After a long, white winter, the emerging red horns of Japanese knotweed can be quite alluring.
Early in spring the plant appears to reward our welcoming indulgence, quickly stretching above the beautifully ubiquitous and flowering fig buttercup (lesser celandine).
But, like many of our streams, Little Crum Creek has grown quite crowded with its cosmopolitan congregation of introduced species. And few represent the “invasive” tendencies of some species as well as Japanese knotweed.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine the creek banks at a time before the knotweed arrived. It was introduced to the UK from Asia in the early 19th century. And, by the 20th, it had crossed the Atlantic as both an ornamental and a fast-growing erosion control.
These days, come March & April, it is among the first appearing on the riparian floor.
Growing up to a few inches per day, it is soon waist high.
And by the middle of May it is well on its way toward towering nine feet or higher.
It’s easy to see why government organizations have dubbed the knotweed an invasive species.
Rooting with rhizomes, the plant spreads underground, sending up neighboring stems in dense stands that crowd and shade out other plants.
Ultimately, instead of controlling erosion as once intended, knotweed now diminishes the diversity of creekside plants and grasses, actually making the banks
less stable than they could be.
In several stretches, as far as the eye can see, knotweed lines both sides of Little Crum Creek.
Some folks recommend eating the young shoots and brewing knotweed tea.
But controlling or removing the plant is a special challenge. Many sources recommend several years of herbicide, followed by replacement plantings. Just digging out the knotweed can break up the rhizome, spreading new growth wherever the pieces fall. In any case, when rising waters wash downstream, the plant often re-establishes wherever it lands.
Whatever your position, by late summer, wherever it has survived flash flows and human efforts at control, the hope inherent to its inflorescence augurs Japanese knotweed’s continually looming presence along our streams.