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Gov. Jan Brewer is My Role Model – When it Comes to Bittersweet

By Steve Fagin

Publication: theday.com

Published April 28. 2012 2:00PM

First, let me make it clear: I consider Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer a hateful xenophobe whose rabid intolerance of immigrants only serves to rouse the pitchforks-and-torches rabble.

That said, I'd like to invite her over for advice on handling my own alien invasion problem.

I speak, of course, of deer, Oriental bittersweet and now, Japanese knotweed.

I've used this forum in the past to fulminate over fawns, so I won't belabor my long, bitter struggle to keep the hungry hordes from ravaging my evergreens and garden. I'll only mention that I'm now repairing a section of metal fencing I once considered impenetrable but recently found had been mangled by a blundering buck determined to chew up my blueberry bushes.

I'm not a hunter and don't sanction chemical repellants, so I'm pretty much limited to building bigger and better barriers, or simply let the greedy, four-legged freeloaders gobble everything in sight. I'll let you know how it works out later in the season.

As for bittersweet, anybody who has ventured into the woods will recognize the anaconda-like vines that slowly strangle even the mightiest oaks.


 Introduced to the United States in the 1860s from Asia as an ornamental plant because of its bright orange and red berries, bittersweet has spread across the land, as destructive as Godzilla.

Whenever I'm feeling energetic I hack relentlessly with saw and axe at the woody vines, sometimes several inches thick, and continuously rip roots out with a mattock. For the most part I've managed to keep the invader at bay, but because birds readily distribute bittersweet berries I must remain perpetually vigilant.

Bittersweet has a way of stealthily springing up and winding a strand around the stem of a seedling, perfectly camouflaged. By the time you notice it, the tenacious vine has a tree in a death grip.

Even more pernicious, I've learned, is knotweed, which chokes below the surface, not above.

To my horror I found some growing last year in a makeshift nursery where I'd planted a couple hundred pine and spruce seedlings. I'd wondered why they looked kind of spindly.

When I dug one up I found an alien-like mass of white rhizomes, so densely clumped none of the seedling roots could grow.

In a panic I transplanted all the seedlings but now I fear I may inadvertently have established new knotweed colonies. The World Conservation Union considers it one of the world's 100-worst invasive species.

I burned as many of the ripped-up roots as I could earlier this spring when I was making maple syrup, since I read they can survive temperatures of 30 below zero.

Most of the articles on dealing with such invasives recommend applying herbicides, but I'd rather have the whole forest covered with bittersweet and knotweed than spraying it with poison..

Switching from land to water, last week Day reporter Judy Benson wrote about the efforts of volunteers trained by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to control the spread of fanwort, Eurasian water milfoil, curly pondweed and hydrilla into lakes and ponds throughout Connecticut.

These plants often latch on to the hulls or propellers of boats that have plied infested waters, so inspectors are now checking vessels at various launch sites.

It's a herculean task and I hope it works, because invasive plants can spread ferociously and virtually blot out all competing life.

I learned that a few years ago while kayaking down Lake Champlain, and remarked how clear and clean the water appeared.

"Zebra mussels," a more knowledgeable friend said, explaining how the mollusks had been transported from Europe in the ballast water of ships and then discharged into U.S. ports in the Great Lakes.

The tiny creatures filter water so efficiently virtually all nutrients are stripped, threatening native species. What's more, sunlight passes through the clear water more readily and raises the temperature, also driving out some cold-water species.

Sigh. It never ends, I guess.

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