PEI

How Stratford is trying to get rid of invasive nightshade plants

The Stratford Area Watershed is working hard this summer to remove bittersweet nightshade from streams in the area.

'It takes a lot of effort to remove it, it's kind of a tedious task'

The fruit of the bittersweet nightshade is poisonous, and the plant is very aggressive in choking off waterways.

The Stratford Area Watershed is working hard this summer to remove bittersweet nightshade from streams in the area.

Bittersweet nightshade is a perennial climbing vine and is an invasive species, sometimes called snakeberry or blue bindweed, and can disrupt the ecosystem and harm aquatic wildlife. 

"When the bittersweet nightshade grows in streams specifically it creates these very dense mats that actually slow the water flow down in the stream," watershed co-ordinator Emily VanIderstine told Island Morning.

"When the water flow slows down it causes a lot of silt and sediment to drop down into the water and then our streams become very silty and it makes it difficult for fish to say, spawn." 

VanIderstine said the watershed group has hired three summer students working to pull the plant out of streams as they encounter it. They have also seen it growing along hedgerows separating farm fields, and in forest.

They're currently focused on removing it from Fullerton Creek near Mount Herbert. Once they dig it up, they tie the plants tightly in plastic bags labelled "invasive plant" and send them to Charlottetown to be incinerated. 

"It takes a lot of effort to remove it, it's kind of a tedious task," VanIderstine said. 

How to identify it

Bittersweet nightshade has a very woody stem, heart-shaped leaves and star-shaped blue-purple flowers that bloom May to September. Berries appear August and September and turn from green to red. 

The plant is being spread by birds who eat the berries, as well as when pieces of the stem move in soil or water. 

The watershed says the plant was brought to North America in the past for ornamental and medicinal purposes, before the berries were determined to be toxic to people. 

"There's generally no risk unless you eat the berries," VanIderstine said, adding touching it is not a problem.

If Islanders wish to get rid of the plant on their property, they can dig it up, bag it in a clear plastic bag, label it and put it beside their waste bin to be collected. 

The watershed is also working this summer to get rid of wild cucumber, another invasive vine, and Japanese knotweed — which must be smothered by covering it with a tarpaulin. 

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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