Purple Loosestrife

Landscape with loosestrife in bloom just a few days ago.

It’s Lythrum salicaria, or purple loosestrife. It was brought to the United States from Europe 200 years ago and grown in flower gardens along the East Coast. Even up until the past 20 years or so you’d see it as transplants in all the better nurseries. You saw it my own perennial garden because I loved it. Still do.

So what happened to it that you no longer see it?

Concord’s North Bridge. Photo courtesy Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

Let me take you back to 1984. Our family was vacationing in New England and we were walking across Concord’s North Bridge. I looked out across the water and all I could see on that warm July day was purple loosestrife lining the shores 10 feet deep with its colorful blooms. It had obviously been more successful in its invasion than the British had been.

I came home with an altered opinion of purple loosestrife after that trip. But I continued to grow it because I heard that selections like Morden’s Pink and Robert were triploids, therefore sterile.

But 10 or 15 years ago I realized I wasn’t seeing it in nurseries any longer. I checked a couple of online sources and I found that research done in northern states had determined that the supposed triploids were indeed fertile and actually invasive. You could hear doors slamming in the plant’s face.

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At this point purple loosestrife is forbidden in more than half of our states, most notably those in the northern and northeastern tier where abundant and constant waterways are easily clogged by its rampant habit of growth.

If you’re here in Texas and away from waterways, and if you still have a loosestrife plant or two you’re probably not going to cause any problems. But that’s also what we thought about Hall’s honeysuckle and privet and, in Southeast Texas wetlands, about Chinese tallowtrees.

Sometimes I think we push too hard about some species being invasive, but then there are times when caution is justified. It’s hard for me to get that image of a sea of loosestrife spread across that historic water. So I hope you’ll forgive me for just thinking out loud.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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