Back in the 1980s, when I had a perennial business, I raised cultivated loosestrife. These were hardy and good-looking, and no one ever thought that they were potentially harmful.

That was about the same time that purple loosestrife, an alien plant that takes over wet areas, began showing up in my part of Maine. The field where I sat and waited for deer as a teenager suddenly developed a purple tinge, and purple loosestrife was the culprit. Then I noticed the plant in several other locations where it had not existed before. This was troubling.

I later read a magazine article describing the harmful effects of purple loosestrife. The article also mentioned how the wild form, purple loosestrife, could mix with our cultivated loosestrife and create a hybridized monster.

It was at that point where I stopped raising and selling any form of loosestrife.

Don’t Pick the Flowers

I have long thought that putting certain plants on the invasive species list was dubious wisdom because they were not very invasive at all. But in the case of purple loosestrife, you have the original poster child for invasive plants. This stuff really does out-compete and take over stands of native plants, and on a widespread basis at that.

Knowing how bad the stuff was, I long ago began a campaign to pull every purple loosestrife plant I saw up by the roots. But it was a Quixotic effort. Yes, it was effective in localized regions, i.e., within walking distance of my house, but it did little or no good in the overall scheme of things.

Of course if a few purple loosestrife plants show up on a wet part of your lawn, you can probably circumvent a full-scale invasion by pulling the plants up as soon as you see them. You may eventually become surrounded by purple loosestrife growing on the neighbor’s property, but at least you will stand as an island untouched, thanks to your ongoing diligence.

Competing Purples

Purple loosestrife blooms in late summer and is at its peak right now. This is also the time when another purple flower, this one a native, New England aster, begins showing its purplish, daisy-like flowers. Typically, New England asters grow in large groups, often along roadsides, the last flush of color of the year. A parting shot of floral beauty.

Luckily, New England aster grows best in dry conditions such as along field edges and roadside banks. So the two, asters and loosestrife, should not conflict. All the same, I spied some purple loosestrife today in a place where I remember seeing New England asters. Might the range of the two overlap in some instances? Hopefully not.

Let’s face it. A sizeable percentage of the wild plants that grow in our fields, gardens, ditches and along roadsides are non-natives. We have carved up the earth to the point that the original plant tenants are long gone, their habitats destroyed. It’s hard to blame the outsiders for filling the vacuum.

Even many of the garden flowers we so lovingly cultivate are non-natives. In fact, a large number of our most beloved perennials and even some annuals, are “from away.”

But there is a distinction. Our cultivated flowers are unlikely to jump the fence and start large colonies on their own. These are respectable plants, obedient to our urgings and willing to remain within their prescribed bounds. Some non-natives, though, especially purple loosestrife, are street fighters, not willing to bow to our restraints.

Unfortunately, it appears that we have lost the battle, or are in the process of losing it, concerning purple loosestrife. Still, if you have a favorite place where the purple invader has just begun to set up shop, take pains to rid your land of it, every single plant. We may lose the war, but we can still win a battle here and there.

Tom Seymour, of Frankfort, is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.