A “spectacular number” people showed up to pull policeman’s helmet, or Impatiens glandulifera, Saturday, July 20, for the final of three weed-pulling events aimed at eradicating the invasive weed on the North Coast Land Conservancy’s Circle Creek property just south of Seaside, and it wasn’t “the usual suspects” according to Jeff Roehm, a long-time volunteer.
The weather was perfect for volunteers and staff who spent several hours pulling and stomping the flowering shrub. By Roehm’s estimates, that volunteer spirit at the Conservancy is only growing. Most of the 17 volunteers who showed up to work on Saturday had been to the Circle Creek farm prior to the event, but there were many newcomers as well. Volunteer John Rippey called the work “satisfying.”
NCLC received a three year grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to remove the invasive riparian weed from their Necanicum watershed properties including upstream waterways. Since policeman’s helmet seeds travel downstream during winter floods and readily recolonize disturbed banks, it is important to remove it from the uppermost headwaters before it reseeds. The goal of the grant was to completely eradicate the weed from the Necanicum watershed in three years and the conservancy is close to accomplishing that goal.
The weed is very shallow rooted and self sows from seeds that eject themselves up to 20 feet if even slightly disturbed, hence the other name for the plant, touch-me-not. The annual plant, likely a garden escapee, grows up to 20 feet tall although most stalks on the Circle Creek site were 10 feet or shorter. The attractive pea-like purple flower is easy to spot in the forest of green.
Policeman’s helmet is an annual plant and its presence leaves the winter soil exposed. Left unchecked, the weed can lead to increased erosion on the banks where it grows which destabilizes the river channel.
Intern Delaney Newport targeted a cluster of the rogue plant growing on the steep, eroding bank of the Necanicum River, which was buffeted by Highway 101 to the east. It was growing intertwined with native plants amidst a tangle of Japanese knotweed and Himilayan blackberry, two other highly invasive plants.
The volunteers, largely made up of neighbors, friends and families of staff, as well as a few day trippers who wanted a fun way to get out on the creek, worked from mid-morning until late afternoon and made significant headway. The plants themselves are very easy to pull, unlike some of the other aforementioned invasives.
But policeman’s helmet needs a good stomping because even an uprooted plant with a living flower can continue to put energy into the seed pod and become viable. The stomping ensures its complete destruction.
NCLC’s upcoming hands-on stewardship event is Swampathon weekend. Volunteers are invited to spend Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 10 and 11, at the Blind Slough Swamp Habitat Reserve on the Lower Columbia River, east of Astoria pulling purple loosestrife and English ivy. Similar to policeman’s helmet, the invasive purple loosestrife spreads easily. On Saturday, volunteers will work at the Big Creek location from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday volunteers will paddle to pull weeds from hard to reach places 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The work is hard and extremely difficult, but if you’re able it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to view parts of the Columbia River not easily accessible by foot. Rubber boots, gloves, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt are highly recommended and NCLC will bring the tools. Pack water and lunch. If you’re camping, dinner and breakfast are provided. For more information check out the conservancy’s website at https://nclctrust.org/event/swampathon-2019.