West of Woolwich: Invasives

Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2012 in Features

West of Woolwich: Invasives

But, they are SO pretty!

by Fred Kahrl


There they were, smiling up out of the ditch at me.

They weren’t there last year, but their hearty appearance doesn’t surprise me.

 Like most invasive plants, they are aggressive, hardy and, in this case, too pretty by far.


Purple Loosestrife  (Lythrum salicaria).


Like so many invasives, it was originally brought across the oceans as a garden plant

Now it has escaped domesticity and is spreading like wildfire.

Because it prefers wetlands, it often crowds out native swamp plants that provide food for all the species found in such habitats … it can even overpower cattails! Twenty years ago I was a caretaker for a property where a large wetland/pond complex had been restored to attract waterfowl. When I saw in Massachusetts how a fifty-acre wetland had been stifled by this plant, I went on the warpath.

I even went so far as to hire a local highschool athlete to “wade” … arm-pit deep … out into the swamp’s primordial ooze to rip Loosestrife out by its roots before it could go to seed.

Today, I am not so concerned. Canadian wildlife biologists imported some beetles that subsequently decimated the Purple Loosestrife, particularly where it was growing in large, concentrated stands.

So, now this pretty annual plant is destined to become a permanent member of Maine’s midsummer wildflower family, and I can stop knocking on the doors of strangers to admonish them about this “devil” plant they have in their gardens, sometimes looming over seven feet tall.

Now I will have time to concentrate instead on the proliferation of another dread invader with a pretty face that apparently has NO natural enemies:



Multiflora Rose (Rosa Multiflora)

 The literature provided by the botanists at the University of Maine say that “Rosa” has been identified in York, Franklin and Oxford Counties so far. I can assure you that it also well established in Sagadahoc County, and it is closing in on our little farm.

When my Father retired back to his natal county in Ohio, he bought a rural property that had been ignored for over a decade. The fields had been mowed, except for some piles of stumps that testified to the diligence of a prior owner. The stumps had rotted down, leaving only enormous tangles of Multiflora Rose bushes that had taken advantage of the stump piles.

Some of these tangles stood more than twelve feet high and had a “footprint” the size of bloated semi trailer.

Father … a career college professor … had always honored his agricultural roots, and had kept abreast of basic changes in the mechanics of modern farming, or so he thought. He drove down the country lane to a neighboring farmstead where he had already cultivated a friendly connection, and asked the farmer there if he did bush-hogging for hire.

Father had already observed a super-tractor (all-wheel drive, four double drive tires) on the grounds, and the hungry 8-foot-wide bush hog mower deck that would be the tractor’s weapon of choice.

The farmer, not unkindly, chuckled and patted Father on his tweedy shoulder. “All I could do is get my rig all tangled up in those tentacles until it was just spinning wheels, and then have to call my (farm) hand to come up and chainsaw me out of my mess.”

Father wound up having to hire a very large excavator (with a “thumb” on the bucket) at twice the hourly rate of a bush-hog. Then he had to pay to have the brush hauled away and buried, because Ohio had run out of patience with this pretty invader and treated it like toxic waste.

With that in mind, I was alarmed when I first saw this wild rose literally popping up all over MY county!  When it blooms in early summer, I suspect that most local folks think it is just another familiar wild bush that has white flowers … perhaps elderberry, or the now-common Rugosa Rose, or even some escaped lilacs.

But not an INVADER!

Well, just get off your cell phone next June when you are driving by or around the U.S. Rte. 1 cloverleaf where New Meadows Road crosses overhead. All of the bushes with the long tendrils reaching out past their abundant white blooms are Multiflora Rose … tumbling down the ledges, snuggling up to the guardrail, lounging on slopes too steep to mow, even climbing the pines that were planted with federal funds when the construction landscaping was done.

And after thus educating yourself what to look for, then drive home, watching for more Rose bushes of the same type. It might surprise you how quickly they have moved into the neighborhood.

Last week a saw a neighbor who had decided to rid herself of one of these uninvited guests that had taken up residence in the ditch in front of her home. It was probably two years old … three feet high and five feet in diameter. She was properly armored with long denims and a long-sleeved shirt. It appeared that she had on appropriate leather gloves and was armed with a capable set of pruning shears.

And she was clearly exasperated.  Every cane and branch she clipped was tangled with surrounding extremities, requiring five or six cuts for each piece removed. And then the tenacious thorns hung up on her gloves and sleeves like flypaper, defying her attempts to cast off the cutting onto the pile she was building. And, there was clear evidence that the thorns were finding flesh despite her preparations.

I didn’t stick around to see how she disposed of the waste pile once she had conquered her thorny adversary. I suspect the path to the burning pile out back was punctuated with a modest blood trail and a few expletives.

The bulletin provided by the University of Maine Extension Service talks about using bulldozers and herbicides to control established plants, but also notes that it is better to attack them when they are small.

That means … at least in my neighborhood … it’s already too late for low impact remedies.

Know anyone with a ‘dozer? Or perhaps an excavator would be better.

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