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).
Let us not be deceived.
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.
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!
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.
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.