BY SUSAN LAHOUD, SUN CHRONICLE STAFF, 7/28/01
Purple plant pullers to patrol Norton Pond
Many people call it “those purple flowers” growing in masses along ponds and wetlands. Sometimes, people even find it attractive enough to dig up and plant in their home gardens. But that’s not a good thing to do with purple loosestrife, the tall-stalk flowers that grow in abundance in places such as Chartley Pond in Norton, says middle school science teacher Karen Silvi.
In fact, she and members of her high school Envirothon Team will be out on the pond’s banks Sunday as part of a “purple loosestrife pull” project. They will start at the Chartley Pond dam at 8 a.m. and depending on the heat of the day, continue until noon. Members of the public are welcome to lend a hand, say Silvi and Conservation Agent Jennifer Carlino.
Silvi, who lives in Mansfield and has led students of the Envirothon Team after-school program at Norton High School on similar projects for the past six years, says while the purple blooms may be pretty to look at, they have no natural predators. They take over an area, choking off other species.
She said it was important to do the pulling now, before the flowers go to seed. “Otherwise, they’ll grow back next year.” Silvi said she contacted Carlino for a site for this year’s project and it was Carlino who suggested Chartley Pond. Carlino said that she would provide a canoe to aid the project. The purple loosestrife pulled will be burned – one sure way of getting rid of it, said Silvi.
Water samples will also be collected that day by students and chemists from Texas Instruments, a partner in the venture, who tests for E. coli, among other bacteria. That information will be passed along to town officials as well as used by the students who will participate in the state competition of school Envirothon teams during the coming school year.
“The best we’ve ever come in is fifth,” said Silvi. Last year it was twelfth place of 55 teams. “That’s not bad for a small town like Norton,” she said. “Each year we pick a new problem,” said Silvi of the Envirothon team projects. Categories have included open space and wetlands. This year, it is exotic, otherwise known as evasive, plants, like the loosestrife, “that are kicking out the biodiversity in ponds in Massachusetts,” she said. Students in the competition take a five-section test on wildlife, aquatics, soil and other aspects of their community problem. Then a panel of 5 judges asks them questions. “They ask how it got here, what purposes does it have here,” among other likely questions, said Silvi.
The purple loosestrife is considered an exotic invader, having come to North America through Europe in the 1800’s. It has become a serious threat to wetlands and other waterways in the past two decades. The problem with purple loosestrife , as with any invasive plant, said Silvi, is that “it doesn’t allow native plants to grow. No animals eat it, it has no natural enemies, so it takes off” in growth. That is why it’s not recommended that people decide to plant it in their yards. Silvi said the “pull” project at the pond may be continued in the fall.