Flowering Predator on the Loose in a D.C. Garden A keen-eyed gardener delivers disappointing news to Michele Norris: The beautiful, beloved purple flowering plant in her garden is an invasive species that, if it spreads, could snuff out other plants in its wake.
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Flowering Predator on the Loose in a D.C. Garden

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Flowering Predator on the Loose in a D.C. Garden

Flowering Predator on the Loose in a D.C. Garden

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After I'm done thinking about political squabbles when the work day is done and the microphone is off, there's one place I find refuge.


BLOSSOM DEARIE: (Singing) That's made daft as a daisy. It's May...

NORRIS: My garden. It's provided my family with the place to entertain, to think, to relax, to heal. But once I started putting stuff on the ground, I just couldn't stop. I found myself with a lot of garden, but not a lot of time to take care of it. And as a trial-and-error gardener, I've made some big and some costly mistakes. I needed help.

LISA CAPRIOGLIO: You're talking about the garden phlox and not the creeping phlox, yes.

NORRIS: The garden phlox.



CAPRIOGLIO: Yeah. These phlox really wants more sun than it's getting here.

NORRIS: I found it in Lisa Caprioglio. She's a former school teacher who now runs a gardening business in the Washington, D.C. area.

And as the flowers and the weeds return to spring, were going to turn to Lisa from time to time for advice.

CAPRIOGLIO: You have to be careful too, because it will get the (unintelligible).

NORRIS: On our first radio expedition, we start with easy spring cleanup. Then bad news, I have a predator lurking in my garden, a killer plant.

CAPRIOGLIO: The plant that you have is purple loosestrife.

NORRIS: One more time, purple...

CAPRIOGLIO: Loosestrife.

NORRIS: Now, this isn't just any plant. It's tall and full with spiky stems and tiny fuchsia blooms. It radiates color and anchors the view outside my kitchen window. It's the first thing I see while making morning coffee. My distraction while scrubbing pots after supper. I'm attached to those purple loosestrife. I think it's beautiful. Lisa says it's a weed.

CAPRIOGLIO: Not every weed is ugly. And that's the problem, is that purple loosestrife is something that is sold in garden centers because it's very attractive. Precisely the qualities that make it invasive are why people like to grow it, because it makes it easier.

NORRIS: So I have this invasive plant species that if left unchecked, could grow and grow and grow until it chokes out the other plants, a bully in my own backyard.

First thing that I need to think about is getting rid of it?

CAPRIOGLIO: Unfortunately, yes. And this is one that when it escapes cultivation, and it escapes easily because the plant can produce a million seeds. So it can spread to the wild areas. And once it colonizes a wild area, it's very, very difficult to control.

NORRIS: When I purchased it at the garden center, they didn't tell me it was a weed, they said it was a plant.

CAPRIOGLIO: A weed, kind of, is the gardener's opinion, and invasive is Mother Nature's opinion.

NORRIS: And we all remember, it's not nice to fool Mother Nature.

CAPRIOGLIO: There's a vicious cycle in the garden centers where you have a beautiful plant that people want, and the garden centers continue to sell it because they're in the business of selling plants.

NORRIS: The purple loosestrife is not likely to take over my yard, the soil is not right, but what happens is the birds eat the seeds, then spread them beyond my yard. And that poses a danger to natural wetlands, places like the Chesapeake watershed and the woods near my home.

CAPRIOGLIO: Basically, it becomes a complete monoculture. It's only purple loosestrife, as far as the eye can see in its preferred environment. It likes wet environments. And any of the other native grasses that would be there that provide food and shelter for the animals that live in that environment are displaced.

NORRIS: It's like kudzu?

CAPRIOGLIO: Yeah, yeah. Kudzu was a very famous example of a plant that was deliberately introduced. They thought that it would be a good thing, and it's become the bane of southern gardens.

NORRIS: I have to make a decision, not the decision I was really prepared to make in front of a guest, two producers with microphones, an intern snapping away with his camera, and a couple of million people listening in.

CAPRIOGLIO: It's difficult because, you know, when we're talking about protecting the environment, we think that the environment is some place far away and exotic. Oh, it's the rainforests and we need to save the rainforests. But we all have our own little piece of Earth that we need to pay attention to. In addition to enjoying it, we also have a responsibility to care for it properly.

NORRIS: So with this purple loosestrife, what do I have to do? What do I have to think about doing?

CAPRIOGLIO: You have to rethink it - of it as a weed. If you pull it out, you have to pull it out carefully trying to take out all of the roots. Bag it up in a plastic bag. Don't put it out with all of the other organic trash that's...

NORRIS: If I did, (unintelligible).


CAPRIOGLIO: Well, you don't want those seeds to then go to the county compost pile and then invade somebody else's garden.

NORRIS: So we'd have to take all of this out.

CAPRIOGLIO: As best as you can, yes.

NORRIS: Before you run to your computers to pound out angry e-mails, dig this.



NORRIS: It wasn't easy, but I did take Lisa's advice. And we got to work.

I hear this little voice inside my head saying, do the right thing, do the right thing.


CAPRIOGLIO: You'll improve your environmental karma.

NORRIS: Okay, if you say so.


NORRIS: Lisa Caprioglio is a professional gardener in the Washington, D.C. area. We'll have more advice from the garden in coming weeks.

I bet I'm not the only one with a savoir view or a save-the-Earth dilemma. If you want to find out what dangers lurk in your backyard, we invite you to invade our Web site, npr.org. There, you'll find a regional list of invasive plants.


NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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