Should we care about purple loosestrife? The history of an invasive plant in North America

Abstract

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria L., Lythraceae) is considered one of the worst invasive plant species in the world. In this paper, I reconstruct how purple loosestrife quickly became, after a long (150 years) period of indifference, the persona non grata of North American wetlands. I then compare the portrayal of the species in newspapers (907 articles) to that supported by the scientific literature (38 peer-review papers). The depiction of purple loosestrife in scientific studies (lacking definition) is far removed from that in newspapers (alarming). Some native species likely suffer from an invasion, but stating that this plant has large negative impacts on wetlands is probably exaggerated. If purple loosestrife is not a primary cause of extinction or a major contributor to the decline of other species, but is instead an indicator of anthropogenic disturbances, the resources and efforts devoted to removing this species might be better focused on more effective means to protect wetlands against disturbances.

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Acknowledgments

This work was financially supported by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. I thank Jacques Brisson and Jacques Brodeur (Université de Montréal), Conrad Cloutier (Université Laval) and Sylvie de Blois (McGill University), all invasive plant or biological control specialists, Jean Hamann (Université Laval), science journalist, and two anonymous reviewers for heated debates and numerous comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

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Correspondence to Claude Lavoie.

Appendices

Appendix 1

See Table 4

Table 4 Positive (+), negative (−) or null impacts associated with purple loosestrife mentioned in Canadian and American newspapers published from 1982 to 2008 and that are surveyed by the Factiva electronic database (with references)

Appendix 2

See Table 5

Table 5 Specialists interviewed in articles on purple loosestrife published from 1982 to 2008 in Canadian and American newspapers that are surveyed by the Factiva electronic database (907 articles)

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Lavoie, C. Should we care about purple loosestrife? The history of an invasive plant in North America. Biol Invasions 12, 1967–1999 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-009-9600-7

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Keywords

  • Biological control
  • Invasive plant species
  • Lythrum salicaria
  • Media
  • Purple loosestrife
  • Wetland