Native Species

Sun-Commercial photo by Jenny McNeece | Beginning with the new year, only authorized native species of plants will be available for sale in Knox County as a new county ordinance will take affect. A similar, statewide ordinance will take affect in April of 2020.

New county board making progress on eliminating sale unwanted plants

The new county ordinance prohibiting the sale of invasive species isn’t set to go into effect for another six months

But already plants and grasses once a fixture in yards and landscape designs are getting more and more difficult to find at local retailers.

Will Drews, the county’s natural resource specialist, has been working alongside members of a newly-constituted Invasive Species Board to make contact with the owners and managers of local businesses who sell plants and specialize in landscape design.

There are nearly 20 on his list, Drews said, and it’s been an often slow process to educate them on the pending changes.

“It all depends on how (accustomed) they are to having and selling invasive plants,” Drews said. “Some transitions will be easier than others.

“But they’re getting the message,” he said matter-of-factly. “And they’re getting it from multiple directions. Sometimes things just move slower than we’d like.”

Drews reported to the board last month that local retailers are “in varying stages” of readiness ahead of the new county ordinance.

One particular retailer, he said, Landscapes by Dallas Foster, 3729 N. Camp Arthur Road, has already largely eliminated invasive species from his stock.

He was also recently awarded a more than $40,000 contract to redo the landscaping on the campus of the Knox County Public Library using only native plants and grasses.

Library board members are hoping to be the first government entity, possibly even in Indiana, to embrace the state and local changes.

Other retailers, ones like Rural King, Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse and JayC Foodstore, etc., are slowing their sale of plants and flowers and aren’t likely to revisit the issue — or give it much thought — until planting season comes around again in the spring.

Still, Drews has met with most of them to have those initial conversations; the next step, he said, will be in sending every local plant and landscape retailer a certified letter with a copy of the ordinance and a list of species — things like Callery pear trees, burning bushes and Japanese barberry plant — that will soon be prohibited.

And it’s not just local officials spreading the message.

The county will be just slightly ahead of the state in establishing such a law. The county’s ordinance goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020; the state will follow with its own version on April 18, 2020.

The county ordinance is slightly more strict in that its list of prohibited species is more comprehensive, Drews said, and the local legislation lays out the possibility for harsher penalties for those found to be in violation.

“So they're getting this from multiple directions,” Drews said, “both from me and inspections from the (state Department of Natural Resources) as well.”

One thing some of these retailers have found confusing, Drews said, is whether or not such species can be sold to out-of-county clients.

That was the major issue Ryan Lough, a manager at Perk-A-Lawn Gardens, had with the new legislation as it was being considered last year since a majority of their business is for clients living outside Knox County.

Others, Drews said, have had the same concern, but once the state law goes into effect, the potential sale to those out-of-county clients won’t matter; invasive species will be prohibited across Indiana.

“I think some of them thought they could avoid the ordinance and work outside the county, but it doesn’t work that way,” Drews said. “Most of these plants will be prohibited throughout the state anyway.

“Not to mention, I think it could be confusing to some to have these items in stock but not be able to sell the to local clients.”

The Invasive Species Board will next meet in September, Drews said, to hear an update on how things are going.

That board, too, will hear any complaints from local retailers as well as from Drews on any one found to be in violation.

The ordinance allows for a fine of up to $2,500 per offense — harsher for repeated offenses — but it would be up to the board to hand down an exact penalty.

“We’re getting there,” Drews said of the process to bring everyone into compliance before the end of the year. “Things are moving quickly.”

The primary argument for the adoption of the new county ordinance was in that invasive species often grow with wild abandon and threaten to overtake the state's natural flora. Many of them have no natural predators here so get out of control rather quickly, spreading to ditches, fields, creeks and even parks.

Individual residents, however, can’t be cited for having these species around their home; they just won’t be able to purchase them anywhere after Jan. 1.

Other common invasive species are the winter creeper and Japanese honeysuckle, among others.

The board members are local farmers Mike Brocksmith and Kenny Risley, Larry Sutterer, a member of the Natural Gardeners Club, Jennifer Nettles, an instructor in Vincennes University's Department of Geoscience, Agriculture and Horticulture, and Tennis.

They will next meet at 4 p.m. on Sept. 11 at the Knox County Courthouse.

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