Leaf a legacy

Building forests for the future

By Kristen Wicker

Photo: Five Rivers MetroParks staff and volunteers manage and maintain large tracts of land located along Dayton’s river corridors

Green isn’t always good – at least not when it comes to honeysuckle.

This invasive bush may look pretty in certain places, yet honeysuckle’s impact on our forests is anything but. Like climate change, deer overpopulation and the emerald ash borer, honeysuckle is a major stress on our local natural areas. This aggressive invader thrives in our area’s alkaline soils, forming fast-growing thickets. Often, these thickets are totally void of other vegetation, which is absolutely detrimental to our forests, as a diversity of plants and trees is critical to a healthy natural area.

Here are some other reasons why this plant is the bully of the forest:

• Honeysuckle shades the forest understory and prevents the growth of native plants.

• Toxic biochemicals in honeysuckle’s roots, part of a biological phenomenon known as allelopathy, also prevent new growth.

• Recent studies show the plant has a harmful effect on water quality and aquatic ecosystems.

• While abundant, honeysuckle fruit lacks the high-fat and nutrient-rich content native plants provide migrating birds, which leads to long-term population reductions.

“Honeysuckle gets all the sunlight and grows so thick, even shade-tolerant plants are affected,” David Nolin, Five Rivers MetroParks director of conservation, explained. “This arrests new development of canopy trees, such as oaks and hickories, which are so important to many types of wildlife. Invasive honeysuckle can affect our forests for generations.”

Honeysuckle is easy to spot in late fall and winter, when it will be the last plant to hold onto its green leaves. It also has:

• Multiple greenish-brown canes coming out of one root

• Red berries in fall and white flowers in spring

• Opposite leaves on branches

Five Rivers MetroParks (FRMP) aims to remove invasive honeysuckle on land it manages as part of its reforestation efforts – critical to protect our region’s natural heritage.

For example, this fall, FRMP is partnering with the city of Dayton to remove honeysuckle along the Stillwater River on approximately 58 acres of land between Wegerzyn Gardens and Island MetroParks. FRMP received a Clean Ohio Grant for this project, which includes removal and retreatment of honeysuckle and planting of native trees and shrubs along the Stillwater River. The project will take about a year to complete, and it will improve the Stillwater River watershed while opening views to the river along a key Dayton corridor.

“Human beings have manipulated the world around us so much, it needs some help,” Nolin said. “We found, in MetroParks, we can greatly increase forest diversity with a little bit of effort. We’re stewards of the land, not absentee landlords.”

In addition to honeysuckle removal, that stewardship includes treatment of 600 ash trees to prevent them from being felled by the emerald ash borer, management of the deer population, planting and caring for native oak and hickory seedlings and educating the public about why such efforts are so critical. One of FRMP’s most important conservation efforts involves maintaining larger tracts of land, such as the 1,655-acre Germantown MetroPark and the nearby 1,000-acre Twin Creek MetroPark, the 360-acre Great Miami Wetland Mitigation Bank, numerous conservation areas and easements and other land located along our river corridors.

“We have been working to connect land along our rivers, because river corridors are so vital to plant and wildlife migration,” Nolin said. “That’s why we find bobcats and bears – because we have these large corridors of land.”

Yet, with more than 15,500 acres of land to protect, FRMP staff relies on volunteers’ help.

Mike Shade is one of them. Since he began volunteering a few years ago, he’s helped plant trees and lead volunteer groups.

“It’s very rewarding to start with an empty field at the beginning of the day and, when you’re finished, look out at a sea of trees,” Shade said. “I really enjoy seeing families with children of all ages come out. I tell the kids to come back when they’re grownups, and they’ll see a forest where they are today.”

You, too, can help preserve our forests:

• Remove invasive honeysuckle and grow native plants and trees in your outdoor space.

• Visit metroparks.org/forest to sign the pledge to “Leaf a Legacy.”

• Attend fall reforestation events, held September through November. Collect seeds to grow the next gen­eration of trees and help plant 600 native shrubs. Visit metroparks.org/forest for a list of dates and locations, or contact Yvonne Dunphe at 937.275.PARK or yvonne.dunphe@metroparks.org. Shade advises volunteers wear sturdy footgear, such as boots and bring work gloves, water, sunscreen and snacks.

For volunteer Teri Ladd, participating in fall reforestation events has helped her gain such skills as identifying trees and such knowledge as the importance of native plants.

“I love being in the outdoors, digging in the dirt, being with like-minded people who love nature and doing something to help the environment,” Ladd said. “These are legacy trees we’re planting for the next generation and beyond. When you volunteer collecting seeds, it’s hardly work at all. You walk about in nature and bend down and collect seeds. It’s relaxing.”

Indeed, the work of these volunteers is part of what makes FRMP staff hopeful for the future when it comes to our local forests.

“I’m not at all pessimistic,” Nolin said. “We still have fertile soil and abundant rainfall, and we’ve done a good job protecting our land. Something’s going to grow – it’s really about maintaining a diversity of native species and communities.”

Reach DCP freelance writer Kristen Wicker at KristenWicker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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