Weed Team

Weed Team

Three University of Delaware undergraduates and Adam Mitchell, PhD candidate (right), clear invasives in Parade Grounds. Justine Kibbe Photo

Fighting invasives is like winning battle after battle. But let your guard down, and you have lost the war. An annual program of selective weeding is an absolute necessity to maintain grasslands, as are annual prescribed burns.

The way we attack invasives on the Parade Grounds is with a Weed Team trained to know the difference between native, non-native and invasive plants. A “mow ‘em down” approach destroys native plants and only strengthens the aggressive invaders. So the weeding is done by hand after careful observation. Depending on the invasive, the team might remove it by pulling up from the root, hacking down to the stump, or painting stems or leaves.

On June 3, 2017, three University of Delaware (UD) students arrived on Fishers Island with a few bags of food, backpacks, and a handful of garden shears. Employed by the Fishers Island Conservancy, and trained and supervised by both UD professor, Douglas Tallamy, PhD. and his graduate student, Adam Mitchell, the Weed Team was ready for battle.

Weed team cleared corner of State Troopers’ Barracks to make way for new native plantings.

They immediately went to work at the State Troopers’ Barracks, where they removed a large autumn olive that had been spreading seeds into the restored Parade Grounds grasslands. Although it is not the only autumn olive near the parade grounds, the hope is that its removal will lessen the amount of autumn olive trees that appear in the northern half of the grassland. New native trees were planted where the autumn olive once stood and now provide the barracks with a nature-friendly aesthetic.

Conservancy Weed Team 2017

Weed team clears invasives along road east of Movie Theater. Adam Mitchell Photo

After that, the Weed Team tackled invasive plants in the Demonstration Garden and Parade Grounds, removing truckloads of porcelain berry, oriental bittersweet, bush honeysuckle and autumn olive. They also removed and treated a dense patch of black swallow-wort across from the entrance to Silver Eel Pond. This particular invasive threatens habitat for the monarch butterfly.

The scale at which the UD Weed team removed invasive plants shows what can be achieved on smaller properties with just a few hours’ work. The UD Weed Team hopes to inspire residents to manage invasive plants on their own properties, using the efforts made on the Parade Ground grasslands as a model.

The three undergraduates were, Nickia Gibson (Senior, Biology, Wildlife Conservation minor), Brian Hanlon (Senior, Wildlife Conservation, Entomology minor), and Tessa Hayman (Junior, Wildlife Conservation). They not only improved habitat for animals and promoted the importance of land management to Island residents, but they also gained valuable experience that will benefit their future careers as wildlife biologists, being able to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to a real-world setting.

By Adam B. Mitchell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Entomology
Department of Wildlife, Sustainability, and Ecosystem Sciences
Tarleton State University
Member of the Texas A&M University System