My Favorite Invasives in the Rockfall Forest

Contributed by Marilyn Keurajian

First off, we are quite literally and figuratively over our heads.

Removing invasive plants from the Rockfall Forest is definitely a very big job. Ironically, most of these plants were introduced by people, at least initially. Now people are seeking to understand why they are noticing fewer insects and birds.

The plants we have been struggling to conquer were actively introduced by landscapers, horticulturalists, home gardeners and others. Through no fault of their own, many non-native plants have taken up residence. They spring to life earlier than our natives getting a jump on the season. They have minimal predators. They excel in reproduction. What seemed like a good idea at the time has taken a very negative turn as these tenacious plants reproduce, un-checked in our fields and forests, and are smothering the plants that native animals, like pollinators, depend on. This threatens the beautiful balance of nature that has taken thousands of years to develop.

As we cut, pull, and dig out these plants, Rockfall volunteers see a constant stream of people enjoying the trails. Some are forest bathers, some are exercising, some are introducing children to the forest, and some are very curious about what we are doing. These people are also “invasives,” but they are, to me, most welcome invasives. (I know they are really just visitors and will not be dropping their offspring off to colonize the forest).

The Rockfall Foundation is an environmental educational non-profit. It is such a pleasure to encounter people in the forest. I have been down on one knee yanking and pulling at a determined multi-flora rose, when a voice from the path quietly asks, “What are you doing over there?” While I really would like to dispatch that bush, the opportunity to talk about how it got there and why it needs to go becomes my immediate priority.

A single multiflora rose plant may produce half million seeds each year.

This invasive plant is out-competing the plants that are native to this forest. It was introduced as a landscaping shrub because it is hardy and has pretty red berries in the Fall. Birds feed on the berries and drop them far and wide. It springs to life early in the season, shading the ground and making it difficult for native plants to thrive. My “student” says that they had no idea it was a problem and shares that they have a large patch on the edge of their own yard and often find seedlings in their flower beds. They ask me how to get rid of it, we chat a bit, and they move on. I’d like to think that this conversation will result in the removal of even more multi-flora roses as I resume my attack on the bush at hand.

Another young family is moving into earshot. As they get closer, I see a dad with an infant in a snuggly pack and a toddler pin-balling from tree to rock to tree, picking up precious sticks and acorn caps. He is laughing as Mom captures these beautiful moments in a stream of phone shots. I have built a good size pile of rose canes as I’ve honed down on a substantial rose root knuckle. The toddler asks me if I am building a nest. It is truly a LOL moment. I stop again and explain that while some bunnies may actually find shelter in my brush pile, I am really pulling this bully off of a Christmas fern who would just like to grow. “Bullies are bad!” he says. We agree.

His mom asks why it is called a Christmas fern and I explain that the fronds are evergreen right through the winter season. Even though frost might lay them down, they stay green, protecting the duff layer, helping with erosion and soil building. Baby starts to fidget at the stillness, and the family moves on after thanking me for helping the forest.

As I hunker down on the sturdy rose root, now on all fours as I trace the root branches across the forest floor, a woman about my age suddenly asks if I am okay, “Do you need help getting up?” I replied that I was very okay and that I was working with a group of volunteers to remove invasive plants from the forest so that the native plants could grow. I explain that we come every Sunday, and she asked if she could can help. I offer to put her on the email list. Maybe she will come next week, yank out some roses and enjoy the forest on a new level. We agree that it feels good to help.

Sometimes the things you accomplish are not what you had in mind.

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