Reports from the Front Lines

by Barbara Walvoord

First printed in Lathrop Lamp Post Nov. 11-17, 2017

This photo was taken on the east campus along Bassett Brook Road at the corner of Huckleberry Lane–a visible “front line” on our property.

Three years ago, on this corner, there was a dense hedge of burning bush (Euonymus alatus), so dangerously invasive it is now illegal to propagate or sell in Massachusetts.  At Lathrop, birds are carrying it into our woods, where it is crowding out native plants without providing as richly for our wildlife as native plants do, and costing lots of money and volunteer labor to remove–a “front line” of our battle to save our wildlife.

So three years ago, Land Conservation Committee volunteers removed the  burning bush. Two years ago, we did a clean-up of new invasive shoots, but didn’t get to it last year or this year.  The photo shows what’s happened.

At bottom left, some burning bush has re-sprouted, as sometimes happens.  Two other invasive plants have moved in: shrub honeysuckle (yellow-green leaves) and, at top right, glossy buckthorn.

AND, in the middle left of the picture, two wonderful gifts have shown up–native gray dogwood (Cornum racemosa, middle left) and arrowwood vibernum (Vibernum dentatum, top left).  They are thriving, and when we  remove the other invasives, they will establish their own hedge.  This is what we hoped would happen.

The leaves of both native shrubs turn a lovely red in fall.  And, whereas  invasive plants support very few caterpillars, which are the main food of baby birds, our new native dogwood supports the caterpillars of 115 species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths); vibernum supports 97 (https://www.dropbox.com/s/stytn1v85b6aa2j/Tallamy%20Copy%20of%20webplants.xls?dl=0).  Both shrubs also supply food for many insects, birds, and mammals.

So we’re exchanging one beautiful fall red hedge for another, which takes work and follow-up, but in the process, we’re providing much better support for the wild creatures for whom our land and its plants are a “front line” of the battle for survival.

Stop by to see this scene–I’ve marked its place with an orange flag.

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