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Meredith learns to fight off alien invaders

Janan Hayes points out the pervasive invasive plant, Japanese knotweed, growing along the banks of Lake Waukewan. Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)
July 01, 2009
MEREDITH — As summer progresses and plants get bigger, the Meredith Conservation Commission is taking steps to help stop the spread of invasive, non-native plants and no, they're not talking about milfoil.

Upland invasive plants are making their mark on the Lakes Region, and Center Harbor resident Janan Hayes, along with members of the Meredith Conservation Commission, are trying to find ways to fight their spread. Hayes said that Japanese Knotweed, Oriental Bittersweet, and Purple Loosestrife are the three worst upland invasive plants in Meredith, with knotweed as the worst.

"People ask why they (invasive plants) are so bad," Hayes said. "All the insects, birds, and animals in the area are dependent on native species for food and shelter. When invasive plants move in, it has a devastating effect on ecology."

Hayes pointed out a small stand of knotweed growing along the shoreline of Lake Winnipesaukee. She and her husband, working with the commission, had cut the stand back twice already this year, in the hopes of killing it. Getting rid of the plant is difficult, however, since it needs only small cuttings to grow, and the roots can go down as far as 20 feet into the ground. Spraying pesticides on the plant can work well, said Hayes, but it's not wise (or legal, without a permit) to spray near bodies of water.

Japanese knotweed is listed by the World Conservation Union as one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world. Once established, knotweed shades and crowds out all other vegetation.

"Luckily, in our state, we have invasives, but we are not at the point of no return," said Hayes. "There are places to the south, in Massachusetts, where whole landscapes have been taken over by invasives. There's a chance to help control it in New Hampshire."

Hayes drove through Meredith, pointing out dense stands of knotweed along Route 3. On the corner of Mill Street and Route 3, the land below the billboards has been taken over by knotweed. Though some has been sprayed by the state to maintain sight lines, the majority of the thick stand reached a height of over six feet. Along creeks in downtown Meredith, the knotweed choked out all other plants on the banks.

To combat the invasive plant, Hayes talked to Don McFarland and Ralph Pisapia of the Meredith Conservation Commission, along with Doug Cygan, invasive plant species coordinator at the state Department of Agriculture.

"My hope is that it (work to combat invasive plants) will lead the way on how to confront this issue in New Hampshire," said Hayes. "Doug and I were contacted by the town of Hopkinton on how to get started on this. I'd like to see Meredith as the model of how to deal with this."

After examining the area, Cygan agreed with the locals that the first thing to do was to identify all sites on roadsides or public lands with invasive plants. During the summer months of 2008, they worked to inventory all non-native invasive plants in Meredith. They brought this data back to town GIS Specialist Michelle Thierren, who mapped out the plants by location and species. They took this information to the town, to show town employees what they'd found, and to try and educate them on the best practices for controlling the species along roadsides and public lands.

"Doug has been invaluable as a source, and he's been more than willing to speak to towns," said Hayes. "Meredith has been extremely proactive on this. The problem with these invasives is that it's also a question of aesthetics they're ugly, and Meredith wants to preserve the way it looks."

Oriental bittersweet, another invasive plant in Meredith, is recognized best in the fall, when its red berries burst from yellow and orange husks. During the spring and summer, though, it grows fast, strangling and killing its host tree. Every part of the plant is poisonous for consumption. Purple loosestrife, brought in from Europe as a medicinal plant, has also taken over parts of Meredith, though Hayes said it is more under control now, thanks to the introduction of a beetle that acts as a control on the flower.

Controlling invasive species can be difficult. Hayes said that just mowing over the plants won't kill them, and can actually spread them by chopping up the plant and distributing it over a wider basis.

One of the best ways to combat the spread of these plants, Hayes said, is through education. When people learn to identify the problem plants, she said, they'll begin to spot them everywhere.

"It's like when you buy a car," said Hayes. "Pretty soon, you'll recognize that car everywhere. Once you learn about non-native invasive plants, you'll recognize them everywhere."

To help residents learn to identify invasive non-native plants and how best to remove them, the Meredith Conservation Commission is holding a workshop next week, on July 8, from 7-8 p.m. at the Meredith Community Center. The "awareness workshop" will be presented by Cygan. For more information on the workshop, contact Pisapia at 279-7162 or e-mail conservation@meredith.org.

Martin Lord Osman
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