County, town team up to axe purple loosestrife
Will take years to evict from pond: Oyarzun
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 04, 2013 03:15 pm
Town staffers hope Morinville residents will be on the watch for an alien invader that’s out to take over local ponds.
Town and county officials teamed up last Thursday to eradicate a large amount of purple loosestrife recently discovered around Sunshine Lake.
Purple loosestrife is listed as a prohibited noxious plant under provincial law, meaning it must be destroyed on sight.
Town resident Cliff Haryett said he spotted the plants on the morning of Aug. 25 while biking near the lake. He said he immediately spotted the plant due to its bright purple flowers, which he recognized from Sturgeon County’s ongoing weed of the week campaign. “I said, hey, these things are invasive weeds!”
The infestation was extensive, Haryett said, and was a mix of large beds and scattered plants. “You couldn’t walk 10 feet without finding the plant.” It was the first time he had seen the plant in town in 20 years.
Haryett said he and his partner, Linda Lyons, took a sample of the plant home to identify it. Convinced they had purple loosestrife, they emailed the town about it and received replies from corporate services manager David Schaefer and Coun. Sheldon Fingler.
When they saw that the weeds were still there on Aug. 27, Lyons said, the two of them took their sample to the Sturgeon County office. “Within 45 minutes a truck and three girls were out there cutting the flower-heads off.”
Haryett and Lyons said they were disappointed by the town’s slow response.
No quick fix
Schaefer was not back in the office until Tuesday, Aug. 27, said Debbie Oyarzun, the town’s chief administrative officer, which is why the town didn’t immediately act on the weeds.
While these plants were invasive, Oyarzun said, they were not toxic. “You need to take action, but it’s not like you need to take action in 24 hours.” While fast action can stop a few plants from getting a foothold, a big infestation like the one at the lake requires a more comprehensive response.
As for the county weed inspectors, said Angela Veenstra, the county’s acting agricultural services manager, they kind of jumped the gun a bit. “They’re pretty enthusiastic about weed control,” she said, so as soon as they identified the loosestrife, they got chopping.
Once they realized that county officials technically shouldn’t be working on Morinville property, they stopped until they could contact the town. “It wasn’t the best way to handle the situation.”
Purple loosestrife is an aquatic plant that grows one to three metres tall and features tall columns of purple, white or pink flowers, each of which has five to seven petals. It’s not common in the county, Veenstra said – she had not found one in eight years – but it sometimes shows up along the Sturgeon River.
Purple loosestrife is notorious for crowding out native vegetation around waterways, Veenstra said, which robs fish and waterfowl of food and shelter. “It basically destroys the ecological diversity along wetlands.” It’s also very hard to root out once established – each plant can produce about two million seeds a year, and can reproduce from stem and root fragments.
Town staff confirmed the presence of the loosestrife Tuesday, Oyarzun said. On Thursday, town and county weed officers teamed up to pull, bag, and landfill the offending plants – the recommended method for disposal. They also mapped the location of each so they can watch for new plants next year.
Oyarzun, who helped write the current Weed Control Act and many of the province’s weed guides, suspected that this weed was an ornamental plant that escaped from a local garden. Judging from its extent, it has likely been at Sunnyside for about four years, meaning it’s deeply entrenched. “It’s going to take ongoing efforts to get rid of this.”
The town’s bylaw officers are trained weed inspectors and will be on the watch for purple loosestrife, Oyarzun said, as well as common tansy, scentless chamomile and other regulated weeds.
Anyone who spots a suspected invasive plant is asked to report it to town office. Guides to invasive plants can be found at invasiveplants.ab.ca.