Welcome to the wonderful world of weedy plants!
Weeds are superevolutionary products of human civilizations and activities - without humans there would be no weeds, just wild plants.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The minute mile-a-minute mitigator

A minute of natural history

Mile-a-minute overtaking trees.
by Furryscaly via Flickr CC
Mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata) is one of the most pervasive and damaging nonnative invasive plant species in the United States.  Mile-a-minute, a member of the Buckwheat family (Polygonaceae), was first introduced to the U.S. in 1890 from its indigenous range of Asian and Southeast Asia.  The plant did not successfully establish a permanent population in the U.S. until a reintroduction in the late 1930s when a Pennsylvanian nursery germinated Holly seeds from Japan and in doing so, the stowaway mile-a-minute seeds.
Approximate U.S. distribution as of July 2013. Source: Eddmaps.








Mile-a-minute earned its name

Mile-a-minute leaves and ocreae. 
by Leslie J. Mehrhoff
Mile-a-minute is an annual trailing vine with distinctive alternate triangular leaves.  Another identifying trait is the round saucer-shaped structures, or ocreae, which occur at nodes and branching points along the stem.  Self-pollinating flowers and subsequent fruit arise from the ocreae. Recurved barbs along the stem and leaf petioles make this plant particularly unpalatable to most potential herbivores.  Low predation rates in the U.S. coupled with the species’ prolific seed production and readily available dispersal mechanisms (water and birds) are traits characteristic of an exceptionally weedy plant.

Following annual die-back mile-a-minute 
leaves and stems continueto weigh down the 
plants they have climbed & shade groundcover.
by L. J. Mehrhoff via Invasives.org
Most impressing, and most ecologically damaging, is mile-a-minute’s growth rate of up to six inches a day, or 77’ (33.8 m) in a single growing season.  For perspective, mile-a-minute could cover the Statue of Liberty from heal to torch in two growing seasons.  Methods to control this invasive plant include traditional methods of manual removal and chemical pesticide applications.  However, given the rate at which mile-a-minute spreads, traditional methods are not practical of well-established or remote populations.  In 1996, the U.S. Forest Service began researching possible biological control agents.  

Fighting nonnative with nonnative: biological control

Biological control is a way of using an invasive species natural predator or disease, most often from the species’ indigenous region, to reduce the invasives’ proliferation and dominance.  Finding a biological control agent that is truly host-specific to your target species takes a lot of research.  Inadequate research into a control agent’s life history and ecology prior to release may have dire consequences, which are worse than the original cause for their introduction.  A classic example of biological control gone awry is that of Cane Toads introduced to Australia in 1937.  Thankfully, the science of introducing biological control agents has come a long way!

Adult R. latipes are approx. 2mm long.
by Amy Diercks, via Invasives.org
Colpetzer et al. published a study in Biological Control (2004) examining potential biological control agents for use on mile-a-minute.  Results from their study supported the introduction of a small host-specific weevil from Asia, Rhinoncomimus latipes, which feeds on mile-a-minute roots as a larvae and foliage as an adult.  In 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the use of the weevil as a biological control agent.  After several regional releases, the introduced weevils have successfully established populations throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. 

Ongoing weevil releases, such as one recently conducted in Union County, New Jersey, help sustain and expand the current weevil populations.  Led by state and county agriculture officials, the recent release of 2,000 weevils in Watchung Reservation, Union County’s largest park, is sure to reduce local mile-a-minute growth in the coming years.

Below is a video from a weevil release in New York City

Amy Diercks, Bugwood.org

1 comment:

L Struwe said...

Very interesting post! My backyard meadow has been totally overrun by mile-a-minute this year, for the first time ever. This species was absent from our area just 3-4 years ago, and now it grows everywhere.

A beautiful and pesty plant indeed. I just collected some for class to show, and those spiny hooks on the stems are very sharp and bothersome.