Beauty and the Beetle
Its beauty is undeniable, but for 200 years, purple loosestrife, a perennial flower native to Europe and Asia, has been quietly choking Connecticut's wetlands and streams. Fortunately, the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association has a battle plan; all it needs are volunteers. Purple loosestrife seeds arrived in the U.S. in the ballast of ships in the early 1800s. Settlers prized the summer blooming plant for its flower spikes and medicinal value. But the beauty of purple loosestrife belies its toughness. A single plant can bear as many as 3,000 flowers in one year - and more than 2.5 million seeds, which can stay vital in the soil for up to 15 years. Its taproot runs deep enough to withstand droughts, fires and herbicides - even the yank of a determined gardener. Today, the flower covers an estimated 400,000 acres of wetlands nationwide, mostly in the Northeast. It clogs drainage channels and irrigation ponds. It reduces the ability of wetlands to hold and absorb water. It crowds out cattails, sedges and other native plants; eventually, it crowds out the animals that depend on them. Purple loosestrife had no natural enemies in the New World. Lately, that has started to change. Enter a Eurasian beetle: Galerucella pusilla. One beauty of this beetle is that it eats loosestrife leaves in both its adult and larval stages, sapping the plant's strength. Another is that it doesn't seem to eat anything else. Over time - in three to five years - research shows the purple loosestrife recedes and native plants gain a competitive edge. The needs of this beetle are few. Nurturing is simple. All the association needs are volunteers to raise and release them in affected areas. The river's watershed includes Southington, Meriden, Plainville, Farmington, Bristol, Wallingford and Cheshire. Join the ranks of people willing to fight to protect wetlands and native species from this invader. Call the association at 203-237-2237.
Copyright 2003, Hartford Courant
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