty, it’s ornamental, it looks nice, it’s disease-resistant and it’s a big seller,” she said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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