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A yellow iris infestation in the Adirondacks (Photo: Brendan Quirion)
A yellow iris infestation in the Adirondacks (Photo: Brendan Quirion)

Yellow iris spreads, another "ornamental" invader

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Not all of the invaders that are hitting the North Country are as gross as Army worms. Many of the plants that are colonizing the region's meadows, streams and wetlands were actually brought here deliberately by gardeners or aquarium owners.

They displace native plants and upset ecosystems that have nurtured birds and insects for thousands of years. One of the newest ornamental invaders is the yellow iris. Brian Mann sent this audio postcard after finding a new infestation on his property in Westport in the Champlain Valley.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Brian Mann discovered yellow irises along the bank of the creek called Beaver Brook that borders his property in Westport. These yellow flowers are beautiful, but they are an invasive species that threatens local natural ecosystems. Mann called Brendan Quirion, the Terrestrial Invasive Species Project Coordinator for the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, to discover more about these plants.

“Yellow iris is a wetland invader. It was originally brought over here through ornamental plantings. It’s a really beautiful plant, people like having it growing on their property,” said Quirion. “Unfortunately, when they plant it on their property, it tends to spread into more extensive wetland complexes.”

According to Quirion, the plant has a yellow flower and is the only iris in the Adirondacks that is completely yellow. It has a smaller, daintier flower than many other local irises. The downside to the plant is that it spreads very quickly when exposed to wetlands, rivers or streams. Quirion said, “The seed pods that they produce can float for miles downstream so all it takes is one plant to cause a big infestation.”

Over the past three days, Quirion has been part of an effort to eradicate an infestation of yellow iris from a forest preserve in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area. The infestation was about four acres in size, and Quirion says that he’s not sure how it got there but that it most likely originated from one planting.

Mann intends to remove the yellow iris that he discovered on his property. According to Quirion, the best way to do this is to simply dig up the plant and remove it by the roots. The plants have a large, bright pink rhizome ball underneath them that needs to be carefully dug up. Not only is it important that the rhizome not break, since fragments can sprout, but also some people have had allergic reactions to them. Once it is dug up, it can be placed in a plastic garbage bag and left in the sun for a few weeks so that the plant material is destroyed.

“It’s hard to imagine that these things are such evil critters, and that’s part of the reason Brendan says they’re so hard to eradicate,” said Mann. Quirion agreed and said that educating the public about invasive species is made even more difficult when the species in question is beautiful.  “We’re really amping up our education and outreach about invasive species and what they look like and what they can potentially do so that people aren’t planting these things anymore,” said Quirion.

Yellow iris can still be sold in New York State, but a recently-passed bill called the Four Tier Bill will regulate all invasive species that can be sold in the state. “So those species will hopefully not be showing up in nurseries or Lowe’s or Home Depot anymore; people won’t be able to buy them,” said Quirion.

“So after working at this one clump of yellow iris, I can see just how hard a tough this is: hot, sweaty, dirty work here at the edge of this sort of boggy creek. This is just one of the many clumps that has taken root here,” concluded Mann. Homeowners like Mann who find infestations of this plant can contact the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program.

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