Central Vermonters try to curb chervil infestation

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(Host) Central Vermonters have been battling a rugged invasive plant that has taken over fields and roadsides. The spread of wild chervil highlights the problems caused by some non-native plants in Vermont.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Wild chervil is a tall, robust plant with a thick, hollow stalk capped by a flattened cluster of white flowers. It looks a little like Queen Anne’s lace on steroids – and it’s spreading.

Along the highways in central Vermont, entire fields have been taken over by this early flowering plant. Victoria Weber of Bethel says now is the time to dig it up – before it goes to seed.

(Weber) “In Vermont we have maple sugar season and we have mud season, but we also should have chervil season.”

(Zind) For the past several years Weber has led a crusade to keep wild chervil in check. She’s done research, talked to state officials and written articles. Now the plant is turning up in other parts of the state.

(Weber) “Folks who don’t see it the way we see it in central Vermont can’t believe how fast it’s spreading and how dense it is once it’s here.”

(Zind) Since much of the wild chervil grows along roadsides, Weber says mowing early before the plant goes to seed might help slow its spread. But Craig Dusablon of the Agency of Transportation says early mowing might not do much good. Even if it helped, he says it would be a difficult task.

(Dusablon) “To be practical on a highway right of way, it would be nearly impossible with so many miles of right of way to effectively reach any one area at the critical time that you would need the mowing – or to have the resources or the money to really go back and repeatedly mow if that was the case.”

(Zind) Dusablon says with limited resources, the Transportation Agency concentrates on wetlands plants that could clog culverts or invasive plants that present safety hazards.

According to the UVM Extension service, some farmers have had problems with wild chervil growing in their hay fields, but those complaints have been limited to central Vermont.

Rose Paul of the Nature Conservancy in Vermont says, so far, there’s no evidence that wild chervil is infesting forests. But Paul says in general non-native plants are a major problem.

(Paul) “Invasive species are consistently the top or the second to the top major threat to our natural areas across the country.”

(Zind) Paul says invasive plants crowd out native species that animals rely on. Vermont has had some success in eradicating aquatic nuisances from lakes and ponds. There is also a project underway to combat purple loosestrife, another invasive plant, by introducing a beetle that feeds on it.

Not all non-native species present problems. Fully a third of the plants growing in Vermont came from somewhere else. Even our state flower, the red clover, is a non-native species.

Victoria Weber says public education and early detection are keys to controlling invasive plants like wild chervil. Weber says she’s gained an appreciation for the plant’s beauty and tenacity. But there’s simply too much wild chervil and she’s afraid there will be more before people become concerned about it.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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