Purple Loosestrife Continues to Take Over Our Wetlands

by Free Speech on August 13, 2010

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

River Currents
by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Purple loosestrife is an invasive plant originally imported for landscaping that is now choking off out wetlands

Purple loosestrife is an invasive plant originally imported for landscaping that is now choking off out wetlands

The invasive perennial plant, purple loosestrife, has been growing and spreading throughout Wisconsin and the Midwest for at least a couple of decades and this summer’s weather has helped the plant continue to take hold in the state’s wetlands and in many other locations. Purple loosestrife is basically a wetland plant, but you can also find this invasive close to marshes, ponds, rivers, lakes, and streams. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says that a good “rule of thumb” is that any location where there are wet soils or standing water at any time of the year is a potential site for purple loosestrife to grow and flourish. The plants are extremely hardy, so you can even find it growing in low lands, ditches, mud holes, and agricultural land.

I first remember seeing this “pretty” plant over 20 years ago when returning to Wisconsin from Ohio’s Lake Erie. I was driving along the Great Lake for over an hour before getting on the Interstate highway and all along the marshes that border Lake Erie was this purple plant which was beautiful when in bloom with its beautiful color. It was a year or two before I realized that this plant was the invasive species, purple loosestrife, which was choking off wetlands and native vegetation. This summer has been a particularly good year for the invasive with the warm and wet conditions that have allowed the plant to thrive. This is bad news for the native plants that grow in our wetlands because it grows fast reaching up to 7 feet tall with a dense and bushy stems that choke off the growth of the native and good wetland plants. In Wisconsin, it is illegal to cultivate, distribute, or sell the plant. I’ve seen people that have dug up and planted the invasive herb in their yards because of its beautiful purple color and vigor.

The state has been aware of the dangers of purple loosestrife for years and has taken steps to stop its spread. The DNR has tried and been relatively successful in some areas by raising and releasing using biocontrol insects like the Galerucella and G. Pusilla strain of beetles to eat the plants and its flowers. The WDNR has had success with releasing the beetles at sites throughout the state, but even though the beetles do reduce some of the invasive it rarely eliminates them and due to the plant’s hardiness they seem to bounce back after a few years of decline. Conservation and civic groups has been involved all over Wisconsin in raising and releasing the beetles through a state project. The state has continued to help and train groups in this biocontrol beetle project at hundreds of state sites. To date, over 23 million beetles have been raised and released by over 700 cooperator groups at 1500 Wisconsin sites since the program inception. The beetle releases have been at about 25 % of the all the purple loosestrife infestations known in the state and most of the larger ones.

This year, the state is asking for help from the public because the beetles that have been successful in the past have been decimated by the summer’s high waters and new plants may have avoided the beetle’s chomping by germinating later in the summer. A single purple loosestrife plant can produce 100,000 to 300,000 seeds that the year’s high waters can spread to many new areas.

Now, the WDNR is asking for help from its landowners and concerned citizens by asking them to pull and uproot the loosestrife plants on their lands before they drop their seeds. Three-quarters of Wisconsin’s wetlands are privately owned, so this is where the help is needed. The state is also looking for volunteer watchers to report areas where they see loosestrife thriving or just beginning to take hold. Before monitoring, individuals should become familiar with the plant so it is not confused with other native look-alikes plants like fireweed which blooms at the same time of the summer. The state now has a new purple loosestrife brochure or the brochure “Purple Loosestrife: What You Should Know and What You Can Do” for information on identifying the plant and similar native species. As a volunteer watcher, the best locations to look for the invasive are in and near wetlands, banks of rivers, lakeshores, and ditches along highways. Purple loosestrife blooms from mid July through mid September. This is why August is the best month to look for this invasive and pull it out before its seeds are dropped to spread and choke out the valuable wetlands that are so necessary in today’s ecological environment. Go to the DNR website (dnr.wi.gov/invasives) for more information and forms for reporting the spread of purple loosestrife.

This past weekend, I drove around north-west Dane County and the Wisconsin River Valley looking for purple loosestrife. It didn’t take long to find the plant growing on state Public Hunting Grounds between Sauk City and Mazomanie. There’s another huge growth near Highway 78 and Dunlap Hollow Creek. This infestation has been there for years and continues to grow and expand. If you are a concerned citizen and a landowner take a walk on your property and see if you can find the invasive plant. If so, pull the plants by the roots and put them in a plastic bag so that the seeds don’t spread. If you don’t own land, be a volunteer watcher and report to the DNR any purple loosestrife that you find. The plants you find may have already been reported, but still fill out a form reporting the loosestrife. These are difficult times for most state agencies with budget deficits, so be a good citizen and conservationist by helping eliminate or at least reduce our wetland loss caused by purple loosestrife. I can always be contacted at www.garyengbergoutdoors.com .

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