While a colorful plant, local environmental experts say that the purple loosestrife is nothing to scoff at.
“We hadn’t seen it for a while, and it’s coming back,” Spring Lake Wetland Watch president Leslie Newman said. “We’re just at the beginning of this, and we want to let people know it is an issue.”
Newman said the plant is sprouting up in various parts of Ottawa County. This includes along the islands of the Grand River, along the shores of Spring Lake and in some roadside ditches.
“It’s smaller than the phragmites, but it is similar,” Newman said, referencing another invasive plant that environmental experts have been trying to get a handle on.
Purple loosestrife is a tall, flowering plant native to Europe that has invaded many North American wetlands and every watershed in Michigan.
“It has a tendency to create a monoculture, which lowers your plant diversity,” Chad Hipshier said. “That changes the dynamic of your ecosystem.”
Thick stands of the plant block access to water, overtake native wetland plants and reduce food and habitat for wildlife.
“We want to have people watch for it,” Newman said. “The first view you see is how pretty it is.”
Despite the plant’s pretty appearance, Newman noted that purple loosestrife is far from a landscaping plant.
Chad Hipshier, project manager at the Muskegon Conservation District, said the plant’s population has varied locally.
“The numbers have kind of fluctuated quite a bit,” he said. “I know that it is definitely not as bad as it used to be.”
That is because management of purple loosestrife using biological control is beginning to reduce the invasive plant in some areas of Michigan. Plant experts have introduced the galerucella beetles in recent years to areas infested with the plant in order to eradicate it.
“We’ve actually (had) a good success rate with it,” Hipshier said.
The beetle will eat through the purple loosestrife stands, traveling a distance of up to three miles to eradicate the plant. The beetle only feeds on the purple loosestrife.
“About 4-5 years ago, there was a Michigan state grant funding for schools to grow these beetles,” Newman said. “That was part of the control.”
Newman hopes the dormant beetles will come back and finish off the newly sprouted plants. If they don’t, she said further action might be needed to deal with the latest crop.
“We just want to stay on top of it,” she said.