A Super Plant Takes Over

    Invasive species are a growing problem in East Hampton and the rest of Long Island. The remaining untouched land here — woods, marshes, beaches, and grassy fields — are being taken over by non-native plant varieties.

    Invasive species pose not just ecological threats, but economic and health threats as well. One of the worst invasive species affecting the Town of East Hampton is the mile-a-minute weed, also known by its scientific name, Persicaria perfoliata.

    What makes it special is its tremendous ability to grow. A healthy mile-a-minute plant can grow up to four feet in a week. Its vines and triangular leaves are covered with barbs that help it climb and eventually cover other plants and trees.

    And this is what makes mile-a-minute so dangerous to the ecology of the East End. The vine grows upward, wrapping itself around host plants and suffocating them. When the vine completely covers the plants below, those plants get no sunlight and die. The diversity and abundance of wild plants is reduced.

    Even birds are affected by the invasive species. “Although birds eat the berries of the mile-a-minute vine, the berries aren’t available until midsummer,” said Marilyn Jordan, the senior conservation scientist for the Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “Birds need nutritious food the most in the spring, when they are rearing young.” Their other food is being taken over by the mile-a-minute vine.

    What also makes this vine so successfully invasive is its ability to expand the areas it affects. “Birds eat the abundant M-a-M berries and spread the seeds widely wherever the birds fly and defecate,” Ms. Jordan said. “In addition, seeds have been accidentally transported in nursery plants, compost, wood chips, and soil. Thus it is impossible to keep M-a-M from spreading to new areas.”

    Seeds have been known to be transported by deer, squirrels, and even streams, as the seeds can float for seven to nine days.

    Basically, the mile-a-minute vine is a super plant.

    “Its origins go back to India and East Asia, but no one knows exactly how it came to America,” said Yun Wu, a scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team. “It most likely came with other seeds to a tree nursery sometime in the 1930s.”

    Eighty years later, mile-a-minute weeds are in 12 states, so far occupying only 20 percent of its potential U.S. range. It grows best, however, in climates similar to Long Island’s.

    No legitimate large-scale eradication solutions have been found. Some vine-eating bugs have been introduced, without success thus far.

    David Lucas of David Lucas Lawn Care, an East Hampton landscaping business, said, “I’d pull it if it was growing a mile a minute!” And it’s true, the plant isn’t literally living up to its name. But homeowners still need to be more careful when letting their yards go a little wild this summer.