Sunday, April 28, 2019

Saving Bicentennial Dogwoods at Princeton Battlefield

The big Princeton Battlefield/Sierra Club workday earlier this month didn't include attending to dogwoods along the field's edge, but the care we gave them in previous years to liberate them from porcelainberry and other aggressive vines is still serving them well. Some historical research revealed that they were planted by the Dogwood Garden Club for the country's bicentennial celebration 42 years ago.

Back in 1976, before the deer population exploded and aggressive invasive vines spread across the landscape, it was probably much easier to sustain plantings like this. The planting design was logical enough, with daffodils on the ground in front of the dogwoods, and white pine trees forming a nice evergreen backdrop behind.

But now, the daffodils are obscured by invasive shrubs and brambles, and the dogwoods find themselves growing in a sea of porcelainberry vine on the ground that, if not controlled, will quickly rise into the dogwoods to smother them. Meanwhile, the pine trees that now loom large behind the dogwoods drop big branches during ice storms. It's a one-two-three punch that takes concerted effort to counteract, and the state agency in charge of maintenance tends only to the lawn, with little or no on-the-ground knowledge of plantings that have any complexity beyond trees and turf. Volunteers can sometimes fill the gap. Last year's workday was particularly spirited. We cut vines and competing woody growth away from fifteen dogwoods, so that they could continue to ornament the Battlefield and feed migratory birds in the fall.

But like Mr. Incredible says when interviewed at the beginning of The Incredibles movie, the world refuses to stay saved. Already, the porcelainberry is sending new shoots up into the dogwoods, and until some animal or disease comes along to limit the vine's rampant growth, people will need to intervene to sustain some sort of balance that allows the dogwoods to grow.

Meanwhile, out in the fields, delays in mowing have made it possible for the cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis) to bloom.

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