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Beautiful but aggressive and destructive: Shiny geraniums invade Island ecosystems

"We’re seeing reports of it everywhere and in a lot of private gardens."

A beautiful plant with small pink flowers and long red stems is threatening native plants in gardens and parks throughout Greater Victoria.

Biologists, ecologists and environmentalists are not taking a shine to this shiny geranium.

The Capital Regional District and the Invasive Species Council of B.C. are urging the public to report all outbreaks of this aggressive, invasive member of the geranium family before it destroys the sensitive ecosystems of southern Vancouver Island.

“It’s a beautiful little plant but it’s so aggressive and so successful right now it can displace all the native species,” said Glenn Harris, senior manager for environmental protection at the CRD. “We’re starting to see it all over the region.”

Shiny geranium, popular in Europe and Asia, popped up 10 years ago after being brought here by nurseries in the ­contaminated containers of other plants.

It’s been spotted in Langford, Otter Point, North Saanich, Oak Bay, Saanich, Victoria and the Gulf Islands, said Harris. There are a few patches on the Lower Mainland.

“It’s pretty safe to say it’s spreading quickly. We’re seeing reports of it everywhere and in a lot of private gardens. That’s why we’re raising attention. Keep your eye out for it. Collect it, pull it out and dispose of it properly,” said Harris.

Shiny geranium crowds out and eliminates native vegetation. Left alone, it will take over the understory, the layer of plants and bushes that grows under the canopy of a forest, said ­Harris.

“You get a huge carpet of shiny geraniums. It’s so aggressive to anything that’s competing down there.”

The plants can reproduce five times a year, with seeds they eject up to six metres without wind when the pods are ripe.

“It’s the rate of change that worries biologists and ecologists. It happens too quickly and the ecosystem can’t adapt.”

Shiny geraniums really are shiny and their stems turn red as they mature, said Harris, who saw them a few days ago in ditches at Goldstream Park. The plant can be confused with dove’s foot geranium, which has similar looking leaves, but its leaves and stems are hairy. The leaves of shiny geraniums are softer.

Botanist Wylie Thomas manages a federally funded project to protect 16 endangered species in Uplands Park and Cattle Point and more recently on Mary Tod Island and Trafalgar Park, near the Chinese cemetery.

He said flower meadows are imperilled because of invasive species and residential development.

“And shiny geranium is a new arrival and it appears to like the same habitat,” said Thomas.

In March, Thomas found shiny geraniums on King George Terrace, along Foul Bay Road and in Walbran Park in the Gonzales area.

“Everywhere we’ve seen it on the south Island, it’s taken over very rapidly. It’s just arrived in south Oak Bay and I’m concerned that all the natural heritage is at risk. The last thing we want to see is a new aggressive weed arrive.”

A lot of municipal funds and volunteer effort have gone into restoring and protecting the natural areas in Oak Bay. But it’s also in people’s best interests to get rid of it because it takes over gardens, he said.

“Shiny geraniums are a good example of an invasive plant that we can make a difference on,” said Gail Wallin, executive director of the Invasive Species Council of B.C. “Like English ivy and Scotch broom, it’s been brought in as a garden plant. The public, and gardeners in particular, need to be much more aware and sensitive to what they are buying, what they’re planting and what seeds they are trading before they plant them.”

Wallin recommends reporting all outbreaks of shiny geraniums by downloading the Report Invasives B.C. app or the Report-a-Weed B.C. app. People can also email the CRD at invasive@crd.bc.ca to report an outbreak.

The CRD has instructions on how to manually remove and prevent the spread of shiny geraniums on its website.

The best time to remove shiny geranium is probably April to May, said Thomas. Although they’re quite visible now, they’re going to seed and shrivelling.

Don’t put it in your compost, say all three experts. The CRD warns that the weed must be properly disposed of in thick garbage bags labelled “invasive species” at the Hartland Landfilll. Oak Bay has been collecting it in double plastic bags and incinerating it, said Thomas.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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