Each year, Powell River throws a huge party celebrating Rubus armeniacus, or himalayan blackberry, an invasive species brought to BC in the 1800s.
It has spread aggressively and displaced other species native to the region. However, the popularity of the plant’s delicious fruit means its residency here will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Some other invasive plants are not so lucky. Considered more threatening and destructive, the region is actively working to eradicate these, according to qathet Regional District manager of operational services Patrick Devereaux. He heads a committee that includes representatives from City of Powell River, Tla’amin Nation, BC Ministry of Forests, BC Ministry of Transportation, Western Forest Products and Island Timberlands who work together to adapt policy surrounding invasive species in the area.
“The big three are knotweed, butterfly bush and giant hogweed,” he said. “They’re the ones we can still manage and go after and eliminate.”
Although rare in the region, giant hogweed is enemy number one because of the damage it can do to people. The plant’s stem hairs and leaves contain a clear, highly toxic sap that, when in contact with the skin, can cause burns, blisters and scarring.
“It can harm people,” said Devereaux, who stressed that if identified the public should not go near it, but report it.
Next on the list of invasives is knotweed. Last week, the city announced grants were available to homeowners to help pay for the cost of removal of the plant on their properties.
The annual grants of $150 are available to kill the plant by hiring a qualified contractor with a knotweed pesticide-use permit.
“Knotweed is bad stuff,” said City of Powell River fire chief Terry Peters. “If you have it on your property it can get into your foundation and start ripping up your concrete.”
Peters works on a volunteer basis for an organization called BroomBusters. As the name suggests, its mission is to eliminate the plant, scotch broom from the region. For Peters, getting involved made sense as the broom plant can become a major fire hazard if left unchecked, however, his involvement with the group includes eradicating all invasives.
“I’m community-minded, and it’s going to take a community to get rid of all this stuff,” he said.
Third on the list of the “big three” is butterfly bush. Producing bright purple flowers and named for its ability to attract butterflies, up until recently it was sold at local nurseries as a decorative plant.
Unfortunately, it has escaped cultivation and spread rapidly in rural areas. It changes the nitrogen and phosphorus amounts in soil and in forests butterfly bush competes with Douglas fir seedlings.
“It’s not so bad in town, it’s more on the outskirts of the city where it can really hurt the environment,” said Devereaux. “Every flower has 40,000 seeds that can be spread, so if it gets into road building and forestry operations, which it has, it spreads up and down the roads.”
The best way people in the community can help stop its spread would be to stop buying it at nurseries, said Devereaux.
“That would help a lot. They are not hard to kill, they’re not knotweed,” he added. “Cut it down or dig it up, that does it pretty good. But once it gets into more rural areas, it’s harder to stop.”
For more information on invasive plants in BC and how to deal with them, go to bcinvasives.ca.