Woman comes to rescue of native plants

NEIGHBORS

August 23, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LOUISA THOMPSON is working to save our silent neighbors -- native plants.

This spring, the Ellicott City resident established a conservation stewardship program in Patapsco Valley State Park. The program combines education, plant surveys and weeding.

Thompson has written articles about her passionate interest and led nature hikes for more than five years. She is a member of the Maryland Native Plant Society, a master gardener for the Extension Service in Howard County and a naturalist for the park.

She has trained two classes of greenway guides -- volunteer naturalists -- for the Patapsco Heritage Greenway.

And she has become increasingly concerned about native plants.

Deer are browsing in the forests, and non-native exotic species are crowding out native plants, which cannot compete.

Norway maples and ailanthus, also known as tree of heaven, spread by "suckering" -- making trees close to the parent.

Japanese honeysuckle vines grow over trees and shrubs, winding around the trunk of the host plant and eventually killing it.

The non-natives are pervasive along the river bottom, where they are spread downstream by floods, Thompson says.

Large patches of Japanese knotweed, fields of lesser celandine, multiflora rose and wine berry predominate in the flood plain. They are beginning to gain a foothold in the forested hills above the river, too.

This spring, Thompson started a project to document native and non-native plants and their locations and eliminate the exotic ones.

On a walk Wednesday, she noted a place along the road where, in early spring, she found three patches of lesser celandine on a steep bank leading into the woods.

Each patch of the small yellow flowers was on a deer trail through the woods 5 1/2-feet apart -- in the configuration one would expect if the deer had carried the celandine in their hoofs.

Her volunteers removed it and left a blue flag to mark their work.

Since April, Thompson has organized a project to combat exotic plants from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the third Saturday of the month in the park's Orange Grove area.

Thompson recently retired from her practice as a clinical psychologist to spend time with her family and focus on this effort.

She has recruited volunteers from the Maryland Native Plant Society, guides from the Patapsco Heritage Greenway and park naturalists.

About 10 volunteers have participated in each day, including Ellicott City residents Mary Durning and Ann Quinn, master gardeners, and Quinn's husband, Steve Ocone, a wildflower enthusiast.

Thompson begins each workday near the Orange Grove shelter with stretching exercises for the volunteers.

"No expertise is required," she says, "just a concern for nature and a love of the environment. "

After the morning stretches, the teams of volunteers head into the woods.

Each team includes a volunteer who can identify native and non-native plants. Another takes notes.

Most of Thompson's volunteers are amateur naturalists, and they trade information as they work. Each month, a specific exotic plant is targeted for weeding. Thompson demonstrates techniques to rid the area of the targeted plant while doing the least damage to the environment.

In May, her teams pulled garlic mustard before it set seeds. In June and July, they pulled the shallow-rooted wine berry and put it in trees so it could not reroot.

This month and next, they will cut the tops off Asian stilt grass so that it cannot produce seed. The grass is an annual and will die when frost sets in.

Later in the season, Thompson hopes to identify Norway maples when their leaves turn golden yellow near the top of Cascade Trail. She wants to girdle the trees to kill them.

Along the way, she and her colleagues have made many discoveries. They have found a pawpaw sphinx moth in the curled leaves of a pawpaw tree. And in late May, Thompson spotted a small blue butterfly on the leaf of a black cohosh, a relatively rare native plant.

The black cohosh is the host for the rare Appalachian azure butterfly.

The only known population in Maryland of the butterfly was in Daniels, about five miles upstream from the Orange Grove area.

Deer had grazed the black cohosh in that area, and the butterfly had not been sighted in the valley for several years.

Thompson contacted butterfly experts; she does not know whether she saw a summer azure or the Appalachian azure. She and her volunteers will need to find a larva of the butterfly to confirm its presence in the valley.

They will be at work again Sept. 18, Oct. 16 and Nov. 13. New volunteers are welcome.

To register: 410-737-0451.

Congratulations

On Aug. 15, Col. Joseph A. Goode Jr. of Ellicott City passed command of the 29th Infantry Division Support Command to Col. Donald M. Chore of Sykesville in a ceremony in Pikesville.

Goode was promoted to brigadier general and named assistant division commander for support of the 29th Infantry Division Light.

He is the highest ranking African-American in the Maryland National Guard.

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