columnist

Thom Smith, NatureWatch columnist.

A man crouches to show off Japanese Knotweed (copy)

The stems of knotweed appear similar to bamboo. They are red to green in color, jointed, ridged and hollow. The stems survive only one season, but underground stems (rhizomes) distribute roots for years.

READER QUESTION

Q: We recently purchased a house in Dalton and in a corner of the yard is bamboo growing! It grows fast, too. Is this something wild or planted. We have never seen it growing I think. I can get you a sample if you wish. 

— A Dalton resident

3 hikes perfect for enjoying fall foliage in Northern Berkshire County

A: I do not need a sample, I know just what it is and get a similar question from time to time, and most of my readers know from this column or have already known that what you refer to is Japanese knotweed. One of the most recent questions came in this column on Sept. 19, 2021 from a reader in Otis, who mentioned, “It’s spreading somewhat quickly.” As I mentioned, it isn’t bamboo, but is also called Japanese fleece flower, or Mexican bamboo, depending on your location (Polygonum cuspidatum). It probably has other names and did not originate in Mexico but was introduced from Asia into North America in the latter part of the 1800s as an ornamental and sometimes, but hopefully rarely, planted to control erosion because of its deep woven roots.

The resemblance to bamboo comes from its semi-woody hollow stems. Its leaves are large, and its flowers (just through blossoming in the Northeast) are a fleecy clustery white.

When in Dalton, we had a small but ever-enlarging patch of the weed until I realized it would take over our yard and cut it back. I did some digging for roots and kept it down with the lawnmower. It required mowing to keep in check for maybe five or six years before it gave up, and I was able to replace it with a fern garden. Another use of the space once free of knotweed is to convert it to a wildflower garden for butterflies and honeybees and other pollinators.

It will grow entirely new plants from its roots (rhizomes) unless you want to cut and mow over and over for several years as I did, eventually starving it. The faster way is to dig up its entire root structure and dispose of in black lawn disposal bags with rubbish or in your town’s compost project, if there is one. I can’t suggest chemical sprays.

JUMPING WORMS RETURN

In a recent column, we made mention of jumping (or crazy worms). For those interested, this online article about how to identify jumping/crazy/snake worms: ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/jumpingcrazysnake-worms-amynthas-spp

Here is one of many responses to the my inquiry asking if anyone had seen jumping worms in Berkshire County:

During last year’s rainy summer, we saw jumping worms consistently during our walks in local reserves such as Kennedy Park, Bullock’s Woods, Burbank Trail at Olivia’s Overlook, and Pleasant Valley Bird Sanctuary. However, we have not seen any this year, I assume because of the dry conditions. Last summer the worms occurred mainly along trail edges close to parking lots, where their eggs were likely brought in on mud on car tires and hiker’s boots. Evidence of worm activity along trail edges could be seen from their casts (bare soil turned over by the worms). Cast activity was mainly in muddy or very wet soil.

This year we have not seen worms, nor have we seen casts in the dry soil resulting from this season’s low rainfall. Reducing the spread of jumping worms is one advantage of a dry summer, but I imagine they will reappear when we get enough rain again.

— Edith and Michael Allen

AUTUMN IS NEARLY HERE

I may be jumping ahead, but last weekend the hummingbirds stopped coming to our feeder, probably indicating our regulars have left to places south. And on Saturday a number of monarch butterflies headed in a direct southerly direction over our house.

YOU CAN PARK AT THE COBBLES

According to information from Tammy Gaudette: 

I was excited to read your article in this weekend’s paper [Sept. 10] as a fairly new hiker, I rely heavily on information I’m provided as where to go, where to park, how to access.

I was disappointed when reading your article on the Cobbles as this is one of my favorite hikes around and it may discourage people from trying it where you stated there is no public parking and you will need to park at the PO and add the additional walking onto the hike. This is not correct, there is public parking at the trailhead. I believe the first road is Windsor Road and you then take a right onto Notch Road and right there is the trail head with a small public parking lot — we have seen as many as 6-8 cars there on a busy day.

From this trailhead, it may take 45 mins to the top. We have done it 3 or 4 times now, the first time was almost 50 mins, then around 40, then 35 and the last time 25 mins.

Email Thom Smith at Naturewatch41@gmail.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.