Faces of the Task Force: Richmond Tree Stewards

Today’s post written by Laura Greenleaf, Virginia Master Naturalist

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Catherine Farmer and canine companion add perspective to ivy removal.

Before there was a Task Force, Richmond Tree Stewards had launched on Belle Isle what would become a feature project of the invasive management and habitat restoration initiative.   In 2014, just a year after completing the rigorous Tree Steward training program, Catherine Farmer proposed a Tree Walk on the popular downtown park destination. The exploratory process that fall of identifying and labeling trees led to a reckoning when fellow Steward Suzette Lyon pointed out that with autumn leaves on the ground, everything still green was invasive.

A Tree Walk clearly fell within the Stewards core mission, but what about invasive species removal?  The volunteer service organization recognized the clear threat invasive trees and other plants posed to the survival of diverse native tree species and green-lighted Farmer’s proposal with the understanding that getting results depended on targeted work, not tackling the entire island.   She led the first invasive removal event in January 2015, one month before Tree Stewards met with Riverine Virginia Master Naturalists to discuss forming the Invasive Task Force.

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Richmond Tree Stewards president Louise Seals prepares to plant.

Corporate and nonprofit grants, lots of volunteers, and support from park system staff, the city’s Department of Urban Foailianthus_rockfacewrestry, and True Timber have made possible dramatic improvements along Belle Isle’s perimeter trail.  Richmond Tree Stewards lead projects every Thursday morning and Farmer typically is on the island several times a week.  Tree Stewards pioneered the crucial restoration phase of invasive management, planting regionally native understory trees and shrubs suitable to Belle Isle’s habitat such as Strawberry Bush, Eldeberry, and Button Bush to replace the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus), privet and other invasives that have become dominant.   When asked what motivates her to continue this work that never ends Catherine Farmer replied, “We see progress all over the island and that keeps us going . . . every tree I free from invasive vines or prune to encourage healthy growth rewards me. That’s the payback.”

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Alien Invaders in JRPS!

Alien Invaders in JRPS!

Written by Catharine Tucker and Emily Gianfortoni

Attention James River Park visitors! We have a problem with alien invaders, not from outer space, but from other parts of our planet. They are wreaking havoc in our park, and that is why we are “outing” them during National Invasive Species Awareness Week (February 27-March 5) and with our kickoff at Pony Pasture on Saturday, February 25th.

 

What are Invasive Species?

Species of plants that arrived here from somewhere other than Virginia, either from another region or another continent, may become invasive. They often arrived here as hitchhikers on imported material or because someone thought they’d be attractive and easy to grow in yards or gardens.

 

Unfortunately, these particular species of plants have the ability to grow rapidly in almost any location, reproduce readily, and are able to quickly spread over sites disturbed by human activities. In addition, they have none of the natural enemies that would have kept them in check in their home territories. 

 

What’s the problem with Invasive Species? 

Rampant growth, especially of invasive vines, can smother the ground, preventing growth of native wildflowers like bluebells. They climb over shrubs and trees, sometimes creating enough weight to break limbs and tops.  Shrubs like bush honeysuckles and autumn olive shade out spring and summer wildflowers. While birds may eat some fruits, and some animals may forage among them, the food value of invasives compared to that of native plants is often poor. In addition, birds and other wildlife can distribute seeds of invasive plants in their poop, aiding their spread.

 

In many areas of James River Park, Wintercreeper or Creeping Euonymus and English Ivy form dense mats on the ground and huge clumps in the trees. These are especially visible in the Pony Pasture area. Other invasive plants including Privet, Periwinkle, Oriental Bittersweet, Bush Honeysuckles and Japanese Honeysuckle have proliferated throughout the Park.

 

These Invasive plants compete directly with native species for moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space.  Overall plant diversity is decreased. This results in loss of food and habitat for our native birds, insects and animals. 

Where can I learn more about Invasive Species? 

For more information about invasive plants in Virginia, including news, invasive species lists, and fact sheets see the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Heritage Division, http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/invsppdflist.shtml

Conservation Grant from the Richmond Audubon Society

Richmond Audubon SocietySpecial thanks to the Richmond Audubon Society, who is providing a $500 conservation grant to support the purchase and planting of native plants for Pony Pasture in the James River Park System.

These native plants will replace invasive species that have been removed and will benefit bird species by providing much needed food and cover. We are grateful to the RAS for helping in our efforts to keep our community green and healthy for the wildlife and citizens of RVA.

For more information about the Richmond Audubon Society, visit their website.

80 new trees, shrubs, and grasses

80 new trees, shrubs, and grasses

On December 14th, the Riverine chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists, the James River Association, and the James River Park System collaborated on a restoration planting. A great group of community volunteers joined in the fun. 

“Many hands make light work” goes the old adage and enthusiastic volunteers proved  it when they quickly planted 80 native grasses, shrubs, and trees near the river at the Pony Pasture entrance.  We finished planting so early that we had time to continue removing the invasive Wintercreeper that previously engulfed this area.

So just how much wintercreeper came out of there? Approximately 2,500 pounds of leaves, vines, and roots (Thank you to JRPS Volunteer Coordinator Matt Mason for carting off all 46 bags and weighing the last big batch).

What species of native plants were planted? All plants selected naturally occur in our region (eastern Piedmont) and are well suited to riparian areas.

TREES                                                                                                               Chionanthus virginicus Fringe Tree                                                                         Magnolia virginiana  Sweetbay Magnolia

SHRUBS                                                                                                                 Callicarpa americana Beautyberry                                                                               Sambucus canadensis Elderberry                                                                                 Vaccinium corymobosum High Bush Blueberry                                                    Viburnum dentatum Southern Arrowwood                                                                Clethra alnifolia Sweetpepper Bush                                                                            Euonymous americanus Strawberry Bush or Hearts a’ Bustin’

 GRASSES                                                                                                        Chasmanthium latifolium River Oats or Inland Sea Oats                                        Elymus hystix Bottlebrush Grass

What are the sources of the native plants?  The trees came from Glen Allen Nursery while all shrubs and grasses got their start at  Garden Gate Landscape.

What comes next? Ongoing monitoring and invasive removal and hopefully a second planting of native ground cover plants in focus areas for early spring 2017.

Who’s this? Our Pony Pasture resident hawk (juvenile Red-Shouldered is consensus so far) who has kept a close watch on all the work and was present throughout the planting.

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photo by volunteer Eileen DeCamp

Wintercreeper on the Run at Pony Pasture entrance

Wintercreeper on the Run at Pony Pasture entrance

If you’re visiting the Pony Pasture section of the park system this fall and winter, keep an eye out for our work underway near the entrance (to your left as you approach the rapids).

The Riverine chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists (a founding and lead member of the JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force) has “adopted” Pony Pasture/Wetlands as the Task Force’s newest priority project.  Riverines took the lead on surveying the six management units within this 95 acre section of the park system in the summer of 2015 and know well each and every one of the 21 invasive plants thriving in the Pony Pasture/Wetlands section. 

Where to begin? At the beginning.  We’ve been preparing a small area just west of the kiosk for restoration planting of native trees, shrubs, and grasses.  Over the course of four three-hour workdays since early November,  small groups of volunteers have pulled up hundreds of pounds of the dominant invasive, Wintercreeper, which overtaken this area as well as much of the rest of Pony Pasture. You will also recognize it as the vine blanketing Huguenot Flatwater.

Wintercreeper isn’t the only invasive plant in this small area. There are also Amur Honeysuckle and Chinese Privet (shrubs), Loriope (grass),  Garlic Mustard (biennial herbaceous) and Beefsteak Plant (annual herbaceous).   But fall/winter is the optimal time for pulling vines; chilly weather is perfect for the vigorous work, areas are more accessible, native herbaceous plants are dormant and less likely to become casualties, and invasives are easily identified (excluding American Holly, pines, and Eastern Red Cedar, the only green you see in the park in winter is the bad kind!)

Want to help out?  Check out our calendar for workday opportunities.

5 hours + 5 Volunteers = 13 bags of wintercreeper

5 hours + 5 Volunteers = 13 bags of wintercreeper

In just a couple of days we’ve managed to free up a sizable area from wintercreeper (and loriope!) encroachment and the cleared space will be a focal point for our soon-to-be-scheduled early December shrub planting.

wintercreeper leavesSevere infestations like this one tend to be “monosystems”. That is, there isn’t much risk to native plants during invasive removal because so few have managed to endure.  Yet we always use caution and this Wednesday we managed to rescue a few Paw Paw and Hickory seedlings from the dense vines. As we continue to work in this area we’ll be watching out for the native bleeding heart and Virginia bluebells that volunteers have planted in the past.

Is it discouraging to heave thirteen heavy bags of vines with aching arms and have perhaps just a 15 x 20 foot area to show for it?  It can be.  But our goal is not to eradicate every invasive from every square inch of the park system.  Our goal is to tip the balance and, come spring, we’ll have retaken a significant oasis with native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants needed to host diverse populations of native insects, birds, and other wildlife.  As we expand healthy habitat in all sections of the park system we’ll be creating an urban wildlife corridor.

Keep an eye on our calendar for workdays and our December planting!