If you live in Connecticut, you live in the home of Lyme disease. There’s a town called Lyme where the disease was first identified. Lucky us.
But since that first happened some 30 or so years ago, much of the thinking has changed about the causes of the disease.
Don’t mistake the matter: ticks still cause the disease (and no, since so many of you out there have been afflicted, I won’t post photos of the nasty little arachnid that causes it!)
But for awhile it was thought that deer were the primary host of this tick (hence the name “deer tick.”) You might notice that isn’t the popular name for this tick any more. You will most likely hear it referred to as the black-legged tick (as if any of us examine it that closely!)
Now it is thought that white footed mice are the primary host of these nasty little critters. But it’s even more complicated than that. Now we also have to look at habitat as well.
For it seems that in habitat that has an abundance of barberry plants (berberis sp), the tick population is much higher than in places with few or no barberry plants. Here’s a story our local NBC affiliate did on the habitat issue about a month ago.
Why does this matter? Well, it matters for two reasons. First, barberry is an invasive shrub. It spreads by seed. It is not banned here in Connecticut but many places have banned it.
Many of you know barberry as that low mounding shrub, often with reddish leaves (occasionally yellow) and very thorny stems. It has small red fruits in late summer or early fall here in Connecticut that wildlife love–hence the spreading problem.
But when it spreads to our forests and woodlots, you won’t see it coming up as red or yellow. You’ll just see a low green undergrowth. So you won’t necessarily know that it’s the same barberry that came from the garden center.
I have the stuff coming up all over my yard–presumably spread by birds–even though I haven’t planted any and I have no idea where the nearest plant might be. I try to yank it whenever I see it for three reasons: it’s much easier; it’s relatively thornless; and I don’t want it getting out of control to the point where it might produce its own fruit and create this nightmare all over again. Besides, like so many of these invasive plants, once it’s bigger than about 8″, the roots seem to reach middle earth!
I almost hesitate to suggest that our barberry free environment is why I have so far been blessed with no Lyme disease (I was tested again this fall for yet another mystery ailment. They still haven’t figured out the problem–but at least it’s not Lyme disease).
But given the number of hours that I spend in the yard, I do think habitat makes a difference, particularly since we are wooded, on a deer trail and are over-run with mice (and voles).
If ticks are a problem in your yard, take a look at your plantings. Are any of them barberry?