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Arb Notes: Parsnips are forever — invasive species in the Arb

With winter weather finally on its way, many herbaceous invasive plant species in the Arboretum have died back, but the woody invaders remain. In the summertime, the Arb Crew works almost tirelessly to help eradicate invasive species in their prime to make the Arboretum ecosystem more diverse and safer for Arb users. In the US and across the world, invasive species threaten the balance of the natural environment: often these species are not native to the ecosystem they have invaded, and outcompete native organisms. If not kept in check, invasive species can severely reduce the biodiversity of a particular habitat. The work in the Arboretum is critical to keeping our natural lands in balance.

One such invader is Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa). This species is native to Europe, and has caused significant problems in the US. This plant also produces a dangerous chemical: increased contact with the skin makes it very sensitive to UV radiation, and severe sunburns can develop if you are outside for a long time after initial contact. The Arb Crew spends a lot of the summer digging up these plants, armed with spades and protective gear, and collecting any seeds produced by the plant to further decrease chances of any more growing. Data on this species is collected every summer at many locations throughout the upper and lower Arb, and needs to be controlled for the safety of the public.

Two other problem plants are Honeysuckle species and European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), both of which are woody plants. These two species have taken over a considerable amount of the Arboretum, and are very difficult to control, as they have nothing keeping them in check. 

These plants must be cut down, as their root systems are very difficult to pull out from the ground, and then killed with herbicide. This work is slow and tedious, but it is necessary for the sake of the ecosystem. 

The work of eradication of invasive species is an ever-ongoing project, and there is still so much to do. Educating yourself about invasive species affecting your area is one of the best things you can do. Community efforts and understanding is necessary to protect our natural habitats against invasive species.

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