Confessions of an Invasives Hitman

By Steve Young

For years, while mercilessly killing non-native invasive plants at Long
Branch Nature Center, I have harbored the admitted fantasy that the
invasives removal will magically reveal some cool, unexpected native
plants. And to be sure, I have seen some nice native plants and have been
able to track how many of them respond positively to the removal of the
invasives. For example, native tree seedlings pop up again in places where
they were choked out before. Plants like Mayapples poke up happily in
vigorous patches where the invasives are gone. I contemplate how plants
like Mayapples are survivors that evolved to cope with the fall of giant
trees on top of them, able to come back years later when the conditions
improved.

Back in April, as I enjoyed whacking dense ground webs of Japanese
Honeysuckle, something caught my eye. Around me were many white-flowering
plants of Star (or Great) Chickweed, an under-appreciated native. But this
white-flowered plant was different. A vague memory offered up Dwarf
Ginseng, but I thought “Naw, no way, it’s something else, more common, that
I should recognize.”

Dwarf Ginseng

Dwarf Ginseng (Photo by Steve Young)

Now maybe about 12 years ago, after I removed truly monumental amounts of
invasives, especially Multiflora Rose and Burning Bush, from a spring/seep
area near the building, afterwards someone found a single Dwarf Ginseng
plant that popped up there. This caused a flurry of interest and even a
mention in the newsletter of the Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native
Plant Society. But the plant was never seen again after that spring. I knew
that naturalists had seen it at one or two other places in Arlington and
were looking for it.

Anyway, I did a quick Google check on my phone and realized that the plant
really did look like Dwarf Ginseng. And as I looked around, there were
more. More flowering individuals, and little seedlings, too. In fact later,
I discovered the colony was larger than I first realized, and there easily
may be more than two dozen flowering individuals, plus the seedlings. And,
I found another plant nearby that Rod Simmons identified as Wood Anemone,
very scarce in Arlington.

Wood Anemone, Star Chickweed and Mayapple

Wood Anemone, Star Chickweed & Mayapple   (Photo by Steve Young)

After the first Dwarf Ginseng find, I walked into the nature center
building with a chip-eating grin on my face and announced my find. I’ve now
shown it to County staff and we are confident in the identification. Also,
we have a voucher specimen, since I found that my earlier honeysuckle
pulling had yanked a flowering stem out of the ground. Well, you always
need a voucher for posterity.

That same area has an uncommon, I believe, for Arlington occurrence of
Carrionflower Greenbrier, and one of only two known Arlington occurrences
of Melic Grass. So I think it’s a really special little place that had
survived the invasives onslaught and can now regenerate. Who knows what
else might be hidden away in there?

This makes my crazy plant whacking feel so worthwhile. It’s what I have
hoped for even though Long Branch has not been considered to be a top
Arlington site for native plant diversity.

So shall I disclose my nuttiest fantasy related to invasive plant whacking?
The Small Whorled Pogonia is an endangered species of orchid found in only
a few places in the mid-Atlantic. There is some evidence that it tolerates
and may even need a little light soil disturbance. I like to think of it as
the “Small World Pogonia.” My fantasy is that it will turn up some day at
Long Branch, popping up somewhere that had been an invasives hell. OK, it
is a fantasy, but it doesn’t feel quite as far-fetched as it did a week
ago.

Of course, if an endangered plant turned up, I couldn’t tell you, or I’d
have to whack you….

 

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