Greetings from Carly, one of Red Wiggler’s four interns! I’ve been here one month already (time flies!), much of which has been spent weeding. Johnson grass, pigweed, lambs’ quarters, torn out and tossed into grassy aisles on a daily basis on a seemingly never-ending cycle. Even though these persistent little guys always seem to grow where we don’t want them to, I keep reminding myself that all of these plants have their place in the ecosystem, and many are even valuable to humans. I try hard not to mentally bin crops as “good” and weeds as “bad.”
Some plants, though, belong permanently in the time-out corner. “Invasive” plants are non-native species whose introduction is likely to cause harm to the economy, human health, or the environment. After outright habitat destruction, invasive species are the biggest threat to ecosystems worldwide. Kara and I wanted to help slow the impact of invasive plants in our area, so last Wednesday, we took a Weed Warrior certification class with the Montgomery County park system. After completing an online activity, we spent two hours at Meadowside Nature Center in Derwood learning identification and removal techniques for the seventeen most threatening plants. After the class, we became certified to remove invasive plants on our own in any Montgomery County park – including Red Wiggler, as it is situated on Ovid Hazen Well Park, part of Montgomery County parkland.
Not everyone has time to devote to keeping weeds at bay in the park system, but I would highly encourage anyone to take the class. Unfortunately, invasive plants occupy every park in our county, so knowledge of them is integral to an awareness of our natural surroundings. Plus, learning the best techniques for controlling these plants really helped me out this past weekend, when I started tackling the vines that threaten to consume my entire yard. The most insidious invader I took on:
Mile-A-Minute, also known as Devil’s Tear Thumb
Mile-a-minute has triangular leaves and spindly stems covered in tiny thorns. It grows up to 6 inches per day, scrambling over and shading out other plants. It is an annual, but birds eat and disperse its shiny blue berries, spreading its range every year. Mile-a-minute has started to infest a few spots on the Red Wiggler fence, near the upper Pick Your Own beds and shown above, near the wetlands.
Its dozens of stems and thousands of barbs makes subduing even one plant seem like a Herculean task. But from the class, I learned a great technique: pulling the weak vines with a rake takes out multiple vines at once, at a safe distance from the thorns. The barbs snag on other stems, and by twisting the rake one can form massive balls of weeds, which, now harmless, can be plopped into the forest to decay. Freeing a tree in one single motion is very satisfying, not to mention good exercise and a positive release for frustration! When the growing season wanes this autumn, Red Wiggler volunteer groups may have the opportunity to remove mile-a-minute and other invasive plants in Ovid Hazen Wells Park.
Interested in becoming a Weed Warrior? Check out www.weedwarrior.org.
Information about individual species: http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/
Definition of “invasive species” paraphrased from www.invasivespecies.gov