GLEN JEAN, WV (WVNS) — An invasive plant was discovered at one of the New River Gorge National Park’s campgrounds at the end of August.
Achyranthes japonica, also known as chaff flower, is a perennial herb that is native to eastern Asia. It was first discovered in the United States in the 1980s in Kentucky.
Two plants were found in the park when it was spotted at the end of August, and it is currently only in a few places in the Mountain State. The goal is to keep it to as few locations as possible in the state, but what makes this plant a problem and what can you do if you see one?
The plant grows in dense clusters with tall stems and hearty roots. These characteristics mean it can shade out and displace native plant species in its preferred locations of riverbanks and floodplains. Other physical characteristics of the plant make it easy to spread. The seeds of the plants have two tiny, bristle-like leaves, referred to as bracts, at the base that easily stick to clothes or fur, which means that it is very easy for people and animals to unintentionally spread it to new locations.
When the chaff flower is in a location, it can be difficult to control, meaning that discovering it early is key.
So what can you do if you find one of these flowers? A good place to start is knowing what it looks like and where to report it if you come across one. Should you come across this plant while in the parks, you can report it to iNaturalist.
Characteristics of the chaff flower include:
- Leaves: The leaves of the plant are opposite each other on the stems, are oval in shape with pointed tips, and the leaf veins arch toward the top of the leaf similar to dogwood leaves, and the leaves have smooth edges, not wavy or serrated.
- Flowers: In July and August, there are small flowers found on the stalk that look similar to a bottlebrush.
- Fruits: In August and the months after, the fruits on the plant lay flat against the stalk and have two stiff bracts that easily catch on fur and fabric.
Once you know what to look out for, you need to know how to try and prevent it from spreading.
Look out for any seeds or plant material before going on hikes or camping trips, and make sure to check again when going home. If you find any seeds or plant material on your clothes or pets’ fur, carefully remove it. This can help prevent invasive plants, like the chaff flower, from spreading further.