Morris Park-  A dramatic turn of events unfolded this afternoon in this Beech-Oak upland forest of Morris Park, where the problematic “wall of invasives” was finally pulled down and bagged by a determined duo of local citizens.  This momentous act that took 5 hours of hard work and filled 11 bags of material, completely changed the landscape.  It was the first time this area looked like an eastern deciduous piedmont forest in years.  The “wall of invasives”  was an oppressive and impenetrable thicket of Oriental bittersweet, (Celastrus orbiculatus), Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) and Burning Bush (Euonymous alatus).

young Tulip Poplars suffer from the oppressive vines
Young Tulip Poplars suffer from the oppressive vines

Today was the culmination of 6 months of activities that led up the climactic fall of one of the most challenging groupings of invasives in the area.  In August of 2010, many of these vines were cut at ground level.  In November of 2010, work commenced removing all of the invasives around the wall, allowing full access to the site.

There was also a degree of planning as to how the execution of the exercise would proceed.  Due to the urgency of the vines on the trees, the local citizens decided on a “first pass” approach, which involves getting the vines off of the trees, first and foremost, and then coming back at a later time to remove the dense ground-layer matte of Japanese honeysuckle.   With a thick layer of snow on the ground, this made the most sense.  The snow also protects the dormant herbaceous plants that have buds close to the surface from being crushed by the feet of the pro-forest activists.

Pro-Forest activist Isabelle Dijols courageously fends off invading Oriental Bittersweet
Courageous pro-forest activist Isabelle Dijols fends off invading Oriental Bittersweet

Isabelle Dijols, co-founder of the popular anti-exotic invasive pro-forest blog The Sanguine Root, was attacked earlier this afternoon by a falling section of the thorny vine Multiflora rose. Her thick winter coat and gloves saved her from possible injuries.  She was asked about the great achievement of finally cutting down the “wall of Invasives”  and where the forest was going to go from there:

” Right now I think it’s important to feel the jubilation and savor the moment. This has been a long and sometimes difficult process.  Alot of work gloves were ruined, clippers worn dull, long hours were put in. Now we feel good about our work, tomorrow we plan for Morris park’s future. “

Sanguine Root’s blogger Sean Solomon was recently released from the tedious confinement of bagging Japanese Honeysuckle and Oriental Bittersweet.  Back out on the open site, cutting down vines from a Dogwood tree, a much more glamourous exercise, he was asked about todays events: Sean waited for the birds to finish tweeting before he spoke.

“It’s great- It’s been a long time coming.  But it’s really just the beginning.  There’s going to be alot of follow-through necessary to effectively control the Japanese Honeysuckle.  We can’t just slap ourselves on the back, congratulate ourselves and have a party  every time we pull a weed. Were going to be going back to this site for a while, monitoring it, pulling more Japanese Honeysuckle, as well as seasonally controlling invasives such as Garlic Mustard  and the dreaded Mile-a-minute, more precisely Persicaria perfoliata, formerly polygonatum perfoliatum, which is growing only 75 feet from here.  I am humbled by this scope of work, and feel a great sense of pride when the neighbors show their appreciation.”

Mr Solomon also  noted that spell checks of all these latin names are very easy using the search engine Google.  He also noted that Facebook had nothing to do with today’s events.

After many days in the thicket, Sean Solomon was able to reach his goal of removing a tangle of Japanese Honeysuckle from this Beech Sapling
After many days in the thicket, Anti-invasive, pro-forest activist and blogger Sean Solomon was able to reach his goal of removing a tangle of Japanese Honeysuckle from this Beech Sapling

A diversity of trees, the understory shrub Spicebush, and a host of herbaceous plants co-exist on the site.  The trees include Oaks (Quercus), Beeches (Fagus grandifolia), Sweetgum (Liquidamber styraciflua), Sassafrass (Sassafrass albidum), Dogwood (Cornus florida), Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina).

The herbaceous plants found in this exact site , to name a few, include Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum), False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa), Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum), and what is believed to be, but not yet confirmed, Twisted Stalk.

Sassafrass under siege from invasive vines-The "before liberation photo"
Sassafrass under siege from invasive vines-The “before liberation photo”

Isabelle wanted to liberate this Sassafrass, but the task was daunting. She considered it for next time, but only for a fleeting moment. In this historical event for this specific site, the transformation is now. The wall must come down!

Well, then, of course, the next question arose: Is that little Sassafrass still alive? After some careful evaluation, sure enough, there was living tissue on the specimen, green shoots with buds on them, ready for spring!  It’s still alive!  Viva la  revolucion!

Isabelle proceeded to remove the Oriental bittersweet and Japanese Honeysuckle until the tree was liberated. After careful evaluation, the dead pale yellowish-tan branches were pruned off.

sabelle frees the Sassafrass albidum from the invasive vines
Isabelle frees the Sassafrass albidum from the invasive vines The “after” photo

The most important thing was to get the vines down so the trees can grow, and not be strangled.  Also the vines set leaves that block the sun and compete with the trees access to the needed sunlight for photosynthesis.  Without enough sun, the trees can become weakened and eventually die.  In this one site, there were many dead trees, including Sassafrass, Dogwood, and Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). It is sad when a dead tree is found under a thicket of invasive vines.  As the day progressed and the events unfolded, the blighted urban wooded tract was transformed into a forested woodland area, with alot of interestingly shaped trees. Hopefully they will live and the ecosystem will mature and approximate the normalcy of a forest not infested with invasives.

Sean Solomon with a root fragment of Celastrus orbiculatus
Sean Solomon with a root fragment of invasive Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental Bittersweet)

The vision is that Morris Park will once again be a fully functioning Pennsylvania woodland, a forested piece of the great state and region we live in.  With all of the invasives, Morris Park is at risk of being yet another degraded forest remnant of the urbanized Philadelphia region, an ecologically diminished mess of dead trees and aggressive vines next to a densely populated area.  That would be a shame and hopefully will not happen under the watch of so many concerned citizens in our neighborhood and the city at large.  Morris Park has so many features of a southeastern Pennsylvania woodland still existing and thriving that it is a natural treasure. To be able to walk out of one’s front door and into a bonified Pennsylvania forest, right here in the city of Philadelphia, is something we can still be proud of and we intend to keep it that way.

The Roots of Rosa multiflora
The Roots of Rosa multiflora
 Japanese Honeysuckle climbs up Oriental Bittersweet on their way up to choking the Sassafrass tree Isabelle rescued
Japanese Honeysuckle climbs up Oriental Bittersweet on their way up to choking the Sassafrass tree Isabelle rescued
The areas most distinguishing landmark, this 'snag' which is a dead tree still standing, providing an excellent habitat for birds such as owls and other forest animals
The areas most distinguishing landmark, this ‘snag’ which is a dead tree still standing, providing an excellent habitat for birds such as owls and other forest animals



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.