Purple Raiders – Knox County Village Soup

I grew loosestrife back in the 1980s when I had a perennial business. They are strong and good looking, and no one thought they could be harmful.

Around the same time, purple loosestrife, an exotic plant that occupies wet areas, started showing up in my state of Maine. The field where he was waiting for the deer in his youth suddenly turned purple, and the purple pearl was the culprit. Then I noticed this plant in several other places that didn’t exist before. It’s disturbing.

Later I read a magazine article describing the harmful effects of purple loosestrife. The article also mentions how the wild form of purple loosestrife mixed with our cultivated loosestrife and created hybrid monsters.

That’s when I stopped raising and selling loosestrife in any form.

don’t pick flowers

For a long time I thought it was dubious wisdom to put certain plants on the invasive species list because they weren’t very aggressive at all. But in the case of purple loosestrife, you have the original archetype of the invasive plant. These things really outdid the competition and took over the stand of native plants, and on a broad basis.

Knowing how bad these things are, I started a campaign a long time ago, pulling every purple loosestrife I saw by the roots. But it’s a quixotic endeavor. Yes, it works locally, i.e. within walking distance of my house, but it has little effect in the overall scheme.

Of course, if some purple loosestrife plants are showing up in a damp part of your lawn, you may be able to evade a full-blown invasion by pulling them up as soon as you see them. You may end up surrounded by purple loosestrife growing on your neighbor’s property, but at least you’ll be an untouched island thanks to your continued efforts.

competition purple

Purple loosestrife blooms in late summer and is now at its peak. This is also another purple bloom, when this native New England aster begins to display its purple daisy-like blooms. Typically, New England aster grows in clusters, often along roadsides, the last color of the year. A parting photo of the beauty of flowers.

Fortunately, New England aster grows best in dry conditions such as field and roadside. Therefore, asters and loosestrife should not conflict. Still, I found some purple loosestrife today where I remember seeing New England asters. Might the scopes of the two overlap in some cases? Hope not.

Let’s face it. A significant percentage of the wild plants that grow in our fields, gardens, ditches and roadsides are non-native. We have segmented the planet to the point where the original plant tenants are long gone and their habitats are destroyed. It’s hard to blame outsiders for filling the vacuum.

Even many of the garden flowers we grow so lovingly are non-native. In fact, many of our favorite perennials, and even some annuals, are “stay away.”

But there is a difference. The flowers we cultivate are less likely to jump over fences and start large colonies on their own. These are respected plants that obey our requests and are willing to stay within the prescribed limits. However, some non-natives, especially purple loosestrife, are street fighters, unwilling to succumb to our restrictions.

Unfortunately, with regards to purple loosestrife, we seem to have lost the battle, or are losing the battle. Still, if you have a favorite spot where purple invaders are just starting to set up shop, make an effort to get rid of your land, every plant. We may lose this war, but we can still win a battle here and there.

Tom Seymour of Frankfurt is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, registered Maine guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.

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