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Green and Growing: Getting into the weeds with invasive species

It was just an innocent-looking seedling in June, but in August, Japanese stiltgrass is like a toddler on a tantrum: you can’t ignore it.

A short six weeks ago, mugwort plants were hard to distinguish from chrysanthemums. Now, mugwort towers on its incorrigible spreading roots, and seems to say, “In your face, weed whacker.”

No question about it, by August, invasive plants are visible, loud, and cranky. But invasive plant management is a year-round job and a sometimes perplexing one. Just ask Donna Ellis and Charlotte Pyle, two long-time members of the Connecticut Invasive Plants Working Group.

“About 25 years ago, we began to recognize a set of non-native plants increasing rapidly, spreading up roadsides, in wetlands, and in sites where the soil was disturbed,” Ellis said. She is a retired senior extension educator for UConn’s Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.

The state botanist at that time, Les Mehroff, and Ellis convened the first meeting of the group in 1997. Soon, the meetings included federal, state, and town agency staff, non-profit conservation groups, members of the Federated Garden Clubs, researchers, nursery and landscaping representatives, educators, master gardeners, and interested citizens.

CIPWG’s role evolved as its members began to hold community lectures, invasive plant pulling parties, and guided walks. CIPWG members started to attend meetings of the state’s Invasive Plants Council, which reviews the state’s official list of more than 90 invasive plants each year, available at cipwg.uconn.edu/invasive_plant_list. CIPWG continues to be involved with plant legislation and gathers public input on weed-related problems.

“By 2002, we felt the need to offer public outreach,” Ellis said. The first symposium was at Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area in Burlington. “The conference sold out and we had to turn people away.” The next eight conferences were held every other year at UConn, where, she said, “the last few events sold out with 500 attendees.”

When 2020 planning began, the coronavirus pandemic seemed far away. Now, the entire conference has gone virtual, scheduled on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

“The transition to online delivery brought a steep learning curve,” said Pyle, one of this year’s three co-chairs. “But the good news is that we can accommodate so many more people, and attendees won’t have to drive long distances.”

Pyle is a retired ecologist whose career at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service brought her field experience with the insurgence of non-native invasive plants. She got involved with CIPWG in 2000.

“The invasive plants are not going away,” Pyle said. “They have a negative impact everywhere, from natural habitats to backyards and neighborhoods to highway corridors.”

Among the problems related to invasive weeds, Pyle listed wildlife habitat destruction, loss of habitat for native plants, interference with food production, and the massive amount of public and private funds that are devoted to solving invasive plant problems.

“Looking back 20 years, the planning team felt that public consciousness about invasive plant management has increased and the demand for non-chemical solutions has increased,” she said. “With more invasive plants in the landscape, more people are asking for solutions.”

The 2020 symposium, “Realistic Solutions to Managing Invasive Weeds,” focuses on solutions for specific species and a wide variety of situations and management techniques.

The day will open with a look back at past topics and their current evolution, then continue with an invasive plant management roundtable. During six additional sessions, speakers will discuss weed management timing, techniques for managing large parcels as well as small, use of native plants, aquatic weeds, and Japanese knotweed removal.

There will be an update on weed-related legislation. Break periods will offer topical videos on weed identification and related topics.

The symposium is suitable to a wide array of backgrounds, including property owners, community volunteers, master gardeners, land care and natural resource professionals, landscape architects, members of conservation organizations and town committee members. All interested persons are welcome.

For more information, visit cipwg.uconn.edu/2020-symposium.

Kathy Connolly of Old Saybrook writes and speaks on horticulture and ecology. Her website is speakingoflandscapes.com.

Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group Invasive Plant Symposium

What: The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group's annual symposium; this year's theme is "Realistic Solutions to Managing Invasive Plants"

When: Wednesday, Oct. 7

Where: Virtual; sessions will be recorded for later viewing by registrants

Cost: Registration is $50 for early birds who sign up by Sept. 7; after that, the price is $65.

More information: cipwg.uconn.edu/2020-symposium

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