Thursday, June 17, 2010

Evil Little Things...

As part of the ELC's promise to remain a public nature center providing access to protected areas, much of the work we do involves maintaining the landscape of the Environmental Learning Center. A fundamental part of keeping our ecosystems healthy and beautiful is our ongoing battle with invasive and exotic plant species on our trails.

The ELC is home to a wide variety of weeds, thistles, vines, and toxic shrubs. Some of these species are relatively easity to manage and prevent, however some take years and years before they can even begin to be reduced. In order to provide visitors with information regarding many of the ELC's invasive species, we've prepared a small list of things you might find during these summer months.

Perhaps the mose widespread species currently infesting the trail system of the ELC is Leafy Spurge. This invader grows an extensive root system, and cannot be controled by pulling, burning, or grazing with animals. In addition this species crowds other native species and degrades suitable habitat for wildlife.

Tamarisk is another widespread invasive species throughout the west. Growing mostly on the banks of rivers and riparian areas, Tamarisk, or Salt Cedar, consumes extremely high amounts of water and alters soil salinity for native species.

Russian Olive is an invasive tree species that also grows on the banks of streams and rivers. These trees can grow extremely large and have thorns that make removal and treatment difficult, they also crowd native willow and cottonwood species in riparian areas.

Musk Thistle grows in patches throughout the ELC's trails, and spreads across the landscape when its flowers bloom and seeds are carried by the wind. Management of thistle at the ELC has included removing the flowering heads before they bloom.

Canada Thistle is another invasive thistle species at the ELC. Unfortunately, Canada Thistle cannot be managed by removing flowers because it also reproduces through its root structure and must be treated chemically.

Dalmatian Toadflax currently grows in small patches in random areas of the ELC. Its yellow flowers and tall stalks make it unique among native plant species.

Wooly Mullen is yet another widespread invasive species found at the ELC. A biennial plant, this species spends its first year as a leafy base before shooting up stalks during the second year. Mullen stalks contain hundreds of thousands of tiny seeds and must be burned after removal.

Teasel is a newly discovered invasive species at the ELC, and must be managed in the same way as Mullen. Teasel's spiky flowers and stalks make it a difficult species to remove and dispose of.

Cheatgrass, or Smooth Brome, is an invasive grass species currently dominating the ELC's landscape. Cheatgrass outcompetes native grass species and crowds nearly all open areas, its early growing season and resistance to fire and grazing make it extremely difficult to manage.

Other invasive species such as Dame's Rocket, Hounds Tongue, and Bindweed have also been identified at the ELC, but as of now not enough is known about these species to properly manage them.

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