A walk around the edges of the park this spring and summer could be a revealing experience. The look is a lot more open thanks to recent work by Cantigny Horticulture.

Why the change? In a word, buckthorn. The invasive shrub, native to Europe and brought to the U.S. in the 1800s, is a constant menace, out-competing native plants for the resources they need to thrive.

Also constant is the task of keeping buckthorn at bay. The health of Cantigny’s woodland ecosystems is at stake.

Buckthorn harms both our native forestry and wildlife, according to Scott Witte, director of horticulture. It can serve as a host to pests, and has compounds in its fruit, leaves and bark that render it useless to beneficial insects. The compounds are even known to disrupt amphibian life cycles and inhibit the germination of native plants.

Witte emphasizes that effective buckthorn removal is a multi-year process.

“Our woodlands will not exactly be at their best during this phase of invasive species management,” he admits.

Now that large areas of buckthorn have been removed, Witte’s team will  treat re-sprouting plants with herbicide in late spring and summer. Controlled burns in the same woodland areas will follow in late fall, knocking out opportunistic buckthorn seedlings.

“After about a year of employing re-sprout control strategies, we’ll begin to reseed and replant the woodlands with native species,” says Witte. “The goal is a natural rejuvenation of our native woodlands.”

Witte points to neighboring St. James Farm where the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is waging a similar war on non-native plant species. Results are easily visible from Winfield Road.

The same brand of diligent stewardship is at work here.

Within a couple years, Witte says, Cantigny’s wooded areas will begin to fill in with native understory growth, restoring nature’s intended balance.

It looks innocent enough, and yet invasive buckthorn is Public Enemy No. 1 for diligent managers of native woodlands.

Controlled burns are regular at Cantigny, in the park and on the golf course. The practice encourages native vegetation and helps keep non-native plants at bay.


Posted by Jeff Reiter

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