purple loosestrife, an aggressive, invasive, fast-spreading
purple-flowered plant, is rapidly becoming a real
threat to New Jersey's native flora and fauna. With
its "mine-all-mine" attitude, this pest plant thrives
in fresh water wetlands and overwhelms indigenous
plant species around the state, creating an unwelcoming
monoculture. But NJDA may have found a bio-weapon
that will help loosen the pest plant's stranglehold
on sensitive wetland habitats in the Garden State.
Loosestrife is a native to Europe,
but can now be found in all of the lower 48 states except Florida.
Because of its foreign origin, there are no natural predators in
this country that will feed on it and help prevent its spread. A
mature plant can produce over two million seeds and can easily eliminate
native vegetation required by wildlife for food, shelter and nesting.
NJDA's Philip Alampi Beneficial Insect Laboratory (PABIL) in Ewing,
Mercer County, began the search for a purple loosestrife predator
in 1997 at the request of NJDEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife and
Endangered and Non-Game Species Program. DEP was looking for a way
to control the tough, resilient invader on state-owned lands where
chemical controls were impractical or unsuitable. The continued existence
of many native plants and animals, including such endangered species
as the bog turtle, was literally at stake because they depend on
a diversified plant environment for suitable habitat or food supply.
The first order of business was for NJDA's Division of Plant Industry
to establish a colony of loosestrife predators at PABIL. By raising
and releasing the leaf-eating beetles, NJDA hoped to stop the spread
of the weed and reduce the weed population to a level that would
no longer threaten native plant and animal species inhabiting treated
wetlands. Results have been promising. Over one million of the predators
of choice, the leaf-eating beetles Galerucella pusilla and Galerucella
calmariensis, have been released at 60 sites in 13 counties** since
the program began. This year, NJDA scouts successfully recovered
beetles from 80 percent of the release sites and native vegetation
is beginning to reclaim infested wetlands where loosestrife has been
killed. NJDA continues to work with DEP and others, releasing the
beetles in a number of bog turtle sites and other areas infested
with loosestrife. For additional information about NJDA's biocontrol
programs, contact Robert Chianese (firstname.lastname@example.org),
609-530-4192, or visit the department's web site.
** Some accessible areas include the
northern end of Paulinskill Lake off of Parsons Road in Hampton Twp.,
Sussex Co.; the Walkill River Natural Area off Rt. 517 on Scudder
Road in Ogdensburg Borough, Sussex Co.; D.O.D. Ponds off Rte. 130
in Oldmans Twp., north of Penns Grove, Salem Co.; Mercer County Park
off Hughes Drive in Hamilton Square.