Weed Warrior: Purple Loosestrife is loose on the continent

Weed Warrior Frank

A few years ago, three of us from the Rocky Mountain Naturalists joined a half dozen or so employees of the local East Kootenay Invasive Species Council on their annual hot summer day-long paddle trip through the weaving passageways of the Bummer’s Flats marsh north of Fort Steele, pulling and filling our canoes again and again with the invasive square-stemmed Purple Loosestrife plants that were trying to take over the boggy islands of this important wetland that ducks and geese use on their yearly spring and fall migrations.

Being bow paddle, I had to bail out fast at every island, or Pat Wray would scamper over top of me like a chipmunk, on her Viking-like weed assault foray.

Purple Loosestrife — aka Blooming Sally, Rainbow Weed, Willow Sage and many more names — was brought to the Great Lakes region of North America by gardening settlers, and in the ballast holds of their ships, in the early 1800s.

Since then, this vegetative monster that is not on the menu of local animals has spread across the continent “choking wetlands and pastures under a sea of purple flowers, causing millions of dollars of economic impact.”

Since we have already had problems with Purple Loosestrife at Bummer’s Flats, and at Jim Smith Lake, let’s plant some Grow-me-Insteads in the future.

The GMIs that the Invasive Species Council (ISCBC) recommends are: Blazing Star, Tall Delphinium, Bloody Iris, Hardhack and Spike Speedwell. ISCBC tells us: “Blazing Star is a Zone 3, drought tolerant, herbaceous perennial native to the prairies of the American Midwest. It has tall spikes to one metre or more, thick with purple (or white) flowers, which stand above mounds of grass-like leaves in summer. It likes a sunny position in well drained soil.

The long-flowering spikes of Blazing Star attract butterflies.

Above: Blazing Star

Tall Delphinium is Zone 2. The tall or candle delphinium is a vigorous herbaceous perennial, native to the mountains of Europe and Asia, with deeply cut leaves and statuesque spikes of sky blue flowers to two metres tall. Most commercial plants are hybrids, available in a range of colours. Deep, moist, fertile soil is essential.

Above: Tall Dephinium

Bloody Iris is Zone 4. It’s a herbaceous perennial iris from east Asia with bright blue, red, or white flowers with yellow markings in late spring. Narrow grassy leaves form dense clumps in boggy soil, at wetland edges or planted directly in shallow water. It’s similar overall to the Siberian iris, but with broader-petaled, larger flowers.

Above: Bloody Iris

Hardhack, Zone 4, is a BC native. Few shrubs are as tough and trouble free as Hardhack. It’s capable of surviving seasonal flooding and drought, shade or sun. Hardhack has a prettier side, too. Pink flowers are borne in tall pyramidal clusters atop the leafy, flexible 2 m tall stems in early summer. Hardhack is attractive to bumblebees.

Above: Hardhack

Spike Speedwell is Zone 3. It’s a Summer blooming herbaceous perennial with blue, pink or white flowers in slender spikes above narrow dark green leaves. Available cultivars vary in flower colour and size, from 15 to 50 cm tall. They are easy plants for garden containers in full sun. Spike Speedwell plants often re-bloom after removing the spent flowers.”

Above: Spike Speedwell

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