Controlling the Invasive Perennial Pepperweed: A Group Effort

by Sara Semanza

Serving at Mass Audubon as a Land Stewardship Coordinator has presented me with many opportunities, one being able to help manage perennial pepperweed, an invasive plant that is widely spread throughout the Northshore. Having never even heard of pepperweed before, I was excited to get started, not knowing where this journey would take me. As I began to dive head first into learning more about this plant, where it tends to grow, and what it looks like I was very intrigued. When the time came to start pulling we had volunteers, school, and other groups come out to help us. Pulling pepperweed is no easy task, there are sites that can take 4-5 hours to pull and getting all the help we can sure makes the process easier. Without these volunteers we would never be as efficient and successful as we are.

As I pull more and more I realize just how difficult it can be. We sometimes have to walk a mile or so into the marsh, trudging through stands of Phragmites and cattails, just to get to a site that we then have to pull and carry trash bags full of pepperweed out of back to our cars. Then add in the 90 degree sunny days and I am exhausted by noon. When I have days like those I have to think about all the good we are doing and sometimes we even get rewarded.

One day a group of us was pulling alongside a marsh close to a street with a couple houses. A gentleman walks out of his house and asks us what we are doing. I go on to explain that we are pulling pepperweed and how it is an invasive plant that can create a mono-culture if not treated. I show him what is looks like and we talk about how the landscape has changed over the years. He is from California, but spends the summers in Essex and has been coming here since he was a child. He couldn’t thank us enough for the work that we were doing, which was very rewarding. He went back inside, but a few minutes later he came back out with a check book and says he wants to make a donation. This was the first time something like this has ever happened to me and really made me realize how grateful people are and just how important what we are doing is. Being out in the field is not always easy, but when things like this happen it helps keep your motivation high. I can’t thank that gentleman enough for his kindness and sincerity.

So far we have pulled dozens of sites accounting for 50+ bags of pepperweed. There are days when I ask myself, while pulling in the middle of a Phragmites stand, is it worth it? My answer, yes! Can the work be difficult and monotonous? Yes. It is never fun at the end of a work day to pull 4 ticks off your clothes, but in the end, it’s all worth it. Every plant we pull now is decreasing the chances it will spread next year. Pepperweed is a battle that has no end in sight, but all we can do is keep fighting and little by little we are making a difference.

Sara Semanza is serving as a Land Stewardship Coordinator at Mass Audubon Headquarters for the 2018-2019 TerraCorps Service. 

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