From: Associated Press
Published October 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Invasive Plant Found in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An invasive plant that could overrun wetlands such as Potter Marsh and block salmon runs on the Kenai Peninsula has been found growing wild in Anchorage for the first time.


Purple loosestrife is growing along Chester Creek, plant scientists said. The plant, which resembles fireweed, has already choked creeks and wetlands across the Lower 48 and Canada.


The hardy flowering perennial is native to Europe and can multiply into dense thickets almost impossible to eliminate.


"This is a really horrific wetland invader, pretty much across North America," said Jamie Snyder, invasive plant specialist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, in Anchorage.


Its pepper-sized seeds are carried on feathers and fur.


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"So it's just one hop away from Potter Marsh, and then it's just one hop away from the Kenai Peninsula, where fishing industry is huge," Snyder said.


"This plant, if it were to get established in Potter Marsh, would absolutely cover the marsh," said Michael Shephard, plant ecologist with the state and private forestry office of the U.S. Forest Service. "There would be no more geese, no ducks, no terns, no swans."


Purple loosestrife has long been planted by local gardeners who thought it could not spread. The purple flower is listed as a noxious plant in several states and Canadian provinces. It drives out native plants, overgrows wetlands, ruins fish passage and blocks access from the bank for recreation.


The plants can take root from cuttings or spread in place through the ground.


"This one is like the Top Gun as far as prolific seeders go," said Michael Rasy, a pest control specialist with the extension service.


Snyder and Shephard plan to carefully dig out the plants along Chester Creek.


The varieties sold in nurseries were supposed to be sterile, or the Anchorage growing season was thought too short to allow it to seed and spread, said Julie Riley, horticultural agent with the extension service.


In 1997, Riley argued it should no longer be planted in Anchorage. But the consensus was that no one had ever seen it outside a tended bed.


"Because it hadn't had a history of escaping at that time, it was just kind of on everybody's watch list," Riley said.


"We didn't think we had a problem, but we do," said Jeff Lowenfels, an Anchorage businessman and gardening columnist. "If you have any growing in your garden, pull it up and throw it away.


Alaska already has more than 20 invasive weeds spreading along roads and trails, several originally planted as garden plants or flowers.


Purple loosestrife first appeared on the East Coast in the early 1800s and slowly spread. By the 1930s, it began taking over wetlands and creek bottoms.


Source: Associated Press


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