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Utility Sprays Right-of-Way and Nearly Kills Centuries-Old Grape Vine

(Beyond Pesticides, August 5, 2010) A 400-year old large old grape vine considered to be the nation’s oldest in Manteo, North Carolina and known lovingly as “Mother Vine,” is slowly recovering from a powerful dose of herbicide sprayed by a utility company. The Virginia-based Dominion Power Company contracted Lewis Tree Service to spray power poles along the roads in the Manteo in May. The herbicide they used, Garlon3A, was accidentally sprayed on a tiny shoot from the vine that had grown a few feet up a pole on 84-year old Jack Wilson’s property. Unaware of the recent herbicide spraying by the utility power company, he noticed various brown, dead sections that began to appear in the plant in May. Not only did the vine suffer, but about 10 feet of a nearby hedge died, along with three limbs of a large pecan tree that had to be trimmed.

Source: LA Times

Source: LA Times

The active ingredient in Garlon 3A, a Dow Chemical product, is triclopyr. It is a systemic herbicide which means that the poison spreads from the ends of the vine back toward the root. As a broadleaf weed killer, triclopyr is frequently used along rights-of-way and on industrial sites. In laboratory tests, triclopyr causes a significant increase in the incidents of breast cancer and genetic damage in rat embryos, and studies also link the pesticide to kidney and reproductive problems. The brush with danger from the herbicide means that local residents won’t be eating or making jelly from the amber grapes of the vine.

Mr. Wilson said he was never contacted by representatives of Dominion Power, who expressed their apologies after hearing about the vine. Senior vice president Dan Oberlies said the worker responsible for the mistake was retrained in spraying procedures and in getting permission from property owners. Dominion Power also called Lloyd Hipkins, a Virginia Tech weed specialist to offer his prognosis, which after looking at vine, was to water, prune, and fertilize.

Mr. Wilson and his family have been living on the island for 11 generations and they have cared for the vine since 1957. Mr. Wilson became increasingly concerned as he found himself cutting back the dead portions day after day, so he called the North Carolina State Department of Agriculture, who sent North Carolina’s finest viticulture arborist to help out with the vine. Together, they administered rapid-release nitrogen fertilizers, watered the vine every few days, and thinned the canopy to let the sun in to stimulate new growth away from the damaged area.

The Mother Vine has become a symbol for North Carolina, where the official state toast praises a land “where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night.” Thousands of cuttings from the vine have helped sustain North Carolina’s growing wine industry. The vine’s gnarly trunk measures two feet thick, and its green canopy, supported by posts and arbors extends 32 feet wide and 120 feet long. It was first spotted by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe in 1584 their American expedition, sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh. The vine was probably planted by Croatian Indians, but almost definitely helped sustain the early settlers of the Lost Colony. Though the settlers on Roanoke Island perished, this Mother Vine has survived storms, bugs, mildew, and suburbanization to provide scuppernong grapes and cuttings to local residents and visitors alike for over 400 years.

Each year, millions of miles of roads, utility lines, railroad corridors and other types of rights-of-way are treated with herbicides to control the growth of unwanted plants. Unfortunately, drift from the application of these herbicides can negatively affect organic farmers and chemically sensitive residents. In North Carolina, utility companies reached a private agreement with landowners regarding management of their 75,000 miles of rights-of-way. The final agreement requires utilities to include inserts about their herbicide use in customer bills with information on chemical names and application methods. State residents are also given the right to refuse herbicide use on their property and people can post their property with no spraying signs provided by the utilities.

To learn more about how states can and have handled rights-of-way management, read Beyond Pesticides article “The Right Way To Vegetation Management.”

Source: LA Times


One Response to “Utility Sprays Right-of-Way and Nearly Kills Centuries-Old Grape Vine”

  1. 1
    Gladys Says:

    I hope the grape vine survives-It is sad how chemicals are used with no regard to people,animals,trees,plants-These deadly chemicals need to be banned for good-Thanks for the great info

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