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Weed Warriors Train New Troops

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A central Virginia group is declaring war on weeds this spring.  Blue Ridge PRISM will hold two free workshops this week to teach landowners and their neighbors how to identify and remove some of the 91 non-native plants that threaten our forests.

Shortly before leaving office, former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spoke at Shenandoah Park, and Ashton Stinson was there.  

“She stated that non-native invasive plants is one of the top three threats that the park faced,” Stinson recalls.

The program director for Blue Ridge PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management) couldn’t do much about threats like development and climate change, but she was anxious to rid Virginia forests of 91 invasive plants.  Oriental bittersweet, English Ivy, Winter Creeper, Kudzu and others on PRISM’s list of the Terrible Twelve.

“Top of that list is a newly emerging invasive in the region, which is called wavy-leafed basket grass," she says. "Also on that list is autumn olive and  alanthus or Tree of Heaven."

It’s a nice name but a devilish plant according to PRISM members Tim Maywalt and William Hamersky.

"I cut down 60-plus alanthus trees on my property," Hamersky says. 

Maywalt explains that the tree reproduces easily .  "It has seeds.  It will sprout from its roots.  It will sprout from its trunk once it falls, and it even creates its own herbicide to inhibit the growth of other plants so that it can survive," he says.

"It is the tree that grows in Brooklyn from that famous book," Hamersky adds.

"Because it will grow anywhere," Maywalt quips.

And as these invasive plants drive out native varieties, bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife may go hungry.  That’s why volunteers with Blue Ridge PRISM spend their spare time removing those weeds. Maywalt says it’s satisfying work.

“Every time I go into the forest and take out invasives I can just turn around and look behind me at what I’ve just done. It gives me the faith to keep going, because you can make a difference. You can see that difference every day you’re out there.”

He, Hamersky and Stinson will train volunteers in Charlottesville from 1-5 p.m. Tuesday, March 27 at the Ivy Creek Nature Center, from 1-5 p.m. Thursday, March 29 at the Blandy Experimental Farm, and from 6-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 4 at Harrisonburg's Friendly City Food Coop.  There is a fee to participate, and the public is asked to register online here.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

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