At first glance, the cluster of 8-foot-high plants growing near a farm field just north of Plymouth looks harmless enough.
But as Steve Klock likes to point out, it's far from it.
The plant, called Japanese knotweed, is incredibly prolific, quickly spreading via an extensive root system that can burrow 6-feet deep and run 60-feet in either direction. Left untended, it becomes strong enough to push through pavement and can bust through a foundation.
"I talked to a guy who poured blacktop on it and it grew right through it," said Klock, who retired in March as a wildlife technician for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "With Japanese knotweed, they take over until there's nothing else growing there."
That's why Klock and a group of 32 volunteers have begun efforts in Sheboygan County they hope will one day lead to intensive management of the plant along with two other invasive species growing in the area —teasel and phragmite.
Their project is part of a $50,000 federal grant awarded to the Southeastern Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium, a nine-year-old group that promotes management of invasive plant species throughout the region. The money will help volunteers in eight Southeastern Wisconsin counties — including Sheboygan County — map out where the three invasive plant species are located.
From there, the information will be shared with landowners, municipalities, highway departments and other government agencies. The consortium eventually hopes to train those groups in how to effectively control the plants.
Marc White, the consortium's invasive species coordinator, said the fact that the three plant species aren't native isn't what makes them a problem. It's that they choke off growth of native plants and can take over large swaths of land.
"They are dispersing rapidly from our roadsides," White said. "All three pose a horrible threat to natural areas because they out-compete with and displace native species."
Klock, who's leading the effort locally, said that volunteers have been out since May looking for the three plants, focusing on parks, right-of-ways and green spaces. Their efforts have taken them along just about every road in each of the county's 15 townships.
Klock said the three plants are fairly common along roadways and all are very visible, with phragmite — a tall plant with a feathery top — rising as high as 20 feet in some areas. Teasel resembles thistle but is much taller, while Japanese knotweed has cane-like stems that resemble bamboo.
As part of the project, the group also will host information sessions this fall for nursery and landscape professionals to provide training about various plant species that are considered invasive.
"You can go down to any nursery right now and find invasive plants. They're still selling them," said Klock.
Klock also hopes the project helps create a general awareness about invasive plants and prompts residential homeowners to control those found on their own properties.
"The sooner you get on them, the better," Lock said. "They are controllable."
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Article written by Josh Lintereur of the Sheboygan Press