Wild Notes Summer 2010 edition

Summer 2010

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Cosmo the flying squirrel


Wild Watch by Heidi Mullendore

Four years ago, as a geologist, I spent all my time talking about rocks and mapping land forms. I liked trees and could easily pick out a few simple ones such as maples and oaks, but that was the extent of my tree knowledge. It was then that my husband and I decided to embark on one of our biggest challenges together: buying land and building our dream green home.

We found a piece of property that used to have a house on it. The house had been torn down and the property subdivided. We purchased a secluded three-acre portion almost completely covered with lovely trees. It was spring time and I remember the fairy tale feeling I had as we came down the lane after signing the papers to buy it. All the trees were covered in beautiful white flowers and the breeze would shower the petals down like rain. Birds sang, crickets chirped and peace abounded.

Not long after buying the land, I started my current job working with the iConservePA program. I learned much from my colleagues about native and invasive plants, their role in helping or hindering healthy ecosystems, and how to identify them. This information was placed on our website, so I thought I would test out some of my new skills at home. I wondered what kind of treasures my property held for me.

Aside from large patches of native poison ivy (which is a disastrous mix when combined with two adventurous boys and the whole family susceptible to its oils), there were lots of invasive plants - lots of them! The fairy tale white blossoms covering my property came from
callery pears (Pyrus calleryana), also known as Bradford pear, a commonly used landscaping tree in backyards and towns. I quickly realized that the new seedlings that spread from these seemingly innocuous trees were thorny and the birds that sounded so wonderful were
spreading more seed! The callery pears were so thick that we could barely walk from one side of the property to the other without being ripped to shreds by the thorns.

kudzu covering hills and valleys
Callery pear can be identified by the white flowers in spring and the spade-like shape of its canopy.
(Photo:Dan Tenaglia, www.invasive.org)

I was able to identify other invasive plants: autumn olive, oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, garlic mustard, tree of heaven. The poison ivy problem, even with the rash it produces, now seemed small compared to finding half of the “Invasive Dirty Dozen ” list taking over my property. I may be exaggerating a little, but 75 percent of my property was covered by invasives. I started to look past them in search of native plants and found some great ones: northern red oak, sassafras, red cedars, black and honey
locust, black cherry, Virginia pine, staghorn sumac, dogwood and patches of lowbush bluberry.

My husband, Mark, wasn't really worried about the plant's continent of origin, he just knew he hated the pear thorns that were so sharp they could actually puncture through the bottom of his boots. They had to GO! But the native and invasive status mattered to me. I could now use the knowledge I had to develop a strategy to get rid of the invasives and give the natives the room they need to spread and grow. We worked together as a family team with my youngest son and me identifying native trees and putting orange marking tape around them to save them from the saw blade. My oldest son went with my husband and helped him cut down everything lacking orange tape.

Now the house is built and the fairy tale is coming back. The difference is that it's now dogwood, black locust and black willow blooms that we see. We still hear the birds and crickets and now we see more butterflies. We even found some bigtooth aspen trees at the back of the property that are lovely when they let go of their seeds, throwing fluff around on the wind like snow.

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Pennsylvania Wild Resource Program