Noxious Weeds in the San Juan Islands

Italian Arum leaves in the winter.

Italian Arum leaves in the winter.

Underside of Italian Arum leaves in the winter.

Italian Arum Removal: Winter Eradication Update!

Winter is here and the Italian Arum invaders are coming. We need your help to get rid of this invasive plant on Lopez Island!

Starting as early as December, Arum sent up single leaves. Take a look at the first two photos on the left to see what you should be looking for. You may find just one, which indicates that it is a new location. Or you may find a number of them together which indicates that they have been there for more than one year, spreading outwards with new bulblets. Winter through early spring is the best time to locate them because they are easier to spot as there are not many other green, leafy plants on the ground during these months. If in doubt as to the identity, look at underside of the leaf photo as in the third photo. Note the “webbed’ structure which distinguishes Arum from some native bulb plants such as Lilly of the Valley which have more pronounced, feather-like veins. Later on you may find more “developed” clusters of leaves which look more like houseplants with larger, elongated leaves with some striping.

The task this winter is to dig them up before they have a chance to spread by creating more bulblets or by producing berries which birds and other animals spread in late summer. Click here to see photos of the bulblets and  berries. When you dig, dig deeper and wider than you think may be necessary so that you get the bulblets. For a single leaf, dig at least four inches wide and five inches deep. If it is a mature clump, dig at least four inches outside of the outer-most leaves and dig 10 inches or more down.  Don’t try to save the soil or otherwise sift out the bulblets as you will usually miss some bulblets and end up coming back the next year to dig again. Note that when you dig up the larger, more mature clumps, you can expect a few leaves the following year. Don’t get discouraged. You will prevail if you are persistent. Also, the soil this time of year can be quite heavy, but you will be rewarded for your efforts.  After you have dug deep and wide, place all of the material (your precious soil included) in a bag and put it into the garbage bin or take it to the Lopez Dump and let them know that you have Arum. They will take it without charge.

Italian Arum berries show in July. If you find this plant, please cut the stalks at the ground and put them in a plastic bag. The Lopez Transfer Station will dispose of them for free. Call and report your disposal effort to Dixie Budke at 805.801.1805 so disposal amounts can be quantified. Thank you for your help!

Italian Arum Removal: A Habitat Restoration Pilot Project for Public and Private Lands on Lopez Island

Friends of the San Juans has launched a habitat restoration pilot project for public and private landowners on Lopez Island to prevent the spread of Italian Arum – we need your help.

Italian Arum is a noxious weed and toxic to people and animals. Noxious weeds can degrade important wildlife habitat and natural areas and outcompete native plants. Now, more than ever, we must come together to reduce the damages caused by noxious weeds.

Friends of the San Juans “Aruminator” Project Manager and Washington State University Master Gardener, Dixie Budke said, “It is important to choose your landscaping plants carefully and check to see if the plant is invasive before you buy it. The pioneers who brought Italian Arum to the islands as an ornamental didn’t know it could take over our yards and farmland.”

The goals of this project are to:

1) eradicate and prevent the spread of Italian Arum on private property and public lands on Lopez Island;

2) protect Island homes, communities, farms, natural areas, and wildlife from the impacts of Italian Arum;

3) engage Island communities in positive, collaborative efforts that will benefit us all; and

4) educate the community about their role and responsibility in noxious weed control starting with this pilot project on Lopez Island.

This habitat restoration project will work in concert with other non-profit and governmental agencies to develop a collaborative and efficient strategy to achieve the stated goals.

This project is funded through a generous donation from Lopez Island neighbors Jim and Birte Falconer.

According to Jim, “This plant is a “stealth” invasive. It leafs out during with winter months before the native plants can get started; it has bulblets which scatter its progeny unless carefully removed; and its berries are carried afar by the birds. But, they are easy to spot in the winter as well as the summer when the berries show their colors. Arum is a challenge. But if the community becomes aware and devotes the time and energy, this nasty plant can be eliminated.”

By taking simple steps on private property and public lands, we can help restore our islands for people and nature.

If you would like more information or would like to help, please contact Dixie Budke at dixiebudke@gmail.com or 805.801.1805.

Click here to see a brochure from the WA State Noxious Weed Control Board about Italian Arum.

If you have Italian Arum on your property, please click here to fill out a questionnaire to help us keep track of where the weed is located in the islands.

Arum Berry

Arum Leaf

Birte Falconer demonstrating proper disposal of Italian Arum. Covering skin is essential. Photo by Jim Falconer.

Project Background

In the summer of 2016, Jim and Birte Falconer discovered a problem: Italian Arum, a noxious weed, had invaded the San Juan County Land Bank Spit Preserve and was spreading to other areas on Lopez Island, including their property. Apparently, for years it had been confined to local gardens, but now it was popping up everywhere. The Falconers, along with a determined group of Lopezians, spent many hours over the next few years learning more about Italian Arum. What they learned, however, was quite disturbing. As others had come to know, Italian Arum spreads easily due to the berries that it produces. Moreover, because it produces prodigious numbers of vigorous “bulblets”, it is very difficult to eradicate whether by digging, covering or even applying herbicides.  Searches of the internet for experiences of others around the world only increased their concerns.

In 2017 it suddenly occurred to Jim that if Italian Arum spread to the parks and open spaces of Lopez Island, in particular those with delicate native flora such as Iceberg Point, it would be a tragic event which would be difficult to reverse. So, the Falconers and others started to spread the word, learn about the life cycle of Italian Arum and begin the arduous task of locating and removing Italian Arum on Lopez. Although they have had some successes, they realized that they could not complete the mission by themselves. So they contacted Friends of the San Juans. It seemed to be an obvious choice in that the Falconers had already worked with the Friends on a shoreline restoration project and recognized the scientific and operational skillset that the organization could offer.

Katie FlemingNoxious Weeds