By Sabina Mollot
Though the blooming of a large, stinky flower at the New York Botanical Garden has been getting all the attention lately, there’s another plant in this city that’s starting to sound even more sinister than the aforementioned corpse flower.
A white-petaled menace that grows on vines has been described by the gardeners at Stuyvesant Cove Park as “an invader from far-off lands and nothing short of pernicious.”
That would be the field bindweed (also known as Convolvulus arvensis), a trumpet-shaped flower that looks very similar to a morning glory and has been growing like what it actually is — a weed – in green spaces across New York City. Along with parks and gardens, the hardy plant has also been sprouting up on traffic medians and vacant lots.
Environmental education center Solar One, which is located at Stuyvesant Cove Park’s north end, sent neighbors an email about the bindweed on Monday, while also making a plea for help in keeping its beastly growth at bay.
Park manager Emily Curtis-Murphy will be leading weeding events on Thursday evenings from 5-7 p.m. “until further notice,” the email read.
The email added, of the field bindweed, “Don’t let its good looks fool you. This weed is originally from the steppes of Mongolia; C. arvensis developed its hyper-aggressive survival strategy to cope with the long cold winters and short growing seasons of the far north. Transplanted into our warm climate, it goes frankly nuts, wrapping around itself and everything around it, creating dense mats of foliage that eventually strangle and crush nearly all the surrounding foliage. And it’s so aggressive that we can remove all of it with great effort one week and the very next week, it’s back.”
Curtis-Murphy later told Town & Village she suspects the plant has had some presence since 2013 when new fill was brought into the park after it flooded during Superstorm Sandy. While the park manager doesn’t remember when she first started noticing it, she does know that it officially became a problem due to the rate at which it was growing at the end of June.
Earlier in the season, the park had more help due to student and corporate volunteer groups and had been able to keep the spread of the weed somewhat limited.
“With the heat, the volunteers dropped off and the bindweed absolutely loves this weather,” said Curtis-Murphy, who’s been noticing it a lot elsewhere as well.
“It’s even in my backyard,” she said. “It’s everywhere. Not so much parks that are maintained, but schoolyards, ball parks, vacant fields. It’s great when they’re growing someplace where other plants don’t grow, but it’s not so great when they’re choking out plants that feed the wildlife.”
The deadly vines are true to their name, wrapping themselves, telephone cord-like, around other plants at Stuyvesant Cove Park where they’ve stopped the growth of echinacea and a bed of black, wild currants.
“They were covered in bindweed and were smothered, dropping berries early and keeping just a few to ripen,” Curtis-Murphy said of the currants.
To help deal with the problem, a park intern will be planting sunflowers, which have compounds that limit growth of other plants. The park already has a couple of those, possibly due to someone spitting out sunflower seeds while strolling through.
“Sunflower can be very aggressive,” said Curtis-Murphy.
And of course, they’ll need to keep weeding.
In addition to the weekly volunteer weeding nights, there will be a community volunteer event on Saturday, July 21 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. At this event, there will also be children’s craft activities, like the opportunity to smash sticks into paper and build fairy houses with plants found in a children’s garden area.
For Thursday night weeding volunteers, there will be an opportunity to cool down in the July sunset by sipping a site-specific, non-alcoholic cocktail served by the park manager herself.
Curtis-Murphy, who was an organic farmer in Vermont and in Connecticut before coming to Solar One, will be mixing mulberry spritzers and wood sorrel lemonade made with ingredients carefully curated from the park. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.