An Ornate Invader

Fox Island’s trails can get muddy, and the park itself holds a lot of water. Visit the park in the spring, or visit after a day or two of heavy rain, and you’ll see what I mean. This isn’t a total surprise. The park is adjacent to the 700-acre Eagle Marsh. And within Fox Island itself you can find seasonal ponds, wetland forest, a large marsh, and of course Bowman Lake.

The flowers of Purple Loosestrife. (PHoto by Ivar Leidus via Wikimedia Commons.)

The flowers of Purple Loosestrife. (PHoto by Ivar Leidus via Wikimedia Commons.)

As you are walking around Fox Island’s wetlands, you may notice some plants with pretty purple flowers. Bad news: those plants probably aren’t supposed to be there. There is a good chance you are looking at invasive purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).

It’s no accident that those purple flowers are pretty. Purple loosestrife was brought to the United States from Europe over 150 years ago. It’s not clear if the species was introduced intentionally (as a garden plant) or unintentionally (as seeds carried in cargo ship ballast). But it is clear that the plants become very popular due to those purple flowers.

Soon after it was introduced, it was sold and cultivated throughout the eastern United States as an ornamental plant. The seeds it produces are small and easily spread by wind, water, and animals. And it produces a lot of seeds—one plant can produce millions in a year.

Unfortunately purple loosestrife has had a pretty devastating effect on wetlands in Indiana and elsewhere. The plants grow so densely that that crowd out other (native) plants. And the plants also cause problems for animals. Purple loosestrife takes away habitats and space for many animals and it crowds out the food sources for other animals.

How will you know if you’re looking at purple loosestrife? If you’re near a wetland, you’ll see tall, purple flowers—they can be several inches tall, in fact. The plant itself can be up to six feet tall. Remember, they grow densely, and you probably won’t see just one purple loosestrife plant growing by itself.

Purple loosestrife isn’t a big problem at Fox Island compared to some other invasive plants. But it’s a big problem in other areas close by. And there is always the potential for it to become a bigger problem at Fox Island.

Have you seen purple loosestrife in Fox Island? Comment below and let us know when and where you saw it. And contact the park staff to see how you can get involved in removing it!

 
The pond behind the nature center is a potential home for Purple Loosestrife. (Photo by NathAN Arata.)

The pond behind the nature center is a potential home for Purple Loosestrife. (Photo by NathAN Arata.)

 

References

Indiana Department of Natural Resources. (2019). Purple Loosestrife. Retrieved from https://www.in.gov/dnr/entomolo/4529.htm

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. (2019). Purple Loosestrife. Retrieved from https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/aquaticplants/purpleloosestrife/index.html

Ormiston, J. (2019, April). Personal interview.

University of Minnesota. (2017). Purple Loosestrife: What you should know, what you can do. Retrieved from http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/ais/purpleloosestrife_info