Monday, July 11, 2016

Small things do make a difference

by Beth Sullivan
As the summer season ramps up, some things slow down.
It’s getting too hot to have pre-planned big work parties on the preserves, yet it is a time when maintenance is needed. We are truly grateful for our volunteers with bigger equipment that can get some of the bigger trails mowed and maintained. But smaller efforts really add up too.
Clip and snip as you walk and it will be easier for the person who follows.

Evening walk with a purpose

It is a great time of year for morning or evening walks. The air is fresher, still cool enough to get some exercise, and the lighting is beautiful. A quiet walk can also be productive if you slip a pair of clippers into your pocket or don a pair of light gloves.
Invasive plants and vines are growing rapidly right now. Seemingly before our eyes, they reach out to obstruct the trails or grab at you with thorns. A quick, well aimed snip as you walk by can make all the difference for the person who comes after you.
Certain troublesome weeds like Garlic Mustard and Wild Radish are beginning their flowering and seed setting, and they have spread widely during the last months. The good thing is that these plants pull up easily. When I find either of these, or others I know, growing in invasive clusters, I love yanking them out and tossing them aside before they have a chance to set seed for next year. Every little bit helps.
As pretty as it looks, the little yellow flowers of Wild Radish will create abundant seeds and spread. It's okay to pull them up.

These invasive weeds are helped out by the defoliation occurring in our woodlands. While the large Oaks and other forest trees are suffering from leaf loss due to caterpillar infestations, there is more sunlight reaching the forest floor. Invasives are often the first and quickest to take advantage of the new sunny conditions and burst into flower and seed production. If we lose trees due to another year of stress, the openings in the forest will be taken over by these invasive plants whose seedlings got a quick start. Pull them now while you can.
Defoliation allows sunlight to reach the understory. 
That sunlight allows invasive weed seeds to grow in masses. Pull them up.

Another way you can help in the woods is to note when vines are beginning to overtake a tree. I recently witnessed a huge crash as the trunk of a tall straight old oak was snapped and crown dragged to the ground by the weight of vines. Invasives like Bittersweet will overtop a tree and the sheer volume of foliage adds a huge burden. This episode happened after a rain and the added water weight was too much to bear. As you walk in your own woods, or along a trail and you see Bittersweet making its ascent, pull out those handy clippers and a simple snip of the leading vine will kill off the remaining plant and possibly save the tree it has overtaken.
Many types of vines will over-top and eventually overwhelm trees. Snip them early.
The huge weight of invasive bittersweet took down a mighty old tree.

Gypsy Moths on the wing

I have also been appalled to see large dark clusters of the Gypsy Moth cocoons on tree trunks and undersides of branches throughout the woodlands. Many Gypsy moth caterpillars died before pupating and that was encouraging, but the overwhelming numbers of the ones that survived does not bode well for next year. I have taken my garden hose with a hard stream and aimed at washing off the cocoon masses I cannot reach with a stick. A power washer can reach even farther. With care, you can dislodge and destroy a large number of these cocoon masses, but you have to do it soon. The moths we have been seeing fluttering around at all hours of the day are the rust colored male Gypsy moths, already emerging first. The heavier white females will come out later and stay close to their cocoon masses on the tree trunks and lay their eggs. Be watchful and take action. Get rid of cocoons you may find on houses, sheds, woodpiles and trees where you can reach them. Be ready to sweep at and kill the female moths that cannot fly before they lay eggs. And keep a watchful eye out, and a stick in hand, to scrape away egg masses when you see them.
Look for dark masses of cocoons and remove them.

Stewardship can be simple small steps on an easy walk, on a pretty trail. But every little bit can help. And it feels good too!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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