Meeting with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)

The CFIA is responsible for the regulation of invasive plants at the national level. We believe that the CFIA is failing to protect Canada from the threat posed by invasive ornamental plants and made our case in our recently released White Paper. We had asked the CFIA for input on the paper before we released it, but as that did not come, we published our draft. After publishing our paper in May and receiving some national attention, we received a response from the CFIA in late June.

photo of Amur maple -- Acer ginnala species
Acer tatarica ssp. ginnala), one of the many species that should not be sold or shared in Ontario, according to a recent report by the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario.

We followed up with many questions and requested a meeting. That meeting with Anthony Amyia, (Chief Plant Health Officer CFIA), Wendy Asbil, (National Manager, Invasive Alien Species and Domestic Plant Health Programs) along with a senior risk assessor, a program specialist and a CFIA policy analyst recently came to pass. The CFIA team offered supportive words about our initiative to reduce the sales and spread of invasive plants via the horticultural trade. However, at the end of the conversation, we felt that there was little indication that the CFIA was contemplating significant change and we were left with many unanswered questions.

We have sent a follow-up letter to CFIA with our observations and questions.

We will let you know if and when we receive a response.

Periwinkle: Mistakes From the Past

By Nan Brown, April 2023

Unbelievable infestations of periwinkle have arisen from some old pioneer cemeteries and homesteads where it was planted probably by the first settlers. Now, after one hundred years or longer, the forests for acres around host nothing more than periwinkle.

photo of flat tombstone surrounded by periwinkle

An example for those in the Bruce County area is in Southampton where the spread from the old pioneer cemetery on the upper bank of the Saugeen River has taken over huge swathes of forest undergrowth. I walk through and feel overwhelmed and defeated from such mistakes of the past. 

One would think we could learn and prevent invasions such as this in the future. But no, garden centres are still selling periwinkle in nurseries in Ontario.

Here are some of my pictures I took of these areas in Southampton, Bruce County.  I like the last three pictures especially.  The last one shows one of the old bases of a tombstone with a view of the beautiful Saugeen river down below the cliff at this site very close to where it empties into Lake Huron. Around the base are not only periwinkle but also Lily of the Valley which also runs rampant in this area. The second last picture shows a sea of periwinkle surrounding the sole surviving native wildflower, a broad-leaved goldenrod. The third last photo shows the sea of dark green periwinkle from white birch to beech and maple sealing the forest floor in all directions.  One can’t see the vastness of this invasion from these photos however trust me it goes on for metres and metres deep into the forest and down the bank towards the river. Someday I will measure the extent it covers I am sure.

I was shocked when I first came across this area. For me, it exemplifies the need to educate people, especially gardeners, that the plants we choose now can have ramifications for years to come. Periwinkle, goutweed, Norway maple and so many other invasives should not be allowed anywhere near natural areas. If garden centres did what was right for the environment and stopped selling them, then maybe their followers, the gardeners, would listen.

A Case for Invasive Plant Regulation

This article is one of many stories we receive regarding invasive plants, the harm they do and the cost of removal in labour and time. This is a testimony to why invasive plants like periwinkle should not be sold.

The Perils of Periwinkle

by Anna Thomas. Republished with permission from the East Gwillimbury Gardeners newsletter April 2023.

When we moved into our house 25 years ago, there was a huge patch of periwinkle off the kitchen window.  At the time, I didn’t know it was invasive, but I wasn’t particularly fond of the plant and we wanted to regrade the area so not knowing any better, we turned it over and covered it with about 2-3 feet of soil.  Luckily, for us this killed off that area.  Unfortunately,  I didn’t remove it all and let it spread on the periphery.  At first it was a slow spread and so I didn’t worry about it much but occasionally pulled some out.  

Twenty five years later and it had spread beyond anything I could have imagined.  On our 7 acre property I found 5 very large areas growing about 100 feet from the house and into the forest.  Also, the area I left by the house had spread about 20 feet to the north and south of the original spot.  It was taking over other garden beds and strangling other plants.  Last December we went for a stroll around the periphery of our property and found another area on the alternate side of the property.  This was heartbreaking as I thought I had identified all the areas where it needed to be removed.  Obviously, this plant spreads not just by runners but also it seeds itself with the help of birds.

Over the last 3 years I have been removing periwinkle with a vengeance.  I’ve managed to clear the areas by the house which has allowed me to replant with a mixture of native and non native perennials.  In those areas there has been little to no regrowth.  If there are no plants you want to keep it’s fairly easy to pull out and then lightly fork over the area and remove the roots which are quite distinctive.  However, if you have an area with plants you want to keep you will need to dig up those plants, bare root them and pot up until you have the area cleared.  Under most circumstances, I would remove all that I can and then plant with annuals for a year.  If you can’t wait and need to replant, then you need to check on a regular basis and remove any stragglers that return.  Of all of the invasives, periwinkle is probably one of the easier to remove.

My preference for removal is to dig it out as the roots are fairly shallow and you see immediate results.  However, it is possible to solarize if you are willing to leave covered for a few years.  To do this it needs to be in a sunny area.  Damp down the area thoroughly and cover with clear plastic and ensure the plastic overlaps the edges of the periwinkle.  Hold down the edges with bricks or old logs.  This will kill everything under the plastic including any beneficial organisms in the soil and insects so this would be a last resort method in my opinion.  You can also cover with cardboard but when doing this it is best to clear the periphery and then make sure the cardboard overlaps the cleared area.  I’ve tried this in one area that was a bit more difficult to access and unfortunately I didn’t clear the periphery well enough and so I continue to get some escaping from under the cardboard.  Lesson learned!

Unfortunately, I’m still battling a large area in one of our meadows (it was originally about 12 x 30 feet but I’m down to the last 5 x 10 ft of periwinkle to remove) and another area under some cedar trees.  These areas are more difficult as the periwinkle is interspersed with other plants and roots.  It requires constant vigilance to remove any regrowth but I’m hoping that I can declare myself periwinkle free in 2023!

How to dispose of the periwinkle you have dug out?  Well, don’t put it in your regular composter for one!  You can put it out with yard waste but you can’t always be sure that the municipal compost facilities are hot enough to kill the periwinkle and you run the risk of it being given away to other unsuspecting gardeners.  Ideally, you would put it in a garbage bag in full sun for a few weeks to kill it.  After this time, it can be put out with your regular garbage.  I am lucky enough to have a dedicated bin that I use just for invasives.  It is a 4 x 4 bin that is contained so nothing can escape and I add all invasives to this bin, including garlic mustard, goutweed and lily of the valley.

Of utmost importance is to ensure that other gardeners are aware of the invasiveness of periwinkle and are warned against buying it or sharing plants.  There is hope that at some time in my life this and other invasive plants will be banned from being sold in the nursery trade as there are too many unsuspecting gardeners who are unaware of its invasive properties.

New guide spotlights the worst invasive plants in the Sault/Algoma—and what to grow instead

Sault Ste. Marie—Gardeners and property owners in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District now have access to a “grow me instead” guide geared to this area. Produced by local environmental group Clean North, this guide spotlights 24 invasive plants known to be aggressive invaders here. It also suggests native plants to grow instead.

Replacing invasives with natives can be a big job, but it’s also rewarding. “I have greatly increased the number of native plants in my yard over the past decade, and the increase in biodiversity—especially pollinators—fills me with joy,” says Abby Obenchain, Clean North communications lead and author of the new guide. “I hope the new Grow Me Instead Guide will help others find the same joy.”

She points out that invasive plants pose a major threat to biodiversity. “They can push out native species and dominate ecosystems, reducing food sources and habitat for wildlife. They also can cause harm to the economy, recreation, and even human health.”

This guide came about because for years Obenchain has observed invasive plants wreaking havoc in her own yard as well as in natural areas in and around Sault Ste. Marie. 

On behalf of Clean North, she applied for and won a $1,000 Invasive Species microgrant to develop an invasive plant education program for the Sault/Algoma. The Grow Me Instead Guide is the flagship product. 

To complete the guide, she set out to determine which species were most troublesome locally—and which native plant species make the best alternatives. This work included consulting with partner organizations (listed below) and local botanists.

The end result is available on the Clean North website at

So what advice does Obenchain have for gardeners who want to tackle invasive plants on their property? “The first step is to inventory what plants are growing in your yard,” she says. “Then figure out which are invasive—spreading rapidly is a good clue; prioritize which to remove first; and replace them with native alternatives.”

She acknowledges that finding native plants can be a challenge. “They do pop up in local garden centres, but gardeners should double-check whether a plant is truly native before they acquire it. I’ve discovered that many plants people think are native here are actually not.”

Because of these challenges, the Sault/Algoma Grow Me Instead Guide has a unique feature: It offers two types of alternatives to invasives. One group comprises plants native to Algoma and the other features plants native to other parts of the province. 

“Plants in the second category are still familiar to and offer benefits to many native pollinators, birds, and other wildlife,” Obenchain notes. “And they give people a bit more flexibility as they try to be more eco-friendly gardeners.” 

Clean North would like to thank the Invasive Species Centre and Bruce Station Horticultural Society for providing funding for this work. Project partners/supporters are: 

  • Sault Naturalists
  • The Kensington Conservancy
  • Sault College School of Natural Environment
  • Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority
  • City of Sault Ste. Marie § Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy
  • Bruce Station, St. Joseph Island, and Sault Ste. Marie horticultural societies
  • Seedy Saturday Algoma § Algoma Master Gardeners
  • Johnson Farmers Market

For more information about replacing invasive species with native plants, visit or email Clean North at

Reducing the sales of invasive plant species in Canada  to safeguard biodiversity

The global trade in ornamental nursery stock is the primary pathway for the introduction of nonindigenous invasive plants in Canada. Those invasive plants can threaten biodiversity and diminish its associated ecological, economic, social, cultural, and intrinsic values. To protect our economy, environment and public health from invasive plant species, Canada needs to:

  • Improve policies and legislation.  
  • Establish a permanent national body with responsibility for nonindigenous invasive species.  
  • Create a science-based national plant risk assessment database. This database would provide the name(s) and description of each nonindigenous plant sold in Canada along with its regional ranking as a high, medium, low, or an insignificant invasion risk.   
  • Require that all imports of plants new to Canada undergo risk assessments. 
  • Ban the sale and movement of high-risk invasive plant species, where regionally appropriate.  
  • Require labelling to identify and educate the public about lower-risk invasive plants.  
  • Provide continued and stable funding for public education.   
  • Incentivize the adoption of the National Voluntary Code of Conduct for the Ornamental Horticultural Industry.    

The number of invasive plant species in Canada is steadily growing. With that growth, the management costs and  environmental damage rise. Canada needs to act now to reduce the potential damages and the price tag for management and mitigation.  

At the federal level, invasive plant prevention focuses on safeguarding Canada’s food supply–the plants and animals in the agricultural sector. While laudable and necessary, current regulations fail to safeguard our natural flora and fauna. Canada needs to develop new federal regulatory tools. Canada needs legislation similar to the European Union (EU) act for the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species (1143/2014). This act aims to minimize the adverse effects of invasive species on biodiversity and related ecosystem services, as well as human health and safety. In addition, Canada could pass legislation requiring a risk assessment paid for by importers, before any plants not yet present are introduced, as is required by Australia’s Quarantine Proclamation (1998). Only with the proper legal underpinnings can Canada restrict the trade of highly invasive ornamental plants.  

To comply with international conventions and agreements, any trade restrictions must be based on sound scientific risk assessments. Therefore, in addition to enhancing its regulatory framework, Canada needs to improve its scientific capacity and develop a robust national database.  An impact ranking system like I- Rank should be used to categorize invasive plants as High, Medium, Low, or Insignificant risks to biodiversity.

A national database would ensure that reliable information is available to support the activities of federal and regional governments, Indigenous communities, and non-governmental organizations. A permanent federal body dedicated to nonindigenous invasive species is needed to clarify ‘who-does-what’ and coordinate interdepartmental and inter-agency cooperation at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels. 

Education and public awareness are necessary for the successful prevention and management of invasive plants. This means all levels of government should provide ongoing and stable funding for programs that raise awareness, build knowledge and skills, and change attitudes and behaviours. An informed public is more likely to support and promote the control of invasive plants.   

To this end, consumers deserve clear, consistent labelling that tells them what they need to know when shopping for plants. For those lower-risk invasive plants, sellers should be required to:    

  • Inform consumers the plant poses potential risks to the environment,
  • Provide recommendations for alternative noninvasive plant choices, and     
  • Describe measures necessary to reduce the risk of spread.   

Informed consumers are more likely to understand the risks posed by invasive plants and reduce their spread.

An effective strategy for the prevention and management of invasive plants will require a combination of legally binding and voluntary approaches. Sustainable forest management standards have been successful in promoting comprehensive environmental and social standards in the forestry sector. Similarly, the ornamental horticultural sector should be encouraged to comply with legislation and reduce the numbers of invasive plants sold in Canada. While there may be short term losses in a small segment of the sector, there will also be opportunities to strengthen the sector and develop a “greener” industry that capitalizes on regional botanical uniqueness. 

Reducing the sale of invasive plant species in Canada and protecting Canada’s biodiversity will require a multi-faceted approach. Improving legislation and oversight, building a knowledge base, providing education and consumer awareness programs together can form the basis of a successful strategy. By following this strategy, Canada can help to safeguard nature, which is essential for human health and well-being, economic prosperity, food safety and security. 

Guest Blog Post from Oakville, Ontario

Dealing with Invasive Plants – My Backyard Story

By Farnaz Bassiri

My backyard story starts when my neighbour came over to ask for permission to remove a tree that was at the fence line. The Town of Oakville staff came to look at my backyard and that’s when I first learned that it was full of invasive plants. As an immigrant I had no idea. I thought if a plant was “wild”, it was native. There were over 50 invasive common buckthorn trees, as well as 7 Siberian elms and 2 Norway maples. What I thought were wildflowers turned out to be highly invasive non-native garlic mustard and ditch lily.

This journey of removing invasive plants was very expensive and time consuming. After the removal, it has been an arduous process of exhausting their seed bank. A single garlic mustard produces up to 50,000 seeds. Buckthorn has such a strong regrowing root that I now know to pull it out as soon as the seedling is recognizable, with only a couple true leaves. The town staff told me this process will take 5 years, as seeds continue to germinate overtime.

It gave me a blank canvas but now I had to find plants which were not invasive and were affordable. When I first went to stores, I couldn’t distinguish what they were selling. Were the plants native? Were they invasive? Would I have to pay to pull them out later? That made no sense.

I visited nurseries only to find them selling plants that I had just removed from my backyard. Nursery staff didn’t know which of the plants were invasive and there were no warnings on the labels to help. I searched the internet to find answers but found a lot of confusing information. For example, Euonymus atropurpureus is native to Canada, whereas Eunonymus alatus is invasive, but both have the same common name: burning bush, so at first, I thought the burning bush I bought was native, it turned out it was not! It was a dwarf version of the invasive one. The staff told me it was the native burning bush, so it is not only consumers who are misinformed. Luckily, so far it seems to be sterile, though the label did not provide enough information to know if it is still invasive if the root system is small. Also, barberry, which is listed as invasive on many lists, has varieties that are sterile. Was that a good choice for my yard?

I found a “Grow Me Instead” guide that offered alternatives to invasive plants, but I could not find many of those plants at my local nurseries. I found it so frustrating.

While visiting nurseries, I started telling people that plants in their cart were invasive – they had no idea. They assumed that the stores would not be allowed to sell invasive plants, which is not the case because there is no regulation in place. There were a lot of misconceptions, such as thinking that plants that are annual or biennial can’t be invasive because they die over the winter. You can’t expect the public to be able to tell the difference. I couldn’t ignore the problem because I had to figure out what to plant in my backyard. It was difficult, so I started to advocate more for non-invasive plants.

I realized that even the Town of Oakville has to deal with invasive plants which outcompeted native plants in its forests and trails. They work to remove buckthorn at great cost, and hope the seed bank will be depleted over time. However, if retail outlets continue to sell invasive plants, their seeds may be carried by the wind, insects, birds and other animals, to the newly disturbed areas where buckthorn plants once grew, and once again invasive plants will fill the space. 

Regulation of invasive plants will help avoid this situation from happening again. It will stop high-risk invasive plants from being produced and sold to the public. It will also warn the public of low-risk invasive plants through label requirements, and it will increase the availability of alternatives to invasive species for sale. And my backyard story will have a happy end.

Media Release

Canadian Coalition for
Invasive Plant Regulation (CCIPR)

For Immediate Release
View / download as pdf

Ottawa- Sept. 1, 2022

Canada is in urgent need of a nationally coordinated plan to reduce the spread of invasive plant species, according to the newly-created Canadian Coalition for Invasive Plant Regulation (CCIPR). Our legislative framework is out-of-date and fragmented and responsibility for who controls invasive plants is unclear.

Improved federal, provincial and territorial legislation and regulations are required to limit the spread of both terrestrial and aquatic invasive plants. 

Specifically, CCIPR is calling for the following measures: 

  • The development of a national risk assessment database that can be shared. Plant risk assessments would include potential threats to the environment and public health. They would be conducted by scientists in consultation with stakeholders.
  • Bans on the sale and movement of high-risk invasive plant species
  • Labelling to identify and educate the public about lower-risk invasive plants
  • Public education including alternatives to invasive plants
  • Encouragements for the horticultural trades to adopt the current national Code of Conduct. This would prevent the introduction and spread of invasive plants.

Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in Canada to control invasive plant species, namely plants that arrived from outside of North America. Many of these invasive plants are sold to the public by the horticultural industry, as well as by the pet and aquarium trades. Examples include: periwinkle (Vinca sp), goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria), tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima), yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus), parrot’s feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii). All are considered invasive in some parts of Canada. Once these plants escape into natural areas, parks and forests, they cause ecological, social, and or economic harm.

“Gardeners are often shocked when they discover that plants they bought at a nursery are invasive,” says Master Gardener Catherine Kavassalis, a well-respected environmentalist and plant expert who helped to launch CCIPR. “Invasive plants represent a small percentage of all plants sold, but they do enormous ecological damage. They really need to be regulated or restricted to limit their spread and impact.”

A grassroots coalition of conservationists, ecologists, invasive plant experts, and motivated home gardeners from across Canada, CCIPR wants to reduce the proliferation of invasive plant species. They are seeking the public’s support and help to call for change.

For further information, please contact:


Our Real-Life Origin Story

Turning Public Outcry into Positive Action

Members of Master Gardeners of Ontario have been supporting and educating Ontario gardeners for over 30 years. In our Facebook group we answer gardening questions from folks across North America. Very often we are asked, “Help! How do I get rid of this plant that’s taking over my garden?” These are typically invasive plants that the gardener purchased or inherited. We are happy to provide practical ways to help the gardener, but in some cases control of the invasive plant is extremely difficult due to extensive spread. These bullies are taking over the garden, creating a monoculture to the exclusion of more desirable plants.

We are also asked for advice regarding plants that gardeners have chosen for their gardens. “What’s the best place for this Burning Bush?” Gardeners are shocked when we point out this recent purchase is on an invasive plant list, and we do not recommend they plant it anywhere in their garden. This leads to chagrin, frustration, disbelief, and many more questions:

“What do you mean it’s invasive? I just bought it!”
“Why do nurseries sell these plants?”

There are many other examples of invasive ornamental plants being regulated in the U.S. but not in Canada. For instance, Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus) is prohibited from being sold in nine neighbouring states, including: Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, plus others. While it is widely recognized as an invasive plant across Canada, it is not widely regulated and only Alberta has taken action to end sales. As you can imagine, this also generated some pretty important questions.  

“Why isn’t the government banning these plants?”
“What are you doing about it?”

Frankly, we don’t have good answers for these questions. We like to point out that many of these problem plants are prohibited for sale in several U.S. states. For instance, Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) cannot be sold in many states, including four that border Canada: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wisconsin. In New York, if offered for sale in a nursery, Burning Bush must carry a label that states “this plant is an Invasive Species – Harmful to the Environment…” The label must list alternatives.

In response to this, members of the Master Gardeners of Ontario Facebook group decided to investigate the problem. We discovered that ornamental plants sold through nurseries and the pet/aquarium trade are the biggest source of invasive plants in Canada. We were shocked to learn that there are large gaps in Canada’s regulatory system that need to be fixed. In fact, Canada’s Auditor General and others have highlighted the need to solve this problem. We realized we want action, not more questions.

We decided it was time to call for urgently needed change in our invasive plant regulatory system. We began inviting members of the public to join our task force. From across Ontario, motivated and talented individuals have come forward to offer a wide and diverse range of skills and perspectives. We call our team the Canadian Coalition for Invasive Plant Regulations (CCIPR). We want to grow this into a national campaign because this issue affects everyone across the country. We aim to draw public attention to a growing problem that is costing us all more than just money, frustration and labour in and out of our home gardens. These invasive plants are harming Canada’s economy, our environment and public health.

In our next blog post:  Just what makes plants invasive and how do they spread?