Wednesday, November 16, 2011

11-11-11 and Attacking the Alien Invaders

On 11-11-11, we woke to a snowy world.

Okay, so it wasn't terribly snowy, but snowy enough to make things white.  Toby always has to sample the snow.  I keep telling him it's not really good until February, but he insists on forming his own opinion.

By afternoon the snow had melted away, but it was lovely while it lasted.

By the weekend the temps had soared back into the 60s.  I have some time off coming to me at work, so I stayed home Saturday to take advantage of the balmy weather and attack the remaining woody invasives in my yard:  honeysuckles.

Armed with a bowsaw, a set of loppers, a bottle of concentrated RoundUp and a paintbrush, I sallied forth and had at it.

Before long I was left with several piles of trunks and branches, and had my fingers crossed that the freshly painted stumps would not sprout come spring 2012.

This morning I was very pleased to find that juncos and sparrows (I don't know which ones) had already taken possession of the new brush piles (you can just see a junco to the left of center in the photo below - they all flew away when I came back out with my camera). Brush piles are highly underrated by homeowners.  I suspect it is because most people are rather obsessed with The Perfect Tidy Lawn.  Not me - give me a messy yard any day.  I let the grass grow, I plant trees and shrubs in random locations, and I will probably leave these piles of brush lying about.  They make terrific cover for small birds, who will flitter and flutter in and out of them in search of food and shelter.  I may even move a pile over near the birdfeeders.  I just hope the branches don't resprout (like the honeysuckle branches did back at my house in Newcomb).

As I was sawing and lopping my way thru the tangle, I discovered some stout stems growing among the shrubbery and trees.  One thing stood out on these stems:  the large, white leaf scars.

I knew this leaf scar.  It was familiar.  I wracked my brain trying to remember which species it belonged to. Ash?  Walnut?   The phrase "monkey faced leaf scar" kept teasing me.  It was one we used in my dendrology class, oh these many years ago, to remember the species.  Grrrr!  It was dancing around the edges of my memory and I just couldn't come up with a definite answer, although I was leaning towards the walnuts.

There were two reasons for this.  One:  there are a LOT of black walnuts around.  A LOT.  And two:  the ashes have been pretty much wiped out by the emerald ash borer here in Michigan.

I grabbed my copy of Harlow's Fruit and Twig Key and thumbed through it. No luck.

As I sit here at my desk, now, with various books littering the surface around me, I find myself still stumped.  The one clue I need I don't have - a sample of the pith!  This requires cutting off a twig and splitting it open to see the middle.  The stems don't have any branches, so I am reluctant to cut, for I'd have to take the terminal end of the entire plant, and I don't want to do that.

Moving on, we next look at the bundle scars - the bits/spots inside the leaf scar.  If this were one of the walnuts, there would be three bundle scars, one in each lobe of the leaf scar, and they would be rather horseshoe-shaped (making the scar look like a monkey's face).  These are not - they dot the leaf scar all around the curved edge.  Therefore, not a walnut. 

Frustration sets in.

Finally, as a last resort, I Google "walnut leaf scar" and look at images.  There it is!  I open the image and take a closer look.  Alianthus altissima - tree-of-heaven.  Invasive species!  I've never seen one of these.  The leaf scar is the right shape, the bundle scars are in the right locations, and it sports a solitary bud at the top of each leaf scar. 

So now I have to know what this tree looks like.  I Google it and there it is.  It looks like a sumac.  Could it be that all these trees along the roadside that I thought were sumacs are actually Alianthus?  Knowing how invasive this species is, it wouldn't surprise me. 

I just popped over to Gary's office and we looked it up in his handbook of invasive plants, and there it is - a perfect match for my photo above.  Looks like I've got a few more stems to cut and dab when I get home.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

First Snow

It's been a strange day weather-wise.

Burn, Baby, Burn!

As I sit here this afternoon and watch the snow fall in great big flakes that are only just starting to turn the grass white, I think back to this weekend, when it was sunny and warm.  I was putting up the last of the harvest (sweet potatoes, carrots), getting the garden ready for winter, and hanging out laundry, when the call came:  they were going to do a burn at Haehnle Sanctuary - be there at 12:15.  I still had a load of laundry in the washer, but as soon as it was hung, I grabbed my camera and drove north.


The burn was done by the same crew that did the burn last spring at work.  Because of this, there was a chance that I might get to help out again.

However, because I was running a little late, the burn had already started.  This was fine - I was able to kick back and just take photos.

There were two burns scheduled for this day.  The first was this patch of prairie.  The wind was quite strong all day, so the burn was started on the downwind side.  Gary had been out the day before and mowed the firebreak, which served not only as a path for us to walk, but also as a barrier to help keep the fire under control.

There's nothing quite like watching a burn.  The crackle of the flames when they hit of patch of fuel is really quite something. 

This fire moved along quite quickly, leaving a smoking, charred field in its wake.

Next year, the native flowers and grasses should be great here.

Once all the smokers were put out and the site deemed safe, the crew loaded up and headed for the second burn site along the western edge of the sanctuary.

This site was a bit different.  It started off along the edge of a wetland, where reed canary grass is invading the marshland.  Fire won't do much to remove this invasive, but it will help keep it in check.  High water levels are much more effective in controlling it.

As the fire burned southward, it entered a small patch of woods, bordered on one side by the road and on the other side by a small pond.

It was interesting to see just what didn't burn, like this pile of trash,

and the matted plants of this deer trail.

Occasionally the wind would gust and send billows of smoke across the road.  This didn't slow down the traffic, though.  It was such a glorious day that many folks were out for a Sunday drive.  Lots of shiny, clean sports cars passed us, no doubt wondering what in the world we were doing.

As the fire passed through the woods, it gobbled up the ground cover.

A couple trees also caught fire.  These were old snags, trees that were long dead and whose hollow centers acted like chimneys.  The fire crew had to put these out.

Once on the other side of the woods, the fire came to another open field.  Several lines of fire were set here to speed the burn along.

Prescribed burns are an important tool in maintaining open grasslands.  They help rejuvenate fields and prairies, stimulating new growth in the spring and summer, and they can help keep some invasive species in check.  Fire is one more tool in the arsenal of land stewards, and its one I never get tired of watching.