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Bloomberg makes $183G de-vine donation to fight East End invasive weed

The mile-a-minute vine, which can quickly carpet an area and crowd out other plant species, has proliferated across Long Island, especially after breach waters spread its seeds during superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Mile-a-minute weed overruns a site after superstorm Sandy.

Mile-a-minute weed overruns a site after superstorm Sandy.  Photo Credit: Cornell University / Andrew Senesac

Southampton Town again faces a summer battle to control the invasive, quick-growing mile-a-minute vine, this time with the help of a $183,000 grant from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The vine, which can quickly carpet an area and crowd out other plant species, has proliferated across Long Island, especially after breach waters spread its seeds during superstorm Sandy in 2012. The bright green vine, which was introduced in the United States through East Asian nursery stock in the 1950s, spreads to new areas by migrating birds and other wildlife, experts say.

“It’s becoming more and more invasive in town as the years go on,” Southampton Town chief environmental analyst Martin Shea said. “Initially we just had a couple of hot spots, now it's spreading throughout large portions of the township.”

The town board on April 9 voted to enter a $183,000 contract with Southampton-based landscapers Jackson Dodds & Co. Inc. to remove the vine on two town-owned properties in Tuckahoe, one of the prime infestation areas on the East End. The work is funded through a donation from Bloomberg, who owns an estate near the Tuckahoe properties.

The billionaire philanthropist has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to conservation efforts around the world, including a $1 million Bloomberg Philanthropies donation to help found the Stony Brook University Center for Clean Water Technology.

"Mike Bloomberg has helped hundreds of towns and cities around the world tackle challenges and improve quality of life, and he's happy to assist in Southampton as well,” Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said.

The landscape firm will pull the weed by hand in June — before the plant bears fruit. Pulling it out by the roots is considered one of the most effective ways to eradicate the annual species. Gloves must be worn for the work because of barbs on the plant, which is also called tear thumb.

The town had previously organized volunteer efforts led by highway superintendent Alex Gregor and the environment division to remove the vine from bluffs, but Bloomberg's donation will allow a more sustained approach to fighting mile-a-minute weed, Shea said.

“We’re hoping to continue the management for at least five years,” Shea said. “It’s going to be done, kind of like a pilot project this year.”

Andrew Senesac, a weed science specialist with Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said along with mugwort and Asiatic Bittersweet, the mile-a-minute weed, or Persicaria perfoliata, is one of the top three invasive plant problems on the East End. 

The weed has spread not only to natural sites such as town open space properties, but to the residential yards that border them. 

Senesac said a beetle called a weevil also is effective in destroying mile-a-minute weed. The weevils eat the leaves throughout the season and lay larvae in the stem, weakening the vine. The beetles cost about $1 per insect, and some suppliers require a minimum order of 250, Senesac said. But many more than 250 would be needed to control the plant.

“It’s a matter of time until the weevil population builds up,” he said. “The first year it really doesn’t have much effect.”

Mile-a-minute vine

  • Other names include Asiatic tear thumb, climbing tear thumb, devil's tail
  • Thrives in areas with partial shade, but can survive in full sun
  • Seedlings begin to germinate in April on Long Island
  • Undergoes rapid growth in spring and summer
  • Weevils, a small insect, eat the leaves and stems, and can be used in its control

Source: Andrew Senesac, weed science specialist, Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County

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