Armed with trowels, volunteer troops attacked the enemy, Asiatic sand sedge, a squat but deep-rooted tuft of grass that spreads like a prickly plague. And, yes, it hurts to step on those spiky little seed pods! The stuff’s invading dunes at the Jersey Shore, including here, at Sandy Hook’s North Beach, where it out-competes local species.
“Like any invasive, it tends to form a monoculture, so it’ll push out all the other native plants that we have here, things like seaside goldenrod, wormwood and maybe bayberry and other natives that help have a diverse ecological community,” said Jeff Dement, head naturalist at the Sandy Hook headquarters of the American Littoral Society.
Dement says Asiatic Sand sedge also threatens this tiny, federally-protected plant called the beach amaranth. It’s so rare it’s roped-off for its own protection. The tough-as-nails alien invader probably arrived years ago as improvised packing material.
“‘Asian bubble wrap’ you might say. Imagine a vase or some china coming from Japan, packed to keep. So some of it got loose, and here it is,” he said.
The sedge can cobble dunes together as it spreads by creeping rootstalks. But it doesn’t build dunes as fast or as high as native american beachgrass — and New Jersey needs dunes.
“With our successive storms in New Jersey, we need to have larger dunes to protect our infrastructure behind the dunes,” said Dement.
But Asiatic sedge dies hard. To avoid using herbicides, the Littoral Society welcomes volunteers to dig the sedge plants out by the roots.
Dement instructs volunteers to be careful not to break the taproots, which can be up to two feet long. That’s because any pieces left behind will sprout new plants. The engineering firm T&M Associates of Middletown New Jersey stepped up to clean up this nasty sedge patch.
“One of our core values is to give back to the communities where we’re involved — Monmouth County, etc,” said Gary Dahms, president and CEO of T&M Associates.
T&M’s summer interns got to do most of the actual excavating, ripping roots out of the low dune. Intern Joe Vitale said the roots are deep roots are a pain.
Another intern, Malcom Bryson explains, “it’s a good thing, what we’re doing. I just didn’t expect it to be so in depth. I thought it was going to be juts like picking weeds in a garden.”
“I’m happy to help clean up the beaches,” said intern Natalie VanDerVeer. “I can see why it’d definitely be a problem for other wildlife because it spreads so far and so close together.”
The next step in this operation comes in the spring when the American Littoral Society will be back to reclaim this dune and replant it with american beachgrass.