Wednesday, March 25, 2015

DTE Energy Foundation Grant

Bill Collins, Executive Director, Thumb Land Conservancy

On March 21 of 2014, the DTE Energy Foundation awarded the TLC a grant of $2,500 for preserve stewardship support. This is the first corporate grant that the TLC has received since our formation in 2008 and we are thankful to DTE Energy. This money will be used primarily to organize and conduct invasive weed control on TLC sanctuaries, along with other minor stewardship activities. We held off using the funding last year because we were seeking further burn approvals and because we simply have a shortage of people interested in helping, but we hope to make progress in 2015. 

Both the Dead End Woods Sanctuary and the Peltier Beach Ridge Sanctuary have extensive areas of Garlic Mustard – Alliaria petiolata, an invasive weed native to Eurasia and North Africa introduced to North America in the mid 1800’s as a culinary herb. It lives up to its name and is quite tasty, but is also quite invasive in open forest, displacing native plant species where it grows in thick patches. Our board members have been steadily working away each year on pulling the main patches of Garlic Mustard from the Dead End Woods but we definitely need more help if we are going to completely get rid of it.

Garlic Mustard

The Dead End Woods has another big invasive weed problem on the west end of the sanctuary, Yellow Archangel - Lamiastrum galeobdolon, an invasive groundcover native to Europe that spread from residences in Old Farm subdivision. The Yellow Archangel has spread about 50 feet into the woods, creating a near solid cover that has eliminated all but a few native forest herbs. It is extremely difficult to eradicate. Unfortunately, Fort Gratiot Township has made burning an expensive control option by requiring $250 for a fire crew and truck to be present. Although we have this DTE Energy grant, I am reluctant to spend so much for what we feel are excessive measures for a small controlled burn with good control lines.

Yellow Archangel

The north side of the Dead End Woods Sanctuary has a few patches of invasive Periwinkle – Vinca minor, another ornamental ground cover species native to Eurasia. It is also difficult to eradicate, but because there are only a few small patches so far, it should be fairly easy to remove.


In addition to Garlic Mustard, the Peltier Beach Ridge Sanctuary has some dense patches of Tartarian Honeysuckle – Lonicera tatarica, native to northeast Asia and brought to North America as an ornamental shrub. There is also a fair amount of Common Privet – Ligustrum vulgare, another invasive shrub native to Eurasia and North Africa brought to North America as a hedge plant. The only good control for these invasive shrubs, short of killing everything with herbicide, is pulling, followed by repeated burns to kill seeds on the ground surface. As with most invasive weeds, effective control of honeysuckle and privet is a long-term proposition.

Tartarian Honeysuckle

The TLC knew the Peltier Beach Ridge Sanctuary had a lot of invasive weeds before we accepted ownership of it. But, not owning the land doesn’t make those weeds go away. Almost the whole beach ridge and swale landscape in Saint Clair County has been covered by extensive areas of invasive weeds for decades. Despite this, the plant community still contains many unique native species like Purple-flowering Raspberry – Rubus odoratus, known to be native in only 7 Michigan counties and restricted largely to near-shoreline areas, and also Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid – Cypripedium parviflorum. The beach ridge and swale complex is valuable in many other ways, including the extensive wetland swales, forest cover, and habitat for migratory birds that move along and reside near Lake Huron. Refer back to a previous blog post on March 9, 2015 entitled “Peltier Beach Ridge Sanctuary”.

Thankfully, the TLC Gerrits Sanctuary in Ira Township contains relatively few invasive weeds. We have pulled a few Garlic Mustard plants, and where there are a few, there are likely more. There are also a few Autumn-olive – Elaeagnus umbellata, an invasive Eurasian shrub, in the north field of the sanctuary, and Oriental Bittersweet – Celastrus orbiculatus, an invasive east Asian vine, along the northeast boundary. Otherwise, the preserve appears to be largely free of invasive weeds.

Other stewardship issues to be addressed on all of the TLC sanctuaries include neighborhood dumping of grass clippings, leaves, and occasionally, scrap materials like treated lumber or shingles. This has been a big problem on the Dead End Woods Sanctuary, although we are making progress. There hasn’t been much trouble on the Peltier Beach Ridge Sanctuary or Gerrits Sanctuary.

Sometimes people wonder why leaves and grass clippings are a problem when dumped on a nature preserve. They reason that its all plant material and so should be good for nature. It sounds reasonable on the surface, but the issue is in the amount and concentration of these materials. It’s like, a drink of water is nice but if we dump you in middle of an ocean, you probably wouldn’t like that. So leaves and grass are a natural part of most native plant communities, but limited to only the plants that grow in those areas. So, just a limited amount of leaves, grass, branches, and other organic matter falls to the ground surface, in Michigan largely only in the autumn, not all summer long. Woodland herbs and tree seedlings are able to grow up through the natural amount of leaf matter on the ground in the spring. In fact, they rely on that leaf material for nutrients, moisture retention, temperature control, and other benefits. But if you dump a pile of leaves in the forest, even just a foot or so deep, chances are most of the native woodland plants aren’t able to grow up through that layer, at least not without considerable time, trouble, and deformation. Most small plants in those areas will eventually die because they are “suffocated” by too many leaves, grass clippings, or whatever. In this case, the leaves and other material become mulch. Most people know that mulch is used to keep plants from growing in an area. Even just a small amount of excess organic matter on the forest floor can favor increased numbers of slugs, snails, and other organisms such as fungus, that consume or otherwise destroy the native plants. Another problem is that sometimes, invasive weed seeds and live plants are contained in yard waste dumped on a nature preserve. This may be how Garlic Mustard was brought to the Dead End Woods Sanctuary. This makes a huge problem for the stewards of preserves, and we don’t any more problems. So, please consider composting or mulching your leaves and grass clippings on your own property. Don’t dump on ours. Once you understand the value of organic matter to the soil in your garden, flower beds, or even just your lawn, it seems like you’d want to keep every bit of it. Unlike all the compost methods and systems you see in the gardening magazines, you really don’t need to get fancy about it. Just pile the material up in a back corner somewhere and it will soon break down into that carbon-laden black material that will bring your soil to life.