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What are neophytes?

The discovery of foreign continents has brought us not only the potato and corn. Many other alien plants have been introduced to Central Europe over the past 500 years and have become so widespread in nature that they pose a threat to native species. Neophytes ("new plants") are plant species that are not native to Europe by nature. They came as seeds or plants to Central Europe and were able to settle and spread in the wild due to suitable environmental conditions.
First of all, not all newly naturalized plants are undesirable. Most species live in peaceful coexistence with native plants and promote biodiversity. One problem is the so-called invasive neophytes. They are so competitive away from home that they even displace native plants. The Indian balsam, for example, finds optimal conditions on moist, nutrient-rich river banks. It often forms large-scale, strongly rooted stocks, in which domestic large perennials with similar claims as the meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and the loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) have little chance. The Indian balsam produces a lot of nectar with its flowers, attracting bees, bumblebees and other pollinators in droves. The plants not only produce many seeds, they are also extremely regenerative.


The chestnuts mature in spiny fruit shells

Spread through globalization

The spread of foreign plants is primarily the responsibility of humans. For example, after the discovery of America, plant hunters were sent out to seek new species on behalf of the emperors, kings, and princes to enrich their gardens and plant collections. Today, the globalized economy is the main reason for the invasion of new species: the allergy-causing ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), for example, was introduced in the mid-19th century with contaminated seeds. Forestry is also not entirely innocent: tree species such as the robinia (Robinia pseudoacacia) from North America were valued for their hard, rotten wood and soon planted in the European forests. It is particularly competitive on dry sandy soils and threatens, for example, ecologically valuable dry grasslands in Brandenburg.

Non-native plants introduced in ancient times are called archaeophytes ("old plants"). Most of them are crops that originate from Asia Minor or the Mediterranean and reached Central Europe via the trade routes of the Roman Empire. Well-known examples are the wheat, the grapevine, field weeds such as the cornflower and tree species such as the chestnut (Castanea sativa) and the walnut (Juglans regia). The ancestors of many popular fruits were originally not native to Central Europe. The apple, for example, is probably from Asia Minor or the Near East. The early Germans knew probably only the wood apple (Malus sylvestris), a very small-fruited and barely edible native wild species.

Experts also criticize the fact that in the course of the discussion on neophytes small-scale flora shifts, ie the spread of native species due to climatic changes, are hardly addressed. Native evergreen plants, such as the ivy (Hedera helix), have also spread more and more in recent years due to the milder winters. With his rapid growth and his very dominant root system, he also has quite invasive potential. Already today he dominates the undergrowth in many drier forests. However, the ivy is purely ecologically considered with its late flowering an important nectar plant for many insects.


In combination with UV light, severe burns occur at the points where the sap of the Giant Bear Claw comes into contact with the skin

Dangers emanating from neophytes

The proportion of invasive species in all neophytes is relatively small at about 0.2 percent. Above all, the already mentioned Indian balsam and the Japanese knotweed (Fallopia sachalinensis) are classified as ecologically questionable because they form dense stands and displace native species. Health hazards also originate from the ragweed ragweed and the giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) - also called Hercules shrub. The ragweed forms aggressive pollen that can plague allergy sufferers. But also previously insensitive people are often allergic to the pollen - the symptoms range from runny nose and burning eyes to asthma and shortness of breath.The sap of the Giant Bear Claw increases the photosensitivity of the skin when in contact. Even in low sunlight, painful redness and blisters develop on the affected areas.

How can you tackle the introduced species with danger potential? Already established plants can hardly be exterminated. Nevertheless, local conservation organizations regularly organize concerted actions to combat the harmful plants by mowing or digging. In particular, the health-endangering species such as giant hogweed and ragweed should be eliminated if they grow around your property or near a children's playground. Herculean shrubs are best raised with a deep spade and root before they open their flowers. Important: Because of the risk of burns, always wear gloves and long-sleeved clothing!

Mugwort ragweed

The ragwort ragweed is hazardous to health and notifiable!

If you discover ragweed during your walks, it is best to pull the plant out immediately. But also avoid direct skin contact here. Larger stocks are best reported to the local community so they can take appropriate action.

Important tip for the holiday: Never take plants or seeds that you do not know. Apart from the fact that the export of living plants in most countries is prohibited anyway, the impact of foreign species on the native flora can not always be estimated.

Video Board: 2017 SPCP Intrams CDC - Neophytes.

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