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.
A cultivated landscaping escapee, Wintercreeper (or Euonymous fortunei ) is a vine that climbs trees and covers the ground as its root systems rapidly colonize the soil. It behaves a lot like English Ivy, but most experienced invasive plant warriors agree its roots are more tenacious and harder to remove. It’s also big a threat to the native Virginia Bluebells planted by Friends of James River Park and other volunteers several years ago.
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.
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.
Severe 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!
Old-style heavy leather work gloves are best for this work because of the thorns in the greenbrier. Check the calendar for workdays!
Photo by Tree Steward Carol Ridderhof
Views of Hollywood Rapids on the north side of Belle Isle are often obscured by aggressive vines. Tree Stewards – and eager volunteers – are working to improve the view by removing the vines.
Photo by Tree Steward Carol Ridderhof
A year ago, this rock face at the western end of Belle Isle was hidden in a forest of mature ailanthus and other invasive species. On Thursday, this native dogwood greeted Tree Stewards who organized planting it and more than two dozen other trees there in October. It has a long way to go, and so do our habitat restoration activities, but what a thrill to see it thriving now!