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Search and destroy: Be on the lookout for white sweetclover

Posted: Friday, June 26, 2009

As summer progresses, many flowers will soon be going to seed, but not all that smells pleasant and looks pretty should be allowed to propagate.

Photo Courtesy Janice Chumley
Photo Courtesy Janice Chumley
White sweetclover -- a very tall, branching legume, that grows erect -- is a species that Kenai Peninsula residents should be on the lookout for. This invasive species has the ability to produce 350,000 seeds, capable of remaining viable for 81 years, so this plant has the potential to take over an area quickly, supplanting native vegetation.

White sweetclover -- a very tall, branching legume, that grows erect -- is one such species that Kenai Peninsula residents should be on the lookout for.

"It's everywhere else in the state, but there are only a few areas with it here, so we have the opportunity to reduce its spread and eradicate it," said Janice Chumley, an integrated pest management technician with the UAF Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna.

Chumley spoke about white sweetclover this past week during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting in an effort to work toward getting the Department of Transportation to consider a reliable mowing schedule to stop the spread of this species.

"This plant is moving rapidly up the Turnagain Arm and poised to head this way, so if they mowed before seeding we could be ahead of the problem," she said.

However, residents and visitors can also keep a wary eye for this species, since it is fairly easy to identify. White sweetclover can grow to be five feet tall, but Chumley said at this time of year plants would likely be between 18 and 24 inches tall.

"It looks like a member of the pea family. It's pretty and smells good, but it's not all you want to see," she said.

With the ability to produce 350,000 seeds, capable of remaining viable for 81 years, this plant has the potential to take over an area quickly.

"In the weed world, quicker is better, and sweetclover is an aggressive spreader that can crowd out everything. It'll overtop and shade native species so they don't have a chance," she said.

This in turn affects the entire ecosystem, since insects, juvenile fish and birds that use native vegetation often find white sweetclover a poor substitute for their individual needs.

In the Interior and Southeast portions of the state, white sweetclover has already taken over along roadsides in numerous locations, as well as along the banks of several rivers including the Nenana, the Tanana and the Stikine.

On the Kenai Peninsula, sweetclover has only been seen in isolated pockets, such as along the Anchor River, in Seward along the railroad tracks and in Cooper Landing along a roadside very near the Kenai River. Fortunately, it was quickly eradicated from these areas.

"Sweetclover responds well to pulling and mowing," Chumley said, as opposed to dandelions and other more aggressive species which can still seed even after their head is picked or cut.

However, since white sweetclover seeds can last so long in the environment, sites where it has been identified in the past should continued to be monitored after its removal.

For more information on white sweetclover and other invasive plant species, call the Cooperative Extension Service at 262-5824.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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