A little muscle, a lot of heart

John New­man, 17, who will re­cieve his Eagle Scout medal on May 11, in Lor­imer Park in Mont­gomery County. He said pulling Ja­pan­ese knot­weed was “labor in­tens­ive.” MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / STAR PHOTO

Port Rich­mond’s John New­man will re­cieve his Eagle Scout medal on May 11. To earn the hon­or, he pulled in­vas­ive Ja­pan­ese knot­weed plants from Lor­imer Park in Mont­gomery County.

Be­com­ing an Eagle Scout is no walk in the park. Well, not en­tirely.

To re­ceive Scout­ing’s highest hon­or, a scout has to show plan­ning and or­gan­iz­a­tion­al skills, smarts, team­work, lead­er­ship, and, as John New­man found out, muscle.

New­man, who will get his medal in a ce­re­mony May 11, found it took a lot of strength, en­dur­ance and de­term­in­a­tion to com­plete his Eagle Scout pro­ject last Ju­ly.

The 17-year-old Port Rich­mond res­id­ent’s pro­ject was to re­move Ja­pan­ese knot­weed from Lor­imer Park in Mont­gomery County.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said, stand­ing in a hole in the ground where some of the in­vas­ive plant had been grow­ing.

He likened the plant to bam­boo. The roots grow well in­to the ground and re­mov­ing the plant “was labor-in­tens­ive,” he said.

New­man, who has been a Scout for nine years, needed lots of help and he got it — from his troop, No. 367 based at St. Chris­toph­er’s on Proc­tor Road, and from his 14-year-old sis­ter Haley’s Girl Scout Troop 91671 from St. Al­bert the Great in Hunt­ing­don Val­ley.

New­man’s mom, Geor­geann, the GSA troop lead­er, roun­ded out the fam­ily mem­bers on New­man’s pro­ject team. North­east res­id­ents Bill Gib­son Sr. and Joseph Pi­cozzi Sr. also helped, New­man said.

The knot­weed grew in a few areas of the county park in Abing­ton, said New­man. He used to live nearby in the North­east’s Pine Val­ley sec­tion and knew the park well, he said. He had no­ticed the 7-foot-high stands of knot­weed, did some re­search, talked to the park’s ranger, Scott Mor­gan, and pro­posed erad­ic­at­ing it from Lor­imer as his Eagle Scout pro­ject.

“It was something new, something I’m in­ter­ested in,” he said. “I’m al­ways in­ter­ested in eco­logy.”

The plant likes wa­ter, New­man said. The Pennypack flows through the park for a mile or so be­fore en­ter­ing Phil­adelphia.

Lor­imer’s knot­weed grew thickly in spots, New­man said.

“Are we go­ing to Vi­et­nam?” New­man said one of his friends joked when he got his first look. Knot­weed’s root sys­tem is in­vas­ive and can dam­age found­a­tions and pav­ing. It also crowds out oth­er plants and it sur­vives be­ing cut back. It has to be com­pletely pulled out of the ground, New­man said. And the plant, roots and all, must be des­troyed.

The plant has some pos­it­ive ele­ments, said Molly Finch, edu­ca­tion and out­reach as­sist­ant at the Tookany/Ta­cony Frank­ford-Wa­ter­shed Part­ner­ship.

It can re­duce some erosion and take up some wa­ter, she said. But, be­cause its root struc­tures are very deep, she said, Ja­pan­ese knot­weed doesn’t do the job nat­ive plants can do in tak­ing up wa­ter.

Finch said the weed can grow thickly and as high as 10 feet. With its creamy white flowers, it can be seen in many Phil­adelphia va­cant lots.

But, be­cause Ja­pan­ese knot­weed grows so read­ily at the ex­pense of oth­er plants around it, it re­duces an area’s suit­ab­il­ity as a wild­life hab­it­at.

Re­mov­ing Ja­pan­ese knot­weed is a be­ne­fit to the park, New­man said, be­cause it helps oth­er plant spe­cies sur­vive by elim­in­at­ing a threat to them.

Knot­weed is, in­deed, from Ja­pan, al­though it prob­ably came to the United States through Great Bri­tain, where it was mar­keted in the early 1800s as a new and unique plant, said Mar­ilyn Ro­me­nesko, a Pennsylvania Hor­ti­cul­tur­al So­ci­ety hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist.

It’s par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous to nat­ive Amer­ic­an spe­cies, she said. Nat­ive shrubs, per­en­ni­als, even grass can be over­taken, she said.

“It’s a threat as long as it’s around,” she said.

And it sticks around, Ro­me­nesko said in a phone in­ter­view April 11. If any of it sur­vives, it will have to be con­tinu­ally cut back, she said.

Yank­ing out knot­weed had its com­ic mo­ments last Ju­ly, said Geor­geann New­man, who su­per­vised her troop’s work on the side of a small slope.

“The girls would pull at the weed so hard they would fall over and roll down the hill,” she said.

Funny im­ages aside, re­mov­ing the weed was tough work, New­man said, “but we did not give up.”

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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