“Bye Bye Ligustrum” at Blair Woods

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The Pond at Blair Woods

Blair Woods is this cool little wooded preserve in Austin proper. It’s about 10 acres and was left to the Travis Audubon Society in the 80s by Dr. Frank Blair, who was a UT professor and a zoologist. It has a pond and a trail that winds through different habitat types including a woodland and savanah.  The pond is pretty interesting in that it was made by damming up a creek with homework papers that Dr. Blair had collected from his students.  He reportedly called it the “Dam of Words”.

Its a surprising piece of wilderness in such an urban area. Tucked in behind the Austin Wildlife Rescue center, you would never guess that something like this exists in the city, and sometimes its hard to find it even when you do. I drove past it like 3 times on Saturday morning trying to find the preserve drive… heh… yes even though I’ve been there before!

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The Volunteers! – photo by Christopher Murray

I was part of a group of volunteers that got together last Saturday to help Land Steward and purveyor of well-aged Slim Jims*, Chris Murray, to remove invasive Ligustrum from the preserve.  Here in Austin they are considered an invasive species, and like most exotic invasive plants, they spread rapidly if unchecked and crowd out native plants for resources (sun, light, space), creating a mono-culture.  Another problem with invasives is that a lot of the time they don’t meet the diet needs of the indigenous animals and insects that are used to relying on local plants. So not only are they crowding out the native plants but in most cases, they aren’t being used by the native insects and animals either.

The Ligustrum we removed were two different types of Chinese Privets, a Large Leaf Privet & a Small Leaf Privet.  See the two pictures below to see the difference between the leaves of the two different plant types. Native to Europe and Asia, Ligustrum was introduced in the United States as early as the 1850s as an ornamental plant. Unfortunately, it is still commonly used as an ornamental shrub in landscaping.

These Large Leaf Ligustrum grows very fast and tall, their spindly trunks wind through the native oaks & elms and their canopy crowds out the native trees.  The Small Leaf Ligustrum grow dense, leaving little room for anything else. The area we were working in used to be completely thick with both types, but over the years of thinning you can finally see the ground and the few native elms that managed to survive.  We expanded our work to the edges of this clearing to where there still were thickets of Privets and Japanese Honeysuckle (another exotic invasive).  Really in some areas, the Ligustrum were so thick you couldn’t squeeze between them.

* According to the all mighty internet Slim Jims have a shelf-life of one year.

Some volunteers pulled out seedlings by hand, others went for slightly bigger young trees with the weed wrench.  Which can be an exercise in frustration if you aren’t handy with the wrench. It’s important to get these out by the roots or they just grow back.

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Volunteer pulling Ligustrum with a Weed Wrench

For the more mature trees, the strategy involved cutting down the tree and then treating it with herbicide.  After the tree is cut, a species specific herbicide is applied to the stump.  The tree quickly sucks in the herbicide, which creates a cancerous type of effect in the tree.  The cells multiply so quickly that the tree exhausts itself and dies.

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Biologist Julie Murray Treating a Cut Stump

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Close Up of Treatment

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Herbicide Seeping In

So yeah we weren’t so much saying goodbye, as the post title suggests, as we were yanking them, sawing and poisoning them out!

Of course, after cutting & pulling all that Ligustrum we had to haul them away to their mass tree grave, soon to become mulch for the 10 acre preserve’s trails.

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Throwing More Trees on the Pile

The work session was only 3 hours long, but by the end of it, it was almost 90 degrees and everyone was melting.  We got togethor to pose for a picture in front of the tree pile and then all left one by one, satisified with helping to preserve a piece of wild for the community.

The preserve is open to the public and you can find more information about visiting the preserve here.  The next Blair Woods Restoration day is on Saturday May 19th.

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