Cheers for our Volunteers!

The Task Force held several events to mark National Invasive Species Awareness Week that did just that: raising public awareness of the consequences to our park system of dense invasions of invasive herbaceous plants, vines, shrubs, and trees.  The perpetually green carpets and tree-topping masses of wintercreeper and English Ivy and the pale green early leaf-out of Amur Honeysuckle in the understory dramatically display the harm done by these invaders that out-compete diverse native plant species.

Tree Stewards on Belle Isle, James River Association on Chapel Island, and Riverine Va. Master Naturalists at Pony Pasture led volunteer efforts on several days following a Saturday kick-off event at Pony Pasture that featured guided walks and removal demonstrations, the most popular of which by far was by RVA Goats. In areas overrun by monosystems of invasives where risk to native plant communities is little to none, goats are an excellent first phase of invasive management. 

We focused our efforts on “Free A Tree” projects: severing vines at the base of trees and pulling up the deep roots immediately around them.

Trees overwhelmed by invasive vines are robbed of water and nutrients, struggle to photosynthesize as they should, and are weighed down by thick, hanging vines that can completely conceal a tree’s own branches.

We wrapped up our NISAW events last Friday at Pony Pasture where we got a surprise work crew:  St. Christopher’s and St. Catherine’s students from biology and environmental science classes whose enthusiastic efforts helped us cap the week with significant progress (and laughs at their hijinks: mature native grape vines always make great swings!).   We learned that their teachers, Dr. Austin Sutten and Mr. Billy McGuire, include education about invasive species in their curriculum and value the opportunity to match class instruction with hands-on field work.  The JRPS is an ideal 600 acre outdoor classroom for incorporating invasive/native plant ecology into the foundation of science education.

Many thanks to all the volunteers who helped out during NISAW and we hope to see you in the park again soon!





Written by Meg Turner

Invasive plants can wreak havoc in your garden, and can also do damage in your  neighbors’ yards and beyond, aggressively spreading  by runners and by seed disbursal through air or  wildlife.  As the James River Park System Invasive Plant Task Force works to eradicate invasive species from the James River Park System, you can take these 5 steps to eradicate invasive plants in your own yard, creating a garden that is more beautiful and  that provides pollen, nectar, food and shelter for wildlife.

  1. Do no harm.  When planting your garden, refer to the list of the most threatening invasive plant species in Virginia, and do not purchase or plant those plants. The list can be found on the Virginia Department of Conservation Resources website.
  2. Remove any invasive plants living in your garden. Some of the most frequent invaders in Virginia home gardens are privet, Japanese honeysuckle, Japanese wisteria, garlic mustard, ground ivy and English ivy.  When removing invasive plants, it is important to remove the entire plant, and, when possible, to remove the plant before it flowers or sets seed. For more information on removal techniques, visit this website.
  3. Plant native trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, ferns and groundcovers in the places where you remove invasives. Invasive plants love a vacuum, and will fill it, so plant soon after invasive removal.  Many nurseries now identify plants that are native, and some even have native plant sections.  Planting natives in conditions where they will thrive will add a natural beauty to your landscape, help inhibit invasive plant growth, and increase wildlife habitat.
  4. Remove English ivy growing in trees. If English ivy is left to grow into a tree’s canopy, it can eventually kill the tree. To save the tree, first use garden clippers to cut the vines around the base of the tree.  If the vines are too thick to cut with clippers, you may need to use a saw, being careful not to harm the trunk.  Leave the severed vines on the trunk, as removing them may harm the tree’s bark. Second, manually remove any ivy growing on the ground within two feet of the tree. This is easiest to do when the ground is moist. Periodically check your trees, and remove any ivy that reappears.
  5. Spread the word! Ask your local nursery to stop selling plants that are on the DCR’s invasive plant list (bring a copy of the list to share with them).  Host a neighborhood invasives workday, educating the neighbors about the dangers of invasive plants.  Check the JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force schedule for volunteer opportunities to remove invasives in our beloved James River Park System.



Free a Tree!

Free a Tree!

Written by Madge Bemiss

English ivy (Hedera Helix) is an aggressive garden ground cover, but when allowed to grow vertically, its thick evergreen vines will actually choke and strangle trees. As ivy climbs in search of increased light, it engulfs and kills branches by blocking light from reaching the host tree’s leaves. Branch die back proceeds from lower to upper branches, often leaving the tree with just a small green “broccoli head.” The host tree eventually succumbs entirely from this insidious and steady weakening. In addition, the added weight of the vines makes infested trees much more susceptible to blow-over during high rain and wind events and heavy snowfalls.  (Read more at )

As a ground cover English ivy is not as big of an invasive threat because these plants stay in a juvenile phase and do not flower or set seed. Only plants growing vertically mature to flower and set seeds that  are eaten by birds and spread to distant locations. Cutting down vines will save a tree, and prevent the potential spread of this invasive species.

In the James River Park System, English ivy and poison ivy often grow together. When cutting vines from trees, it’s important to be able to identify the roots – especially for winter work.  Poison Ivy vines are just as toxic as the leaves — a hazard year-round.


Learn How to Remove English Ivy

“Take Ivy Off Trees” – 

“Remove Large Expanses of Ivy from the Ground” – 

Join us in the Park!

If you would like to free some trees in the James River Park this winter, please sign up for one of our workdays at

Focus Areas in JRPS for Invasive Removal

Written by Amber Ellis

With over 75% of the James River Park Systems covered in invasive species, it would be overwhelming for the JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force to take on the whole park at once. As a group, it was decided to focus on 4 focus areas to start with.

hollywood-rapids-afterBelle Isle: Did you know Belle Isle is over 57 acres! This is one of the most visited and well known sections of JRPS. During the invasive plant survey a total of 26 invasive species were found. Of those, 6 are highly invasive. The Richmond Tree Stewards have been the lead organization for this area and lead weekly removals on Thursday mornings from 9am-Noon. Next time you’re out wandering the trails, see if you can notice where they’ve been working and keep an eye out for their educational signs.


Chapel Island: Many people haven’t visited this section of JRPS, but it is a real gem and quite different from other parts of the park in that it lies below the fall line. During the invasive plant survey a total of 18 invasive species were found. Of those, 8 are highly invasive. The James River Association has been the lead organization for this area and starting this year will be leading  invasive removal days every fourth Monday from 1-3pm. Their main focus thus far has been on the eastern part of the island. As you wander the island see if you can notice a difference in how the eastern side differs from the western side of Chapel Island.

armloads of wintercreeper

Pony Pasture:  Most people have visited Pony Pasture and enjoyed sunning on the rocks, but you may not have noticed what plant life surrounded you. This over 95 acre area of the park has 21 invasive plant species that were identified during the invasive plant survey. Of those, 11 are highly invasive. The Riverine Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturlalists are the lead organization for Pony Pasture and lead regular removals there. Their main focus has been the area to the left of the kiosk at the parking lot. Keep an eye on their progress and tell them thank you if you see them working!


Reedy Creek: The JRPS Headquarters is within this 45 acre section of JRPS. A total of 23 invasive species were found during the invasive plant survey. Of those, 11 are highly invasive. The Friends of James River Park System are the lead organization for this section. Their focus area has been just east of the Nature Center along the access road. They started with a herd of goats that made a huge dent in the English Ivy there and made it easier for volunteers to come in afterwards and clip the roots off the trees.

If you want to become involved, please visit the JRPS Calendar for dates and registration.

Faces of the Task Force: Richmond Tree Stewards

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

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.

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.”




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,

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.