Killing Ailanthus

Yesterday I had a special visitor to Naked Mountain, Dan Miles.  I first met Dan in 2008 when he came to visit Naked Mountain with a group of local Master Naturalists.  Master Naturalists are ordinary citizens from every walk of life who have a strong interest in the natural world.  They undergo a training program that can take 6-12 months to complete.  One of the most important aspects of the master naturalist program is that 40 hours a year of volunteer service is required for continued certification.  This requirement has been a boon for the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve.  Many of my local neighbors are certified Master Naturalists and have donated hours of their time helping me control, even eradicate, invasive species that threaten the beautiful and fascinating native species that grow, and live, in the preserve.  You can read more about Master Naturalists in Virginia here.  Most states have a similar program.

Dan came yesterday to help me kill Ailanthus trees.  The common name for this extremely invasive species is Tree-of-Heaven.  Sometimes it is called Paradise Tree.  Its formal latin name is Ailanthus altissima.  Those of us who are way too familiar with this tree usually shorten the name to Ailanthus.  You see this tree lining nearly every major roadway in the

Dan Miles using hack and squirt on an Ailanthus tree

mid-Atlantic region.  I have seen it in New England, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, just about everywhere.  It is seriously out-competing our native trees species.  If you have it in your yard, you should get rid of it.  Here is an excellent fact sheet and video published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on how to do that. 

Naked Mountain used to have about 10,000 mature Ailanthus trees.  Since 2005, my husband and I, privately-hired contractors, staff from the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, and Master Naturalists have killed most of them.  Because Naked Mountain is a rich, biodiverse habitat, native tree species are filling in the gaps left behind.  But some invasive species, such as Wineberry, have also thrived in some of the gaps.  You can read about efforts to eradicate Wineberry from the gaps in the August 6th blog. 

Dan is an expert horticulturist who is interested in growing native species from seeds.  He is currently the facilities manager at Clayter Nature Study Center  at Lynchburg College in Bedford County, Virginia.  But he also has a fascinating personal project he is implementing on land that has been in his family for 50 years.  He is growing, from seed, rare and endangered native flora.  He has a vision that his property and efforts might one day be an important repository of native species as the planet continues to warm and extinction of species continues to occur.  His hope is that his special garden might be an important source of reinstituting those native species. 

Dan was volunteering his time yesterday as a thank you for a donation I made to his project three years ago of Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia) seeds. Professional botanists that have visited Naked Mountain believe it supports at least 10,000 of these spectacular

Shooting Stars on Naked Mountain
Photo by Gary Fleming

plants.  When they are in bloom in May in a series of small barrens, which are rocky openings that occur in the forest canopy on the steep Southeastern slope of Naked Mountain, they are just stunning:  hundreds of lavender blooms gracing the mossy, seeping rocks in each barren.  Dan took good care of the seeds and began planting them last year and this year.  He reported that they have been the most successful species yet in his native plant project.  Hundreds of Shooting Star plants are growing on his property and at the Clayter Nature Center, and several actually bloomed this Spring after planting them just last year.  Naked Mountain Shooting Stars appear to be very robust. 

As I have no biological grandchildren, knowing the seeds of Naked Mountain Shooting Stars are thriving in other locations feels like I indeed do have grandchildren!  Lovely!    


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