Stomping out weeds

Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2010

To some they're pretty flowers but to others, certain types of plants and flowers wreak havoc on the natural environment and crowd out indigenous species.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Bohemian knotweed, a beautiful plant with a bamboo-like stalk brought to Alaska for ornamental reasons, crowds out native plants such as berries and ferns and destroys natural habitats along streams.

Dana White, hired in March to head a local weed eradication effort, spent several hours Friday cutting knotweed stalks at a large patch near Montana Creek.

Slapping mosquitoes as she clipped, White also counted the plants and double-bagged them for disposal. The effort would be the first in a series of cuts she plans this summer in an attempt to get rid of the plants. She knows it will likely take several years and she might not be successful, she said.

"It's really hard to kill," she said. "It spreads by the roots, and one-seventh of a gram can start a new plant."

Weeds like the Bohemian knotweed can take over an area, crowding out all other vegetation and creating a monoculture, removing food and habitat sources for local species. The knotweed spreads through the root system, which can be 20 feet long and spread under roads and buildings.

Alaska's remoteness and low population prevented the vast proliferation of weeds seen on other states such as Oregon and Washington, which have spent millions to try to stem their growth. But while the spread of invasive species has not been the problem here that it's been in other states, Alaska does have weeds and they are spreading.

Bohemian knotweed grows in abundance in downtown Juneau, especially around the Governor's Mansion, and is moving out the road.

Merrill Jensen, manager of the city-owned arboretum near the Shrine of St. Therese, has battled a patch of knotweed near the entrance of the garden for four years.

"I've done everything in the book to it and it's still there," Jensen said of his patch.

A common way for weeds to spread is through soil in store-purchased plants, trees and flowers. One Agricultural Research Service researcher found 54 different species when he cultivated soil in store-bought plants.

Jensen suggested consumers look for extra greens in plant baskets, which indicate you might be buying more than the plant advertised on the label. The problem of "unclean" soil has been addressed by nurseries over the past 10 years but is still a potential vector, he said.

Recovery Act funds funneled through the Alaska Association of Conservation Districts helped support the statewide weed control program in Alaska, paying for 14 one-year positions, including White's.

In order to qualify for part of the $1.25 million in funding, a cooperative weed management area was formed when several conservation groups signed an agreement to tackle weed proliferation in the borough.

Juneau's group includes the Juneau Watershed Partnership, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, U.S. Forest Service, Tlingit and Haida Central Council and City and Borough of Juneau.

The group made a Top 10 weed list, wrote an action plan and is in the process of cataloguing local weed patches. Community weed pulls also are being planned for this summer.

• Contact reporter Kim marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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