Wild Chervil Hardy & Tenacious

Front Page / Apr. 29, 2004 12:00am EDT

Wild Chervil Hardy & Tenacious

It’s time for wild chervil to rear its head once again in our region, and there are people who want to do something about it. Randolph’s Susan Delattre and Bethel’s Victoria Weber have set up experimental plots on Delattre’s property to compare the effectiveness of different eradication methods.

Wild chervil (also called cow parsley) is that white-flowering plant, which at a distance strongly resembles Queen Ann’s Lace, that is more abundant every year along the roadside, and is spreading inward over fields and meadows.

It’s an invasive species—a non-indigenous wildflower. In its native habitat (Britain and northern Europe) it coexists with plant competitors that keep it in check. Here in Vermont it has fewer challenges, so it spreads rapidly and is choking out our own local indigenous plants.

One of its competitive advantages is that wild chervil starts growing very early in the spring, thereby preëmpting space for the later plants.  It is also a very hardy and tenacious.

Anyone who has watched wild chervil every year can see its alarming spread. There are meadows visible from Route 12 between Bethel and Randolph, where in recent seasons there has been wild chervil as far as the eye can see, with no other plants in sight. In a few weeks we’ll see the wild chervil blossoms again, probably even more extensively.

Weber characterizes the phenomenon variously as an "infection" or "inundation." It's population is "exploding," to the detriment of other plants.

Scientific Experiment

At the experimental plot in Randolph, wild chervil is now a few inches high, as it is throughout the area, and looks like an innocuous and innocent ground cover.

Delattre and Weber have laid out grids, with numerous squares, and are subjecting the plants to different eradication treatments. These include cutting (separating the crown from the stem), weeding, stabbing, smothering, and trampling. The techniques are carried out in different areas and in different conditions on Delattre’s property. For example, in some places the plant is growing in relatively dry ground, and in others the ground is wet.

It’s all very scientific. Adjacent to the various experimental squares where different eradication techniques are being attempted, Delattre and Weber have placed control squares where there is no eradication effort at all, in order to allow for a meaningful comparison. They are watching the results of their efforts very closely, and keeping detailed notes and records.

They've learned a few lessons from previous efforts. One is that if the plants are mowed it should be done before the flowers are in full bloom. If not, the seeds are viable and the mowers will only spread them further. Also, the plants have a long root, and will likely sprout again the following year, so the cutting must be done over a number of seasons.

It was thought that the plant is a biennial, and that over its two seasons of life it would be sufficient to cut prior to blooming to prevent propagation. Now the plant has shown that it can live several seasons, so repeated cutting over a number of years will be necessary. It would be better to pull the plants out with its root, even though it is time consuming. Plants that are pulled should be put on the road where they can dry and die.

According to Weber, the most effective management tactic for invasive plants is to prevent their importation to begin with. But it takes a long time and lots of evidence of invasiveness before plants are placed on official lists, although wild chervil (technically known as anthriscus sylvestris) is now currently on Vermont’s draft watch list. 

Wild chervil, though it make its unofficial headquarters in the White River Valley, has been spreading with alarming speed in the state. Weber fears that if efforts are not made to keep it in check, the rest of the state will eventually look like the monochrome meadows visible from Route 12.

Delattre and Weber invite those interested in this issue to attempt to replicate their experiments, and share data later.

"This is the time to work on it," she said, "when the plants are young and the flowers have not yet formed."

Anyone who wants more information or is willing to help in bi-weekly eradication record keeping, should contact Victoria Weber on 234-9832. There is also a Wild Chervil Information Center on The Herald’s website, www.OurHerald.com.

By Chris Costanzo

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