On the morning of September 17, Deputy Mayor Andrew Black made a Facebook post in the Sackville NB Community Concerns group.
“At our Regular Council Meeting I had shared with the council the need to begin addressing the issue of Japanese Knotweed in our town, specifically the impact it can have on our public owned assets, such as the Waterfowl Park,” he wrote.
Colin Chapman, a Botanist and Lichenologist with the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, described Japanese Knotweed as a “large forb or herb…[which] grows to six feet tall or more.” According to Chapman, the plant is perennial and can produce “dense thickets of hollow limbs… with spade-shaped leaves,” and “sprays of small white flowers” in the summer.
Chapman referred to Japanese Knotweed as “one of the worst invasive species out there,” due to its ability to reproduce rapidly and to grow even from fragments of its roots. It can be “about as dense as invasive species get,” he noted.
Chapman explained that Japanese Knotweed “crowds out” other vegetation with its dense thickets, and can “create a monoculture” by destroying the biodiversity within its reach.
The Waterfowl Park Advisory Board, which is comprised of experts, interested parties, and town councillors, has become concerned. The safety of biodiversity falls squarely under the board’s directive. According to Andrew Black, a sitting member, the Advisory Board’s aim is to “advise town council on issues that may arise in the Waterfowl Park.”
In his Facebook post, Black made note of interactions between the board and the New Brunswick Invasive Species Council.
“The word that came back was that this is a growing concern (pun totally intended).”
Protected areas, however, are not the only places being touched by Japanese Knotweed.
“Once people know about it…. It can drive down property values,” noted Black, who called it a “huge consideration” for those looking to buy real estate.
Black stated that, moving forward, management of Japanese Knotweed should be considered a “fairly high priority” endeavour in the town.
The cost of eradicating Japanese Knotweed “can be huge,” said Black.Chapman agreed, calling it “one of the most difficult to get rid of” invasive plants. A credit to its resilience, Black said he had heard it referred to as a “zombie plant.”
One unconventional method of eradication, however, has been massively successful for a Sackville family.Lucy MacDonald and Matt Tunnacliffe have resided in their current Sackville home since 2007, a property which once featured a massive patch of Japanese Knotweed.
MacDonald noted that the plant had taken over a large portion of their yard and that their chief concern was not property value, but the possible threat to the rest of the vegetation on their property.
“Imagine a huge field of bamboo,” said Tunnacliffe about the size of the plant.
Their solution was simple: “starve it for light” by applying a patchwork of disused carpets to their yard. This method of smothering the plant has saved them the trouble of removing “every little piece of the plant,” an endeavour which they estimated would take “a lot of physical effort.”
Though carpet is perhaps not an appealing piece of lawn décor, their success has been undeniable. Since they began during the early pandemic, Tunnacliffe estimated that they have eradicated almost all of the plant, though small sprouts have occasionally grown through pinholes in the carpet.
The couple estimated that complete eradication could take a decade, but that they had no intentions of leaving their property any time soon.
“We’re winning the war, but it’s not over yet,” said Tunnacliffe.
Concern about the plant is not uniform throughout the community, however.
Sean Blaney, the Executive Director and Senior Scientist for the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, does not see Japanese Knotweed as an urgent threat.
Japanese Knotweed is “not a new issue,” he said, estimating that it has been present in Sackville for “probably 100+ years.”
“I wouldn’t classify it as a…significant ecological [problem],” said Blaney, who noted that other invasive species, like glossy buckthorn, may be even more deserving of attention.
He explained that Fundy National Park has controlled Japanese Knotweed’s expansion effectively, and that there are likely “not a lot” of implications for Sackville’s Waterfowl Park at present.
Blaney mentioned that efforts to attack any one invasive species will stretch thin the resources of the involved groups.
“Some things we have to learn to live with,” he said.