Invasive mile-a-minute vine might have met its match

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | A view of an Island back yard, which once had views of wetlands and berry bushes, now completely obliterated by mile-a-minute vine.

No one is celebrating yet, but the war on the mile-a-minute vine has been joined.

There’s reason to hope that over the course of several years, the invasive plant could be eradicated, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension scientist Dr. Andy Senesac.

The mile-a-minute vine has a predator in the form of the stem-boring black weevil. While it may not be as prolific as its prey, early tests are promising that the weevil will steadily eat it the invasive species and eventually wipe it out without damaging other plants growing with it.

Mile-a-minute’s 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.

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.

For the past two years Cornell Cooperative Extension has had test programs using the weevil on the North and South forks. The protocol for releasing the weevil was developed by a professor at the University of Delaware and the weevils are being distributed without cost by the Phillip Alampi Beneficial Insects Laboratory in Trenton, New Jersey, where the weevils are being raised.

But implementing a program to put the weevil n the filed is no easy process, Dr. Senesac said. For the dozen states experimenting with the weevils, there’s a two-step approval process. It starts with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. Once a permit is received from APHIS, those in New York have to apply to the Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit to deploy the weevils. The entire process takes about six months, Dr. Senesac said. He generally begins the application process in October with the aim of deploying the tiny critters, which are twice the size of the head of a pin, in test areas in late April or May.

In the two years that test programs have been operated, there’s a positive indication that the weevils move beyond the point where they are originally deployed. There has also been some evidence of weevils arriving on Long Island on their own from other locations, Dr. Senesac said.

“We’re encouraged, but we can’t be throwing any parades as far as success,” he said about the experimental effort. The hope is that as mile-a-minute dies off, the weevils themselves will die off, Dr. Senesac said.

He cautioned that people whose property is being overrun with mile-a-minute not pull them out at their roots at this time of year. They will die out during the winter and early next spring would be the best time for property owners to destroy new plants, pulling them out at their roots, before they’re able to take hold.

Cornell Cooperative Extension has plans in early spring to get information to residents about how to identify the weed.