Plant choices provoke weed discussion

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 30, 2014

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Is one man’s weed another man’s wildflower?

Bill Rapai, who lives in the 400 block of St. Clair, addressed the City Council during a meeting July 21 after he said he was visited by a representative from the City’s code enforcement officer recently for weeds in front of his house — weeds that Rapai argued are actually “native North American plants” he purposely planted to create a more inviting environment for butterflies, bees and other wild critters.

Specifically, Rapai was concerned that the City was objecting to his use of milkweed in his yard — a plant that’s vital to the diet of monarch butterflies, which have been in grave danger in recent decades. Bee balm was another native plant Rapai said City officials felt shouldn’t be part of his landscaping. Bees and other pollinating insects are dying off in alarming numbers, in part due to drought and the use of insecticides, and he said he’s trying to create an environment where bees can thrive and continue to contribute to the ecosystem.

“People like me are trying to give these poor insects a boost,” Rapai said after the meeting. “It’s better to plant these native American plants.”

The use of native plants and more natural landscaping has become increasingly popular as people seek ways to protect and improve the environment while also trimming their landscaping expenses. Rain gardens and rain barrels, for example, can reduce outdoor watering costs.

During a forum about maintaining lake health earlier this year, local leaders and environmental experts weighed in on this topic. Green infrastructure, such as the use of native plants, is becoming more common because these plants require less care and maintenance than non-native species and develop deeper root systems that absorb and filter more water, said Margi Armstrong, Lake St. Clair project coordinator for Michigan Clean Water Action.

“The benefits are really endless when it comes to green infrastructure,” she said.

City Public Service Director Frank Schulte said some sources classify milkweed as a noxious plant while others don’t, but he did note that these plants attract butterflies.

After getting a complaint from a neighbor about Rapai’s property, Schulte said he went out there recently to investigate and found “a bunch of weeds in his front yard.” At that point, Schulte said he left a door hanger for Rapai, but said Rapai was “never written a citation or formal letter” from the City, and he said Rapai cleaned up the weeds in front, thereby addressing the concern.

“We’re not going to discourage people from (planting) wildflowers,” Schulte said. “I guess where it becomes a sticky wicket is with regard to” certain plants that might be considered noxious weeds by some sources.
So for now, it appears that Rapai’s milkweed can stay. Bee balm and milkweed aren’t specifically named as noxious weeds in the City’s ordinance, which does cite plants such as poison ivy, poison sumac, Canada thistle and wild carrot as noxious. City code states that the City Council can add any other plant to this list if such plant is deemed “a public nuisance.”

Schulte said the City Council could look at the ordinance again in the future if this becomes an issue.