Weed Warriors Attack Invasive Plants

“Did this escape from your yard?” John McCoy, the Columbia Association watershed manager, asked one of the volunteers as he yanked out an English Ivy vine on the banks of the large stormwater pond next to the Columbia Gym.

The answer was no, but that English ivy came from someone’s backyard, where it was no doubt planted without knowledge of the damage to native plants from this invasive species.

On a warm Sunday afternoon in late October, teens from River Hill High School, members of the River Hill Watershed Committee, and several adult  volunteers pulled English Ivy and other invasive plants, including honeysuckle, mile-a-minute, autumn olive and Oriental bittersweet. Over three hours, they yanked, cut, hauled and bagged these predators as part of a weed warrior project organized by the Watershed Committee, Columbia Association, and the
Middle Patuxent Environmental Area (MPEA).

Then, under the guidance of McCoy, Mike Lilly of CA’s Open Space Division, and Davey Rogner, MPEA’s invasive species project manager, volunteers dug holes in the often stubbornly hard earth and replanted the area with Maryland natives: pickerelweed at the water’s edge and then Blue Flag iris, hibiscus, Joe-pye weed and mistflower.

For the most part, the volunteers left behind the poison ivy, which Rogner explained is native to Maryland. Although most humans learn at an early age  “Leaves of three, let it be,” poison ivy provides cover and food for wildlife and plays an important role in the life cycle of forests.

On the other hand,  honeysuckle, autumn olive, Oriental bittersweet and others don’t belong in Maryland and are aggressively taking over and smothering the native plants best-suited for the animals, insects and climate of our area. With no natural checks and balances, they spread quickly, reducing biodiversity and altering the landscape drastically.

“The evolution of our ecosystems in River Hill will be determined by how much regular people get involved to remove invasive plants originating from other continents that do not have obvious symbiotic relationships with the birds, animals, and bugs originating in  Maryland,” Rogner said. “When we remove an invasive plant and replant a native, it’s like cleaning up the pollution choking out our home and building a new community center with abundant food for all of the birds, bugs, and animals to shelter, thrive, and reproduce.”
“The weed warrior project was a great way to get teens involved in helping out the community. Hopefully we can get even more people involved in the  future,” said Nathalie Eegholm, a River Hill High School senior who recruited her peers to work on this and other River Hill Watershed Committee projects.

“Pulling the weeds was a lot of hard work, and so was planting the native species. But it was a cool experience!” said Katherine
Lowe, also a River Hill High senior.

“Through this experience, I have impacted my community, and I hope to participate in similar projects in the future,” said Shireen Khayat, another senior.

These three teens are members of the National Honor Society. Pulling weeds and planting natives along with the students was their AP environmental science teacher, Susan Lower. Nathalie and Katherine are also members of the school’s Ecology Club.

Other teens participating were: Raghav Srivastava, Razeen Khan, Albert Beninati, Shriya Sharma, Brent Essman, Patrick McNamee, Anita Kalluri, Haley Masker, Evangela Shread , and Alicia Shread.

Everyone is looking forward to spring to get a first glimpse of the new plants leafing and flowering. And to start yanking more invasive plants.

Columbia Association and the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area have weed warrior training and events in spring and fall. For more information on weed warriors and watersheds, check out the Committee’s website: villageofriverhill.org/watershed/and Like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Watershed-Committee.

by Elisabeth Hoffman

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