Fig Buttercup – looking back, looking forward!
“It’s almost like COVID-19, in that once the coronavirus spreads throughout the world, eradicating it is nearly impossible,” said Danny Howard, “but if they had kept the virus contained in China, it could have been stopped.”
Howard was speaking of the importance, and urgency, of the SCNPS-led effort to control the invasive plant Fig Buttercup (Ficaria verna) in the Reedy River corridor — before it spreads further. A current Commissioner with the Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District and former Greenville County Extension Agent, Howard is not the only person to see a parallel between the coronavirus and this particularly insidious invasive plant.
Moist soils along waterways support diverse native plant communities, which in turn support native songbirds, butterflies and other pollinator wildlife species. Colonization of these areas by Fig Buttercup rapidly converts them into monocultures that suppress both native plants and wildlife.
March of 2020 marked the first year that virtually all of the Fig Buttercup known to be naturalizing in the Reedy River corridor was treated during one season (see map below).
This was accomplished with the cooperation of almost 150 property owners, the efforts of NPS volunteers, and at a cost of approximately $19,000, funded by a coalition of area organizations including the SC Exotic Pest Plant Council, Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District, Friends of the Reedy River, Greater Greenville Master Gardeners Association, ReWa, and of course the Native Plant Society.
The fact that the entire Reedy infestation was treated in one growing season should significantly reduce the number of re-infestations from upstream sites that so plagued NPS’s earliest volunteer efforts, which began shortly after the plant was discovered here in 2013. But there is no time now to rest on our laurels, only time to gear up to do it again.
Why do it again?
Like the coronavirus, Fig Buttercup is particularly adept at replicating itself.
In a best case scenario, assuming last March’s treatment killed every Fig Buttercup plant that showed itself above ground, hundreds of bulbils and root fragments are likely still stored in the soil, every one of which is capable of producing a new plant. Left untreated, each new plant can then produce more propagules, which the Upstate’s ever-more frequent heavy rainfall events carry downstream to colonize even more territory.
It is vitally important that we do not let up now, or we will be throwing away last year’s efforts and the funds already invested by ourselves and our friends in the coalition.
How many years before we can say we’ve won?
Most of the literature says “repeated applications” without spelling out how many. We expect that three seasons of professional, comprehensive treatment will leave only small pockets of plants that vigilant volunteer efforts will be able to control.
Why does Fig Buttercup control deserve hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars, when there’s so much more privet out there?
And that’s the reason. Privet had already colonized bottomlands throughout the South before people starting paying attention. The privet genie is out of the bottle and there’s no putting him back in, so we work to reclaim specific sites, for instance land near the rare, federally listed Bunched Arrowhead (Sagittaria fasciculata) at Blackwell Heritage Preserve.
In contrast, the Reedy River infestation of Fig Buttercup, even though it is a few miles long, is “contained” within Greenville County floodplains above the Conestee dam. If we can control it here, we will have done a service not only for our own streamside wildflowers and wildlife, but also for those same communities downstream along waterways feeding Lake Greenwood, Lake Murray, Congaree National Park, Lake Marion, Lake Moultrie, the Santee River…
How can I help?
OBSERVE: If you spot it, notify both SCNPS Fig Buttercup Team and Clemson University’s Dept of Plant Industry (864-646-2140).
REPORT: Download the brochure from SC’s regulatory agency, and spread the word that not only is Fig Buttercup harmful, it is illegal in South Carolina!
DONATE: The 2021 progam will cost an estimated $19,000 and donations are encouraged. A group of individuals has offered to match, dollar for dollar, up to $2500, so every dollar you can contribute now will be doubled! If you would like to make a donation, please use the form below, and thank you for your support.