The Habitat Restoration Project at the Rust Nature Sanctuary, which took place April 9 and 10, was a great success. This event was a follow-up to past restoration efforts at Rust that took place last year and the team made some great progress!
Ann Garvey organized and led the effort as Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy habitat restoration volunteers, as well as several Virginia Master Naturalists (VMN), worked together to remove invasive plants on the property, and replace them with native plants.
Mary Lopresti was one of the volunteers pulling and planting that day and she sent over this great report:
Friday’s Team worked extensively down by the pond, using shovels and other tools to dig the cattail roots and stalks out of the ground. These rather muddy volunteers did a wonderful job clearing out a large section of cattails from the pond, which was no easy task.
When a cattail grows, its roots branch out on either side of the plant, forming a web or mat of crisscrossed roots. Overtime, this mat can become heavily weighted with silt and other pond particulates, creating more space for new cattails to grow or take root in. Because of their ability to spread so quickly and build up and out in surface area, cattails can be considered a threat to small ponds.
After removing the cattails, volunteers planted several native but non-aggressive wetland plants, in the freshly cleared space, including: Rushes, Sedges, native Virginia Southern Blue Flag Iris and Buttonbush. Rushes and Sedges are water-loving plants that have deep-penetrating roots, which help prevent erosion by providing structural support to stream banks, or in this case ponds. The Blue Flag Iris provides beautiful blue flowers for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, and ground cover for amphibians and nesting waterfowl. The extensive root system of the Buttonbush also helps prevent erosion and preserves water quality by pulling nutrients out of the water. It attracts butterflies and nectar-feeding insects to its blooms, in addition to providing nesting and shelter for many other birds and animals.
Some members of Friday’s Team helped clear invasive species. They also planted native plants such as Red Columbine and Chokeberries. While Red Columbine provides nectar for pollinators such as hummingbirds and bees, chokeberries attract birds and provide excellent understory for other wildlife to seek shelter in.
While two members continued clearing cattails, the remaining members of the Saturday Team (myself included) focused primarily on clearing the wooded area behind the pollinator garden. We cleared out several types of invasive species, including the highly aggressive Wisteria and Garlic Mustard plants, as well as Japanese Honeysuckle and Wineberry.
Wisteria is a not native to the United States; it originates from China and Japan. While this vine may have lovely purple flowers, it can quickly grow out of control. Gardeners who mistakenly plant wisteria to cover their arbors or trellises will find that the plant grows immensely thick and heavy enough to crush wooden posts and strangle large trees. Wisteria allowed to grow on houses can cause damage to gutters, downspouts, and other structures.
Garlic Mustard aggressively monopolizes light, moisture, nutrients, soil, and space, which out-competes and threatens native plants and animals by depriving them of their essential food sources.
Japanese Honeysuckle, a non-native species, has few natural enemies, which allows it to spread widely and out-compete native plant species. This perennial vine can kill shrubs and young trees by twisting and squeezing around them tightly. A dense growth of Japanese Honeysuckle can kill plants by blocking sunlight from reaching their leaves.
Wineberry, my least favorite plant of the day, has long stems that are covered by red hairs and small (very painful) spines. This prickly stemmed plant grows upright, arching outward up to 9 feet long. It produces a large number of fruits that are eaten and dispersed by birds. Seeds passed by birds sprout and form dense, tightly packed thickets, which crowd out native vegetation.
Some of the most immediate and rewarding benefits of clearing out the wisteria at Rust Sanctuary included the discovery of numerous Jack in the Pulpit plants. Plus, the group also enjoyed Ann’s homemade cookies during a mid-morning water break (thanks Ann)! Possible future sanctuary projects could include the removal of a Paulownia tree, another aggressive grower, and the addition of flowering redbud trees, which produce seeds eaten by birds and deer.