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What others say: Weeding out the invasives

Posted: July 13, 2014 - 9:19pm

Orange hawkweed is so disruptive to native plant species, that farmers and gardeners in Europe and beyond have given it fanciful names such as “King Devil,” ‘“Devil’s Paintbrush” and “Grim the Collier.”

It can be spotted blooming these days in and around the Egan Drive median, sending up its orange and burnt red blooms in wide patches.

Then there’s the oxeye daisy, which has seeds that can remain viable in the soil for up to 20 years. They can even sprout after passing through the digestive tract of an animal. The white petals and yellow center of the daisy is a common sight — one so frequent many may believe the bright flower was anything but a transplant. But, according to experts, it’s downright dangerous due to its ability to eradicate other native species.

Right now, some of you may be thinking, “So, why should I care?”

If left unchecked, invasive species in Alaska, a place relatively new to such attacks, can have devastating results on our economies and ecosystems, effectively undoing the framework that supports our unique environment. According to a joint study by the USDA Forest Service, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, “the growing tourism industry in Alaska, as well as oil and gas development, international trade and a burgeoning human population all contribute to an increase in invasive plant introduction and spread. Native wildflowers, forested ecosystems, riparian systems, and wildlife are all threatened by invasions of exotic species entering the state.”

The problem is, these are only two examples of invasive weeds that plague Southeast Alaska. The pair fall in line with a long list of 42 other plants that have hitchhiked to our great state or acted as stowaways on everything from tourists and cargo, to vehicles and seed packets, to name just a few. During a study in Europe on the transportation of invasive plants, one car was tested to have hundreds of differing types of seeds on its exterior.

Many of the invasive species prevalent in Southeast can be found in communities such as Juneau, Wrangell, Prince of Wales Island and other areas that act as transportation hubs.

The good news is Alaska has it easy compared to the rest of the country. We have a unique opportunity up here — we can get ahead of the problem and stop it with effective planning. Now is as good a time as any to get started.

This time of year, plants are large enough to be identified, but many aren’t mature enough to produce seeds just yet.

Furthermore, Gov. Sean Parnell declared June 22-28 as Alaska Invasive Weeds Awareness Week and subsequently state, federal, local, private and nonprofit organizations, as well as the public, are working together to increase public awareness, promote invasive weed prevention and management and help keep our communities and environment free of invasive weeds. A number of events are planned all over Alaska — but Juneau and much of Southeast was left out.

Instead, it’s up to local residents to take a few minutes to get out those gloves and spades, and dig up any invasives that may have found a home nearby. Respect private land, of course, and make sure to do your homework — it’s important to understand how a particular plant reproduces so you know just how to prevent it from spreading. The nasty and purvasive Bohemian Knotweed, for instance, has roots that spread by underground rhizomes and bares leaves that are so thick and dense that little light permeates to the undergrowth. Vast stands of these plants can be found all around Juneau; look around Twin Lakes next time you’re there for tall, bamboo-like stands of plants with broad leaves. When it comes to eradicating plants like these, it’s important to get all the rooty bits. For other weeds, it’s important to dig them up before they go to seed.

Invasive species are no joke, but Alaska is in a unique position as it faces a problem that is absolutely surmountable.

— Juneau Empire,

July 2

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