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One Last Look Back at Winter 2011

One Last Look Back at Winter 2011
By Don Recklies

This season our winter 10 miler lived up to its title; many of our recent 10 mile winter hikes have been more like a fall rather than a winter outing, sovaldi sale but this time the weather didn’t belie the title. The cold and snow, however, sovaldi sale did dampen participation. Prior to Saturday Dom Durso received several calls from off-islanders wanting to know if the hike was still on. Given that Protectors has yet to cancel a 10 miler – although on occasion the route has been curtailed – the answer was that it was absolutely on. Saturday morning, however, brought a flurry of phoned regrets from the other boroughs. Protectors, it seemed, were made of sterner stuff, but even so, by10:00 am at the meeting place behind Petrides School there were only 5 of us ready to face the trail.


The trail was not bad. Although the entrance at Deere Park was drifted knee deep, once into the trees the snow rarely rose more than to mid-calf, and the snow served to cover and cushion any icy patches that were caused by re-freezing after the mid-week melt. Nevertheless the five of us soon became four when it became apparent that George’s small dog was struggling in snow that was not an issue for taller beasts. George turned back and joined a walk with Clay Wollney later that afternoon, and the rest of us carried on to High Rock. Since all of us were familiar with the story of Robert Moses and the freeway overpasses, there was no pause where we usually stopped to recount how SIGNAL (Staten Island Greenbelt Natural Areas League, one of the forerunners of Protectors of Pine oak Woods) rallied to prevent the planned highway from dissecting the Greenbelt. One of the functions of this hike has been to demonstrate that the Greenbelt woodlands still contain corridors that are mapped as state roadways and thus are still in jeopardy. Neither did we detour through the St. Francis Woodlands, a lush woods adjacent to Kauffman camp that is now publicly accessible as NYSDEC property, a status that Protectors was instrumental in obtaining. We adhered to the Blue trail until High Rock, making the most of walking in footprints where others had trod earlier. Although this made our way much easier, hiking in snow uses muscles otherwise not normally employed and we all got a good workout lifting out feet. Even Dom the runner “felt the burn.”

Our stop for lunch was planned for High Rock where, courtesy of Robin Dublin and the good will of Herbert Smith, aka Smitty, High Rock’s Park Supervisor, the administration building had been opened so that we could eat indoors. This courtesy was extended because of the guests expected on the hike, and although we appeared without newcomers, Smitty was good enough not to deny us entrance, and we enjoyed a comfortable lunch and table conversation in the warm indoors. Since we knew that snow was making the going slow, we soon opted to hit the trail again, despite a temptation to linger where it was warm and cozy.

As usual we varied our return route so that we would not entirely retrace our steps to John Deere Park, and Dom managed to take us back to intersect the return trail by a route we hadn’t done before. It’s been a recurring joke that he hasn’t managed to lead this part of the hike twice in the same way, but last year he finally managed to break that tradition. This year he redeemed himself and we rejoined the Yellow by yet another new route. On leaving Bloodroot Valley deep snow, fallen trees and an inhospitable split rail fence at the JCC complex made following the old route impractical. Instead we walked up Manor Road until we could cross between Pouch and Kaufmann Camps to the Greenbelt trail. Walking the berm against traffic up Manor Road was more hazardous than any ice on the trails of the Greenbelt.

Due to changes in the route and starting place over the years out tri-annual 10 miler has shrunk to being more a 7 to 8 miler. We used to begin at Clove Lakes Park where there were restroom facilities and parking, and then walk across the abandoned freeway overpasses on the old Blue Trail route. Since the DOT frequently closed the overpasses and parking at Clove Lakes was sometimes reserved for other events, we decided to switch our start to the entrance of John Deere Park, where we still could view the overpasses on the way to the Blue Trail. Lately our intention has been to return as much as possible to the original 10 mile route used by Dick Buegler and Hermann Zaage and restore the hike to a legitimate 10 mile status. The issue of Pouch Camp intervened, however, and for the past several outings we’re chosen to detour to Pouch rather than include more of the original route. Maybe next year…

On reaching Deere Park we split into pairs, two of us following the upper Blue X Trail and two of us choosing to follow the trace of an old trail close to the Petrides’ fence that had recently marked by the passage of a deer. That seemed appropriate: a deer trail in Deere Park that led in almost a straight line to where the cars were parked. Following that trail was my idea and, I admit, turned out not to be a good one. Half way back to the park entrance the deer tracks we followed inconsiderately wandered away from the trail, leaving us the task of making out an old, faint trail buried under 6 to 10 inches of snow. We soon lost the path and had to bushwhack through deep drifted snow the rest of the way, returning to the cars about 5 minutes after Dom, who had followed the formal trail on a longer, more twisted route. Nevertheless, for us there was crisp air, a partially sunny day, and a good workout! It was a good hike.


November 2011, Latourette Blue Trail

Cleanup at Latourette Blue Trail
By Don Recklies, unhealthy Naturalist

Forest Restoration Workshop #185 Nov. 19, prostate 2011

Photo of Participants

Once again Protectors was fortunate in the weather for its 185th Forest Restoration workshop. The temperature climbed through the 50’s as we assembled beside old St. Andrew’s Church at LaTourette and the sky was bright and clear. We were a larger group than usual with the addition of Girl Scout Troop 5365. All told, including the moms and regular Protectors’ participants, we numbered 20, and made a long procession down the bike trail to our work area where the Blue Trail ascends to the Golf Course. We passed out gloves and clippers before we started out so that everyone would be prepared to hack away at Japanese Honeysuckle and Oriental Bittersweet on saplings beside the trail, and as soon as we got to the work area the girls set to despite suffering encounters with the thorns of unfriendly Multiflora Rose. I had to admire how self sufficient and co-operative they were, especially when confronted with large bittersweet vines.   Where necessary they just ganged up together, and the vines didn’t stand a chance. Jeanne at High Rock had loaned us several of their small hand loppers which proved especially useful on the larger bittersweet vines.   Our practice is to cut the vines as close to the ground as we can and then again as high on the trees as we can reach, unwrapping the vines wherever possible. Our own big loppers would have been difficult for some of the girls to heft at arms length, but these smaller loppers were just right for everyone. We’ll have to get some of our own for our workshops.

This was a day for raptors; I counted six on our walk along the bike path (I know; it’s really a muti-use trail, but we’re accustomed to calling it the bike path, so I’ll continue to do so), seven if you count a Turkey Vulture, the black V of its underwings wobbling overhead as it searched for its day’s meal.   The first bird of prey overflew us close to where the Hessian Spring flows under the bike path, and was obscured by overarching but leafless tree branches. None-the-less I ID’d it confidently by calling out “big hawk!”   The bike path hasn’t been repaired where this year’s heavy rains have eroded the crushed stone as far down as the underlying layer of landscaping cloth, and now that section of the path is somewhat like the Old Mill Road used to be, where the Hessian Spring created pools and ruts passing across the road to the marsh below. Given the current budget crisis in all city agencies, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a speedy repair. Repair will probably require truckloads of crushed stone and compaction by a construction roller, and a permanent repair might even require excavating and enlarging the drains that are supposed to conduct the waters of the spring under the path. The majority of the path is in good shape, however, and throughout the day several joggers passed by us, untroubled by the ruts. When we left to return our tools to High Rock, there was even a pair of unicyclists entering the path.

The second raptor we encountered was a Cooper’s Hawk with long, narrow tail, which dove down the hill from the golf course, flew low across the path, threaded through and disappeared behind a screen of trees close to the marsh. Later, close to the grove of pines between the bike path and the marsh, a male Harrier (formerly called the Marsh Hawk, a much more descriptive name given its habitat) circled a few times and disappeared low over the marsh. I’m abashed to say that, poor birder that I am, I didn’t ID it until I got home and consulted a field guide, despite lately having attended Peter Dorosh’s raptor workshop at the Brooklyn Bird Club. Workshops are all well and good, but they don’t help much if you don’t get out and do the fieldwork. Most of our adult hawks show little variation in appearance of males and females, but with harriers the appearance and size difference is exaggerated; the adult female is larger and from below shows grey, banded wings, whereas the underside of the smaller male is whitish, with black wing tips.   Later in the day we saw a pair of Red-tailed Hawks circling and calling to each other above Richmond Hill Road; probably these two were still part of a family group whose youngsters hadn’t yet been driven off by the adults. The scream of the Red-tail, as far as I’m concerned, is our iconic hawk call and the only call of local hawks worthy of comment. Despite their presence in urban parks and growing propensity to nest on city buildings, their call evokes a hair-raising sense of wilderness – the wolf howl of birds – and the calls of other hawks are wimpy by comparison.

After the Restoration and a break for Elaine’s cookies and bananas, the troop, leader and moms as well, took a short walk in through part of LaTourette.   ( I think I should mention that Dom has been supplying the water and Elaine has been bringing refreshments to our restorations at their own expense, so when you see the phrase “Protectors will supply refreshments,” think of thanking Dom and, especially, Elaine.) We ascended a hill overlooking the marsh by following a former loop of the Blue Trail.   We stopped at the top for a view over the marsh that would have been totally obscured earlier in the season, and then crunched back down to the bike path through drifts of red and brown oak leaves. I had hoped that we might enjoy a little bit of fall color, but courtesy of the October snow 90% of the leaves had already fallen and their crunchy drifts obscured the old trail, covering stones and fallen branches and making it necessary to shuffle our feet lest we be tripped up by hidden debris.   This is the season when one has to either know the trails or be observant of trail blazes, since the fallen leaves often make it impossible to discern the trail on the ground. A little later the leaves will have been shredded and trampled by many feet, making the trails easy to follow again, but for now everything is just a mottled carpet of brown.

Back at the bike path we continued toward the model airplane field until we came to where a former branch of the Yellow Trail – now relocated – crossed the stream toward the SI Mall and Yukon Avenue. There we stopped where the old remnants of one of the mill works stands in the stream. Since rides home would be waiting for the scouts at 1:30, we went no further and turned back along the paved path, pausing where we could see the remnants of the longest of the dams that once stored water for the mills at LaTourette.   It appears as a leafy mound that stretches away toward Forest Hill Road across the creek, but in a few places one can still see the stone foundation where earth has fallen away from the sides. The last lap of our walk was back to St. Andrews by the Blue Trail on the top of the ridge by the golf course. The older girls took the lead, and, thanks to their sharp eyes – or perhaps to a recent re-blazing by the trail maintainer – didn’t miss the turn downhill away from the green as do most hikers on the trail (newcomers to the trail often miss the turn and find themselves on a high green of the back nine to the puzzlement – and annoyance – of the golfers). We stopped at the Hessian Spring to allow the tail of the line to catch up, and found the edges of the spring spotted with fresh, bright green, opposite leaves of Stinging Nettles. In the late spring and summer these nettles make crossing the Hessian Spring a challenge for those wearing shorts and short sleeves, especially since in that damp, fertile area the nettles can grow to more than 4 or 5 feet high. Our skin was covered, however, and these nettles were only a few inches tall. A look at the leaves and stems with a hand lens revealed almost transparent, thin green stinging hairs filled with a irritating cocktail of histamine and formic acid that make this plant so unpleasant to encounter, but there seemed to be many fewer hairs than were on the summer plants.

Having foraged for fresh nettles in the spring, I was surprised to find them flourishing in November, and wondered if there was always such a flush of growth in fall, or if these nettles had been tricked by the season.   Last year we had an unusually long and warm fall, and I recalled seeing mature, healthy Stinging Nettle at Reed’s Basket Willow Swamp in December growing alongside frost blighted tips of Skunk Cabbage.   Stinging Nettles are perennial plants, dying back in Autumn and regrowing from their roots in Spring, and I wondered if the nettles at the Hessian Spring had suffered some trick and begun to throw up new shoots unseasonally.

A check of the more reliable web sites found that our common stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, is widely distributed and is not at all frost tender, so it can persist as an adult plant late into the fall.   USDA maps show it present in all but the most northen Canadian province, and throughout the continental United States except in Mississippi. (Well, that just can’t be right! When looking at the USDA maps we have to remember that they only show where plants have been reported, and that a plant’s absence on a state or county map may only indicate that none have yet made it into a report. It’s pretty unlikely that Mississippi would lack this plant that loves wet, rich soils, while it is present in every surrounding state.)

This nettle is common in Europe as well, and because it historically has had many medicinal uses we can find numerous web sites that more or less accurately describe its character. Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is an old, large, and very respected Botanical Gardens just outside of London, and the originator of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, a project whose aim is to preserve a selection of wild plant seeds, especially of those species that are in danger of becoming extinct, so that they may be available for research and regrowth in the future when wild populations may have vanished. (At present they believe they have banked seeds of over 10% of the world’s wild plant species, and are on track to have banked 20% by 2020.) Since it is not yet endangered and grows naturally in their gardens, Kew hasn’t banked seeds of the common stinging nettle, but notes that the seeds do not have a dormancy period, and can germinate just days after they have matured. This lack of a dormancy period would explain the numerous young shoots at the Hessian Springs, and since the plants are perennials, even if new seedlings are destroyed by frost the parent plant will spring up from its roots in the next growing season. As an aside, I should note that the Native Plant Center of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is one of a number of US organizations – and the only city public park that I know of – that is partnering with Kew Gardens in the SOS (Seeds of Success) project, which aim is to conserve native plant species to rehabilitate native lands. There are partners in the SOS project in Europe, Africa, and Asia as well, each attempting to aid rehabilitation of their own native lands.

Just like us, most flowering plants must mature before they can reproduce, and a period of vegetative growth is usually necessary before a plant is able to flower. Its time as a juvenile allows a plant to build up the necessary resources to be able to successfully produce seeds. It’s obvious, however, that some plants are quick to sprout and flower in the spring, some are slow growers or spring up much later and flower in the fall, and some grow and flower throughout the whole growing season.   Plants with these different life styles must use different cues and mechanisms to time their blossoming to the appropriate season, and these mechanisms often involve photo-period and temperature.   Plant response to photo-period is a matter of plant chemistry; during the day – as long as temperatures are sufficiently high – the leaves of the plant manufacture and accumulate various plant hormones which decay during the dark, and the plant adjusts its life cycle to the concentration of these hormones.   Photo-period is the ratio of night hours to daylight hours (lab experiments have shown that it is the length of dark hours that is more important). This ratio constantly changes throughout the year, but for every day in spring there is a day in fall with an equal ratio of daytime hours compared to night-time hours. Thus we sometimes find an occasional plant that takes its cue from the photo-period to flower in the spring also throwing up blossoms in the fall, even though these late blossoms are doomed to wither in the coming cold. In our woods one can occasionally find flower buds opening on viburnums in autumn. These buds will never mature, but there are usually other buds on the same shrub that remain closed until spring.

When to begin growth is a different issue, but has the much the same importance for plants in our temperate zones. (In the tropics different criteria apply. A plant there might not have so much need to time itself to avoid cold weather, but often must have a way to regulate its period of growth to alternations of wet and dry seasons.) The timing of growth may not have as much impact on perennials as it does on annual plants. Perennials such as the stinging nettle may have enough vigor in their roots to survive premature sprouting by throwing up a second flush of new shoots. The annuals though, depend on survival of their seeds, and a whole population of plants may be at risk if they mistime the production of seeds or if the seeds themselves are tricked into sprouting out of season. Through the ages plant seeds have developed many different safeguards to prevent premature sprouting, the methods differing between species. The most common method is often chemical; as the seed matures it stores foodstuffs that will later nourish the new sprout until it has grown enough to be able to manufacture its own food. Along with these foodstuffs a growth inhibitor that gradually decays over time is also stored. When enough time has passed, insuring that winter has come and gone, the concentration of the inhibitor becomes so low that the seed can to sprout in safety. Other plants use other methods, some of them mechanical and not chemical. One common mechanism is to provide the seed with a thick seed coat that must be worn down over time by mechanical abrasion or by the action of bacteria or fungi until the coat has become thin enough to allow passage of oxygen and water. Without sufficient oxygen and water the seeds cannot germinate, so they must wait until their coats have worn thin. The thick-shelled seeds of many peas and beans, for example, often require scarification by passage through an animal’s digestive tract to enable sprouting. This likewise assures that their young shoots will begin growth some distance from the parent plant.

In our latitude many plants and seeds, but not all, have developed different mechanism of winter dormancy to avoid exposing tender, growing tissue to winter freezes. The seeds of Sugar Maples, although few on Staten Island, and the acorns of Black Oaks require a period of cold dormancy before they will sprout, but White Oak acorns will sprout in fall almost as soon as they fall and Red maple seeds mature early in the year and can begin to grow almost as soon as they fall from the tree. The Kew Gardens web site suggests that while not requiring a period of winter dormancy, the seeds of the Common Nettle may at least require an exposure to cold before they can germinate; I suppose that this might expain all of the new growth at the Hessian Spring.

Departing the nettles and the spring we continued along the Blue Trail past the “golfball graveyard”, the spot below the driving range where errant balls find their final resting place, and then, having missed the old informal trail down hidden by fallen leaves, bushwacked down the hillside to our meeting place in the parking lot beside the church. The hillside here is a bit steep, and the old path down is often blocked by landscape debris from the church piled where the trail exits at the road, but is a safer way to the parking area than by following the legitimate trails and having to twice cross the heavily trafficked Richmond Hill Road. Back at the lot, the cookies were gone, the scouts soon departed, so we shared out the last of the bananas and collected our tools to take back to High Rock Park, all of which Jackie J. had carried in her backpack the entire way back (Believe me, for that I was grateful.   Jackie likes to lurk behind with her camera, so lugging a pack full of tools for 20 people must have been quite a hindrance!) We chatted, then packed our stuff in Judy’s car, and left just as newcomers began to arrive for a tour of the old graveyard. I didn’t think they’d be interested in the golfball graveyard on the hill above, so I didn’t let them in on the secret.


DfR 11-25-2011.

June 2011 Clove Lakes Park

Clove Lakes Restoration
By Don Recklies, tadalafil Naturalist

Photo of Participants


Forest Restoration # 180   06-18-11


Once again weather favored us and Protectors’ 180th Forest Restoration was sunny and warm with temperatures in the mid 80s. We met at Clove Lakes park in order to remove invasive species from newly re-forested areas, as we did around this time last year.   Most of our regular participants were otherwise engaged – at a function in another park for the most part – and I did not expect much of a turn-out, but Barbara Trees, who co-ordinates volunteers for Clove lakes Park, and Susan Kornacki, who co-ordinates volunteer services for the Million Tree Initiative, sent a last moment notice to the new group of Clove Lake stewards alerting them to our presence, and three members of the current year’s class joined us for the morning work session, bringing our number up to five.


We chose to work in Area A which is the oldest of the recently replanted areas. I should explain for those of you who haven’t read the report of our earlier Forest Restoration at Clove lakes. Several years ago the Natural Resources Group, the division of NYC Department of Parks and Recreation tasked with managing invasive species in the city’s parks, began a multi-year reforestation experiment at Clove Lakes in a highly degraded area.   Over a period of several years they systematically cleared sections of the degraded area with herbicides and began replanting them with native trees and shrubs. One of these areas was seeded with a close growing Japanese grass, carefully chosen for its non-invasive qualities, to see if it would suppress regrowth of invasive species until the trees and shrubs had grown tall and thick enough to cast their own suppressing shade. (I don’t know how that experiment is working out, but I’m curious.) The other areas were depended on active human intervention (here read hand clipping and pulling) to keep the returning invasives at bay. This project is still on-going and has been greatly accelerated by planting large numbers of trees as part of the Million Tree Initiative, and was the impetus for a series of stewardship classes at Clove Lakes to train volunteers to recognize unwanted species in order to be able to remove them from the planted areas. Some seven of our members attended the first series of these classes, and, although our concern is primarily in the Greenbelt, our members felt obliged to make some small return for the classes and implements provided by returning to help with invasive removal, thus the return to Clove Lakes.


We chose to work in the earliest of the planted areas, and spent our time there pulling up Porcelain Berry, Oriental Bittersweet, and Japanese Honeysuckle (not omitting Garlic-mustard and Japanese Knotweed). These edges of this plot were pretty clear, especially close to the asphalt walkway, but toward the interior Porcelain Berry had returned with a vengeance, mounding so thoroughly over saplings and shrubs that they did not so much compete with them for light as to deprive them of it.   Porcelain Berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) is a little different from the woody vines we customarily tackle in the Greenbelt; unlike the twining vines such as bittersweet and honeysuckle which twist about young saplings and strangle them with a woody ligature, Porcelain Berry climbs by means of a multitude of green tendrils which wrap about stalk and stems alike. It is a perennial vine, but not very woody, and because it doesn’t twine it doesn’t strangle the tree or shrub it grows upon. It does, however, grow prolifically, and in a very short time can completely cover the shrub it grows upon, putting it into deep shade. There’s a subtle distinction for you: this vine doesn’t strangle, it smothers, but that’s little consolation for the victims. Our native Catbriar is woody, climbs with tendrils as well and sometimes takes over clearings, but doesn’t grow nearly as fast and furious as does Porcelain Berry.


Porcelain Berry’s pretty lavender and blue late summer fruits produce a large quantity of seeds, and wherever it grows the seed bank in the soil is well provisioned with seeds for years to come (the viability is a guess on my part; a quick web search only unearthed a statement that the viability of Porcelain Berry seeds was “variable”). The result is that once this vine gets established in an area, even after existing vines are killed, there are hundreds of new sprouts each spring, and they grow fast. One of the NRG’s ideas was that volunteer tree stewards might be able to pull up these young sprouts starting early in the year before their roots became well established and the vines more difficult to uproot. Many vines we attacked were well developed and so interlaced with other plants that it was difficult to uproot the entire plant.   In those case we pulled what we could and clipped the remainder from the base of the tree as far away as we could reach. In some cases Porcelain Berry was bending the saplings far over onto the ground, and we wanted release them and to provide them light by removing the vines from the upper branches. This was difficult to do because the Porcelain Berry tendrils stubbornly attached the vines to every leaf and twig.   We did the best we could but often just had to cut the vines and leave the remains to wither on the trees in the summer heat.


To my mind our session at Clove Lakes exemplifies a problem facing the Department of Parks reforestation efforts. It is relatively easy to get volunteers to gather to plant trees and shrubs; the activity is attractive – everyone sees its value and takes great satisfaction from taking part. It is very difficult, however, to find volunteers to do the sometimes hot, dirty and demanding work of caring for and policing the previously planted areas, especially when they are rank with growth and difficult of access. What’s more, planting can be done once, but the effort to maintain those plants goes on and on, and requires some dedication.   Yet there are individuals and groups in almost every major city park that make that commitment, and they should be saluted (and the Protectors who support our Reforestation Workshops should give themselves a little pat on the back too).


Seeing the enthusiasm of the current stewards at Clove Lakes Park led me to ruminate about the wisdom and value of various restoration schemes. The arguments against invasive removal generally can be reduced to four: undertaking it is too expensive, it does more harm than good, it will be ultimately unsuccessful, and finally, as a matter of philosophy, nature can and should be left to take care of itself. All these points of view can be variously defended or refuted to create a spectrum of attitudes toward invasive removal, but I believe that Protectors does not adhere to any particular stance about restoration efforts, but prefers to examine each individual instance on its own merits.   The current controversial plan to restore Crookes Point at Great Kills (which you can read about in Ellen Pratt’s notice in our latest bulletin; I will not present details here.) is one such instance, and one about which Protectors has serious reservations.


Expense is probably the key issue that mitigates against restoration, especially as we see costs spiraling higher and higher, drawing the costs of other goods and services higher in their wake. These increasingly higher costs dampen enthusiasm for large scale invasive removal and reduce ongoing activities as budget cuts in parks and preserves force the allocation of manpower to the bare necessities of maintenance and essential public services.   Reduction of funding may also play a part in decisions to employ herbicides and non-selective mechanical eradication in invasive infected areas to the detriment of existing native species or the larger environment they inhabit. Given budget cuts at the National Park Service, it wouldn’t surprise me if a large part of the enthusiasm for restoration at Crookes Point is not due to the availability of plants and services through the city’s Million Tree Project. At first blush, being able to reforest a large area with at least a portion of the financing coming from a second agency invested in planting trees on a tight schedule and happy to have another agency’s co-operation in doing so would seem a win-win situation for both. Paradoxically, a lack of resources may be driving restoration efforts in this case.


Whether Draconian methods such as bulldozing and large-scale spraying of herbicides do more harm than good is debatable, and there is probably no all-encompassing answer that proves correct in every instance. We are told that in some cases a “scorched earth” technique may be the only practical method, such as when large areas have been taken over by Japanese Knotweed so that there are almost no other plants growing beneath their cover. Crookes, however, although widely inhabited by alien species, harbors native plants as well and the mixed plant cover supports a multitude of wildlife. Oriental Bittersweet and Japanese Honeysuckle abound, as well as Ailanthus and White Poplar trees, but there are also native Bayberrys, Sumacs and Blackberry. The site itself is an area ill-suited to drastic restoration plans; it is a sandy area closely surrounded by water, and herbicides employed there, all water soluble, would probably find their way into the harbor and bay. Removing the existing cover will expose the thin layer of soil there to long, hot periods of dessication, requiring a long period of constant care if new growth is to survive. Then there is also the question about what it is we are restoring the site to?   Wasn’t the site formerly a rocky and sandy island dotted with seaside grasses, sedges and a few salt-tolerant shrubs? The environment is hostile and what trees were there before must have been small, sparse and tolerant of spray from the bay. If anything, shouldn’t that state be the aim of restoration there?


One could take the position that unless success can be assured the natural environment would be served best by not employing such extreme measures. Invasive plants, by the nature of their lack of natural enemies, their fast growth and reproductive rates, and – often – tolerance of a wide variety of growing conditions, can often return with a vengeance after a plot has been cleared. At Clove lakes, for example, if in the future sufficient resources are not available to maintain areas cleared of invasives it may prove that those areas should not have been cleared at all.   Only time will tell if there is enough commitment to see it through. This is probably a key to the whole restoration debate: if the outcome ultimately is un-successful, should an attempt at invasive removal be made at all? If we agree that invasive species are too widespread to be entirely eradicated, shouldn’t we just throw in the towel and watch as a new balance of native and alien species is achieved? Assuming, as I do, that climate change is occurring, that southern species will continue to move into our locality and that more and more species from southern Europe and Asia will find their way here, shouldn’t we just step back and watch while nature adjusts itself?


I myself can’t completely agree. Human activity is the root cause of most of the problems of alien invasives in our natural areas, and I believe that human intervention can correct or at least ameliorate some of those problems. What are our other options? Should we just admit, for example, that Garlic-mustard will continue to advance along the trails in the Egbertville Ravine and that our descendants will eventually have to be content with viewing native wildflowers such as Virginia Waterleaf and Doll’s Eye in botanical gardens? (By the way, I have just read an abstract from a recent study done in New Zealand that implicates botanical gardens as the source of more than half of the noxious invasive plants that have been released to plague the modern world. Those plants escaped, however, mostly between 1800 and 1950.) Or should we accept that the serpentinite barrens on Staten Island will all disappear by being covered over by encroaching shrubs or, as seems to be happening below Moses Mountain, by the alien Devil’s Walking Stick? We don’t really know what the future will bring, but we do know from present experience that alien twining vines strangles saplings in the Greenbelt and that invasive plants such as Garlic-mustard tend to propagate and penetrate along used trails, and that these things can be attacked on a small scale by individuals or groups. I have no illusions that invasive plants can be totally removed from the Greenbelt, or for that matter from any other of our natural areas.   But I have seen numerous sapling strangled by alien vines, and numerous, larger trees displaying the scars where someone has previously cut away the strangling vines.   These trees would not be standing had not park employees or volunteers like us not made the effort to remove the vines when the saplings were young. And I still find Doll’s Eye along the White Trail in Egbertville Ravine where Dick Buegler and I cleared Garlic Mustard several years ago. The Garlic Mustard is coming back strongly and needs to be cleared away again, but for now colonies of Doll’s Eye are still there.


We can’t foresee the long range results of small scale invasive removal efforts such as we try to do in the Greenbelt, but I am persuaded that they can do little harm, and certainly cannot but help the native flora survive the onslaught of invasive species along the trails. I have been looking at a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website which tallies invasive plants of concern in that state – a document containing many suspects familiar to us – and lists control methods, and noted that the writers recommended a strategy of prioritizing restoration efforts. Rather than attack the core concentrations of invasive plants, they suggest that much can be accomplished by attacking smaller, isolated, outlying infestations, thus preventing further spread with the least investment of resources. As more resources are available, they can be applied to suppressing the perimeter of core infestations. Scouting and removing outliers of invasive plants along the Greenbelt trails would be a good role for knowledgeable volunteers. Who knows, perhaps in the future better, more effective methods of suppressing alien plants and protecting native species will be developed; in the meantime we have to do the best we can to preserve what we now have.

DfR 07-06-2011




January 2011 Greenbelt

January Cleanup at Greenbelt
By Don Recklies, Naturalist

Forest Restoration #175   January 15, search 2011

January’s restoration was a poorly attended affair, but not, I think, because of the snow and cold. Again, several of our regulars were away, and I may have led one astray about just where we were working. Judy Thurmond provided transportation from the ferry, and Dom Durso appeared with our gloves and pruners, despite first having to deal with bags of landscaping material that had been dumped in the street in front of his drive. We walked the nature trail to the entrance of the bike path at Rockland and Forest Hill Road so that Dom could appraise what the trail conditions might be like for next week’s 10 mile Greenbelt hike, and there spent our time removing bittersweet and honeysuckle from shrubs and saplings.   Many young trees already had spirally creased bark from the constriction of the vines, but few looked like they would not recover after the vines were removed. The vines will grow back, of course, but in the interval the rescued plants will leaf out with less competition, will grow thicker stems, and will have time to repair their damaged conductive tissues. The day was alternately sunny and overcast, but the temperature was above freezing and, without wind, remarkably comfortable. The only downside was having to wade through the occasional deep snowdrift, and, after a while, suffer wet gloves. We were dressed for it and had a change of gloves, however, so all was well.


Afterwards, we took a short walk along the nature trail, just sightseeing and looking at animal tracks – mostly those of deermice – in the snow. There had been little wind to blow new snow into the tracks, so the numerous traces probably gave us a false impression of the number of deermice about. We remarked at the paucity of squirrel and deer tracks, and puzzled about what appeared to be a deer track that went UNDER a branch buried in the snow and disappeared at a hollow at the base of a small tree. It wasn’t the track of a deer of course; we could make out that the stride was about 8 inches, but couldn’t see a clear impression of the feet in the snow. It was probably a squirrel, but we gave up on that one. The weather continued mild and windless, and the increasingly wet snow began to pack squeakily under our feet – good snowman material I thought. Shortly we were rewarded by the flyover of a Cooper’s Hawk, and then, closer to Forest Hill Road, we began to find clear deer tracks going to and from the hollow.   Skies became overcast again, and the temperature began to drop with the waning light, so home we went.


Since we assemble once a month to do these forest restoration sessions, it is worthwhile to examine why we do Forest Restorations and whether in general it is a task worth our time. Although its often assumed that “alien invasive” species are generally a bad thing, there is no consensus of opinion about this. Rather there is a spectrum of attitudes that run the gamut from those who believe that all species are products of nature and that nature should be left to take its course to those who believe that man has disrupted the natural environment and must actively intervene to put nature right – indeed, that man has a duty to intervene and put things right. Some who find themselves at the “hands off” end of the spectrum believe that inevitably a new balance will be struck between native and alien species, and that this balance will be struck faster if we don’t meddle. Many at the intervention end of the spectrum believe that alien species now disrupt the local web of life in “un-natural” ways; that prior to disruptive human activity alien species would be introduced to a new area slowly and sporadically, allowing ecosystems time to adjust to their presence. Obviously in today’s world of high-speed, long-distance transportation local flora and fauna no longer have the luxury of a lengthy period of acclimation to newcomers, or for that matter acclimation to any of the ways that accelerated human activity alters their environment, and the loss or diminution of many species is the result. The introduction of foreign insects and fungi are often implicated as key ingredients in species loss; fungi have been implicated as the cause of Dutch Elm Disease, American Chestnut Blight, the radical loss of amphibian species worldwide, and the decimation of bat colonies by White Nose Disease here in the northeast. Alien plants have been known to displace native species, resulting in a greater total number of species in our area, but with a smaller and smaller proportion of native plants in the mix.


Robert DeCandido, a New York naturalist, has written a number of papers about species loss and gain in New York City, and needless to say those papers reveal that the gainers are mostly aliens and the losers mostly natives. [A later, similar study concentrating on the area’s woody plants was done by Gerry Moore and the late Steven Clemants (author of a very thorough photographic guide to wildflowers of our region) of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden leads to the same conclusions. You can find that study and many others at] As of this millennium, New York City retained only 57% of its historical native species – in other words almost half of the different plants that used to grow here can no longer be found!   Staten Island had by far a greater variety of recorded native plants than any other borough, and likewise suffered a proportionally greater loss. Although the island still has the edge on the number of extant species, continued development of unbuilt areas – I’m tempted to say overbuilding – continues to result in the loss of both native and alien species. DeCandido lists a total of 921 extant plant species on Staten Island, and 126 species now extirpated. In the last 70 years (as of 1999), Staten Island lost 35% of its native plants! – and compared to the other boroughs, SI was doing the best! Staten Island was the only borough in which the number of native species found exceeded the number that had been extirpated, but I suspect this might no longer be true today… Such figures are depressing, but now and then there is a gleam of hope in this gloomy situation; very occasionally a rare species is found again in some corner of our fast disappearing unbuilt areas. A case in point is the Ragged-Fringed Orchis, recorded as rare on Staten Island in 1981, and not noted again until Dick Beugler found a colony again on a Protectors’ walk at Mt. Loretto in 2005.


We recognize many common plants as alien species, but used by itself, the label begs the question of just what makes an alien species “alien.” Obviously all species now present here are not “natives,” i.e. “born here,” but arrived from elsewhere at some time past. Just how long must they be resident before they are considered native plants?   Most choose to set the cut-off date with the arrival of the European colonists in the 17th century, while others note that some alien plants must have come along when, it is theorized, Eurasian peoples crossed into North America across a land bridge that is now the Bering Strait when the sea level was much lower during the ice ages over 16,000 years ago. One could go to the extreme and say that native plants would be only those whose ancestors were on the North American land mass when it separated from the Pangean supercontinent some 150 million years ago, but that would be ridiculous! Generally, we date native plants as those pre-existing before European colonization, a perhaps artificial but certainly practical dividing point in time.


No matter where we set the cut-off date, however, it is generally recognized that most aliens manage to fit into their new environments without disruption; they become just another patch of color or texture squeezed in the landscape, and eventually the flora and fauna around them adjust to the new strands in the web of life.   A young English gentleman, John Josselyn, voyaged twice to the New World in the 1600’s, and after his return in 1671 published an account of the flora and fauna of New England. His New-England Rarities, published in 1672, included an accounting of the species of “such Plants as have sprung up since the English Planted and kept Cattle there.” [Have you an interest, you can view a later reprint of his book (1865) as one of the thousands of out-of-copyright books that Google has scanned and made available on line. Just Google “Josselyn’s Rarities.”] The plants he lists are very familiar to us: Shepherd’s Purse, Curly Dock, Annual Sowthistle, Chickweed, Dandelion, Stinging Nettle, to name a few.   Even in Josselyn’s time, some alien plants had already become so common that they were mistakenly believed to be native to both the old world and the new. Having been with us for so long, I doubt that many but professional botanists are aware that those plants did not always reside here, and it seems to us that they have not much damaged their environment. Then again, we have no valid yardstick to measure by, no way of knowing what surrounding fields and forests would have looked like without the presence of those aliens.


Most alien species struggle to find a niche in which they might survive. Native plants are usually best adapted to fit niches in the local environment, and they keep the number of alien outsiders down. If aliens persist, they usually manage to do so as small, patchy populations that don’t greatly disturb the local ecosystem, and sometimes appear as pioneer species only, disappearing when the natives move in as newly disturbed areas mature. Some aliens, however, find themselves without enemies in their new habitat, become wildly successful colonizers, and become invasive, displacing original native species. These invasives, such as Multi-flora Rose, Japanese Honeysuckle and Barberry, and Oriental Wisteria, don’t find their place without stress and disruption of the local habitat. Often they become a mono-culture where they grow, shading out or in other ways suppressing the growth of competing plants. When we decide what to do during our Forest Restorations we must weight the value of resisting the spread of such disruptive aliens against the potential damage that we might cause to the local ecosystem.   Generally we resort to clipping and manual pulling of invasive species, methods that are relatively benign. This is as much a reasoned choice as well as recognition that we lack the authorization and expertise to employ herbicides and powered equipment.


Others do often resort to the use machines and herbicides. The NYCDPR and the Natural Resources Group occasionally resort to wide scale defoliation with chainsaw, earthmover and herbicide, especially when they have decided that a degraded area cannot be restored any other way, but the decision to use these methods may be based on a lack of manpower to do otherwise. We generally agree that hand-pulling is the best alternative and causes less collateral damage to the ecology of disturbed areas, but more often than not this would require the long term employment of an army of hand pullers! Absent such an army, the NYCDPR has resorted to chemical and mechanical defoliation of a few severely degraded areas of Clove Lakes Park, followed by a large scale replanting with native species, and similar work has been done at Conference House Park. Some of the plots treated at Clove Lakes are test plots used to determine what methods will be best employed to clear out invasive species in the future, but no matter what method was used to clear the land, the newly planted shrubs and trees will need attentive care to prevent the regrowth of alien species from overwhelming them before they become large enough to take care of themselves, and it remains to be seen whether in the long term there will be enough volunteer manpower to keep those replanted areas free of opportunistic alien plants while the new plants become established. Invasive species and forest restoration are difficult subjects requiring much experience and forethought; no one method will prove best for all places, and the methods employed probably always will be somewhat controversial.


As an example, local naturalists are uneasy regarding the National Parks Service plan to chemically defoliate Crooke’s Point at Great Kills and, in co-operation with the city’s Million Tree Initiative, replant that area with native species. On the one hand the area is certainly over-run with alien vines and shrubs, especially Japanese Honeysuckle and Multi-flora Rose. On the other, there are native plants mixed in there, struggling to survive on that thin, infertile soil, and a whole host of invertebrates and small mammals and birds that depend on that flora.   What will happen to that wildlife when the area is defoliated? If it’s done in stages, will there be opportunity for the small creatures to migrate elsewhere? And what long-term effect will the herbicides have on the local environment, or the water about the Point? And crucial for the success of the project, who will take care of the replanted native trees and shrubs over the long period it will take for them to become re-established in that inhospitable place? There always seem to be volunteers found to help plant, but there are many fewer when it comes to inspecting and weeding, and on that often dry point, watering. Yanking out is not nearly as charismatic as putting plants in the ground.


The city’s plaNYC, I believe, will face much the same problem. Those critical of the city’s Million Tree Initiative believe that the money spend on planting a million new trees over a ten year period would be better employed by planting fewer new trees and paying more attention to funding the repair and maintenance of the existing infrastructure of our parks and natural areas. The new trees, they argue, are not given enough support, and that without proper water and care many if not most have little chance of surviving the long term; I have heard it said that the Department of Parks expects only about 30% of the new trees will survive in areas that are most degraded. I myself find the Million Tree Initiative very laudable but, like the skeptics, have to question where care for these trees will come from in the coming years. Where will the city find money for additional arborists and inspectors when staffing and budgets are being decimated? The “adopt-a-tree” program that solicits citizen help is one solution, but I’ll wager that the number of citizen arborists produced will fall far short of the number that a million new trees would require.


But back to protectors… There seem to be two approaches, not necessarily mutually exclusive, that we might make: we might try to encourage the growth of native species by replanting where they have been extirpated and tending to their growth, or we might fight the intrusion of alien species by various search and destroy missions. Sometimes we try combinations of both. Our usual focus on a Restoration Workshop is to go after the alien, woody, twining vines that we find growing on saplings along many of the Greenbelt trails. The main culprits are Japanese Honeysuckle and Oriental Bittersweet, both of which are capable of strangling small trees with a woody noose and clambering up into their branches to compete with the tree’s leaves for sun. If possible, we uproot the vines, which does disturb the soil but is effective at slowing the vines’ return.   Most of the time, however, we prune the vines as close to the ground as possible, unwrap them, and cut them from the shrubs at such a height that new vines cannot immediately use the dead, hanging strands to scramble back into the sun. We try to unwrap the vines to the point where the remaining vines are fragile enough to easily rot away or be broken by the growing plant they twine upon.


In areas of partial shade Honeysuckle especially twists about itself and can form mounds over surrounding vegetation until virtually nothing remains but a shady tents of honeysuckle over herb deprived ground. Honeysuckle and other invaders are not entirely valueless; their blossoms and, in the case of the bittersweet, their fruit has an aesthetic appeal – they add color and contrast to a winter landscape, and who hasn’t, at one time or another, stopped to sample a drop of sweetness from the nectary at the base of a honeysuckle blossom? Ecologically, their fruits provide forage and their tangles of vines provide shelter for birds and small mammals; but this is at the expense of a greater variety of herbs and native vines they displace. The labor to remove them is so demanding, however, that we rarely go after these low lying masses of alien vines unless we can see that they are burying small saplings. We did, however, attempt to remove an expanse of English Ivy that carpeted the ground in the area between the White Trail entrance at London Road and the Meisner Bluebelt Pond (will somebody please tell me if this DEP created pond has an official name!).   We spent several sessions there pulling ivy from the ground, cutting it from the trees, and mounding it in discrete piles off the trail. (English   Ivy, however, is not a twining vine and posed no great danger to saplings; it did, however, climb into the canopy, burdening the trees, and by carpeting the ground with evergreen foliage, suppressed the growth of herbs and spring wildflowers.) Our intervention was for the most part successful; the herb layer has restored itself and relatively few invasive species have sprung up in place of the removed ivy.

Garlic-mustard is another alien invasive that we sometimes target, although only occasionally. Some believe that efforts to remove Garlic-mustard do more harm than good; that yanking the plants out disturbs the soil, damages the fragile mats of fungal mycelium that lie just under the surface and exposes the underlying soil to potentially desiccating arid air. Tiny invertebrates and micro-organisms in the leaf layer and top layer of soil are rooted up with the extracted plants and left to dry and die, and root systems of nearby plants are disrupted. The disturbed soil then becomes fertile ground for the growth of another generation of opportunistic and, more often than not, alien plants. The application of herbicides to control these mustards does not disturb the soil, and is often considered the only effective means to suppress them, but this is difficult to accomplish without damage to neighboring plants, and there have been to my knowledge few studies of the long term effects on native species of such chemical control. If   Garlic-mustard, a prolific seeder, has been growing in a location for several years, there can be no doubt that the soil bank contains several year’s worth of Garlic-mustard seeds waiting patiently to be exposed and spring up to replace those plants rooted out, necessitating yet another round of control. Many Staten Island naturalists endorse the viewpoint of John Andrew Eastman, a Michigan wildlife biologist who has written three fascinating accounts of habitat ecology in the northeast, who believes that efforts to control invasives often do as much harm as good, and that a decision to intervene should be made only after much deliberation.


I think that the jury’s still out on this subject.   We know that Garlic-mustard is what is called allelopathic, that it inhibits the growth of competing plants by contaminating the surrounding soil, and that there is evidence that it disturbs the growth of mycorrhizal fungi which grow in the soil around various trees in the forest and give the trees more access to nutrients than they could achieve on their own. Studies have shown that tree seedlings in forests in which the shrub layer has been invaded by large amounts of Garlic-mustard are less successful than those growing in areas that have not been invaded, and that in those invaded areas the forests seem to mature without normal regeneration. The trees grow larger and older, and the forest more shady, but there are few saplings beneath waiting to exploit clearings created by the fall of elderly inhabitants and become the next generation of woody giants.


Protector’s doesn’t have an official stance about the removal of Garlic-mustard, or any other invasive for that matter. We have joined several of the Department of Park’s sessions pulling Garlic-mustard in High Rock Park, and in our Restoration workshops we occasionally go after the tall, flowering second-generations of the plant (the first generation rosettes are too many and too small, I think, to countenance hand pulling), especially in limited areas where it is beginning to make inroads along the trails. We did this twice along part of the White Trail in the Egbertville Ravine, where Garlic Mustard is starting to be prevalent along trail edges and is spreading down toward the stream paralleling Rockland Avenue, and in subsequent years we have seen a notable reduction of the number of these flowering mustards. Where the Garlic Mustard grew we see Sarsasparilla, Avens, Virginia Waterleaf and other natives again. In a case like this, where we can schedule a follow-up in later years to remove new Garlic Mustard and any Japanese Honeysuckle and Multi-flora Rose that may begin to grow on those former mustard sites, I believe we can achieve a limited success. (We might even try eating them away; see the postscript at the end of the report!)   A look uphill from the trail toward Meisner Road, however, reveals still more Garlic Mustard whose seeds will work their way down toward the trail.


Some invasive species, such as varieties of Japanese Knotweed and Phragmites, are just too much for us to handle. Japanese Knotweed is difficult to root out, and sprouts again readily from any root fragments left behind. Having few native enemies, it spreads rapidly in any but the deepest shaded areas.   It is a powerful sprouter; the shoots, edible when young and tender and reminiscent of rhubarb when nibbled or used in a salad, are never-the-less capable of piercing asphalt roads. Successful eradication at present requires a chemical attack or power equipment, indiscriminately destructive methods that we cannot and do not employ.   However, unless some biological agent can be found to control it – and employment of biological agents always carries with it the danger that the cure might become worse than the disease – the use of chemicals and graders may be a lesser evil than allowing Japanese Knotweed to continue to spread and make inroads along the edges of our forests. It’s worthwhile, I think, to uproot isolated stands or cut them to the ground when we encounter them on restoration sessions, in the hope that we can slow its cloning into bigger and bigger patches where it didn’t exist before. A big, established patch, however, is beyond our means to remove.


DfR       1-21-2011


PS: Judy Thurmond pointed me to a Maryland organization that uses a Garlic Mustard “harvest” in the form of a yearly food festival as part of their invasive removal scheme. I doubt that an appetite for garlic can make a dent in the vast number of Garlic-Mustards that seem to spring up almost everywhere, but the idea is entertaining and served the Maryland organization as a focus for volunteers removing the plants. The festival centers around a Garlic-Mustard cooking competition, and the web site includes a few recipes of past winners. Some of these look pretty good, but, alas, it only includes winners from 2001 and 2002! I looked at their site and see that the Garlic-Mustard Challenge continues to be a part of their calendar, so I wondered if they might be saving later recipes for a fund-raiser recipe book… If you want to try this flavorful invasive this spring, you might also want to look at the recipes or the cooking tips sidebar on their site.

Another site – which in part draws recipes from this challenge – is


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