Early Summer on Staten Island
The Purple Loose-Strife Blooms
From June through early summer, walks in some of Staten Island's numerous wetlands and marsh areas reveal the bright blooms of the Purple Loose-Strife (Lythrum salicaria), pictured at left. The Lavender Trail in High Rock Park, which loops around Loose-Strife Pond, takes its name from this plant's colorful Spring flowers. The return of the Loose-Strife blooms raises an issue. While loose-strife is beautiful--especially against the backdrop of black marsh earth and dark green June foliage--it is also an introduced plant which is classified in many ecosystems as a noxious weed. It pushes out many other freshwater plant populations, creating a less-diverse ecosystem.
Many biologists share their research about the impact of these changes in online sources. To contextualize the place of purple loose-strife in a wetlands ecosystem, visit Freshwater Marshes, part of a course on Soil and Water Conservation Management at Purdue University. The US Department of Agriculture-sponsored study, "Disturbance Processes and Ecosystem Management," (1994, USDA Forest Service), by Robert D. Averill, Louise Larson, Jim Saveland, Philip Wargo, Jerry Williams, Melvin Bellinger, examines the kinds of impacts loose-strife and other introduced flora and fauna can have; "Ecosystems, Science and Sustainability," by James J. Kay, University of Waterloo, covers similar ground, with some really interesting case study comparisons between the roles of loose-strife and beavers in altering river environments. To see the response to loose-strife in North Dakota, see "Identification and Control of Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria L.)," (June 1997), by Professor Rodney G. Lym, University of North Dakota. Finally, you can read about the impact of these changes on bird populations in "Avian Use of Purple Loosestrife Dominated Habitat Relative to Other Vegetation Types in a Lake Huron Wetland Complex," by Michael B. Whitt, Harold H. Prince, and Robert R. Cox, Jr. (originally appeared in The Wilson Bulletin, March 1999).
Despite its complicated role in the local ecosystem, most people view purple loose-strife as an attractive plant which many see as a pleasant herald of the return of summer. When I'm out hiking in early summer, most of the people I ask about it say that they like it and aren't aware of any negative aspects associated with it. Perhaps they share the perspective of American writer Susan Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894), who wrote appreciatively of seeing the loose-strife bloom in New England's early summer:
- "We were walking in a beautiful grove where the wood had been only partially cleared, leaving many fine trees standing, mingled with the stumps of others long since felled. The mossy roots of these mouldering old stumps are choice places for the early flowers; one often finds the remains of an old oak, or pine, or chestnut, encircled by a beautiful border of this kind, mosses and flowers blended together in a way which art can never equal. During many successive springs, we have been in the habit of watching the flowers as they unfold upon these mossy hillocks. As usual, they are now daintily sprinkled with blossoms, for the soil is rich as possible in such spots. We amused ourselves with counting the different kinds of flowers growing on several of these little knolls. In one instance, we found fifteen different plants, besides the grasses, in a narrow circle about the swelling roots, six or eight feet in breadth; around another we counted eighteen varieties; another showed twenty-two; and a fourth had six-and-twenty kinds. The groundwork is usually made up of mosses of three or four varieties and shades, all very beautiful, and blended with these are the silvery leaves of the pearly everlastings. Violets, blue, white, and yellow, grow there, with rosy gay-wings, cool-wort, fairy-cup, or mitella, low-cornel, May-star, strawberry, dew-drop, bead-ruby, squaw-vine, partridge-plant, pipsissiwa, pyrolas, loose-strife, ground-laurel, innocence, Michaelmas-daisies, of several kinds, perhaps the coptis, or gold-thread, and three or four ferns. Such are the plants often found in these wild, posy patches, about old stumps, in half-cleared woods. Of course, they are not all in flower together; but toward the prime of the spring, one may at times find nearly a dozen kinds in blossom at the same moment. These are all native plants, gathering, as if out of affection, about the roots of the fallen forest trees." [Susan Fenimore Cooper, "Summer," from Rural Hours (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1887).]
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