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Pardon a personal rant, but for more than a decade my family has been fighting an invasive weed known as black swallowwort. It’s a vine that grows up from the ground and tangles everything; when we bought our property it had filled one field to the point that it was literally difficult to walk from one side to the other without being tripped by the entangled mass.

Like many invasive plants, it was brought here from Eurasia as a decorative and escaped. It propagates both by sending roots underground and by seed pods that blow in the wind like a dandelion. We’ve been reduced to spraying Roundup to control it, and even that is only partly successful.

So I am ecstatic to learn that, in the ponderous terminology of the federal government:

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has prepared a draft environmental assessment relative to the control of swallow-worts (Vincetoxicum nigrum and Vincetoxicum rossicum) in the Northeast states, according to a notice published in the Federal Register. The environmental assessment considers the effects of, and alternatives to, the field release of a leaf-feeding moth, Hypena opulenta, into the continental United States for use as a biological control agent to reduce the severity of swallow-wort infestations.

Yes, there’s a possible bio-control in the works. It’s being studied at the University of Rhode Island, with some test sites in Massachusetts. My wife has signed us up as a test site if they get permission to release the moth in New Hampshire.

Biocontrol is a tough topic, since there are plenty of examples in which Species B was introduced to control Species A, only to become a worse pest than A ever was. The NHPR podcast Outside/In had a good session about the debate (listen to it here).

Personally, after 15 years of digging up plants, mowing plants, spraying plants, swearing at plants, I’m ready to try it.

An etymological note: “Wort” is an old name for plant, and the “swallow” part may refer to the fact that it was once used as a medicinal aid for certain throat ailments. Or so says wikipedia.

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