I know this is a terrible plant. In Jonathan Silvertown’s wonderful book about the evolution of botanical thugs, Demons In Eden, he points out that in Europe, where the plant is native, it represents no particular problem:
In North America, by contrast, the plant forms solid stands that seem to be self-replacing and permanent, and it has conquered millions of hectares of wetlands and dispersed native plant species, reducing some to the brink of extinction.
In Europe, Silvertown explains, there are insect predators to keep the loosestrife in check. Here, there are none, and the plant’s natural toughness, when unchecked, makes it prone to "demonic behavior." Just like you and I would be, I suppose, if our significant others didn’t yank on the reins occasionally.
Of course, demonic means scary, and so does "self-replacing and permanent," and I have to admit, my purple loosestrife has given me a chill or two. Last summer, I finally mustered the courage to deal with the loosestrife that was seeding itself around my pond. First, I tried cutting it back again and again so it wouldn’t bloom. It bloomed anyway, a sociopath without conscience or shame. Then I decided it was time to uproot the problem. Smaller plants could be yanked out. But the big six-footer that was blocking my view of my waterlilies? First, I tried undermining it with my shovel. It laughed in my face. The conflict escalated to the point that I was wielding a pick in order to chip it out of the pond muck. Now, I’m not a terribly large person. But I am capable of wielding a pick in a rage that sends the timid and the heart-attack-prone running. Did the loosestrife yield? No, I yielded, in a cold sweat. With a new perspective on how the world might end.
Reader, I gave up. Decided to live with my loosestrife and enjoy it. Until, of course, I had lunch this summer with a friend who works for Environmental Defense, and he pointed out that loosestrife chokes out plant species that animals use for food. Well, this is the way to goad me into action: the idea of my chipmunks or phoebes starving is too terrible for words.
So, for the first time in my life, I voluntarily bought a Monsanto product. A bottle of Roundup, as recommended by the approximately ten thousand government-sponsored "kill the loosestrife" websites. (Come to think of it, wasn’t Monsanto nicknamed Mon-satan when they were cramming bovine growth hormone down everybody’s throats? Evil to combat evil.)
Perhaps I sprayed a little gingerly, trying not to kill my flag iris and waterlilies and frogs. But it doesn’t seem to have done much yet.
Next weekend I’ll spray harder. One site says spraying seems to be most effective when you do it late in the season–July into August.
And if, by September, if none of it is dead, I’ll probably just decide to go down in flames, straight into Hades, carried away by my demonic loosestrife. At least if I’m on my way towards eternal damnation for allowing the world to be smothered by loosestrife, there will be those bewitching purple candles to look at on the way down.