• Jen Haynes

Baby's breath is an Invasive Ornamental

Baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata) is a native of Eastern Europe, Asia and North Africa. In Canada it is an invasive species. It out-competes native plants and grasses and as a contaminant in hay it reduces crude protein content. In late summer it is also a fire hazard. When baby’s breath dries out it is as dry as tinder and can burn very quickly.

Baby’s breath grows to about 1m tall. It is a perennial herb with a thick, deep, woody, root system with abundant food reserves that give rise to new shoots in late April. Seedling plants develop only one shoot the first year and do not flower until the third year. It has smooth stems. The leaves are opposite, hairless, with a prominent mid vein and grow 2 to 10 cm long. Flowers are produced in white clusters. Baby’s breath reproduces by seed with the average plant producing upwards of 13,000 seeds. Most seeds drop near the plant although a few are dispersed to other locations by wind. The seeds show little or no dormancy.

If you have this plant on your property, please control it. The best way to control baby’s breath over the long term is to use an integrated management approach. You can cut it down or dig it up, bag it and take it to the landfill. You can put down grass seed in the fall before it snows and use selective herbicides on it in the spring. You can keep it mowed short and don’t let it go to seed. You can tarp it to kill the plants and reseed afterwards. You may need to keep the tarps down for at least a year. Make sure there are no holes in it as you don’t want light and oxygen to get under the tarp. There are currently no bio agents available. No matter what combination of management you choose it is important to reseed once you have control of the site. Do not use wildflower seed mixes when you reseed as some of them contain baby’s breath. If you are looking for some native alternatives you could grow pearly everlasting and yarrow.

The baby's breath in the Boundary used to be harvested and sold to the floral industry. This hasn't happened in decades as an annual type of baby's breath is more popular now. The annual variety is also native to Eurasia and has the potential to escape. If you harvest baby's breath for arrangements please put it in the garbage when you are done with it. Most compost doesn't get hot enough to destroy the seeds. Many bouquets have baby's breath in them, especially ones with roses, please do not compost them or discard them in the bush. Many ornamental plants have the potential to escape and become invasive.

For more information you can contact the Boundary Invasive Species Society at 250-446-2232, info@boundaryinvasives.com, Facebook and www.boundaryinvasives.com.



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