One state agency is trying to kill this invasive shrub. Another is planting it.

By: - December 17, 2018 5:03 am

One agency’s pest is another’s treasure. Chinese bushclover, or Lespedeza cuneata, is planted by VDOT around the state. State park employees are trying to kill it on the lands they manage. (Gerrit Davidse/CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Workers at Virginia’s state parks say they’re trying to kill Chinese bushclover, an invasive plant that grows in thick stands, choking out native flora.

And they sounded just a bit frustrated during a meeting this week when they noted their colleagues at another state agency, the Virginia Department of Transportation, are still actively planting it on roadsides around the state.

The incongruity came up as an aside during a meeting to discuss initiatives across state agencies to protect bees and other pollinators.

One such effort that came out of the Department of Conservation and Recreation is to stop or reduce the frequency of mowing in certain areas to increase habitat for pollinators. It’s working well, they say, but nestled among the native plants that are now being allowed to grow to maturity are invasive species, which park employees have to remove by hand.

One of the major offenders: the Chinese bushclover, or lespedeza cuneata, which DCR lists as highly invasive. A handful of states, including New York, have banned people from knowingly possessing it.

“Unfortunately, our colleagues at VDOT are still planting it,” a DCR staff member noted during the round-table at the Capitol on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for VDOT, Lindsay LeGrand, confirmed that agency still uses the bushy shrub. She said it’s planted as part of a seed mix used on steep grades for erosion control.

That’s a common use, according to a DCR fact sheet, which recommends a number of non-invasive alternatives.

LeGrand said the agency has not looked deeply into other options, but added that VDOT is committed to “using products that are most beneficial for the environment and roadside maintenance.”

She said in an email that VDOT will work with DCR and DEQ to “research and select the best products that accomplish our collective goals,” she wrote in an email. She also noted VDOT’s work with the Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management and plans for future joint initiatives.

Biologists at DCR said they understand change can take a while.

“It’s been used for a long time,” said Chris Ludwig, chief biologist at the department’s Virginia Natural Heritage Program. “It’s like a lot of things; as we learn things are worse, we adapt.”

For the record, VDOT, too, is getting in on the bee protection work with a pollinator habitat program, which has planted bee and butterfly friendly gardens at rest areas and park and rides around the state.

The work is funded by the state’s Virginia Wildflower and Protect Pollinators license plates.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association. Contact him at [email protected]