In late April of 2016, Kristyn Loving noticed some unusual plants by the side of a road in Mt.Rainier National Park. As one of the park’s communication’s staff, she is always looking for new stories—and incidentally, new plants.
No one in the park offices was familiar with the plants she’d found. But two Mt. Rainier volunteers, Crow Vecchio and Carol Miltimore, who have each racked up impressive volunteer credentials at the park, are also PNW IPC EDRR Citizen Scientists.
That mouthful stands for:
- Pacific Northwest (PNW)
- Invasive Plant Council (IPC)
- Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR)
As a result of their training as PNW IPC EDRR Citizen Scientists, Crow and Carol knew just what to do. First, Carol painstakingly looked through many, many photos on the University of Washington Herbarium Image Collection site until she was able to identify it. She determined that the mystery plant was European coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), and thus an unwelcome presence in the park.
European Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is a low-growing, succulent perennial in the Compositae, or Daisy family. Native to Europe and Asia, it is thought to have arrived on this continent with early New England settlers; it has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries to treat respiratory ailments.
The species reproduces by seed and by its horizontally spreading rhizomes. Unfortunately, its rhizomes means it does not play well with others, and it can spread in to farm fields and native plant communities. The Oregon Department of Agriculture has found that when European coltsfoot spreads from roadsides into adjacent fields of corn, wheat, or other crops, few herbicides can control it adequately without lowering agricultural yields.
Oregon has listed this European Coltsfoot as a Class A Noxious Weed, which means that landowners are required to control it. In 2014, Washington State put European coltsfoot on its noxious weed list as monitor species. Up until April, it had been documented in King, Snohomish, and Thurston counties. The roadside occurrence in Mt. Rainier National Park meant that Pierce County became the fourth county where it had been found.
Carol passed the plant identification along to the park ecologist. To ensure that this finding was memorialized, Crow and Carol collected voucher specimens to be dried, mounted, and housed in a herbarium. And in less than two weeks, this small infestation was removed from the park by volunteers and park staff.
And that’s how early detection and rapid response works! Find non-native and potentially invasive plants early and remove them before they become the next Scot’s broom, English Ivy, or Bohemian knotweed.
While preventing the entry of invasive species is the best way to keep them from becoming established, early detection rapid response (EDRR) is the next most effective method to control their establishment and spread.
Volunteers can provide critical information about newly emerging plant populations, shifting distributions, abundance, and phenology of invasive plants to land managers in need of the data. In 2012, the non-profit organization, the Pacific Northwest Invasive Plant Council (PNW IPC), initiated the EDRR Invasive Plant Citizen Science Program.
The program focuses on the early detection of invasive plants on public lands. It has two primary goals:
- Train citizens to identify and report newly emerging invasive plant populations in Washington and Oregon using EDDMapS, an early detection and distribution mapping system, to inform real-time management and
- Collect information on changing distributions, abundance, and phenology of invasive plants over time to potentially better understand the ecology and climate impacts over large spatial scales.
When you’re out and about this season, “if you see something, say something.” Consult a plant list from the Washington Native Plant Society, and if you find an unusual non-native plant, contact the Pacific Northwest Invasive Plant Council.
As for Krystyn, she’s already found another garden escapee growing in a remote area of Mt. Rainier National Park. And Crow has turned in an EDDMapS report on Ajuga reptans.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Julie Combs is the coordinator of the PNW-IPC’s EDRR Citizen Science program. Julie earned both her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Washington, where her research focused on invasive species and rare plant ecology conservation and management.