Along the Natchez Trace

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Weed By Any Other Name....

A lot of the time I write about "endangered species"....  about a plant or animal or a specific type of habitat that is in danger of becoming extinct.  I've written that the Upland Sandpiper nests here at Aroostook NWR and that we don't even mow most of the area until after nesting season.

The flip side of that is that there are Invasive Species here....  plants that are not native but have been brought here in any number of ways.

One plant that is familiar to many of us is the Crown Vetch...
Pretty, isn't it?
And it's quite useful...
In its place.
It's a great ground cover for places where road construction has disturbed the natural plants along highways.  It's in the "pea" family, so its root system adds nutrients to the soil.

But, it can escape from those places and will flourish in areas it's just not needed or wanted.
Look at what happened to this field here on the Refuge...
The crown vetch is now taking over...  crowding out the native plants.  The natural habitat will change over time and when the plants change, the animals that use the plants will change, too.

There are several ways to deal with invasive species.  Of course the preferred method would be to pull them up by their roots and burn them.  This takes an enormous amount of man hours....  and that just isn't possible here.  We also have the Spotted Knapweed...  there have been groups of folks spend hours pulling up plants by hand....  But that particular plant has totally gotten out of control.

Prescribed burns is a dirty word to a lot of people.  But it's a method that can work with some species.

Herbicides...  another dirty word....  it's hard to know what long-range damage they can do.

Today I used another method...
I mowed the plants down before they went to seed.
Now, we know I didn't get the root system.  They will return.  But maybe mowing today will slow down the spreading to other areas.

Another dreaded plant (all over the USA) is the Purple Loosestrife.  It's quite a beautiful plant...  in fact, it used to be sold as an ornamental in nurseries.  I believe it's against the law to sell it now.  If you've driven along any stream or creek, you've probably seen it...  it just takes over!

There were some young student bio-techs here a couple of years ago checking out this refuge for purple loosestrife...  
They came back all excited...  they found a HUGE field of it!
They GPSed it, did their transects and everything!

I'm not sure if they were elated or disappointed to find that their field of plants was
My first sight of Fireweed was when we were living in Alaska one summer.  It's a gorgeous plant...  and...  thank goodness it's native to this area of Maine as well.  
We don't have a lot of it here on the refuge, but I can say with confidence, we DON'T have a problem with purple loosestrife!

Okay...  what about plants that are native here?

I saved my favorite one for the last....
Isn't it amazing how tenacious a plant can be?
This Black-eyed Susan grew right up through a crack in the concrete, and managed to produce this beautiful flower!

Survival!  It's no wonder that those invasive species are so hard to control.  Hey...  remember how the Starling got here?

That's All For Today!


  1. A really excellent post about a very serious problem. Invasives are an issue everywhere in the country, including here in the Sonoran Desert. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

  2. I recognized a lot of those plants as native to Minnesota. On the TV news they are showing the tsunami debris floating up on the west coast from Japan. It's loaded with creatures and plant life species that are alien to our country. It seems like there's just no way to keep invasive species out.

  3. as a biologist I too hate to see invasive's and know that in tme they will wipe out some native species (unless a predator evolves and keeps them in check), however, many of our "native" plants were at one time or another invasive themselves!

  4. This is a very interesting blog. I enjoyed learning new things and applaud your efforts using the mower. That has to help some. The amazing part is how pretty most of those plants are that we try to get rid of.

  5. Thanks for such an informative posting. I've seen many of those same plants here on Vancouver Island but I never knew their names. I'll probably forget them pretty fast but it's nice to know what they are at least for a little while!

  6. We've had purple loosetrife in Ontario for about a decade or so. You start to look on it a bit differently when you realise it's an invasive species. It's everywhere.