By Barbara Walvoord
On August 4, at 9 a.m., you can join the Lathrop Loosestrife Loppers at the end of Cranberry Lane by the gravel path to the community garden.
We’ll be an odd sight–a bunch of seniors in boots, slicked up with tick spray, carrying loppers, tromping (or hobbling) out into the meadow or along the edges of our ponds lopping off the heads of beautiful purple flowers, dumping the flowers into buckets, and hauling the buckets out to the edges (The committee will provide tick spray, garden clippers/loppers, buckets, and people to help carry out the buckets). You can’t leave the blossoms in the field because they can reroot or develop seeds even though they have no stems.
And the first person who says, “But it’s SO beautiful!” puts a dollar into the kitty.
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is indeed beautiful, which is why settlers brought this alien plant here in the 1800’s.
They didn’t realize that purple loosestrife, having left behind its competitors and enemies, could create a dense monoculture that crowds out the native plants that are much more useful to native wildlife. An estimated 465,000 acres of wetlands, marshes, pastures and riparian meadows are affected in North America each year, with an economic impact of millions of dollars. (http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/ais/purpleloosestrife_info) Purple loosestrife changes the biology, chemistry, and hydrology of a wetland. Some species of birds and turtles disappear (https://dnr.state.il.us/Stewardship/cd/biocontrol/11PurpleLoosestrife.html)
Purple loosestrife spreads by its roots (40-50 plants can spring from one extended root), and also by seeds. One mature plant can produce a million seeds (nope, that’s not a typo).
There’s a biological control, which we may use in the future, but meanwhile, we’re using the beheading method to keep our Lathrop loosestrife where it is and if possible push back its edges or its new infestations.
Come and help! Wear long pants and long sleeves, a hat, and garden gloves. You need to be able to walk on level but bumpy or marshy ground, bend just a bit at the waist, and work a garden clipper. Or just stop by the end of Cranberry Lane and cheer on the loppers.