Park seeks plan to fight off invasive plants

Foreign flora threatens native vegetation, animals at Cromwell Valley

Workshop set Wednesday

September 20, 2004|By Kevin T. McVey | Kevin T. McVey,SUN STAFF

After years of living with unwelcome plant species, Cromwell Valley Park, with the help of the Ecosystem Recovery Institute, is trying to rid itself of alien invaders that have spread over the green expanse of the Baltimore County park.

The park is home to acres and acres of kudzu, porcelain berries, devil's tear thumb, barberries and multiflora roses - all non-native, invasive plants that strangle native vegetation and deprive animals in the habitat of food, said Kriste Garman, activities supervisor and naturalist at the park.

"Our big worry is that it will grow deeper into the woods, and then we won't even be able to control it," Garman said.

To keep the invasive plants in hand, Cromwell Valley Park called in the Ecosystem Recovery Institute. To educate park personnel on the issues, the institute will hold a workshop, "Invasive Alien Plants," at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the park's headquarters, Sherwood House.

There, Mike Hollins, executive director of the Ecosystem Recovery Institute, will tell his audience about the problems invasive plants pose and what the institute can do about them.

"Our first job at the park is to transfer information to citizens about invasive plants," Hollins said. "We want people to know the problem they pose, their biology, how to control them - which with the park will either be by physical or chemical means. The second part is the removal of the invasive plants and replacing them with native plant communities."

The removal and replanting project is only a small part of the renovations at Cromwell Valley Park, which is closed until March 1 for stream restoration, bridge replacement and the building of an emergency access road.

The park project will not be the institute's first undertaking in the Baltimore area.

The institute has been involved with the restoration of schoolyard habitats and outdoor recreational facilities at Cockeysville Middle and other area schools, and it has provided plants for the children's exhibit at the Baltimore Zoo called the "Maryland Wilderness Exhibit."

The Ecosystem Recovery Institute says it will not try to sway the park's decision.

Removing the plants might not necessarily get rid of the problem, Hollins said, because if just a small amount of the root is left, it could sprout again. Using chemicals can pose a threat to native, non-invasive plants and wildlife.

"Our job is just to educate the people about the problem," Hollins said. "They decide what course of action to take."

Cromwell Valley's invasive alien plants are most evident along the Orange section of the Sherwood Farms Trail. Here the devil's tear thumbs, porcelain berries, multiflora roses and kudzu have entrenched themselves.

Kudzu, which has been known to grow as much as 1 foot a day, appears to be the biggest problem. Kudzu, originally imported from Japan, grows over the tops of the trees and blocks the sunlight, which causes them to die.

"Kudzu defines the word invasive," Garman said.

Although the Ecosystem Recovery Institute will probably wipe out the invaders, there is still the question of how these plants came to the park.

Garman believes that before Baltimore County bought the land, it was part of a farm, and along the trail where the non-native plants are most visible today was a fence.

Garman believes that some of the invaders resulted from birds sitting on the fence and eating the berries from the devil's tear thumb and barberries. Bird droppings would then fall into the soil around the fence, and the seeds eventually grew into the problem that Cromwell Valley Park has today.

Garman began working at the park 10 years ago. She said that today the kudzu has spread over three times the area that it occupied when she first noticed it.

"These plants didn't evolve in their own habitat, so normal environmental interactions that keep these plants in balance aren't in play here," Garman said.

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