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Westwood battles against invasive plants

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

While everyone in the country is terrified that the Asian Giant Hornet, sometimes referred to as the “murder hornet,” is coming to a backyard near them, Westwood is dealing with its own invasive species originally hailing from the Far East. Japanese knotweed and oriental bittersweet, as well as many other invasive plants, are growing uncontrollably throughout the town.

Invasive plants are non-native to their ecosystem, and their introduction causes, or can cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. They produce large quantity of seeds, which are dropped to the ground and reseed or are distributed by birds, the wind or unknowing humans. They are quick-growing, hearty plants which make it difficult for competing vegetation.

Looking to stem this invasion is Westwood Conservation Agent Karon Skinner Catrone. She explained that one way the town is dealing with this issue is by requiring residents to remove invasive plants from their property as mitigation when requesting permit approvals from the Conservation Commission.  

“Invasive plant removal has become an important mission for the Conservation Commission," she explained. “We are working to eliminate these plants from as many public and private properties as possible. When an applicant files with the commission for a project that either requires a land disturbance permit or Wetland Protection Act and Westwood wetland bylaw approval, the Commission includes a condition in the approval to require owners remove the invasive plants from their property.”

Skinner Catrone noted that while Japanese knotweed (the bamboo-type plant seen all over town) is everywhere, in her opinion the far more dangerous invasive plant is oriental bittersweet, a vine that grows up surrounding plants and trees, then strangles them. It has killed scores of trees around Westwood.

“In my opinion, the bittersweet vine is a real problem,” she explained. “It is very dangerous to plants and trees. Driving along Westwood's roads, you can see many of the vines hanging from the tress, which are now unhealthy or dead.”

But while Skinner Catrone acknowledged knotweed is not the weed to fear the most, and that there’s nothing sweet about growing bittersweet, when pressed on what invasive plant could potentially do the most harm, Skinner Catrone said that would be mile-a-minute weed, also known as devil's tail, which unfortunately was recently discovered in town. 

This vine grows very quickly (thus the name) and covers surrounding plants, blocking sunlight and decreasing the plants ability to photosynthesize. The weight and pressure of the weed can cause poor growth of the branches and foliage, while the smothering eventually kills the overtopped plants.

Skinner Catrone said that she fields many emails and calls from homeowners as to whether a particular plant is an invasive or not. Although the town has no power to forcibly remove them on private property, residents are usually very receptive to removal and future maintenance to avoid these invasives from overtaking their properties.

Skinner Catrone noted that the Westwood Department of Public Works has been very helpful to the Conservation Commission by including invasive plant removal in their land maintenance on public properties. Westwood residents are welcomed to reach out to Skinner Catrone if they have any questions. She can be reached at either kcatrone@townhall.westwood.ma.us or (781-251-2580).

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