Coming to a wetland near you: Purple loosestrife, an invasive plant that silently kills ecosystem functions. Sure, when its purple flowers blossom in August it looks lovely. But don’t be fooled. The plant ruthlessly severs the food chain in the wetlands where salmon and steelhead otherwise would have a buffet of critters to feed on. Wetlands consultant Doug Ray of Carex Consulting in Seaside calls it “the purple haze of death.”
“It’s worse than drugs,” he told me, only half-joking. “Every August I want to burst out crying.”
There are only a couple ways to nab these impostors, and one is to spend long hours slogging through mud and unearthing them by hand. Millions of dollars go into restoring wetlands to improve survival rates for all 13 species of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin. But Ray said purple loosestrife is an enemy that is invading exactly the kind of territory that is most helpful to juvenile fish.
Sure enough, Oregon Department of Agriculture has mapped out its whereabouts, and its all over the Columbia – and other parts of the state too. But the state has also recruited four species of weevils to be stealth biological control agents. If they succeed in nibbling the plant to death, it will save Ray and other wetlands lovers a whole lot of heartbreak – not to mention the backbreaking work of pulling plants from the muck.
PS: Purple loosestrife may be bad, but it doesn’t even make ODA’s top 10 list of worst offenders.