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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A beautiful invader

With the warm weather recently, many have been out walking around the Arb. You may have noticed that it is the height of the blooming season for a certain purple flower: Scilla siberica, or simply “Scilla”. This pretty little plant hides a secret, though: it is actually an invasive non-native in Minnesota. 

Originally from Russia, Scilla was introduced via cultivation in gardens. It is aggressive and hardy, and was soon able to spread to take over woodlands. In the Arb, it can crowd out native flowers, often being one of the first to sprout and bloom in the spring. This, in turn, can harm local pollinators, as many of our native insects are specialists and only visit certain native wildflowers . Our herbivores, including deer, don’t touch it, either. 

I was saddened to learn that such a beautiful plant can be such a problem. After all, many plants spread into new ranges naturally, and ecosystems can still thrive with foreign plants. This is the key difference between invasives and non-natives: invasive plants take over to the detriment of helpful species while contributing less, or negatively, to the ecosystem. Non-native plants, in contrast, are from a different area, but do not disrupt the ecosystem into which they are introduced by humans. Sometimes, we even introduce plants outside of their normal ranges to benefit an ecosystem, including planting heat- and drought- resistant species to help an ecosystem adapt to climate change. It all depends on how a plant behaves in its ecological context. 

For more information, check out the 2013 Arb note “Invasion of the Yard Snatchers,” the National Park Service page about invasive versus non-native species, and the 2021 Arb note “Warming Climate Incites Hot Debate.” 

Scilla siberica near the entrance to the Lower Arb. Photo by Klara Kjome Fischer ’26.

Though Scilla is exceedingly easy to spot, I encourage you to find some of the native wildflowers blooming right now. Just yesterday, I saw fawn lilies, wild ginger, violets, Hepatica and Bloodroot!

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