Weed wars

Every year, the United States spends billions of dollars fighting the battle against invasive weeds. Invasive plant species, introduced to a region either accidentally or intentionally, cause havoc by out-competing native species and invading turf, nurseries and other managed areas. According to Invasivespecies.gov, these species arrive to a region unaccompanied by their natural predators, so they can be very difficult to control. They have the potential to transform entire ecosystems if left untreated.

Americans spend an estimated $36 billion a year trying to manage invasive plant species. Lawns, gardens and golf courses account for a significant amount of that total. According to Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, about $1 billion is spent on golf courses alone.

Researchers have calculated specific cost estimates for some species. For example, purple loosestrife was introduced from Europe as an ornamental plant about 200 years ago. It now invades wetlands and has crowded out 44 native species with an estimated treatment cost of $45 million per year. Other species' economic costs are not readily available. For example, according to Scientific American, the kudzu vine has been overlooked because its damage to biodiversity and aesthetics makes it difficult to assign a monetary value.

Different regions of the country fight different battles with invasive weeds. To see which ones have hit your area, see the illustrations below. The maps show the distribution of four of the most prevalent invasive weeds.

Source: Invasivespecies.gov; David Pimentel, Lori Lach, Rodolfo Zuniga and Doug Morrison, "Environmental Costs Associated with Non-Indigenous Species in the United States," College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University; Scientific American.

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