Invasive Species in Dillingham: White sweetclover found by Scandinavian Creek

Sep 5, 2019

Invasive plants have been sprouting across Dillingham, and that could threaten its ecosystem. KDLG sat down with an environmentalist who discovered one alarming species to discuss the plants, and how spread can be avoided in the future.

Credit Jennifer Robinette

If anybody knows plants, it’s Jennifer Robinette.

“I grew up in Homer in Anchor Point. My dad owns the Anchor Point greenhouse and my grandpa started a business called Fishy Pete Potting Soil over 40 years ago. I’ve been tied to the plant world all my life.”

Robinette is the Ekuk Tribe’s environmental coordinator, a job that manages concerns regarding wildlife. Robinette was hired by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2010, working alongside 10 other coordinators to hunt down invasive species. Soon after, she received a grant to seek out non-native plants across 19 villages in Bristol Bay.

In the summers she visits Dillingham, where most of her family resides. This year, she discovered a plant in Scandinavian Creek that shouldn’t be there.

Tyler Thompson: So white clover was found in Scandinavian Creek?

Jennifer Robinette: “White sweetclover actually. We have trifolium repens, the other species of clover, one that you see more commonly with the round flower head. That one is all over Bristol Bay, even.”

Thompson: And what does white sweetclover look like?

Robinette: “The white sweet clover has this long flower stalk, similar to fireweed, where it blooms all the way up the stalk rather than a bulb. They’re tiny white flowers, so they’re smaller than fireweed flowers. If you look up close to them they look like a pea flower. This plant can grow up to six feet tall --, actually I think some of them were six feet tall. They’ve got the three leaf configuration, just like the other clover that we see in Bristol Bay, usually in ditches and around playgrounds.”

Credit Jennifer Robinette

Thompson: What kind of negative impacts does white sweet clover have on this environment?

Robinette: “The worry is, is that it might outcompete willow species that are important to moose habitat. A willow will bring nutrients up to its bud where the moose can get go its food. White sweet clover will bring all those nutrients down from the stalk into the ground into the roots for the winter. So the availability for food decreases when you have problems like that.”

Thompson: How do you remove this plant?

Robinette: “You know, to combat an enemy you gotta know your enemy. With white sweetclover, it’s a biennial plant. Wwe pull it up, we kill it. On the other hand, there are other species, we pull them up and you still have the vegetative parts that are gonna come back as another plant. This one, it’s not going to happen. If it does leave seeds, then for a few more years we’re going to have to look at that spot.”

Thompson: How do invasive species like white sweet clover get here, and what can people do to reduce invasive species in the area?

Robinette: “We have some vectors like doing erosion control alongside roads; spraying seeds alongside roads. And there are native seed mixes that contractors can get so if there’s any projects being done in Dillingham or Bristol Bay it’s always good to be up front and say this is what’s in your contract we want our native plant seeds to be seeded along the roadway.”

Thompson: Thank you, Jennifer. 

Other invasive species in Dillingham include orange hawkweed. It blows around like dandelions, and can dominate an entire area -- wiping out native plant sources. 

If you’re curious about plants in Bristol Bay, Robinette suggests the Alaska Exotic Plant Information Clearinghouse.  The website tracks all non-native plants known in Alaska.

In Dillingham, I’m Tyler Thompson.

Contact the author at tyler@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200