One of the simple little things our homeschool does for the environment is to keep the invasive plant purple loosestrife off our three-acre property, about half of which is wetland. Although purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is beautiful, it can harm native plants as well as wildlife.
Purple loosestrife was introduced into North America over 200 years ago, both accidentally by ship ballast contamination and intentionally as a medicinal herb. By the 1830’s it was a common sight along New England’s shores and it spread inland with the construction of waterways and roads, the planting of flower gardens, and the bee-keeping industry. Now it has spread throughout most of North America, threatening natural habitats by its vigorous growth. We are determined to keep our small plot of land free of this large plant to enjoy the subtler beauty of native plants and to protect the animals that rely on them.
Depending on our energy and time each year, we approach the problem in two different ways.
1. To reduce the spread of this species by seed, we pick the flowers every year. This is important because each mature plant can produce more than 2 million seeds annually. As a fringe benefit, the blossoms are beautiful and keep well in a vase. When they have finished blooming, we put them into the garbage rather than on the compost pile to ensure that the seeds will not escape.
2. If we have enough time, kid-power, and motivation, we also uproot the plants. This is quite difficult because it requires digging into the tough root systems of the surrounding swamp grasses. Of course, it is also the most effective thing to do, and that’s what we set out to do this morning.
But we quit. And here’s why:
The Little Misses found this tiny goldfinch nest tucked in the middle of a 6 foot clump of purple loosestrife. The white fluff that makes up much of the nest seems to be parts of a cotton futon that we tried, unsuccessfully, to compost. When I walked down later to take a few more pictures, Mama or Papa Goldfinch remained motionless in its nest, almost invisible in the dappled sunlight, assuming I would not see it. When I turned to look at it, it fled through the thick mass of loosestrife stems, and I hope it didn’t hurt its wings.
Although they look huge in the picture, the eggs are about the size of two peas, so small, so delicate, and so perfect.
Obviously, we’ll leave that plant alone and enjoy watching the nest. Although we’ve watched other kinds of baby birds grow, we’ve never had the opportunity to observe baby goldfinches. Later, when the nest is empty, we’ll uproot the purple loosestrife plant and continue to keep our small part of the world free of invasive species.
For more information about purple loosestrife, please visit Cornell’s Invasive Plants website.
This post is linked to Simple Lives Thursday.
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is our 8th species in the 100 Species Challenge.