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For Immediate Release: June 2, 1999 Contact:

Hope Gruzlovic

What's fast, invasive, aggressive and purple and threatening New Jersey's native flora and fauna with its "mine-all-mine" attitude? It's wild purple loosestrife, a pest plant that thrives in fresh water wetlands and is rapidly overwhelming indigenous plant species around the state, creating an unwelcoming monoculture. But NJDA may have found a bio-weapon that will help loosen the pest plant's stranglehold on sensitive wetland habitats in the Garden State.

Because loosestrife is a native to Europe, there are no natural predators in this country that will feed on it and help prevent its spread. However, in more than 15 states since 1992, both federal and state government agencies and select universities have released a species of leaf-eating beetle imported from Europe that feeds specifically on purple loosestrife.

It was to this predator that NJDA turned in 1997 when NJDEP's Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife and Endangered and Non-Game Species Program asked for help in controlling the tough, resilient invader on state-owned lands where chemical controls were impractical or unsuitable. The existence of many native plants and animals, including such endangered species as the bog turtle, were at issue because they depend on a diversified plant environment for suitable habitat or food supply.

The first order of business was for NJDA's Division of Plant Industry to establish a colony of loosestrife predators in the department's Phillip Alampi Beneficial Insect Laboratory in Ewing. By raising and releasing the leaf-eating beetles, NJDA hoped to stop the spread of the weed and reduce the weed population to a level that no longer threatens native plant and animal species inhabiting treated wetlands. By the fall of 1998 NJDA had raised and released over 270,000 adult beetles in central and northern areas of the state.

This year's spring surveys of previous release sites showed that the beetles survived another winter. For the first time, the predators are causing significant leaf damage to the invasive wetland weed where the NJDA/DEP pilot project is under way. As a result, NJDA has expanded the loosestrife biological control program to include several privately-owned loosestrife-infested sites.

New Jersey is not alone in its war on purple loosestrife. The plant can be found in all of the continental United States except Florida.

For additional information about NJDA's biocontrol programs, contact: Robert Chianese (agpchia@ag.state.nj.us), 609-530-4194, or visit the department's web site.