Chicory sets elevation record, prompts outreach

Parks officials are reminding visitors about the threat of non-native plants

The Friends of Kootenay National Park recently discovered an invasive plant at an unprecedented elevation, which has parks officials reminding visitors about the threat of non-native plants.

At the Kootenay Viewpoint on Highway 93, a chicory was identified at an elevation of 1,365 metres, more than double its average elevation of 600 metres.

But while the plant is growing at new heights, the mountain roads provided ideal growing conditions for the chicory.

“We would become more concerned if it were identified in an undisturbed site, such as an alpine valley or a subalpine meadow,” Parks Canada fire and vegetation specialist Gregg Walker told The Echo.

“We’re actively managing invasive species all the time through a management and monitoring program, and there’s a wide range of them,” he said. “Chicories are not one of our highest priority species.”

With the 10-year program implemented, the strategy will see employees focus on species that are “more likely to get out of hand and change the native plant environments of our parks.”

The high-priority species in Kootenay National Park include knapweed, toadflax, orange hogweed and leafy spurge, among others.

“A big priority for us is early detection, so If you detect these early, you’ll have a much better chance of controlling them,” he said.

While invasive species like chicory don’t create severe changes upon their surroundings, the potential exists for such plants to cause irreversible effects on native ecosystems.

“The native wildlife and the park visitors would notice, and it would be a problem for them,” Mr. Walker said.

“It’s also a problem for agriculture and forestry,” he said.

The International Union for Conservation — “the United Nations for conservation,” as Mr. Walker dubbed it — ranks invasive species as the number two threat facing functioning ecosystems, second only to habitat loss.

“We have to be on top of invasive plants,” he said.

As chicories can be found throughout the park along with other invasive plants, Mr. Walker asks visitors who observe a plant they think is an invasive weed, to contact Park authorities so they can take immediate action.

“Part of our program is to have education and outreach materials available so that people in the park can get a little booklet at our visitors centres about which invasive plants we’re looking for,” he said.

He described chicories as with a purple and blue colour.

“It’s sunflower shaped, so it has little ray flowers coming out all around it and it’s got a tall and stiff stock.”

The plants grow from 20 to 60 centimetres approximately, and are quite common throughout the park, he said, especially in the drier areas.