When the City of Newark decided to remove the bamboo from the James F. Hall Trail, it got rid of an invasive species that had taken over parts of the trail. And while the bamboo was arguably the most visible invasive species found on the trail, it was far from the only one.
Chad Nelson, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, has taught a class on invasive plants in the past, including a project focusing on those found along the trail, and he noted there are at least several dozen invasive species in and around the trail.
Noting that bamboo sometimes gets a bad rap because of its visibility, Nelson said that there are some other less obvious invasive plants that are prevalent on the James F. Hall Trail. Some of these include garlic mustard, tree of heaven, burning bush and Japanese honeysuckle, which will emit a nice fragrance in the summer but suffocates the plants through which it grows.
Some established woodland patches along the trail, like the one between Chapel Street and Library Avenue, would thrive with better management of invasive species, Nelson said. “There is pretty substantial woodland and it has lots of invasive species in it, things like burning bush and some of the bush honeysuckles, but it also has a really strong stand of native canopy species,” Nelson said. “That’s a place where you’ve got something good going on and if you could get the invasive species out, I think there would be a better chance of getting it back into a balanced succession.”
As to how these invasive species reached the trail in the first place, Nelson said that it was a combination of factors, but pointed out that being next to the train tracks likely didn’t help. “For invasive species, depending on how they propagate or invade, highways, roads, and train tracks are the perfect corridors for plants that have windborne seeds.”
Nelson also said that there are a large number of invasive species on the trail because the trail was built on an underutilized stretch of land where invasive species had years to develop.
It can sometimes be difficult, Nelson said, to identify invasive plants because “by a strict textbook definition, you need to be looking at plants that are not part of the regional flora that can persist and spread in conditions that they normally wouldn’t be in,” said Nelson. “It gets confusing because there are some native plant species that are aggressive, and so many people will call them invasive when by strict definition they are not.”
When it comes to bamboo, specifically, Nelson has had some personal experience dealing with the exotic species in his own yard.
Nelson said a neighbor had planted bamboo in their backyard and when it spread onto his property, he was a little leery and wanted to chop it down.
The more he thought about it, however, Nelson said he saw the benefits of the plant. “It makes a pretty good construction material,” he said, adding “it does run rampant if you just leave it alone but if you have a little bit of energy you can actually harness it.”
For those with bamboo in their backyards, Nelson recommended patience and persistence. “You have to keep after it for a couple of years but it comes up over a fairly short window in early summer and at that point, it’s like asparagus — very soft.” Nelson said cutting the asparagus-like bamboo during its two-week growing period will eventually sap the plant of its energy.
Nelson said that this is preferable to more intense solutions he has seen. “A lot of people get extreme — they get out bulldozers, and I think that’s just bringing too big of an arsenal to something that can be controlled if you just have a little patience over a longer time frame.”
Article by Adam Thomas
Photo by Danielle Quigley