Hamilton County students got a first-hand look at controlling the spread of invasive plants, thanks to the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Leaf Munchers project. As part of the program, kids reared and released leaf-munching beetles to keep the invasive wetland plant purple loosestrife in check.
Students started out learning about invasive species.
“An invasive species is a species that has been introduced into an area and causes harm,” said Lake Pleasant Central School student Carter Orr.
“I learned that purple loosestrife is an invasive species,” Lake Pleasant Central School Bentley Lane said. “It takes over other plants that are native and clogs waterways. Beetles eat purple loosestrife leaves so they cannot reproduce.”
Purple loosestrife has invaded Hamilton County’s wetlands, ditches, gardens, roadsides, and shorelines. Harmful impacts include reduced biodiversity of native plants, degraded wetland habitat, and clogged waterways.
Identification features of this invasive plant include magenta flowers that bloom from July through September, square stems, and lance-shaped leaves. Plants can tower over five feet in height.
Leaf-feeding beetles belonging to the genus Galerucella are excellent biocontrol agents of purple loosestrife. They feed on loosestrife leaves and prevent plants from photosynthesizing, or making food.
Beetles were reared in homemade hatcheries at the District’s office. Staff then transplanted purple loosestrife plants into pots then placed them in wading pools filled with water to create the perfect wetland habitat. Adult beetles were released into the nurseries, reproduced, and their populations exploded. Then the beetles will eat purple loosestrife, decrease invasive plant populations, and continue to thrive until food supplies run low
After 60 days of living in the hatcheries, it was time to release the beetles. A beetle release event was held at the Oxbow Inn where purple loosestrife aggressively grows along the shoreline of Oxbow Lake.
There are many partners to thank for the success of this project, including the International Paper Foundation; Lake Pleasant Central School; Alex Bielli, Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District Water Quality Intern; Barbara McIlroy; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; Nick Rowell, Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District; and the Adirondack Watershed Institute.