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In the eye of different storms.

Byline: Bill Fortier

COLUMN: From the deck

After all the mayhem and meteorological violence of the past 10 days, a visit to peaceful Rice City Pond next to Goat Hill in Uxbridge seemed especially inviting.

People in Brimfield, Monson, Sturbridge, and Southbridge and a little part of Charlton know firsthand that Mother Nature can destroy things in the proverbial blink of an eye. Sometimes nature moves quickly and decisively and sometimes it moves slowly - but ultimately just as decisively - and wetlands in this part of the country are proof of that. The natural environment along the Blackstone River is slowly being destroyed by the Purple Loosestrife that blooms to a height of up to 6 feet of purple beauty toward the end of the summer.

Yes, it is beautiful and, yes, some misguided people actually plant the stuff, but it is an invasive species from Europe that has no natural enemies in this part of the world that can check its growth and spread.

Invasive species and how to get rid of them have caused much angst for years.

Locals on Sanibel Island off the southwest coast of Florida tried for years to figure out a way to get rid of the Australian Pine, a tree that simply did not belong there. Hurricane Charley took care of that problem a few years back by uprooting just about all of them during a furious two-hour assault on the island that even the most avid Australian Pine haters acknowledged was much to high a price to pay to get rid of some trees.

And that gets us back in our usual roundabout way to talking about Uxbridge High School Science teacher David S. Worden's effort that started about six years ago to introduce to Rice City Pond the little, brown Galerucella beetle, an insect of European-Asian origin that has been placed on the earth to do one thing and that is to eat Purple Loosestrife.

Since we're talking about invasive species, Mr. Worden, said research has shown the beetles do not cause any harm to anything but Purple Loosestrife.

About 60,000 beetles were introduced to the banks of the Blackstone River at Rice City about six years ago. In essence, the nailhead-sized black-and-white beetle lays eggs on the leaves of the Purple Loosestrife that eventually become small larvae that eat, or as the students said yesterday, skeletonize them eventually killing the bad plant.

Sophomores Collin Proehl and Wade O'Neil were among the students who descended to the hot, steamy mosquito-filled river bank yesterday afternoon to compile information on just how the beetles were doing.

Wade pointed out that some of the leaves had little pinholes in them caused by the beetles while a few feet away Mr. Worden showed where the larvae had skeletonized the leaves, leaving them a dead, dusty gray.

Mr. Worden said it takes about five years for the beetles to establish themselves to the point where they start to harm the Purple Loosestrife. He acknowledges he was beginning to give up hope of making a difference until he stopped by last fall to give the area one last look.

"I could see the evidence that they were starting to affect the loosestrife" he said.

This spring the proof is even more obvious.

The riverbank is the home of, among other things, Stinging Nettles, Arrowheads and several varieties of ferns, as well as Purple Loosestrife.

Mr. Worden reported that the Purple Loosestrife isn't nearly as healthy, both in numbers and in physical condition, as it was several years ago. He also said with a great deal of satisfaction that he has seen a decline in the condition of the invasive plant in his most visited fishing holes in Grafton and Northbridge.

"I've got a sneaking suspicion the beetles got there in my truck. I'm always carrying some of them around," he said with a smile. Contact Bill Fortier via email at
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 11, 2011
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