Saturday, September 05, 2015

Mile-a-Minute Found at Princeton Battlefield


As if the massive invasion of porcelainberry, the "Kudzu of the North", at the Princeton Battlefield were not enough, I just discovered a patch of Mile-a-Minute there. This is, fortunately, only my second sighting of the prickly, fast-growing invasive in Princeton. The first sighting was in August of 2007, when I spotted it in a flower bed across Harrison Street from the Princeton Shopping Center.

For that first patch, it was relatively easy to contact the owner and convince her that it needed to be removed. The patch at the Battlefield is somewhat larger, about ten feet square, and has already produced berries that could be transported by birds to other locations. The next step is to go back with a sturdy pair of leather gloves and trash bags, and remove every last bit.

That Mile-a-Minute has a small foothold at the Battlefield suggests that it could have popped up most anywhere else in Princeton, so keep an eye out. The plant is an annual with distinct triangular leaves and a prickly stem reminiscent of our native tear-thumb. It should be pulled out and, if it has berries, placed in a garbage bag and put out for the trash. DO NOT put it in the compost, because the berries could then be spread.


It should be noted just how vulnerable we are to invasions of this sort. The Emerald Ash Borer's arrival in Princeton is a prime example. Accidentally imported to southeastern Michigan twenty years ago, it became established and therefore impossible to eradicate, because there was no "early detection, rapid response". Maintenance of the Battlefield grounds consists of mowing. Anything in the plant world beyond lawn requiring intervention is thus left to the chance interest and commitment of volunteers without a budget.




I happened to notice the Mile-a-Minute vine while checking the status of the ornamental flowering dogwoods planted long ago along the edges of the northern field at the Battlefield. I've been cutting the vines off, most years, but the porcelainberry is becoming increasingly dominant, smothering many of the dogwoods and other trees along the field's edge.

Here's a dramatic example, a dogwood barely visible beneath an oppressive cloak of porcelainberry.

On a planetary level, climate change was detected, but many with power to act have lacked a basic understanding of the consequences of delay. Here's where a naturalist's experience with invasives, or even a backyard gardener's experience with weeds like stiltgrass, mock strawberry, or ground ivy, can give insight into the importance of quick response. A ten foot patch of Mile-a-Minute seems minor, but without action, its berries will spread and the problem will quickly become too intimidating to dare act against. Bureaucracies do this all the time, as with Burmese pythons in the Everglades. Early warnings are ignored, and the problem doesn't become officially recognized as a problem until it's too big to solve.

Meanwhile, the vast lawn continues to be mowed, offering a superficial reassurance to passersby that the landscape is under control.

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