Monday, August 3, 2009

Preaching On The Loose

Not long ago I made a post with this photo of what I thought was Purple Loosestrife. Planted near a town center, on a wetland edge, along a road, near a parking lot in a town with many gardeners and less than a quarter mile up river, near the Stony Brook Grist, a preserve dedicated to native plants and habitats.

I grew up on Long Island. I didn't see nor hear of purple loosestrife until I went to college in the Hudson Valley, where I was in awe of its August beauty in the wetlands and roadside ditches. I didn't know what I was looking at. That was 20 years ago.

Without any doubt, it is purple loostestrife -key identifier, the lanceolate leaves whorl at 90 degrees to the previous set. Someone recently planted these -by the looks of it, in the last couple of years along with some catnip.

Long Island has been relatively clear of purple loosestrife, a plant that has been around since the mid-19th century. Why? Some say its because another invasive wetland species, Phragmites australis, outcompetes it in brackish wetlands.

This little planting of loosestrife is about 25 feet from Stony Brook's brackish estuary. Alongside this estuary is a mixture of native plants, but also plenty of mugwort. If you travel a short distance upstream, which is easy to do when the tide is coming in, you will find fresh water and a perfect roost for the millions of seeds loosestrife is capable of producing.

To me, this is not a story about a plant. It's a story about people still uneducated, still planting these plants. That means that information is not getting out. That also means those gardeners who are sick of hearing about invasive plants have not heard the end of it. While we are enlightened and free individuals able to make our own choices, solving big problems requires individual and collective action. To people it's just a plant choice, but to some ecological systems, it's a disaster.

In 2007, Suffolk County government passed a "do-not-sell" list. While many of those invasive plants have a phase-out period, such as japanese barberry -2014, most weedy plants (i.e. plants we don't plant much anyway) have been banned in 2009. Maybe its a poorly updated site, but a quick google search pulled up at least one wholesale LI Nursery still selling purple loosestrife.

I drove out to Bridgehampton to see my brother's place of work. On the way, I passed two, what do you call them -wedding halls, with extravagant plantings and a white fences. Both had masses of purple loosestrife blooming away. It's August, they look gorgeous at a time when much doesn't here on Long Island. So do the happy brides.


  1. Well, I was one of the fools who planted it a few years ago on a rooftop :-(

    I looked in three LI nursery catalogues now, and all three sell it still. I'll fax them the list.

    It's like my fishmonger, who is still selling Chilean Seabass.

  2. Well J Crist, you're not from round here. Slack cut!
    IS Chilean seabass on the list, a list, which list? This is the problem.
    It's just that our information is not distributed through a network that reaches the most people-like nurseries should have a poster or something. But I'm not for fines or plant police or anything as that would make it out as if there's a underground market for loosestrife. There isn't. It spreads pretty well on its own now. I'm for awareness, know what you do.

    We could develop a model information system for dealing with future rampant spreaders. I think the invasive insect information distribution has been better -like Asian Longhorn, almost everyone in NYC has at least heard of it.

    People love loosestrife. I think I planted it once too, in the early 90s. But, I can live without it, it has little or no cultural value, we're not "attached" to it.

  3. Well, foo!

    It's in bloom here now, too, and, perhaps because it has been such a wet year, I am seeing it in fields where I don't recall having seen it before. Or maybe this time I'm just paying more attention.

  4. Foo is right. I just got back from the Mohawk valley, upstate NY. Its blooming like mad, whole wetlands are purple.

    I don't like being a fundamentalist, but this seems easy because there is really no cultural attachment.

  5. Thanks for alerting people to this destructive plant.

  6. Forgot to add... Beautiful photos on your blog!!


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