Purple Loosestrife -Alien Invader?

Unfortunately Purple Loosestrife has landed on the canal shoreline in Fairport. It’s a small colony in the electricity pylon corridor just to the west of the canal by the Oxbow. But it has already climbed the 30 feet tall embankment wall and is growing on the canal shoreline, strategically placed to invade the wetland Oxbow area. It’s already costing $45 million a year in environmental control and restoration of invaded lands.

When I first became aware of Purple Loosestrife, I was driving along the throughway some twenty years ago. As I passed through the Montezuma Refuge Reserve just west of Syracuse, the weed was in full bloom, quite the spectacle!

loosestrife montezuma
(AP Photo/Michael Okoniewski)

I learned eventually Loosestrife was invasive, of European origins, and probably brought into The Great Lakes in ballast water of ‘Salties’, ocean going cargo ships. As the years went by, I noticed the plant was everywhere in New York State. I even found a plant growing in my back yard.

Last fall, I happened to be driving back from Syracuse and looked across the Montezuma wetlands, and was surprised to see no Loosestrife. Very odd! Was my timing out? Did it flower early, or late? There was once 1500 acres of the stuff, completely obliterating all other plant life.purple-loosestrife-fws-montezuma

A few days later I saw plenty of Loosestrife elsewhere,  it was obviously the right time of year, so what happened in the Refuge area? Where did the purple go?  The Purple Plant Eater had struck!

Thanks to Cornell University in Ithaca, their team found some beetles whose larvae dine exclusively on this nasty weed.



Over a period of several years since 1996, Cornell released millions of these beetles, they have already successfully chomped their way through over 1000 acres of Loosestrife in the Refuge.

Mystery solved – almost. That’s a lot of vegetation, so there must be truckloads of beetles by now. Is anything eating them? Where are they in the food chain? I’m not complaining, just curious.

This bio-control concept is wonderful. The wildlife refuge is returning to it’s former glory. The neglect and mistakes of the past are slowly being taken care of.
Birds that were crowded out by Loosestrife are now returning, and life at the wildlife refuge is good!

All we have to do is become aware of Purple Loosestrife and the stranglehold it can have on our wildlife and environment.

To quote the National Wildlife Refuge Association It crowds out at least 44 kinds of native grasses, sedges and other flowering plants that offer higher-quality nutrition for wildlife. The plant confines native wetland plant species including some federally endangered orchids and swamp rose mallow, and it reduces habitat for waterfowl. Some declining species directly affected by its invasion are the bog turtle, black tern and canvasback duck.

If you have it on your property,  do whatever you can to get rid of it. If you can’t do that, please report it to this great organisation.


Mike Caswell



Author: Mike Caswell

I live in Fairport, and my home is at The Oxbow section of The Erie Canal. I fish, have a pontoon boat and like messing in boats. (see www.mud-skipper.com). I'm retired and enjoy every day living here with my wife Carol and our two dogs.

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