In preparation for the recording of my first podcast I have:
B) Wandered through
Title: Alien Invaders
Time: 5 Minutes
Date Recorded: 4/14/2012
Location: Albuquerque Rio Grande Bosque, Rio Grande Nature Center State Park
GPS Information: 35.131031, -106.6825999
GPS Data based on the address:
Rio Grande Nature Center State Park
2901 Candelaria NW
Albuquerque, NM 87107
Guest Speaker: None
Age Group: Ages 6+
a. Alien Music
b. There is a full-scale war being waged in the United States against alien invaders! You'll be surprised to know that this war began many years ago, in the 1900's! You may not even be aware there are aliens to fight right here in our own backyards. And another shocking fact is that we not only invited those aliens here, but gave them a safe ride and cozy home!
2. The meat
a. The alien that I am talking about is the saltcedar, scientific name Tamarix chinensis. Though "Tamarix chinensis" may sound like some green little alien-man with a big head and big eyes and keys to a UFO, the Saltcedar is a species of plant that was introduced to the United States in the 1900's.
The saltcedar is called an "invasive species" because back in the day, we shipped this plant, which is originally from China and Korea, in to the states to use the plant as a wind buffer, an erosion stopper, and just for "pretties." We later came to find out that this plant does better in certain areas that the plants that are native to New Mexico and often outcompete our own natural New Mexico plants. This means that the salt cedar can thrive in areas that it is hard for say, cottonwoods to survive, eventually causing the cottonwoods, or other native species to die out.
Saltcedars get their name from their special adaptation, their superpower, which lets them beat other plants by sucking up extra salt from the ground, storing it in their leaves, which when they fall to the ground deposit that salt onto the ground around them. Most plants don't do well with lots of salt in their soils, including most of New Mexico's native plants. This gives the saltcedar a competitive edge against other plants, like a runner with longer legs can outrace runners with shorter legs, or a baseball player who can hit the ball further can get their team more homeruns. The plants who don't do well in salty soil are pushed out of the area by saltcedar that does well in salty soil.
Cottonwoods are the trees that used to create dense forests near the Rio Grande River of New Mexico, the river that runs just west of the Rio Grande Nature Center you may be visiting today. Saltcedar has another leg up on cottonwoods because saltcedar has flowers all throughout the spring and summer season, several times, and can create seeds, which lead to little baby saltcedars, for nearly half the year. Cottonwoods, on the other hand, only flower once a season in early spring and have delicate seeds that only make baby cottonwoods, or seedlings, if they land in just the right kind of soil, moist.
How do we know who's the alien here and who's the cottonwood? If you are at the Rio Grande Nature Center, look around you. The large trees with triangular leaves are cottonwoods. The saltcedar may be harder to find because the war against them has been fought long and hard near the center. The saltcedar can grow as either a tree or a bush, can get up to 15 ft. tall, has long, wiry braches with itty-bitty scale-like leaves. In the spring and summer, the saltcedar could have tiny pink flowers along the ends of its branches. In the winter, it can easily be confused with a willow; the salt cedar appears red, feels bumpy when you run your fingers along the branch and will have scaly leaf remnants along its base. Willows, red also, will have actual, long, thin leaves around its base and have smooth branches.
3. The problem
a. So, what's the problem with having a super-powered, pretty, erosion and wind stopping plant in our state? The problem is that our riparian areas, or areas near water sources, are having a hard enough time in our dry, drought-prone state surviving without any alien bullying them out of their water, soil, and habitat!
We knew saltcedar was a problem early on and decided it was time to call war against the plants that were rapidly taking over our river banks! We decided to come at the saltcedar with all we had. We attacked the plant with chainsaws, fires and poison. But, it's hard to know the future when you're attacking an unfamiliar alien! Cutting the saltcedar didn't stop them for long. The saltcedar grew back quickly, having dropped many long-living seeds in the soil before it was cut away. Saltcedars grew in thicker after fires were applied and poison didn't kill away all the hidden seeds either.
So, what to do? Another alien was introduced in 2004 to attack the alien saltcedar. This alien is called the Saltcedar Beetle and eats away the leaves of the saltcedar. The effects of the beetle on native plants were thoroughly researched before the beetle was released, and research is still being done on the effects now that the fight is on! This could be a worthwhile fight, minimizing the saltcedar, but there are steps that need to be taken to ensure that only good comes of this beetle.
There are certain birds, including the endangered Southwestern Flycatcher, that have actually come to quite enjoy the saltcedar, making it their homes during certain seasons. In order to be sure these birds are not homeless, we need to plant willows and other natural New Mexico plants in place of saltcedar before the beetle eats his way to a bare landscape.
Take a walk-around the Bosque, visit the Rio Grande Nature Center and answer your questions by chatting with any of the knowledgeable staff. To learn more about Cottonwoods, the Saltcedar Beetle, the Rio Grande and the Bosque History, the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, the Bosque Bike Trails, or the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher check out our other podcasts!