Fighting Invasive Plants
Early Detection/Rapid Response in Massachusetts: Attacking invasive species BEFORE they take hold
By William Brumback, Director of Conservation
Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), an insidious annual invasive grass, well-established in the Mid-Atlantic States, has also been ubiquitous on the landscape of Connecticut for some years. Recently it was discovered that it had continued its northern spread into several Massachusetts towns including Bedford, West Springfield, East Longmeadow, Millville and Blackstone. Staff and volunteers from the Wild Flower Society and the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England (IPANE) are trying to find and eliminate this plant while it is still in the early stages of invasion in MA. One of the central tenets of invasive control is that finding and treating an invasive through Early Detection (find it before it becomes too prevalent) and Rapid Response (control it while numbers are still small) is the most effective and economical way to attack an invader.
Japanese stilt-grass is an annual species that is often found along roadsides, stream banks, and wetland edges. It closely resembles some of our native grasses, but has a characteristic white stripe down the middle of the leaf (see Invasive Plant Atlas of New England (IPANE) web site for descriptions and scary photos of invasions). It was introduced into the United States in 1919 in Tennessee, as porcelain packing material. Since then, the species has spread northward through the Mid-Atlantic States and into New England. According to IPANE records, Japanese stiltgrass was first documented in Connecticut in 1984, and it is now widespread and considered ineradicable in that state. The first documented Massachusetts occurrence was in West Springfield in 1998; within the next several years, outbreaks were noted in East Longmeadow and in southern Worcester County (Blackstone and Millville). In 2006, during a wetland survey project in the Town of Bedford funded by the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, Society staff found a population in Bedford, the northernmost known site for the plant in New England. Because it is an annual species, control methods include pulling, cutting, or herbiciding, but its seed can remain in the seed bank for many years. Thus, constant vigilance is the key with this species.
Our effort at Early Detection/Rapid Response (ED/RR) includes providing training programs for the citizens and volunteers of the five towns; identifying, flagging, and controlling infestations by herbicide along over 50 miles of powerline, roadsides, and rights of way in Millville and Blackstone; and continuing to pull the species in the other towns mentioned. This two-year project is receiving generous funding from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, the USDA/Forest Service Forest Health Protection program, the BASF Corporation, and the Silvio O Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Let’s hope we can stop Japanese stiltgrass before it’s too late.