The hooting began around 5:30 this evening and continued at regular intervals for about 20 minutes. The weather was for the first time in recent memory, much warmer (in the 40s) and sunny. The sunset made a nice glow on the forest.

a fleeting warm glow from the setting sun
A fleeting warm glow from the setting sun

Today the volunteer staff of the Sanguine Root focused on removing vines growing on small trees in an especially hard-hit area.  We encountered a variety of situations and species.  The biggest success story is a mature Dogwood tree (Cornus Florida) that had grape vines  all over it last Spring, hanging so heavily, the tree was in danger of collapse.  In June of 2010, the vines were clipped. Today, those vines were removed from the tree, leaving it with a great form and intact integrity.  Hopefully it will flower this upcoming spring.

The Grape vines had claimed another Dogwood however. This one had all of its main branches broken.  The vines were removed and  the broken branches pruned off.  There is hope because new shoots were coming up from the stump-like top of the tree.

As much as we love the native grape vines, they are a woodland edge species, that grow in areas with a decent amount of sun, like river banks, and the edges of forests. In the blighted areas of Morris Park, the woodland edge species have an advantage when there are so many trees missing from the equation. With this advantage, they can become aggressive and destructive, perpetuating a situation of canopy holes, which benefits the vines further.

Woodland pioneer Sassafrass overtaken with Grape Vines.  Morris Park Philadelphia
Woodland Pioneer Sassafrass overtaken by grape vines. Morris Park Philadelphia

With the issue of grape vines, we must ask ourselves, what do we want?  If we want a forest, then the vines need to be controlled and monitored, so that trees can grow from saplings to maturity.

Being that our section of Morris Park is a Fairmount Park woodland area, it is our mandate to maintain this status.

Whether or not the grape vines that are growing here are even native has not been determined to our knowledge.

The Sassafrass tree to the left was in danger of having all of its main branches broken.  However, this afternoon, the vines have been removed, and the tree should be good to go. This specific specimen had a great well rounded sassafrass form, and it contributes to the health and well-being of this forest under stress.

Isabelle rescued this small tree from the invasive exotic Multiflora Rose
Isabelle rescued this small tree from the invasive exotic Multiflora Rose

This one we have not yet been able to identify.  It may be a crabapple. The Rosa multiflora and the Lonicera japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle) were having the run of the place until they met Isabelle Dijols (Homo sapiens sapiens).  After the vines have been removed, this tree now has a chance of survival.  We will revisit this specimen, identify it and rephotograph it in the spring. Look forward to updates on this specific tree. ( note the iconic pair of Tulip Poplars in the backround (Liriodendron tulipifera).

In just a few hours time, many trees and shrubs were de-vined.  A fine specimen of Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) was de-vined and there were numerous Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) that were over-run with Lonicera japonica . Also notably, was Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra).  The hickories fare the best when covered with vines, although they can still be broken and severely compromised . Even the tree that is used for hammer, axe and mattock handles can be brought down by invasive vines.

Burning bush roots(Euonymus alatus)  Morris Park Philadelphia
Burning Bush roots Morris Park Philadelphia (Euonymus alatus)

The Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) was pervasive in this area, and we pulled them up.  The shallow root system and the loose soil makes this possible. With this plant, we always make sure we get every part of it out of the soil, otherwise it will regrow. Removing it from the soil requires lots of gentle tugs and back and forth movements. Eventually we can actually pull up on the stem and get the whole plant out, leaving no roots behind. The best time to do this is when the soil is wet and loose, like it was today.

Once removed, we try to put the soil back the way it was and put the leaf layer back on top. Soil is to be disturbed as little as possible. The best work is the work unnoticed, as if there was never a problem in the first place. Disturbed soil can lead to all kinds of problems.  Invasive plants can get a better foothold in disturbed soil, from seed germination to encroachment from roots.

Last night the fog rolled in and the forest was enchanting
Last night the fog rolled in and the forest of Morris Park was enchanting

It was a quiet and peaceful day in Morris Park.  One of our pruners lost a spring and 15 minutes was spent looking for it with no success. One specimen of Japanese Barberry was found with some alarm. Many small trees and shrubs have been readied for the spring.

The last photo here was taken last night as a gentle fog rolled into the area.  Fog is a welcome sight in the beginning of February. A subtle reminder of spring that is only less than 50 days away.



A calm and rainy saturday morning. Droplets adorn this spicebush in the area of concern

This widespread and problematic invasive (Berberis thunbergii) was found at 2:30 pm Saturday, in an area of Morris Park that had not been previously associated with this plant. Complicating the situation was the fact that there were still seed-bearing berries on the stem.  At any moment these berries could have been released into the wild, further propagating the species and infesting forests in the region.  Each berry was potentially a moment away from a hungry bird eating it and depositing the seeds in a new location where they could form an infestation, crowding out native understory plants, and threatening the very ecosystem that sustains the bird’s longterm survival.

The Japanese Barberry specimen with berries

Containment commenced immediately. Plastic bags were pressed into service, and all parts of the plants containing berries were enclosed and removed from the site. Parts of the specimen without  seeds were saved for further study, being that this plant is not a common invasive in this area of Morris Park .

An assessment of the immediate area was the logical next step, and sure enough, several other specimens of Japanese Barberry were found and  contained within the next hour.

Japanese Barberry root
Japanese Barberry root

This was a difficult situation for Sean Solomon, while disturbed at these latest findings, was pleased by the manner and efficiency of the response. He was the one volunteer to discover the plant. Asked about his reactions, Mr Solomon said ” I’m not surprised about it, but then again I didn’t think it would be in this specific area. Thats the upsetting part.  I’m just glad we got it.  For now its being dealt with in a responsible manner…. There’s alot of woods in this area that don’t have Japanese Barberry infestations, and if we find it we have to deal with it.”

Mr Solomon’s childhood home in Massachusetts had Japanese Barberry infestations throughout its forested areas, so this finding was especially difficult for him.  ” I never knew what it was before, except it was everywhere and it was unpleasant.”

Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park staff identified a specimen of Japanese Barberry on the Morris Park Road path, long since removed , as a problem invasive, and it made sense after that.  “Thats it!” Mr Solomon  said  ” I checked it out online, and looked it up in The Plants Of Pennsylvania, and it was true, this plant does not belong in our forests, it is a widespread pest.”

The Japanese Barberry was found during a routine management exercise of another widespread invasive shrub Burning Bush (Euonymous alatus) . What started out as an uneventful, rainy afternoon, controlling a known problematic invasive ended up with a startling but not altogether unexpected finding.  While not a widespread invasive in Morris Park, Japanese Barberry is considered a widespread invasive by the New Jersey Emerging Invasive Strike Team.  This organization has classified the priority of concern of this plant  as a lower priority than removing exotic species that have the potential of becoming widespread.

Burning bush infestation

This is a theme that penetrates the field of environmental restoration, from Oregon to England as far as we know:  When addressing environmental concerns, we must choose our battles, as resources permit; first we fight the battles we have the best chance of winning.  The highest priority is to protect the most untouched and un-intruded natural areas.  The intervention and restoration of infested and degraded areas follows, in order of our chances of success.

Invasive exotic burning bush, close-up of stem

The Eunymous alatus has become a widespread invasive in our area of concern in Morris Park. Note the corky wings along the stems.  We have been removing this understory bush for three years.

Removing Invasives in Deep Snow

The bones of the forest in the winter landscape

Now is a great time to get outside and tromp through the deep snow and remove Multi-flora Rose.  The snow is starting to lose its charm. We have been finding more and more native trees and shrubs in Morris Park  that have broken and split under the weight of the snow.

Its an ongoing inventory of destruction. A whole plant splits at the trunk. What to do? Prune it?

Do nothing is the conclusion and here is why:  The bark remains intact, and there is a whole network of buds ready to go to leaf and photosynthesize in the coming season. Even with the split trunk, the plant will still go to leaf and subsist. The energy created by this process will help the plant rebuild its structure. Once this process has been established and new growth commences as the season progresses, the plant will abandon the damaged section, which will die and rot off eventually.  We examined many spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) today and could read the history of each plant by looking at the branches.

Every specimen tells its own story, and when analyzed as a group, simple conclusions can be ascertained: Branches of this shrub are being split every winter.  These branches continue to live, but only for one season.  They then die, and turn red. The plant sends up robust new shoots. Eventually the dead branch falls off, and the trunk heals the scar. Sometimes the plant does just die. Most of the time it continues to live, regrowing what has been lost.

Winter is a great time for this study and reflection of the bones of  the trees and shrubs.

Multiflora Rose, a difficult exotic invasive, has created impenetrable thickets throughout  Morris Park, crowding out native plants, and reducing the productivity of the natural ecosystem.  This plant has sharp thorns that easily penetrate clothing, making it difficult to remove.  However, in the winter, this plant is dormant and more easily accessed.

With thick winter clothing and work gloves, we are able to move right into the thickets and cut down the descending canes enough to access the ascending sections of this arcing menace.  We leave the rooted stub in place until the snow melts and the soil is wet and friable, so we can easily pull out the entire plant for disposal.  Removal of the roots is essential for the effective control of this plant. The roots are considered propagules, which are any part of a plant that can reproduce into a new plant.

A mass of invasives

In the immediate foreground is a spicebush that was covered with invasive vines last May, until we removed them. It survived this snow event very well. However, much of its bark was rubbed off by deer rubbing their antlers, called “buck rub” and now the bush is at risk of death. The arched figure in the back-round is a Black Cherry pulled down by a mass of grape vines and the weight of the snow. Today we removed all of the vines threatening this tree, which began to perk up, rising from its prone state.

The snow is so deep that it is hard to move, so we had to stay in one spot while we worked.  We still were able to begin the abatement of  a thicket of Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora),  and a stand of Burning Bush (Euonynmus alatus).  Our feet were cold at the end of the afternoon, but  we were able to be outside for the duration of this winter day.