ELIMINATING THE RHODODENDRONS
Visitors to the U.K. are sometimes astounded by the proliferation of rhododendrons seen growing wildly in forested areas. For those who know of the flowering shrub only in their gardens or cultivated in parks, the profusion of rhododendrons in the wild can be considered quite beautiful, with its brightly colored flowers in the shadow of the trees.
The truth is, however, that rhododendrons growing in the wild are invasive and can choke out indigenous plants.
Rhododendrons are not native to the U.K., though species are native to many places in the world, including Europe and Asia. The plant was a popular addition to Victorian gardens in the 19th century and it thrived in the wet, mild conditions available to it in the U.K.
If not kept in check, they can spread quickly, both through underground runners and via thousands of seeds released from the flowers. They do so well in the U.K., even in poor soil, that they can grow to massive size, dwarfing their native plant neighbours and cutting off sunlight and access to food. Growing near streams, they can cause local fish to starve.
All parts of the plant are toxic and can kill animals if enough of the plant is ingested. Bees that collect rhododendron nectar have been known to die from “toxic honey.” Bee keeper’s with aviaries close to rhododendron infestations in large amounts will close their hives until the rhododendron bloom season is over.
Gardeners who want to enjoy the color and beauty of rhododendrons should might want to confine them to garden containers and avoid seeds spreading to adjoining wild lands.
It is a complicated process to eradicate wildly growing rhododendron. Common eradication measures include using chemicals to kill them, and cutting and burning them. Applying chemicals is the most successful in stopping rhododendrons from returning, but it also runs the risk of the poison killing local bees, contaminating soil, and getting into the water table. It is also a more difficult task in wooded areas, as chemical spraying would need to take place by hand and with great care.
Cutting and burning is more labour intensive and less successful because infestations can return, but better supports the environment as a whole.
Highland Titles conservation efforts include eradication of invasive rhododendrons on the Reserve through the least impactful means possible. This means we are out there, cutting them by hand and burning sections. It is slow, and we know it is likely the infestation will recur, but we believe in doing as much as we can to protect the plants and animals on the Reserve.