Pulling the Pernicious Pepperweed Plant

This summer, 4th through 6th graders from the River Valley Charter School help pull invasive pepperweed plants from the salt marsh at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
This summer, 4th through 6th graders from the River Valley Charter School help pull invasive pepperweed plants from the salt marsh at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Last month, 4th through 6th graders from the River Valley Charter School helped pull invasive pepperweed plants from the salt marsh at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Credit: Frances Rodriguez/USFWS

The pernicious perennial pepperweed plant is a fun tongue twister (repeat it 10 times), yet this coastal invader is no laughing matter. Native to Europe and Asia, it is classified as a noxious, invasive weed in 15 states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, and outcompetes native salt marsh grasses, which help to filter stormwater pollutants, buffer against storm damage, provide habitat to fish and wildlife and support recreational and commercial activities for local towns.

Since 2006, The Great Marsh Perennial Pepperweed Eradication Project has worked with numerous volunteers who have pulled thousands of pounds of pepperweed, or Lepidium latifolium, from the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and surrounding areas. With the help of many local partners such as Mass Audubon and local schools, more than 70 sites have been restored and counting.

Two students from the River Valley Charter School fill a garbage bag with invasive pepperweed plants, allowing native salt marsh grasses a chance to regenerate in the salt marsh at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Two students from the River Valley Charter School fill a garbage bag with invasive pepperweed plants, allowing native salt marsh grasses a chance to regenerate and create a more resilient salt marsh at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Frances Rodriguez/USFWS

Nancy Pau, wildlife biologist at the refuge, says supplemental recovery funds from Hurricane Sandy cover treatment of almost 100 percent of the pepperweed, where past funds only covered between 60 to 70 percent of the treatment needed.

For the past two years, the River Valley Charter School has helped Parker River National Wildlife Refuge staff battle dense stands of this aggressive mustard family plant, pulling pepperweed from 4.7 acres along the Plum Island Turnpike and along Plum Bush Down, a small residential area along the Great Marsh in Newburyport.

Lauren Healey (pictured above) and other team members from Gulf of Maine Institute and Newburyport High School removed 14 bags full of invasive pepperweed from the Great Marsh last month.

Lauren Healey (pictured above) and several other team members from Gulf of Maine Institute and Newburyport High School removed 14 bags full of invasive pepperweed from the Great Marsh last month. Credit: Lauren Healey/Gulf of Maine Institute

Last month, nearly two dozen 4th, 5th and 6th graders from the school held a repeat performance from the year before, pulling 15 large garbage bags full of plants from six areas where pepperweed control is badly needed.

“While the kids are having a good time and learning how to identify and properly pull the weeds, they are also turning the Great Marsh into a more resilient natural barrier that will help sustain wildlife and their own communities from future storms.” – Frances Toledo Rodriguez, Invasive Species Coordinator at Parker River Refuge

And that’s a perfectly good reason to publicize the peeps pulling pepperweed.

Related blog post: Restoring the Great Marsh

More about the Sandy-funded Great Marsh restoration project

More about the Great Marsh Pepperweed Eradication project

3 Comments on “Pulling the Pernicious Pepperweed Plant

  1. WHY is no scientific binomial – the only legal name recognized for any plant species – provided in this article? At a minimum, references to a plant should include a link to such basic botanical profile/data, such as that poted at the USDA Plants Database

    • Because of the casual nature of our blog, we have not included scientific names for every species noted in our posts. Your suggestion is a good one for us to consider, and we appreciate your comment.

  2. Paddy & Alison’s class from RVCS would like to thank Frances for her time spent helping us connect with our community. Her compassion and patience, as well as teaching, as we pulled pepperweed made for a productive and enjoyable experience. Frances and her team are instilling in our students the importance of being, not just stewards of our Earth but of our own local surroundings. At the end of the day students felt they made a difference.

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