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Hedges of Greenwich Succumb as Weed Invades Hedge Fund Capital

Date: Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Author: Tom Moroney, Bloomberg

It isn’t just hedge funds troubling fund capital Greenwich, Connecticut. It’s hedges.

A fast-growing vine known as mile-a-minute weed, or the kudzu of the North, is stalking hedges, shrubs and trees in the town 27 miles (43 kilometers) north of New York City that is home to 60 fund companies. The plant advances as much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) a day and has a grip on National Audubon Society land and other patches, said Denise Savageau, Greenwich’s conservation director.

“Remember ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’” said Tom Baptist, executive director of Audubon Connecticut, who found the creeping interloper at the group’s Gimbel Sanctuary in 1996. “This has a similar science fiction feeling, but it’s the attack of an alien plant. It usually kills what it covers.”

That threatens millions of dollars of damage to Connecticut orchards, farms, gardens and landscaping, said Todd Mervosh, a state weed scientist and member of the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group. The state produced $14 million of apples, peaches and pears last year, and $3.8 million of Christmas trees in 2007, according to U.S. Agriculture Department data.

Mile-a-minute, scientific name Persicaria perfoliata, is native to eastern Asia and first showed up on the East Coast in the 1930s. The weed probably hitchhiked to Connecticut on a load of trees and shrubs trucked to Audubon’s land from Pennsylvania, Baptist said. Birds also spread the vine, by ingesting its blue berries.

Resistant to Purge

Spraying, mowing and hand-pulling the weed isn’t deterring its march across Audubon’s property. The original infestation of one acre has spread to five. In two years, the number of Connecticut towns hosting the vine has increased to 15 from five, adding new urgency, said Donna Ellis of the plant science department at the University of Connecticut.

In residential yards, the vine “uses hedges as a support system and takes a few years before it will kill them,” said Savageau, who has worked with Greenwich homeowners fighting the encroaching weed.

“This thing will just totally grow over everything,” she said. “One woman called and said it was like Velcro. It stuck to everything.”

Wearing gloves is recommended when pulling the weed. Hidden among its triangular leaves are barbs that can cut flesh, giving rise to other nicknames: Asiatic or devil’s-tail tearthumb.

Fund companies occupy 80 percent of the commercial property in Greenwich, according to real-estate broker CB Richard Ellis, citing 2008 data. Hedge funds worldwide fell 11.36 percent in the 12 months through May, according to Hedge Fund Research Inc. in Chicago.

Calling on Weevils

On the hedge front, state experts are planning their most aggressive assault yet. Early next month, they will release 3,000 vine-eating weevils in Greenwich, Newtown and North Haven. The insect larvae bore in the stem and kill the plant, said the University of Connecticut’s Ellis, co-chairman of the state’s invasive plant working group.

The weevils have been used with success in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, she said.

“We need to fight and fight hard,” Ellis said. “This is the enemy of the year.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Moroney at tmorrone@bloomberg.net