Friday, April 01, 2022

Finding Native Swamp Rose Amidst the Multiflora Rose

For those who need deadlines, the last cold days of spring are a prompt for action by a wild gardener. It's the last chance to get some work done in a nature preserve without having to worry about doing tick-checks. It's also a time when leaves have yet to dampen the light pouring into the forest, and the invasive shrubs are still in their less intimidating winter dormancy.

Scott Sillars and I took advantage of a cool afternoon this week to cut invasive multiflora rose and privet at Herrontown Woods. There is constant surprise in how this awkward, gutsy work is way more satisfying than it has any right to be. 

Though rose-rosette disease has reduced its rampancy, multiflora rose is still a highly invasive shrub in Princeton forests. With its gangly growth, the sprawling shrub can best be described as a blizzard of thorns, whose introduction from Asia long ago has rendered many forests impenetrable. 
Cutting it down, I'm always reminded of the many-armed "omnidroid" monster in The Incredibles movie. But the way to emerge unscathed from a multiflora rose cutting session is to be gentle and methodical. Cut enough of the gangly stems to gain access to the center of the shrub, then reach in to cut its multiple stems at the base. Extract yourself carefully from the situation, and if your heavy clothing (another advantage of cool weather) gets snagged by a thorn, rotate to loosen the fishhook thorns or cut the clinging stem so that it will fall off on its own. What seems like rough work is actually an opportunity to exercise finesse. 

Also, don't forget your work gloves, as I did one day.

Though there are thousands if not millions of multiflora rose growing in the preserve, the work does not seem futile. We pick our spots, in this case focusing on a route for a planned boardwalk from the parking lot up to Veblen House. 

Satisfaction is increased by encounters with native shrubs. Spicebush are fairly numerous, and the highbush blueberry in this photo is about to open its flowers. 

A surprising find was the native swamp rose. I almost cut it down before noticing its characteristic thorns, which come straight out from the stem. The lack of a fishhook shape makes them far less hazardous. 
At the base of the stem, the swamp rose's thorns become small and dense compared to multiflora rose. 

This is the third swamp rose I've discovered at Herrontown Woods and Autumn Hill Reservation. Their rarity compared to the countless numbers of nonnative multiflora rose speaks to their need for a more stable supply of moisture. Only where seepage prevents the soil from drying out do they survive. 

With this preparatory work, we hope to ultimately end up with an attractive and varied corridor for visitors to walk through, from stream to meadow to wetland--all part of a short walk up to Veblen House. 

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