Over a three-year fight, she spent $150,000, mainly to attack the plant with herbicide. Volunteers supplemented the spraying, on their hands and knees in the forest, pulling plants out by the root with blistered hands.

But last year, even Kyde had to concede that the plant had won. She grudgingly waved the white flag.

"It's very disheartening," she says. "You spend a lot of time and energy and effort, and you keep losing. It beats you.

"It's going to escape. On my watch. I feel responsible for that. Though I'm not, obviously."

In addition to the mother lode in Patapsco Valley State Park and Liberty Reservoir, wavyleaf basketgrass has been spotted in Soldiers Delight in Baltimore County, Middle Patuxent Environmental Area in Clarksville, Little Paint Branch Park and Greenbelt Park in Prince George's. It has crossed the state line, too, into Washington's Rock Creek Park and Virginia's Shenandoah National Park and Great Falls Park.

Those are just the government-owned sites. The plant has also spread through hundreds of acres of private land.

Though Delaware and Pennsylvania consider themselves safe so far, officials are on the lookout.

Before the emergence of wavyleaf basketgrass, the plant atop environmentalists' "most wanted" list, the biggest threat to forests, was Japanese stilt grass.

Another infiltrator from Asia, Japanese stilt grass crept into the United States 100 years ago, a seed or two hiding in a container of Japanese porcelain. The infestation began in Tennessee, but it has spread to every state east of the Mississippi, where in as little as three years after its arrival, it can completely overtake native vegetation, change the soil makeup and leave the habitat in upheaval.

Wavyleaf basketgrass will be worse, experts fear.

"We realized this species is the worst, most damaging non-native plant in the eastern United States," says Imlay, who recently came out of retirement to become a ranger for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, where he's charged with fighting invasive species in Prince George's County. "You go out in the field, and you see it increasing each year. Where it spreads there's no other plants. It's just so dramatic. It's just so obvious."

Experts say it's only a matter of time before it finds a way to the mountains, the Piedmont and the coastal plains.

And it will prosper in all of these locations because it's not only hardy, sticky and fast-growing — it's vampire-esque.

Unlike most plants that require light to exist, wavyleaf basketgrass thrives in the dark. Sunlight, in fact, repels it. In the thick of a forest, that's bad news.

"Normally, as a forest grows up and closes in, a lot of invasive species will eventually just die out," Beauchamp says. "But something like this is not going anywhere."

Though Kyde has said the grass beat her in Maryland, that's mainly because her arsenal had been depleted. With more money, she's pretty sure she could ultimately win.

"I need between one [million] and two million dollars and five to 10 years," she says. "And we could wipe it out. It's really a pittance when you think about."

But it's a pittance that she's been unable to get, despite repeated appeals to politicians, foundations — everyone she, Imlay and others have tried.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture used to fund a program for fighting invasive species. But that money dried up as the agency shifted its focus to food safety and security. Foundations still offer grants, but the competition for money is fierce.

"We tried," Imlay says. "Senators and representatives and everyone says it's just not in the budget. It's very frustrating.

"I think at the next National Governors Association meeting, all the governors of all the states should get together and tell Governor [Martin] O'Malley [president of the group], 'Keep this out of our states.' You can quote me on that."

Imlay continues to pull plants when he sees them. Kyde posts warning signs at state parks that hikers and others mainly ignore. This weekend, Beauchamp planned an experiment to verify that hikers with dogs were indeed making matters worse — she put out a call for folks to bring their dogs to Patapsco Valley State Park to run them through the grass on purpose, for science.

The poster pup for those notices? Schnitzlein's seed-covered husky, Sophie, whom the professor photographed the other day.

If nothing else, she hopes those pet owners will learn to recognize the grass and steer clear of it in the future.

Kyde, though, is still hoping money will somehow come through.

"People are so worried about their jobs. What's happening in their forests is not at the front of their mind — I understand that," she says. "But if we all are a little more aware of the potential long-term repercussions of our horticulture choices, we can go a long way to protecting what has been here, what is supposed to be here and what was here a long time before people were here."


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