Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife is a wetland perennial that doesn’t need much water and often grows — if not thrives — in places we would not consider wetland.

 Q: What is the pretty purple steeple-like flower growing in some fields, along roads, and around swamps? When I was young, I never saw them. Then they were everywhere, now not so many. Do you think I can transplant it to my garden?

— Karen, Lanesborough

A: I suspect you refer to purple loosestrife, a wetland perennial that doesn’t need much water and often grows; if not, thrives in places we would not consider wetland. On July 1, 2006, it became prohibited to import, propagate or transplant this species, hence against the law. Some gardeners admire this plant, and a suggested alternative ornamental that is similar in color and nearly the same bloom season, is Blazing Star (Liatris spicata), which is available in the nursery trade and is not invasive. Exotic invasive species (plants or animals) are the second most significant threat to plant and wildlife species — the first is obviously habitat loss. Cultivating native and, at the least, non-invasive plants is a good thing.

A mature purple loosestrife plant is capable of producing 2.5 million seeds! And what is worse, the seeds can persist in wet soils for several years. It also spreads by roots and quickly became a perennial monoculture, outgrowing native plants. The species was known to take over an entire wetland, but less so since the importation of insects that feeds on its leaves. Galerucella beetles have been approved for the biological control of purple loosestrife and introduced into many localities in Massachusetts and throughout the United States. And the reduction is, thus far, a success.

This perennial is from Europe and usually grows from 3- to 5-feet tall, but can reach a height of up to 7 feet.

In addition to the beetle, a somewhat safe control for small populations is hand pulling that can be somewhat effective. Repeated cutting can prevent seed production and may eventually kill the plants.

Q: It’s not that I miss seeing them, but I am concerned about the dearth of slugs in my garden this summer. During previous rainy summers or rainy spells, I could count on finding a dozen or more of the slimy gastropods munching on my plants — particularly the hosta — each morning. Thus far this year, the grand total is perhaps three or four. Are slugs yet another victim of climate change? Or perhaps they’ve simply moved on to another garden? What, if anything, is going on? And should we be concerned? Or celebrate?

— Miriam K., Sandisfield

A: Many have been the summers that I wish to have your lack of slugs. In recent years I have seen few. And don’t miss them. Come to think of it, I have seen far fewer since relocating to the north end of Pittsfield between a gold course and Springside Park on land that not long ago was part of the GEAA course. I contributed the lack of slugs to chemicals the previous owner of what is now our property may have applied to their award-winning American lawn. That didn’t last long when I saw to it chemicals here no longer used. It is returning to the wilder condition of the adjacent community property and is now a haven for bees and other pollen lovers.

None of the above probably relates to your property, and you have not given me enough information to answer your question. It may be the result of climate change, though I doubt it. I would not blame neighboring gardens enticing your slugs. And have not found any mention of negative conditions relating to garden slugs in the literature.

Q: I'm hoping you can help me identify a beetle that was eating on a dead mouse that was caught in my mousetrap. Actually, there were three beetles. They have orange and black stripes on their backs. A website that shows one that looks like the ones that I have is called Nicrophorus vespilloides.

I had dead mice caught in my attic before, but never had any types of beetles feeding off of them. Is this something that should be of concern?

— Robert H., Pittsfield

A: Several species feed on bodies of animals and are in the Silphidae family. The Sexton beetle is also called the burying beetle and the carrion beetle. Both feed on dead animals, including mice and songbirds (as well as larger corpses). Rather than something you should be concerned about, consider them beneficial decomposers, helping to clean up corpses.


I saw one monarch at French Park July 17 at midday. I was pruning one of several gardens. Such a delight to see a female hummingbird buzzing on a flox flower.

Keep writing; love your columns.

— Micky F., South Egremont


Thom Smith, NatureWatch columnist.