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.
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.
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.