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Carl Sandburg Students Fight ‘Alien Invaders’

Alien invaders in Huntley Meadows Park are making life difficult for the park’s native wildlife and plants. These invaders don’t have ray guns and huge eyes, but they are green and have lots of tricks up their stems. These alien invaders are plants that are not native to North America. Because they originated elsewhere, the normal complement of insects, other animals, plants and parasites that would keep them in check, do not live here. The alien plants displace native species, reducing food and shelter for native wildlife.

Six Carl Sandburg Middle School students spent nearly three hours at Huntley Meadows Park on Saturday, March 25. First, they learned about alien invasive species and the threats they pose from two Green Spring Master Gardeners, Carla Roeper and Pat Henley. Then they clipped, pulled and dug up two species of particularly injurious plants in the park: oriental bittersweet and Japanese honeysuckle.

Like many alien invasives, these two vine species grow and spread rapidly over large areas. As the Master Gardeners explained, both species of vines topple the trees they climb; deform trunks and branches of host trees, reducing the flow of nutrients up and down the tree; and restrict air flow around tree trunks and branches, making them more susceptible to winds and disease.

The eighth-graders worked hard removing the twisting, crisscrossing vines that were smothering many native sweet gum and maple trees. Afterwards, they posed in front of the huge mound of invasive plants they had removed. Lucy Niedbala, who was celebrating her 14th birthday that day, said, “I’m happy to help pull invasive plants to protect the plants and animals of Huntley Meadows Park.”

To help remove invasive plants at the park, call David Lawlor, Resource Manager, Huntley Meadows Park, at 703-765-8285.