Update on the War Against Invasive Species on Naked Mountain

Last week I received a visit from Kory Kirkland, the District Conservationist at the US Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service. He came to review my work on Naked Mountain to eradicate, or at least get under control, particularly nasty invasive species that threaten the beautiful biodiversity of the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve. He left with a promise to reimburse me for my efforts through an incentive award that the Blue Ridge PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management) won on behalf of private landowners like me. The awards are designed to encourage landowners to battle Kudzu, Oriental Bittersweet, Ailanthus, Japanese Stiltgrass, Wavyleaf grass, Wineberry, Garlic Mustard, and the like. These invasives are engulfing the Mid-Atlantic region destroying the pleasing array of native species that used to grace our roadways, hiking trails, woods and fields.

Naked Mountain has its fair share of these nasties. As one of Virginia’s 63 natural area preserves, I have been receiving excellent stewardship help and guidance from the Division of Natural Heritage at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation since the preserve was established in 2006. But the budget for Natural Heritage is too small to fully carry out its mission of identification, protection and stewardship of Virginia’s biodiversity.  As the Conservation Committee Chairperson for the Virginia Native Plant Society for the past four years, I have worked to try and improve the budget for this award-winning group of scientists, data management and stewardship experts with limited success. Nevertheless, my current steward, Adam Christie, has done a terrific job for the past four years spraying Japanese Stiltgrass that has lined my 2.5 mile long road. This is probably the single most serious threat to the preserve and that is now under pretty good control.

However, Adam doesn’t have time to also spray several old logging roads, so that is what I undertook together with a hired contractor who is also a friend and master naturalist. These trails were clogged with stiltgrass that was starting to move into the surrounding woods. Dan and I used back pack sprayers loaded with 2% Glyphosate (Round-up). They weigh 25 pounds when fully loaded and you walk on uneven ground strewn with fallen limbs, hidden rocks and the real possibility of stepping on a poisonous snake. Not for the faint of heart, or body, especially one who will be 70 in December!

We also began a painstaking three year effort to rid the Southeastern slope of Naked Mountain, which contains the most sensitive and rare barren and woodland habitat, of Wineberry (cut-stem treatment with concentrated Round-up), Ailanthus (hand-pull, hack and squirt with Triclopyr) and Garlic Mustard (hand-pull). My first husband, Timothy Bell, and I had eliminated most of the estimated 10,000 mature Ailanthus trees all over the nearly 300 acre property in 2005-2007, but a seed bank still exists. On our second day of work, Dan and I encountered a mature, fully seeded Ailanthus tree, six inches in diameter, deep in the woods on the slope. As we pulled up dozens of small and mid-sized seedlings around the tree, we judged that this was the third year the tree had been producing seeds. We cut the tree down, immediately sprayed the stump with Garlon 3a (Triclopyr) and then carefully harvested all the seed clusters which were still green, stuffed all of them in bags and backpacks and hiked them out. This area will bear watching for several years for seedling growth.

Below is a photo of Kory and me before we inspected treated invasive species, and a photo of Kory inspecting sprayed, dead stiltgrass in an old logging road.

Wearing my oversized field work clothes. Note my snake gaiters!

Kory Kirkland, District Conservationist, US Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service inspecting sprayed, dead Japanese Stiltgrass on an old logging road on Naked Mountain.

When Kory and I walked under the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative powerline, I spotted some Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) in full bloom. This is a pretty common native plant in Virginia, but it had not yet been documented as occurring on Naked Mountain. I sent the photo to Gary Fleming, Senior Ecologist with Natural Heritage, and Mistflower has now been added to the plant list.

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) If you enlarge the photo, can you see the tiny creature buried in the right front blossom?

Smooth Foxglove (Aureolaria laevigata). Semi-parasitic on oak trees. Much of Naked Mountain is an oak-hickory forest, so lots of this plant in bloom right now.

The above photo is of Smooth Foxglove (Aureolaria laevigata) which is semi-parasitic on oak trees and is in bloom all over Naked Mountain. Also coming into bloom are several varieties of Goldenrod and White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima).