The Island’s newest invader: ‘Mile-a-minute’ puts down roots

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Cliff Clark’s back yard, which once had views of wetlands and berry bushes, now completely obliterated by mile-a-minute vine.

In late July, Cliff Clark looked out on his back yard near South Ferry to views of wine berry and blackberry bushes bordering on trees. Beyond were patches of wetlands catching sunlight.

Today the bushes are gone, cloaked by a single mass of vivid green vegetation. There’s no sign of wetlands. And the trees, some as high as 20-feet, are choked with dense vines.

“In July I noticed one little sprig of it when we were clearing a trail on our property,” Mr. Clark said. “Now it’s a sea of green.”

Say a cautious hello to “mile-a-minute vine,” a new, voracious Island invader.

The name is not wild exaggeration, since persicaria perfoliata, to give the vine its proper name, grows up to six inches a day when conditions are right. Also known as “the kudzu of the north,” mile-a-minute easily overmatches native species. It blocks other plants from sunlight, stopping their ability to photosynthesize, which will eventually kill them. It devastates the natural ecology on a wide scale, stopping the regeneration of forests and woods and doing damage to a community’s economy.

And being an annual, with a generous amount of seeds, it’s a recurring nightmare for homeowners, gardeners and farmers.

Dan Fokine, volunteer organizer for the Shelter Island Vine Busters, confirmed mile-a-minute is relatively new to the Island and the East End. He first saw it a couple of years ago. “Once it hit the ground it really took off,” Mr. Fokine said.

The place most affected by the vine is North Haven, Mr. Fokine said, adding that mile-a-minute might have spread from there to the Island since Mr. Clark’s home is near Shelter Island Sound and it’s been spotted around Wade’s Beach and West Neck Creek.

Mr. Fokine was not ready to pass judgment on ranking mile-a-minute at the top of the list with the two most lethal invasive species the Island hosts — porcelain-berry and wisteria — but its appearance here should raise alarms, he said.

Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. agreed. He, too, noted the appearance of mile-a-minute about two years ago. “Porcelain-berry is the worst,” Mr. Card said. “Now it’s just a matter of time which one is going to be the more dominant.”

According to research compiled by the University of Delaware, mile-a-minute is an Asian vine introduced to the United States in the mid-1930s at a nursery in Pennsylvania where it was mixed with holly seeds imported from Japan. Deceptively beautiful, not only for its vibrant green color, mile-a-minute leaves are delicate triangles, almost heart shaped and it’s berries, when ripe, are bluish-purple.  It’s now made its home in 12 mid-Atlantic and northeastern states, extending west to Ohio, south to the Carolinas and north to Massachusetts.

Eradicating the killer vine can be approached several ways, Mr. Fokine said. Herbicides can be sprayed generally over the vine. Or “tip application,” where the vine is cut and herbicide applied directly on the open tip. But Mr. Fokine acknowledged the environmental concerns with spraying and tip application.

A more time consuming but safer way to remove mile-a-minute is “to be constantly on top of it,” he said. “If you’re a homeowner and have it growing, pull it out by the roots and then do it again next year. And the next year do it again. You’ve got to kill it every year.”

Once out of the ground, the plants should be put under a tarp to die, or burned. Since it has seeds, throwing the uprooted vines into the woods is giving it the opportunity to conquer new territory.

If a neighbor has mile-a-minute, they should be approached about removing it. Mr. Fokine compared rooting out the vine with fighting terrorism. “You have to take the fight to it,” he said, “You just can’t fight them on your own turf.”

Mr. Card said the town hasn’t made a concerted effort to exclude mile-a-minute from coming in to the Recycling Center. “It’s something we’re going to have to start to address to get people to exclude it” [from other vegetative material], he said.

The Island is lucky to be isolated and can take a pro-active role, Mr. Fokine said, suggesting the town contact residents and offer to help them remove the vine.

“Now’s the time,” he said. “In North Haven it’s too late. It’s growing anywhere and everywhere.”

[email protected]