Purple loosestrife crowds out cattails and threatens native loosestrife. (Becky Gallery photo)
Oh, purple loosestrife, why must you be so beautiful?
With your strong, square-stemmed, upright posture peeking above the plants around you, wearing your cheerful, purple-flowered covering, is it because you’re beautiful that you feel you can be rude and crowd out your neighbors? Why not just share space with others? On top of that, you breed with our native loosestrife and threaten the native’s gene pool.
We don’t even know why you’re here. Did you come from Eurasia as an ornamental plant? As beautiful as you are, that is a possibility. Or did you come in ship ballast? Or were your seeds mingled with sheep and wool?
We wish it didn’t come to this, but we really need to get rid of you. We would enjoy you if you allowed cattails and other plants to thrive. But you squeeze out the cattails we have loved since childhood, those we turned into swords, stakes, and fire pokers when we had family gatherings at the fire pit. You clog the ditches along our roadsides, costing us money and making more work for us to keep excess water flowing.
When we try to tame you by removing you and your roots, you spring back because many of your broken roots create new plants as tall as 6 feet, as purple as you, as strong as you and as beautiful as you. If we accidentally drop one of your stems on the ground, that sprouts too, right there on the spot. We thought you might play with the Galerucella beetles we set upon you for control. Play you did, but you won every time.
Come late summer and fall, just when we think our teams of volunteers have cut you down and thus won, you make your seeds — as many as 2.5 million tiny, creepy seeds per plant. And then you’re ready to start again for the next year.
But that’s OK. You keep trying to win, and so will we! We won’t give up until we can no longer see your pretty purple stems in midsummer. And when you’re gone, we’ll plant blazing star (Liatris), a native plant that also has tall, spiky, purple flowers. Or when we want more purple color to fill a space, we’ll plant false indigo (Baptisia australis). You think you can bully us, but you’ve met your match this time.
Learn more about the Harpswell Invasive Plant Partnership at hippmaine.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this column online and in the July print edition included a photo misidentified as purple loosestrife. The earlier photo depicted steeplebush, a native shrub.