Invasive species not so fair!
From Living on the Lake magazine
By Michele Sadauskas
Since I was a kid, the Vilas County Fair has held a piece of my heart, and my birthday always fell during the fair. As a kid, I could do no better. The smell of popcorn, the taste and feel of cotton candy on my tongue, carnival rides that made your head spin and birthday presents!! Of course, there was also the competition. For the past 30-plus years, I have entered exhibits in the fair: bunnies, photographs, jelly, veggies and flowers. The pressure of creating an arrangement minutes before judging: priceless! And what always stood out when making a bouquet was this statement in the rule book: “NO PURPLE LOOSESTRIFE IN ARRANGEMENTS!!”
In all my years of exhibiting flower arrangements, I can never remember one person getting disqualified for having purple loosestrife in their arrangement. “What’s so bad about purple loosestrife?” you might ask. Purple loosestrife, or PL, as we invasive species professionals call it, is a lake shore and wetland bully. Once it invades an area, it loves to disperse thousands of seeds, grows so huge as to push out neighboring plants and creates a habitat that our native animals do not favor. This is one plant that lake shore property owners and gardeners should be on the lookout for, and should not allow to take up residence!
Over the years, knowledge of what invasive species can do to our lakes, lake shores and uplands has increased many-fold. For example, in the 2014 Vilas County Fair Book, we see this statement: “NO INVASIVE MATERIAL IN ANY BOUQUET!”
It isn’t all about PL anymore. But this doesn’t mean PL and other invasives aren’t allowed at other fairs and aren’t being displayed at other counties across Wisconsin. Last summer I received a text, with a picture, from a co-worker visiting the Lincoln County Fair. You guessed it: purple loosestrife prominently displayed in an arrangement. Let us hope this fair-goer didn’t have this plant proudly growing in their garden.
What other invasive species might you see at your local fair? A few come quickly to mind: the tall, bold, yellow flowers of tansy, Tanacetum vulgare; the small, dainty, sky blue flowers of woodland forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica; and the stunning, heavily scented, white flowers of garden valerian, Valeriana officinalis. All of these species are restricted in Wisconsin: “One cannot transport, transfer, or introduce without a permit. Control is encouraged, but not required.”
What exactly do these plants do? Most all will change our landscapes, pushing out native plants, ultimately changing the wildlife in that area. Some plants such as giant hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, can cause third degree burns to anyone who touches the plant (this plant is prohibited, meaning you cannot even possess it)! To find a complete list of which plants are regulated in Wisconsin, and where and what harm they do, please Google WDNR and type in “invasive species.”
Back in the day, I would drive north up Hwy. 17 from UW-Stevens Point, stopping along the roadside to gather flowers for my wildflower bouquet. Of course, I had bold, yellow tansy flowers in my arrangement. Back in the day, I collected the huge leaves of giant hogweed so that I could mold them into concrete leaves, having no idea they were invasive and could give me severe burns if I touched their sap and then exposed myself to sunlight!
But today, resource managers are working hard to let citizens know how great a toll invasive species take on our lakes and wetlands, our uplands and on ourselves. Maybe next year the Vilas County Fair will have a new flower arrangement category titled “Invasive Species Bouquet”! What a learning tool that could be!
Michele Sadauskas is the Oneida County AIS Coordinator and can be reached at (715) 369-7835 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact her to arrange AIS presentations and/or workshops, report any suspicious plant behavior, or find out more about any of the above mentioned projects. She welcomes all questions.