Invasive Plants at MacLeish Field Station

14 Jun

We recently built a connector trail from the Bechtel Living Building to the Fire Pavilion. Through the creation of this trail we encountered three prominent invasive species in the woods.

Photo showing the effects of bittersweet by Reid Bertone-Johnson.

Photo showing the effects of bittersweet by Reid Bertone-Johnson.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is a vine that is attacking the forest at MacLeish Field Station. Bittersweet was introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant from Asia in the 1860s. People loved bittersweet for its bright red berries that serve as a great winter decoration. The high numbers of berries contribute to both the vine’s success and destructive power. Animals spread the seeds, which have a very high germination rate, causing the vine to spread easily and grow quickly. In doing so, it shades out plants and occasionally uproots trees with its weight. Bittersweet is taking over entire sections of the forest at MacLeish and we are left wondering what the future will look like with this vine in the picture.

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

In 1866 multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) was introduced as a rootstock for ornamental rose grafts. In the 1930s the cultivation of multiflora rose was encouraged as a means of erosion control and a natural animal barrier for livestock. Since the land that makes up the Field Station was once farmland, it is not surprising to find large amounts of multiflora rose in forested areas that were previously cleared. Landowners were encouraged by state conservation departments to use it as a food source for songbirds as well as wildlife cover. This contributed to the plant’s broad dispersal. Due to its ability to produce numerous hardy seeds that are viable for up to twenty years and the difficulty of the plant’s removal, many states have classified multiflora rose as an invasive species.

Another invasive species we encountered was barberry (Berberis thunbergii), which is native to Japan and was introduced as an ornamental plant in 1875. In 1896, the plant was used as hedgerows and as a source for dyes and jams. This shrub ranges from 2 to 8 feet in height and is avoided by deer in preference of the native variety of barberry, which gives the Japanese variety an advantage for survival. Barberry was once considered an attractive and easy to grow addition to a garden but due to its propensity for reseeding and replacing native species on forest floors, it is a plant that should be removed from existing gardens and not included in new ones.

Our next blog will bring you up to date on our progress on the fruit orchard. We’ll be sure to include some pictures. Keep checking in!

Jen Rioux ’15 and Jo Harvey ‘AC

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