You take a walk in the park, or maybe a ride on your bike. At some point you pause and look around. Maybe something will attract your attention, maybe not. There's a little pillow of moss near your feet. You've seen these before; nothing remarkable. Or maybe the view includes a green ground-cover, like you've seen before; nothing remarkable. If we can name something that we see, then it's more likely to get our attention and connect with something else in our minds. A botanist who specializes in mosses (a muscologist) would call the moss pictured below a Leucobryum, but we can just call it a cushion moss. It does remind one of a cushion, so that name ought to stick. And a botanist who deals mostly with vascular plants (they have roots and stems) would see what you see in the other picture and remark on the dense patch of Lonicera japonica. To us it's just common Japanese honeysuckle, but to the other plants, seen or not seen in this view, it's a tenacious competitor for light and nutrients. Scenes such as this illustrate "degraded habitats" where native Virginia woodland plants are being displaced by introduced species like this honeysuckle.
The Flora of Virginia calls it "a rapidly spreading and potentially invasive Asian exotic". This is Youngia japonica, or Oriental False Hawksbeard. I have found it now on four trails, three all-purpose and one mountain bike, as well as in one off-trail spot, so it is no longer just "potentially" invasive. And it does spread quickly once established. To control it without herbicide (and avoid killing desirable vegetation), each plant must be uprooted with a weeding tool, before it blooms and makes more seed. At this point, with just five patches, I hope to get it out of the park, at least for a while.
Last year's plants and this year's seedlings start growing on warm days in the winter. The photo shows plants from last year developing rosettes of leaves. Flowers will develop in early spring.
There are scattered plants and scattered patches of Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven) throughout the park. Ailanthus is considered to be one of our "most unwanted" plants (interesting article here). With herbicide treatment available only on rare occasions, I try to uproot as many small trees as possible, and the larger ones I cut, leaving about three feet of stump. The tree then re-sprouts from that stump, and I go back periodically to cut off the sprouts, With sufficient persistence, this will eventually kill the tree. Returning to one of these sites today, a year after the initial cutting, I found that some of the stems had sprouted vigorous new shoots. So vigorous, in fact, that the leaves, which are compound, exceed the largest size given in the official plant descriptions. The leaf with its compound leaflets shown here is four and half feet long. Note the pruning shears along the base of the leaf.
I started the weekly landscaping maintenance at the District Office, where there were just a few weeds in the mulch, and a few Liriope were once again appearing. Dispatching those, I trimmed the now leafless Swamp Milkweed stems and seed-heavy Cardinal-flower; no point in having to weed out a thousand Cardinal-flower seedlings next year.
Next stop was the CCC Field where Bert and Eric met me. The landscaped area there was dotted with a variety of mushrooms, including beautiful specimens of Purple-spored Puffballs. Several late-flowering wildflowers were blooming; an aster, a goldenrod, the narrow-leaf sunflower, a black-eyed Susan, and the Small White Morning Glory shown here. We did a little weeding, particularly taking out a small plant called Mulberryweed, which is an exotic escape from nurseries. I found in one of the mulched beds an emerging grape-fern, which is a deep woods native plant, and I flagged it so we wouldn't pull it out by mistake.
After spending half an hour on some weeds at the Aquatic Center, Eric and I took a walk up the Forest Exploration Trail. Not far from the footbridge there were scattered patches of Perilla Mint along the trail. Perilla Mint is another invasive weed which degrades the park's ecosystem. Unlike stiltgrass, which is so ubiquitous now that control is virtually impossible, Perilla Mint is not yet common in the park, so we still have the opportunity to contain it. It took the two of us about two hours to pull up all the Perilla Mint along that section of the trail.
Sharing a few photos from a morning walk in the park: Yesterday we had heavy rains, so Swift Creek is running high. The lake is lapping at the canoe house. Third Branch below the Beaver Lake dam is overflowing the tubed crosswalk. A small rocky stream above Beaver Lake is showing off its waterfalls. And above that there is a patch of Ailanthus stems that needs to be removed.
At the CCC Field, those Yucca plants you can see in the background have been blooming and producing seeds for years, though perhaps not all the way back to the CCC days. Consequently, there have been lots of little Yuccas in the landscaped areas here. Until now. We’ve taken most of them out, as in the bed in the foreground. I cut and discarded the spent flowering stems this year, to discourage volunteer seeding, but I could have taken another course. According to Helen Hamilton in Wildflowers and Grasses of Virginia’s Coastal Plain, the immature fruit can be cooked and eaten after the seeds are removed.
With the sidewalk cleaned and this Dogwood bed weeded, we moved to the Pool Gardens to take out the invading Nutsedge, Horse Nettle and Bermuda Grass. That was pretty well in hand (though seemingly never complete) when the arriving pool visitors shattered the quiet of the morning. So we moved up to the CCC Museum where grasses and Dandelion were beginning to return. Here there was also an unrecognized small wildflower that is proving difficult to identify. From there to the Butterfly Garden, finding a few weeds and a few insects of interest, though no butterflies. Eric found a very patient dragonfly, and we think we found a bee-mimic fly.
With the Butterfly Garden well in hand, we traipsed over to the Rain Garden, with a nod to a large Fowler’s Toad in passing. Again there were just a few weeds to be picked out, some Bee Balm to admire and photograph, and that completed our morning’s gardening task. Before leaving the park, I took time to visit a bathhouse in the New Campground where there have been some Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven) trees. The last photograph shows the resprouts from the roots of these trees, which must be pulled or cut several times each summer to keep them from growing back.
Invasive Species Volunteer Squad, or IVSquad, originated back in August, 2013, in discussions with Irene Frentz, the Pocahontas Natural Resources Officer. I had made an offer to help with invasive plant removal, which she accepted. But she then requested that I leverage my effectiveness by engaging other volunteers to help. This was accomplished with the help of the scheduling websites used by Pocahontas VMN and Friends of Pocahontas. We started with an experimental Stiltgrass removal project in August and September. The next target was a large infestation of Oriental Wisteria. The Wisteria project started in November, 2013, and continued into July of this year.
The current phase of Wisteria control is herbicide treatment by a crew of trained applicators. Manual control by IVSquad will resume in spring when the effectiveness of the herbicide treatment can be observed. Meanwhile, we can turn our attention to other invasive plants in the park. There is no shortage of targets: Stiltgrass, Tree-of-heaven, Honeysuckle, Perilla Mint and others. The schedule is now for three hours a week, on Mondays, posted on www.meetup.com/Friends-of-Pocahontas-State-Park. Pocahontas VMN and Friends of Pocahontas volunteers are invited to help move IVSquad into its third year.
It’s a first, in all probability! The first time a team of volunteers has been organized to help manage the wild flora at Pocahontas State Park. We had our first working session today, removing Japanese Honeysuckle from the campground area. Say what? Isn’t honeysuckle that pretty flowering vine with the oh-so-sweet fragrance? You did what?
Yes, we removed the honeysuckle, at least as much as we could in three hours. It’s all about maximizing biodiversity potential. More invasive exotic plants means fewer native plants; fewer native plants means fewer native fauna (the fauna in this case being mostly insects and spiders). Fewer bugs means less food for the creatures higher up in the food chain. So IVSquad will be working to give some push-back to those exotic (i.e. non-native) plants that are stealing space from our natives. Read more about IVSquad here.
Thoughts on the park, its residents and how to preserve its natural beauty.