Last month we learned about how the cut-flower industry can be a pathway for new invasive plant introductions. A good example of a plant that got its start in the Midwest through this inroad is baby’s breath, Gypsophila paniculata. Baby’s breath has become a problem across the northern and western U.S. and is listed as a noxious weed by California and Washington. It is known to occur in Minnesota, but the exact distribution is unknown. The Minnesota Invasive Species Advisory Committee (MISAC) lists it as a species to “Watch,” and notes that it is known “to be problematic under certain conditions, but the invasiveness…in all Minnesota conditions has yet to be determined.” Baby’s breath has not yet been petitioned for review to the Minnesota Noxious Weed Advisory Committee (NWAC) for risk assessment and evaluation as a potential state listed noxious weed, but is on their list of potential species to review over the next three years.
Baby’s breath is a perennial herbaceous plant that can reach heights of 3 feet. It has a highly branched, bushy appearance studded with numerous distinctive small white flowers. The leaves are commonly not seen in floral arrangements; they are opposite, narrow, lance-shaped, and hairy. Baby’s breath has a large taproot which can resprout if the plant is cut. It is a prolific seed producer, releasing 10,000 seeds or more per plant.
Baby’s breath is a common filler in floral arrangements. When the arrangement has finished blooming, the cut flowers can still produce seeds. This discarded seed is a source of new infestations. Once in the landscape, it forms dense monocultures which outcompete and displace native species. The plants tend to break off at ground-level and become tumbleweeds; this serves to disperse seeds widely as well. It is tolerant of a wide range of conditions which makes it a superior competitor.
This species is difficult to control once established and you can help to prevent its spread by properly disposing of spent floral arrangements in garbage bags or burning if local ordinances allow.