Bad But Beautiful


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.

Demons_1In 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.


  1. The Galerucella beetle is a host-specific biological control which has been released in New England and upstate New York and shows some promise. Biological Control of Purple Loosestrife is a blog by a field biologist, Katie Mosher-Smith, experimenting with this control. The link is in my blogroll on the sidebar of my blog, or you can search for it on blogspot.

  2. First, congratulations for your recognition and efforts. Loosestrife isn’t a plant we’re worrying about in the South yet, but it may become that.

    Definitely take a look at Xris’s URL above on biological controls.

    Unless the biological controls are applicable, definitely experiment with different concentrations of roundup to find the one that kills the plants before using it on a larger scale.

    Unfortunately loosestrife seems to flower rather early, and that’s unfortunate because it means a lot of other plants are affected by spraying. I don’t know how long it takes loosestrife to make seeds but timing is a consideration too in the use of a broad-spectrum herbicide.

    Here’s an example, and I just happen to be lucky. I’ve been eradicating Microstegium vimineum, a truly evil grass that is taking over shady ecosystems. This is my fourth year. It just happens to flower in late August/early September when most natives have gone dormant. That’s been fortunate for me, in using roundup, since there are few enough natives that I can be careful where they co-exist. (At this point I’ve so reduced the grass that I’m now handpicking it – from 20 acres! This year I start at the end of July. 🙂 )

    Also, how long do the loosestrife seeds remain viable in the soil? With Microstegium, it’s 5-7 years, which means it has been a long term project that couldn’t skip a year.

  3. Sad that you have had to resort to chemical warfare, especially following Amy’s post on organicism. The judicious and of course tempered use of herbicides may be what is required, as you have discovered. Please follow the research of others (thank the graces for the internet) and maybe you won’t have to napalm your beautiful pond.

    Our own scourge is poison ivy. Specifically, up to 3″ thick vines climbing a good percentage of the forested part of the property…makes me yearn for my own Robert Duvall moment, quite frankly…instead of chemicals, though, I wield an axe and a pick when I have the time. Unlike your loosestrife, however, this is slow-growing stuff that I can hopefully get in hand before my kid starts climbing trees on her own.

  4. About those ten thousand government-sponsored sites that recommend using Monsanto’s Roundup, it’s worth exploring sometime just how many invasive species councils have Monsanto representatives on them and/or receive funding from Monsanto. I’ve seen references to their being heavily involved in the anti-invasives movement but don’t can’t cite the specifics (though you notice that doesn’t stop me from commenting!)

  5. One of the inactive ingredients in Roundup (probably the surfactant) appears to kill frogs and tadpoles, so it’s very difficult to use safely in a wetland. A badly-designed study last year proved that high levels of Roundup kill frogs (surprise, surprise), but the study was criticized for its design. Evidently there is another glyphosphate formulation, called Rodeo, minus the surfactants, designed for use in wetlands. … but I haven’t been able to discover if it is available to just folks, or only to professionals.

  6. I’ve never used a propane torch for weeds, but the “flames” metaphor got me thinking. Fire has often been used as a way of clearing ground. Would it be possible to blast one plant, or a stand of loosestrife, at a time — cut the stalks off at the ground, then point the torch at the root?

    It must be a tough, tough plant if you can’t pickaxe it, Michele. Keep trying, though — even if you can only reduce its numbers, at least it’s not taking over.

  7. Here’s how to use RU with no overspray…Cut loosestrife off about a 8″ to 12″ above the ground. Take an old 1″ or slightly smaller paintbrush, dip the brush into a small container filled with RU, and paint the cut with the plant with the stuff.

    Leaving a stump means if you have to re-treat the offending plant, you just cut it back again to expose a fresh cut.

    Works like a charm, and there’s no overspray. Just FYI, please be aware that RU has a temperature range at which it is most effective. If it’s below 50 degrees, or above will work but very slowly.

    I love RU. Used judiciously, it’s a wonderful tool.

    Best of luck.

  8. April, I was hoping somebody smart would write in and tell me how to use my bottle of RoundUp without killing frogs or flag iris. Many thanks. I will give it a whorl.

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