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Analysis of sulphur cinquefoil in British Columbia

Author(s) or contact(s): G.W. Powell
Source: Research Branch
Subject: Plant Ecology, Vegetation Management
Series: Working Paper
Other details:  Published 1996. Hardcopy is available.


Sulphur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta L.), an introduced plant in North America, is believed to displace native plant species in undisturbed habitats and may alter the functioning of ecosystems by lowering biodiversity. Despite concern about this species, little information is available about its impact on ecosystems, and no information specific to British Columbia is available. Preliminary indications are that this weed has a fairly wide ecological adaptation, however, it is currently only reported as a problem in the Bunchgrass, Ponderosa Pine, and Interior Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zones.

A better understanding of sulphur cinquefoil, with specific reference to how it develops, reproduces, and survives in the conditions prevalent in British Columbia, is necessary to further our understanding of the situation. As a basis for study, an accurate inventory of existing populations should be conducted, and its ecological limits determined to confirm which ecosystems and habitat types are suitable for establishment and persistence. The impact of this weed on biodiversity must be quantified through research into the relative competitiveness of sulphur cinquefoil with other plant species and its influence on the dynamics of the various host ecosystems. In addition, the economic consequences of sulphur cinquefoil infestations must be characterized to give clearer direction for a management plan.

Management inaction during the time necessary to complete these investigations could result in a needless expansion of any current problem. A multiagency management program should be developed and refined as information from research and monitoring efforts becomes available.

Effective forest and range management, with an emphasis on maintaining vigorous plant communities, are the basis for managing the sulphur cinquefoil invasion. Integrated vegetation management, using biological, chemical, and cultural controls where necessary, should be employed. Potential biological control agents should be investigated using a key species list for rapid preliminary screening. However, since the search for a suitable biological control could be very long and costly, the nature and extent of the sulphur cinquefoil problem in British Columbia should be determined before committing resources to a full biological control program. Chemical controls should continue to be limited to spot treatment of new or small, isolated weed populations. A prevention strategy involving extension to resource users and the general public must be initiated. The sulphur cinquefoil problem could be reduced by raising public awareness of the issues and promoting responsible land use.

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Updated November 04, 2009