Alien invaders

Battles are tough, stakes are high in weed war

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2005

Every summer the unsightly sequels surface to dominate the competition and leave the public disgusted and annoyed.

This is not the movie box office.

Invasive plants, or the al-Qaida of weeds, wreak havoc on Juneau's parks, backyards and roadsides every growing season.

"Choking" was the word a horticulturist used to describe what Alaska bamboo does to nearby plants. The stalks are often used as an ornament around yards until homeowners discover other plants dying.

"It's a horrid thing," said David Lendrum, with Landscape Alaska. The bamboo's roots can erode soil 100 times faster than other plants, he said.

You can't chop it. You can't dig it up. You can't lob a cache of herbicides at it unless you follow a specific procedure, Lendrum said.

The bamboo has a reservoir of starch stemming from a potato-like root that gives it life after death. It has to be exhausted before gardeners can go in for the kill.

Lendrum said to cut the bamboo to the ground and let it grow back three times, then the potato is weak enough for an herbicide such as Roundup.

Bamboo follows the Juneau road system; Lendrum suspects carelessness of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities led to the spread of the weed.

One could also see a number of "Juneau's most wanted" at Twin Lakes park, Auke Village Recreation Area and the Juneau Indian Village near the Governor's Mansion.

The city Department of Parks and Recreation engages in the battle as well, attacking Japanese knotweed every two weeks.

Global warming and the extra sunshine this summer are helping invasive plants grow in larger numbers than before.

The local agriculture equivalent of homeland security fighting this ecoterrorism is a unit of concerned scientists and naturalists known as Juneau Invasive Plant Action.

While many worry about wildfires consuming forests, one JIPA member said garlic mustard has done the same thing in Washington with its agenda to carpet acres and acres of woodlands.

The group meets in early spring and summer for mornings and afternoons of weed pulling, in which members manually rip out the weeds and discard them properly.

Member Samia Savell said not to try this alone, unless people know how to decontaminate themselves after working in the field. Garlic mustard can carry up to 500 seeds that fit nicely under sneakers, she said. The seeds have a life span of about five to seven years.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at

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