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Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)

Every living thing known to man has a Latin name that should be used when referring to that species in a formal scientific context. For example, human beings are Homo sapiens, polar bears are Ursus maritimus, and the common sunflower is Helianthus annuus.

In theory, these scientific names are internationally recognised - what you call a 'dog' is called a 'chien' in France and a 'koira' in Finland, but biologists in all three countries should understand what Canis lupus familiaris means.

So what is the proper name for Japanese knotweed? Read a few articles online, and you may notice that different sources use different Latin names when referring to this pesky plant - Fallopia japonica and Reynoutria japonica are the most common, but Polygonum cuspidatum and various other monikers pop up from time to time as well.

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Property with a garden

In a recent interview with the Daily Express, property expert Ray Harriot advised that sellers should tell the truth about Japanese knotweed on their property - even if this would complicate the transaction.

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Japanese knotweed

Recent studies suggest that Japanese knotweed could be more effective than antibiotics at treating Lyme disease!

Lyme disease is a tick-borne infection that is known to cause numerous unpleasant effects including meningitis, face paralysis, heart palpitations and severe headaches. While people think that Lyme disease is fairly uncommon, there are over 365,000 new cases of it in the USA and Europe alone.

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Japanese knotweed

Outside of fictional works like The Day of the Triffids and Little Shop of Horrors, very few plants inspire as much dread as Japanese knotweed. This invasive weed has caused countless headaches for homeowners all over the UK, devaluing affected properties by 10 per cent on average.

And yet, as we've discussed before on this blog, Japanese knotweed is barely a problem at all in its native land. While the plant is still considered a weed in Japan, it does not have anything like the toxic reputation it has in this part of the world.

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Pink flowers

SHORT ANSWER: Japanese knotweed flowers are usually white, but dwarf Japanese knotweed - a related species - sometimes grows pink flowers. Additionally, there are several other pink-flowered plants that are commonly mistaken for Japanese knotweed.

Japanese knotweed can be identified by a number of distinctive characteristics: the bamboo-like stems, the heart-shaped leaves, and the clusters of flowers that appear in late summer.

These flowers are quite small, and they're usually white or cream in colour.

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Rubbish skip

Disposing of Japanese knotweed is a delicate business. One must be extremely careful when handling this invasive weed - even a tiny fragment of its hardy rhizome root system can grow into a whole new plant if returned to the soil.

For this reason, there are a lot of rules about what you can and can't do with Japanese knotweed after digging it up. If you allow the plant to spread into the wild, you may be fined thousands of pounds or even imprisoned (see Japanese Knotweed Law).

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UK property

Moving into a new home should be a happy experience. You're starting a fresh chapter and (hopefully) moving a step higher on the property ladder. But if you've unknowingly bought a house that's affected by Japanese knotweed, your joy may be rather short-lived.

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Throughout history, invasive plant and animal species that have been introduced to certain locations around the world have caused both micro and macro ecosystems to crumble. Without any natural predators, these new species are often left to cause irreversible damage that results in entire habitats being completely destroyed as well as communities being hampered with costly damage. 

For those of you who don't know, an invasive species can be any kind of living organisms such as fish, insect, amphibian, fungus or plant that is introduced to an ecosystem that they are not part of and proceed to cause harm and/or damage to the surrounding environment, economy or human health. Species can also be classed as invasive if they grow and reproduce at a fast rate, spread aggressively and carry the threat of causing harm. 

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Some people may look at Japanese knotweed as a beautiful, ornamental plant. After all, that's one of the reasons it was brought to the country in the first place! Planting Japanese knotweed on your property is forbidden for a number of reasons. However, when you realise how damaging Japanese knotweed can be, you'll probably wish you never considered planting it anyway.

You'll remember from our blog - What Damage Can Japanese Knotweed Do? - that Japanese knotweed can make it difficult to sell your home, can cause structural damage to buildings and roads and can even disrupt cables and block drains. This plant is likely to cause you a great deal of hassle, so why you'd want to plant it is a mystery!

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In an attempt to control the rapid spread of Japanese knotweed in Holland, the Dutch government has issued an exemption to alien species ban.

Image: Pixabay

The once-celebrated plant that has now turned into one of destruction is causing huge problems within Holland, and as a result, five thousand Japanese leaf fleas have been released in a last-ditch attempt to control it. Japanese knotweed within the country has become an increasingly problematic issue, which has begun to threaten local biodiversities, damage water quality and increase risks of floods. As a result, the government took the unusual decision to issue an exemption on a ban on the introduction of alien species as the spiralling costs related to knotweed damage started to mount. 

Japanese knotweed is causing huge amounts of damage within the Dutch capital, particularly to pavements, building foundations and dykes, leading to millions of euros in costs each year. According to tests, leaf fleas carry the ability to kill young shoots, preventing the plant from growing by sucking up its sap. This has resulted in an initial 5,000 fleas being released in three distinct locations in hope of combatting the rising problem. It is hoped that the fleas will successfully hibernate over the winter and establish themselves within the new year with further specimens planned to be released next spring.

 

Knotweed in the Netherlands

Japanese knotweed was introduced and cultivated as an ornamental plant in the Netherlands between 1829 and 1841 by German botanist Phillip Franz von Siebold. Its aggressive root system, which has the ability to grow up to 20cm per day and breakthrough concrete, has caused major issues in many countries across Europe. Previously, the Dutch capital has attempted to control the spread of knotweed through means of hot water, fire and lasers but through no avail. The government is now playing its hopes on the colony of leaf fleas to curb the damage being caused. 

One of the leading entomologists at the Institute of Biology in Leiden, Suzanne Lommen who is coordinating the trial, says "All sorts of things have been tried, but complete pest control is extremely difficult and very expensive. We will have to combine various methods to get the Asian knotweed under control. We know from the Japanese knotweed psyllid that it can kill young shoots and slow down or even stop the growth of the plant by sucking up sap – nutrition – from the plant.

“If the psyllid can establish, reproduce and spread, and do the damage we see in the breeding trials, it can hopefully inhibit the growth and spread of Asian knotweed. Then you have a very cheap and environmentally-friendly solution with many years of effect that you can combine with the more expensive methods.”

Lommen continues by stating that the fleas may not take to the Dutch climate, saying "What we do not know yet is how the psyllid will thrive in the Netherlands,” she said. “It comes from an area in Japan where the climate most resembles that of the Netherlands. In the laboratory, it thrives on the interbreed knotweed that grows here. But reality will show whether it can survive in our country.”

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For more updates regarding Japanese knotweed in the UK and around the world, be sure to keep an eye on Taylor Total Weed Control's Twitter and Facebook accounts.

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