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Monthly Archives: May 2014

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Some of these invasive plants can certainly be deceptive.

Unlike Phragmites, whose sharp, grassy stalks form an impenetrable wall, many herbaceous perennials are actually quite attractive. They seem quite soft and fluffy; often producing striking flowers.

Purple Loosestrife is another one.

First introduced to this country in the 1830’s Purple Loosestrife came here as a contaminant of ship’s ballast. It was also brought here as a medicinal herb, for treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, bleeding, wounds, ulcers and sores. It was welcomed in gardens for its beautiful flowers; beekeepers appreciated the nectar it provided for their hives (though it did not result in a flavorful honey).

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Let us not be deceived.

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Like all invasive species, this plant does not “play well with others.” It does not co-exist with our native plants. It wants to take over.

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Purple Loosestrife is an herbaceous,wetland perennial that can thrive in a wide range of habitats. By the 1850’s it had taken over much of the eastern seaboard. It spread easily as we built and used more inland canals and waterways. Seeds are easily dispersed by water,and by mud adhering to aquatic wildlife, livestock and people. By 1996, Purple Loosestrife had invaded every single one of the contiguous states, except Florida, and every Canadian province!

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Established plants grow six to seven feet tall and up to four feet wide. Each plant is made up of 30 to 50 stems, each stem topped with a large, seed-producing flower head. One mature plant can produce more than two million seeds annually! Plants quickly dominate the herbaceous canopy, causing a sharp decline in biological diversity. Infestations can result in a dramatic disruption of water flow. By crowding out native species, they effectively eliminate food sources for many birds and marsh animals.

In addition, note that there is no effective method to completely control this plant, except where it occurs in small, localized stands and can be intensely managed.

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The brochure on Beaver Island’s Top 10 Invasive Plants, put out by the Beaver Island Association, offers this good description:

Purple Loosestrife…is most often found in damp habitats. It has a square stem, like a mint, and the pairs of leaves that occur on the stems grow directly opposite each other. The leaves are lance-shaped and the stem and leaves are covered with fine hairs. It flowers from June until September and produces showy spikes of bright pink-purple flowers, sometimes with over 30 stems from a single plant.

The brochure goes on to say that purple loosestrife has been found in scattered clumps around the island, including along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Beaver Island is still in a position to be able to manage this plant. That alone sets us apart from most shoreline communities in North America! Let’s take advantage of it, with continued vigilance to take care of our wetlands.

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Wild Parsnip, like many of our invasive plants, looks harmless enough.

It is an herbaceous (not woody) plant that grows about four feet tall in the full sun of fields and road-sides.

Wild Parsnip is a member of the carrot family, and has a long, thick and edible taproot.

The thick, ribbed stems look a bit like celery.

The compound leaves (many leaflets on a stalk) give it an airy, ferny aspect.

Yellow flowers, produced in July and August, grow in an umbel (think umbrella-shaped),and are similar in appearance to Dill, or Queen Anne’s Lace.

Quite pretty,actually.

Wild Parsnip is also a little bit famous.

It is listed, in some states, as a Prohibited Noxious Weed.

It was featured, last year, on a CBS News broadcast titled, Poisonous Plants Like Wild Parsnip Could Spoil Your Summer.

Not only does wild parsnip have all of the usual oh-so-annoying features of an invasive species (no natural enemies, crowds out native plants, makes areas uninhabitable to native plants and animals…we are starting to see a pattern here, aren’t we?!), but it is also classified as poisonous!

If the sap from cut stems or leaves of this plant gets on the skin, and is then exposed to sunlight, it can cause phytophotodermatitis. That’s a long name which basically describes painful reddening, burning and blistering of the skin. The CBS News report told of a man who was afflicted after mowing through a patch of wild parsnip growing near his home. According to the victim, the pain was tremendous, the blisters lasted for weeks, and the scars much longer. I’ve opted to not put photos of badly reddened, swollen and blistered extremities on this page, but be warned: this is nasty stuff!

Removal of plants by pulling is quite an effective method of getting rid of wild parsnip…but be careful!  Gloves, long pants and long sleeves should be worn when dealing with this plant.

Watch for wild parsnip in fields, road-sides, unmowed pastures, edges of woods and open areas, especially where the natural growth has been disturbed.

Awareness is the first step. With vigilance, working together, we can save and protect our island.

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Compared to some of the other invasive species here on Beaver Island, garlic mustard looks pretty benign.

It’s an edible herb, for heaven’s sake!

Well, if any of you have ever seen how quickly a mint plant can spread to take over the herb garden – or the lawn, for that matter – you know that some herbs can be terribly aggressive. Garlic mustard is one of them.

Add to that the fact that it grows in moist shade – like our woodland areas – and the damage it can do becomes evident.

“Garlic mustard poses a severe threat to native plants and animals in forest communities,” according to the Plant Conservation Alliance:

Many native widlflowers that complete their life cycles in the springtime (e.g., spring beauty, wild ginger, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, hepatica, toothworts, and trilliums) occur in the same habitat as garlic mustard. Once introduced to an area, garlic mustard outcompetes native plants by aggressively monopolizing light, moisture, nutrients, soil and space. Wildlife species that depend on these early plants for their foliage, pollen, nectar, fruits, seeds and roots, are deprived of these essential food sources when garlic mustard replaces them. Humans are also deprived of the vibrant display of beautiful spring wildflowers.

In addition, chemicals in garlic mustard appear to be toxic to the eggs of certain butterflies, evident in their failure to hatch when laid on garlic mustard plants.

AND, as appears to be the case with all invasive species, garlic mustard is terribly prolific. Each plant can produce thousands of seeds, which remain viable for several years, scatter and germinate. When pulled, it is important to get the entire root, as new plants can sprout from root fragments.

Fortunately, pulling is still – in the case of this particular invasive plant – a good method of control. Removing plants before they go to seed, or before the seed has scattered, will help to keep garlic mustard from taking over our woodland areas.

Let’s get to know the plant, so we can keep it away.

  • Garlic mustard is a cool season biennial herb.
  • Its leaves are triangular to heart-shaped, with scalloped edges and prominent veins.
  • Leaves give off the odor of garlic when crushed.
  • Plants produce clusters of small white flowers, each with four petals in the shape of a cross.
  • Garlic mustard plants stand 12 to 36 inches tall.
  • On Beaver Island, garlic mustard will be the only plant of its height flowering in the woods in May.

With concern and vigilance, we can protect our beautiful island!

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