Mascots fight invasive plants

Two well-known forest mascots visited area residents Saturday with the goal of raising awareness of local invasive plants.

Puddles the Blue Goose and Smokey the Bear spoke with customers at Elkins McDonalds, helping spread information about invasive plants and how to prevent them. Potomac Highlands Cooperative Weed and Pest Management Area teamed up with Elkins McDonalds for the event.

Saturday’s program, called “Nuggets for Knotweed,” focused on recognizing knotweed in the area, and how to prevent the plant from getting a stronghold. John Schmidt, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said it is important to try to stop the plant’s growth.

“Right now, invasive plants such as knotweed do not have a strong hold on this area,” Schmidt said. “We are trying to stop them before they get into areas such as Canaan and Dolly Sods. Those areas have a high value as tourist attractions as well as a high botanical value.”

Schmidt said normally, the spread of these plants does not happen in this area.

“We are located high in the watershed,” Schmidt said. “Normally the spread goes downstream. But these plants are being spread by the railways and the transportation corridors. The spread from Weston to Elkins has been tracked.”

Schmidt said knotweed sterilizes the soil, making it impossible for other plants to grow. He said it is important to get to the knotweed while it is still in small patches before it gets a foothold.

“The problem is, people think knotweed is beautiful when it blooms,” Schmidt said. “Bees love it, but it kills everything in its path by emitting toxins from its roots.”

Schmidt said officials have been releasing beetles that only eat the knotweed.

“The beetles are released where the population of knotweed is really thick,” Schmidt said. “They eat it down far enough that it does not flower and produce seeds. This is one way to help get rid of the plant.”

A portion of the sale of chicken nuggets Saturday at McDonalds was donated to the Potomac Highlands Cooperative Weed and Pest Management Area to help with the group’s cause.