The Correlation Between Japanese Barberry & Lyme Disease

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In the region of upstate New York, Lyme disease- an infection of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that’s spread primarily by deer ticks, has become an epidemic, according to "Go Native" with Jessecology! . Primarily the reality that we are a part of the problem. Ellen Sousa recently wrote that, “We are all beginning to pay the price for the ecologically short-sighted landscaping conventions of the past century…” Concerning Japanese Barberry and lyme ticks, truer words have rarely been spoken.

Landscapers in the region I live in use Japanese Barberry as the backbone of most of their bland, cookiecutter landscaping sites. Driving through a new development of 200+ homes in southern Saratoga County recently, I noted that 95% of the new construction used Japanese Barberry as the mainstay of the plant material. There’s the underlying problem of zero biodiversity or habitat reconstruction with such a limited palett, but arguably a more pressing reality is that all this Japanese Barberry accelerates a bad public health crisis. Japanese Barberry, an invasive non-native species, spreads rapidly and widely in the woods surrounding the properties they’ve been landscaped into, and many studies indicate that reproduction of the ticks that carry Lyme disease is facilitated by several physical conditions the shrubs produce.

Several colleges in Connecticut studied the link between the presence of Japanese Barberry in a given wooded area and the resulting increase in numbers of ticks that live there. This happens after birds spread the Barberry seeds into the woods, with a virile 90% germination rate of the seeds. The ticks hide safely from deer browsing in the Barberry thickets, because the deer don’t eat the Barberry- the deer prefer native shrubbery that doesn’t have all those thorns. The Japanese Barberry manages to stay very humid- 80% more humid than native shrubbery, which allows ticks to reproduce in exponential numbers, creating “tick nurseries” all over the woods. Completing the picture, the white footed mouse also enjoys the humid climate under the Barberry thickets, and when the mice pass through, the tick larvae pile onto them, using the mice as a vehicle to move around, usually closer to our living spaces.

So, what is the solution?

  • Learn about plantlife native to our region. Luckily there’s a new website for locating native plant nurseries by region.
  • Keep the lawn mowed to make your property unattractive to ticks. Ticks are found in high grass, yards with trees and shrubs.
  • Place a three-foot wood chip, gravel or mulch border area between grassy edges and tick-prone zones. Ticks prefer moist areas like leaf litter and the edge of woods. Ticks don't like the sun and wait in shady areas on brush and grasses.
  • Practice personal protection: Apply repellents, wearing appropriate clothing (long, light-colored pants tucked into socks or boots, and long-sleeved shirts) and checking for ticks. Ticks like places on humans that are warm and moist, most commonly the backs of the knees, armpits, the groin, the scalp, the back of the neck, and behind the ears. 

Interesting article, right? Keep your family and yourself safe from ticks by dressing appropriately when walking in tall grass or through the woods. And protect your home with regular tick treatments and a trimmed lawn.

Tags: tick prevention  |  landscaping  |  landscaping to prevent ticks


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