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Invasive plant species spotted in Warm Springs Run

August 12, 2004

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.VA.

By RYAN NICHOLSON

Staff Correspondent

It may be invasive, but it's certainly not evasive in Berkeley Springs.

For the second time in less than a decade, the invasive purple loosestrife has been found in the area.

Purple loosestrife is a highly invasive exotic plant that can disrupt native plant and animal species. Extensive stands even can replace the native vegetation, experts say.

Many states list the plant as a noxious weed, but its sale and growth are not prohibited in West Virginia.

According to Town of Bath Councilwoman Nancy Harvey, the plant recently was found growing on the banks of Warm Springs Run.

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Harvey said she also saw the plant on a part of the run near the store, Treasures and Treats, and has heard reports of it being found along W.Va. 13 in Morgan County.

Rachel Braud, of Morgantown, W.Va., also documented the plant in Berkeley Springs in September 1997.

Braud, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Protection and Quarantine division, said she sampled the plant along the banks of Warm Springs Run in front of the Country Inn on Washington Street.

Purple loosestrife is known for its long, showy, spikes of purple flowers. It can grow 6 to 10 feet tall.

According to West Virginia state botanist Paul Harmon, most invasive plants are non-native.

"Invasive plants are non-native usually, but they can be native," Harmon said. "Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time they are from off of the continent or from Mexico."

The purple loosestrife originated in the northeastern part of the continent where it is still most abundant. It colonizes mainly in wetland habitats including meadows, marshes, riverbanks and the shores of lakes or ponds.

Harmon says the arrival of purple loosestrife was due in part to settlers who liked the flowers and brought them to the new world.

He said the plant made its way in seed form in the dirt that was used as a ballast for ships. When the dirt was no longer needed it would be dumped along the shores.

Harmon said there are countless non-native species that are not a problem and that invasive plants are the really good growers.

"These guys have the ability to out-compete native species," said Harmon.

According to Harmon, the invasive plants compete for resources and overtake the landscape and the physical space of native plants.

Harmon said the purple loosestrife is of particular concern in the Eastern Panhandle because of its risk to the area's harperella population.

"Sleepy Creek, Back Creek and the Cacapon River have some of the best examples of harperella in the world," said Harmon

According to the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources Web site, harperella is an endangered plant known to grow in only two locations in West Virginia. There are only 11 known sites in the world where harperella grows.

Purple loosestrife can be treated in a variety of ways, including being pulled by hand before the first seed.

According to Harmon, if they can be pulled before the first seed, they are easier to remove because of the plant's expansive root system.

A brochure on purple loosestrife by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters notes that with large populations, attempts should not be made to dig the roots out of the soil because doing so may enhance the spread of the plant.

It also notes that frequent cutting of the stem at ground level is effective, but must be continued for several years.

Herbicides also are used because of the likelihood that the plant will re-establish itself. Most importantly, the brochure states, constant monitoring is necessary to ensure that the plant does not re-establish itself.

Harvey has proposed a watershed group for Warm Springs Run to keep an eye out for situations such as this one.

"If we could have had someone watching, we could have picked it up earlier," said Harvey.

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