The Buckthorn Wars

A year and a half ago, we never thought we'd make it through the spiny brush to this ladder. This ladder now stands in the barn.

The first time we ever walked the property before we bought it, part of the trail toward the back was nearly impassable. Horrible, spiny invasive weeds like buckthorn and multiflora rose, both brought to this country from Europe and Asia, respectively and buckthorn was promoted as hedging, multiflora rose as a “living fence” encroached on the path. Both of them are out of control in many places and no more so than on our land. They dominate the back of the farm.

Now that it’s finally cool enough to work outside with long-sleeved tough clothing, we turned out attention to getting the ladder out. We never really thought we’d get to it a year and a half ago. Yesterday, armed with shovel, loppers, bow saw, a sponge paint brush, and a small container filled with concentrated Roundup, we set out to get the ladder. At first I used the saw and the loppers to cut my way back to the ladder. D. busied himself with digging out the multiflora rose with the shovel. This is a method recommended by the Wisconsin DNR and we’ve found it effective since that is how we cleared the garden and orchard of the stuff and with a whole season’s worth of growing, it hasn’t become a problem again. I eventually made my way through multiflora rose and wild black raspberry canes. Reaching the ladder, I looked further down the hill and noted that it was mostly open. We thought we’d cut a path down to the stream from there. D. had never been down there. I had managed to brave it in January dressed in very tough clothing. I surrendered the saw to D. and he took out the larger buckthorn trees. I stayed out of his way and cut the smaller buckthorn as well as the multiflora rose with the loppers and I painted the stumps with Roundup using the sponge paint brush. Sure, I’d rather not use Roundup, but here, there’s no way around it. If one just cuts buckthorn it vigorously sends up even more shoots. This method is also recommended by the Wisconsin DNR and we hope it works for us.

Buckthorn leafs out early in the spring, blocking light from the forest or savanna floor and effectively stops any understory plants from growing as well as preventing native tree regeneration. I was struck yesterday by how little was actually growing under the buckthorn. Much to my surprise, I did see one tiny oak seedling. Buckthorn may also alter soil nitrogen dynamics. The slope on which we were cutting it is steep and erosion is now something of a consideration. I wonder what sort of seeds may be lying dormant there right now. I wonder whether we’ll find that this is yet another area where we’ll next need to fight burdock and wild parsnip or whether native plants will spring forth. Close by, we have both shooting stars and bergamot, so I am cautiously hopeful. We also have a bin full of native plant seeds and I think next weekend, we’ll disturb the soil a little with a rake, spread those around and hope for the best.  One way or another we’ll restore our land to the prairie and oak savanna that almost certainly occupied it before it was settled by the descendants of Europeans.

This entry was posted in Biodiversity, Ecology, Invasive Weeds, Prairie Restoration, the farm. Bookmark the permalink.

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