TWU researchers tackle BC’s expensive knotweed problem

TWU summer knotweed research group at one of their study sites in Clayton Heights Duck Pond, July 2020.

One of the worst invasive plant species in BC, knotweed can cause serious damage to buildings and infrastructure by penetrating concrete, asphalt and home foundations. This summer, Trinity Western University scientists, conducting home-based research during COVID-19, are finding potential ways to control knotweed. 

Knotweed is a massively costly problem internationally and in BC

The UK spends an estimated $3 billion dollars annually to control knotweed, according to a report by the Invasive Species Council of BC. The invasive plant is known to significantly reduce property value in Canada.

The Fraser Valley Invasive Species Society spends more on controlling knotweed than on any other weed.

The City of Richmond has an Invasive Species Action Plan to tackle the problem, and the Township of Langley is working to eradicate the invasive species from roads and parks.

Fighting Bohemian Knotweed during COVID-19

This summer, six Trinity Western University researchers are joining the effort to fight knotweed species – through scientific research from their home labs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are figuring out what are the hot zones, along the river, that are most likely to be invaded,” says Maria Goncharova (BSc Biology), who has set up a home lab since classes moved online.

Virginia Oeggerli (BSc Biology), who is investigating knotweed from the germination stage, has discovered that the seedlings don’t grow well in shade. This has key implications for weed control. 

“Restoring river areas with large native trees or bushes that provide a lot of shade could be a way to help prevent an area from being vulnerable to invasion by knotweed,” says Oeggerli.

Knotweed seedlings cultivated by Maria Goncharova.

How to conduct experiments during COVID-19

The team at Trinity Western University are among many scientists around the world who are quickly adapting to the limitations of working during COVID-19 quarantine restrictions.

“We are lucky to be doing plant research,” says Hannah Merritt (BSc in Biology and Chemistry; BEd in High School Education). “I have to take many observations throughout the day. It’s nice to be able to have [my lab] in my backyard.”

“It’s been a little bit challenging,” Oeggerli admits. She was working on her thesis when classes moved online. “The greenhouses were outside, and with the proper [health] precautions, I was able to go in,” she reports.

Oeggerli successfully finished her knotweed research project this month, and is looking to publish her paper in a scientific journal. 

“Being a researcher teaches you such great skills, like problem-solving and critical thinking,” says Oeggerli.

The Trinity Western summer knotweed research group is led by Dr. David Clements, TWU Professor of Biology and Co-Chair of the Department of Geography and Environment. Team members are Trinity Western students: Delia Anderson, Jessica Brouwer, Maria Goncharova, Vanessa Jones, Hannah Merritt and Virginia Oeggerli. Their work has received funding from NSERC, the Weed Science Society of America and a Trinity Western summer award.

Key findings for Bohemian Knotweed control:

  • Smaller patches of Bohemian Knotweed seedlings don’t grow well in shade.
  • Planting taller native plants that provide shade could be a way to help prevent knotweed spread.

See how researcher Maria Goncharova conducts knotweed research from home during COVID-19 in the below video:

See also their story highlighted in The Langley Advance.


About Trinity Western University

Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to find and fulfill their purpose in life. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has five campuses: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, Ottawa, and Bellingham, WA. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vibrant faith community devoted to supporting vibrant leaders seeking to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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