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Popular plant linked to Lyme disease is now banned in Maine

Japanese barberry (WGME)

STATEWIDE (WGME) - As Lyme disease continues to spread in Maine, a popular plant linked to the disease is being banned.

If you look around your neighborhood, you'll probably see Japanese barberry in gardens and along foundations.

In fact, the shrub is so popular in Maine, it's planted right near the State House in Augusta.

"It's a popular plant just because it can be used as a hedge. It's got sharp thorns that keep people out and it's also quite striking in its color. It's unfortunate it's so pretty and people really like it because it's such a bad, invasive plant," said state horticulturist Gary Fish.

Because of its invasive nature, starting this year, Japanese barberry cannot be sold in Maine.

Fish said it's preventing native plants from growing and doesn't provide the food or habitat wildlife needs.

He said the plants could also be bad for human health.

Studies suggest Japanese barberry may be fueling the spread of Lyme disease.

"They're definitely a tick magnet . They're very much a tick magnet and they not only are a tick magnet; they're a mouse magnet and mice is where Lyme disease is reservoired," Fish said.

Researchers in Connecticut found "managing Japanese barberry will have a positive effect on public health" by reducing the number of ticks that carry Lyme disease.

Japanese barberry provides the perfect cover for shading and humidity researchers found.

Every year in the United States, there are about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease reported to the Centers for Disease Control.

Last year, Maine had about 1,800 of those cases.

But the CDC estimates the actual number of cases could be 10 times that.

[Related: Lyme Wars: Tiny tick triggering big debate in Maine over diagnosis, treatment]

"Ticks are a huge problem medically and we really need to try to find ways to reduce them," Fish said.

On its website, the Maine Center for Disease Control says if you have Japanese barberry in your yard, consider removing them.

"It's just something to think about in the long term. It would be good to replace them with a native plant," Fish explanied.

New Hampshire banned the sale of Japanese barberry more than a decade ago.

Several other states are also now banning the popular plant.

A spokesperson for the state Bureau of General Services tells CBS 13, they recently put out a bid for landscaping services and the Japanese barberry near the State House will be removed once a landscaper is hired.

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