January 2015

PHNRC Says Goodbye to 2014 With One Last Work Day!

The Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission gathered together with dedicated volunteers for one last workday in 2014 to usher out the old year and a lot of invasive buckthorn. Temperatures were cold but spirits remained high seeing large amounts of buckthorn going up in smoke.

Volunteers concentrated on burning the last of summers cuttings before the snow fall. "As summer ended, so did our regular debri pickup", said Commissioner Agnes Wojnarski. "There was still a lot of cuttings to be disposed of in addition to some minor stands of buckthorn to be removed from the area. The goal was to try to clear the area
completely and get ready to put some seed down," added Wojnarski.

Volunteers ended the session with a Kielbasa roast before heading off for the Christmas holidays. A splendid time was had by all.

The PHNRC would like to thank the Prospect Heights Fire Department for their guidance and oversight to make our workday campfires safe and effective.

Behind the Scenes

The Natural Resources Commission has been working throughout the winter to seed native plants around the Slough. Areas cleared of Buckthorn have been seeded with over 30 native species of plants, most collected from locally remnant sites. Many wetland plants, sedges and rushes have been seeded where invasive reed canary was removed.

Winter is the best time for seeding, as many native plant seeds need to undergo the natural freezing and thawing cycles in order to germinate.

More than 6,000 plugs of native plants will soon arrive in May 2015, with a detailed landscape  plan that will provide better soil filtration, stabilize the shoreline and prevent further erosion.

As you may have noticed, the ground is very bare and black where the buckthorn was removed, with nothing growing. This is because buckthorn shades out and suffocates all of the plants that should be growing in a healthy ecosystem, yet haven’t been allowed to for decades.

Bare soil with or without buckthorn increases soil erosion because of a lack of understory plants whose roots that would normally hold the soil together.  To protect the soil from eroding further, many of the wooded areas cleared of buckthorn have been seeded with pounds of native bottlebrush grass by the Commission and volunteers during the winter workdays. 

Bottlebrush grass, shown above,  is an elegant, attractive grass that has a distinct flowering part that looks like a “bottlebrush” when it goes to seed.  It is often found along shaded stream banks and floodplain areas and is frequently used in restoration. The seeds support a great variety of important insects and mammals. This beautiful, native grass will help to prevent further erosion while restoration efforts continue. 

Winter Tree ID - Buds, Bark and Branches!

Identifying trees in the winter can be daunting, especially for our volunteers who want to make sure they are cutting down invasive buckthorn and not accidentally removing native trees and shrubs.

Some of the more common trees that may be confused in the winter without their flowers, leaves or fruit are in the Prunus genus. Pictured here are the branches of two of our native shrubs/trees, the American plum and black cherry.

One of the ways to tell the three apart is by looking at the bark. Young black cherry trees have smooth bark and abundant lenticels, which are horizontally elongated. Cherry trees also have a very specific, bitter, almond aroma when the leaves or inner bark are crushed.

When out in the field and in doubt, removing the outer bark of a single branch will expose the cambium layer. Buckthorn has a very distinct orange colored cambium. 
One of the most important ways to help tell tree species apart is noting whether they have an opposite or alternate leaf, stem or bud arrangement.  Both the plum and the cherry have alternate branching patterns, while the buckthorn has a sub-opposite branching pattern. They are almost opposite, but not quite! This is very specific to buckthorn and is a very useful for correct identification. Note that the buds are usually sub-opposite as well.

A fun fact that can help one ID buckthorn is in the name!! The terminal, or end buds often have a thorn between them. The two buds form what looks like a Buck’s hoof print.  

Sometimes looking closely at the buds and thorns can bring one closer to positive identification. The American plum has what appear to be thorns, but when one looks closely, there are actually very tiny buds at the very tips of some of them! Buckthorn has true thorns at the terminal end.

Black cherry has very red, plump buds, which are often clustered together at the end. Once again, pay attention to the arrangement of the buds. Note that buckthorn has sub-opposite buds!

Winter Tree ID is actually quite fun when you start to know what to look for. There are many wonderful field guides available to help guide you to proper identification. The Morton Arboretum currently offers Tree ID classes in all seasons as well. 

                                                                      - Agnes Wojnarski

Coming this Spring to Prospect Heights Park District! Bird, plant and tree ID classes taught by professional Plant Ecologists, Botanists and Ornithologists. Watch the PHNRC Journal and the Calendar of events for more information.


Wild Things 2015: a Chicago Wilderness Conference for People and Nature.

Join this great gathering of the inspiring souls who live and breathe Chicago nature!

This day-long conference brings together the region's best experts, professionals, dedicated volunteers, and all those who care about nature. Presentations and workshops will explore the latest in natural areas conservation and advocacy, wildlife protection and monitoring. The conference is for everyone from newcomers to experts. It showcases Chicago area places from backyards to refuges. There is special focus on empowering citizen scientists, stewards, and advocates with information, networking, and good ideas.

Online registration ends on January 19. Visit the 
Wild Things Conference website for conference schedule and information.

Community Comments

Just a quick note to commend the Committee on the fabulous job you have been doing.  Opening up the adjacent banks of the slough has really made a big difference; bet the neighbors love their new view.

                                                                                                                  -Mari Slager


Sunday the 18th of January is the Next Volunteer Workday. 

Sunday the 18th of January is the next volunteer workday that will be focused on buckthorn removal. Buckthorn removal will begin at 9:00 near 7 Hillside Avenue. The weather is going to be cold so please dress warmly in layers. We will have the campfire going so come when you can and stay as long as you can. In case the weather forces a cancellation, we will send out notice by 7:00 am on Sunday morning. A splendid time is guaranteed for all!
Copyright © 2015 Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission, All rights reserved.

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