Volunteers dig and hand-pull yellow iris

Volunteers dig and hand-pull yellow iris plants from Little Otter Wildlife Management Area.

Yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus), with its striking yellow flowers, is a beautiful plant, but also a threat to our priority natural communities and native plants.

In recent years, the plant has gained a foothold in many Lake Champlain wetlands and floodplain forests — priority natural communities as documented by Vermont Fish & Wildlife Natural Heritage Program.

Lewis Creek Association, in partnership with the Lake Champlain Basin Program, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, and Habitat Restoration Solutions/Riverscape Ecology began studying this problem in 2015.

This year, the association wrapped up a three-year study of yellow iris in Ferrisburgh, in the 12-acre Little Otter Wildlife Management Area at the mouth of Lewis and Little Otter creeks.

The lake-influenced lower reaches of Lewis Creek contain important floodplain forests, buttonbush swamps and a range of state significant emergent plant communities. This study funded a survey of yellow iris from the North Ferrisburgh falls to the mouth of the lake, as well as a test of removal methods, and coordination to lead volunteers in yellow iris removal.

Over the course of three seasons, volunteers dug out 335 clumps and 710 single yellow iris plants during 125 volunteer hours. Larger clumps that were too big to dig —126 — were treated chemically in the fall using a wetland approved herbicide, to minimize impacts on amphibians and other plants.

Results of the study showed that both methods — digging and chemical control — were effective at eliminating yellow iris clumps. Volunteers learned to identify yellow iris from the native blue-flag iris (Iris versicolor) even when it was not in bloom, using the tint at the base of the leaves (yellow versus blue/purple) and leaf form (more upright on yellow iris, more droopy on blue-flag iris).

The Lewis Creek Association hopes yellow iris populations at Little Otter management area will remain at low levels with annual maintenance.

Program manager Kate Kelly encourages all home gardeners to familiarize themselves with yellow iris, to remove it from their gardens and to encourage removal from other public places, as it spreads easily to natural areas.

More at lewiscreek.org.

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