Saturday, May 04, 2024

Helping Herrontown's Beauty Express Itself

There's a lot of built-in beauty at Herrontown Woods. Rocks, wood, and water serve as the basic infrastructure upon which other beauties are overlaid. 

This time of year, it's the understory that gets to shine, just before the tree canopy envelopes the woods in shade. Much of the habitat restoration work we do at Herrontown Woods involves bringing back the beauty and functionality of the native flora. By removing nonnative invasive shrubs that clog the understory, we open up vistas and release the existing native flora from stifling competition. In a sense, we are filling in for the deer, which chow down on native shrubs while leaving the nonnative shrubs uneaten.

Walk up the new boardwalk from the main parking lot to witness a corridor brightened by flowering dogwoods, 
and hundreds of blackhaw Viburnum shrubs adding clusters of white flowers extending deep into the forest.
Redbuds can't survive in the deep shade of the forest, but they proliferate on the more open Veblen House grounds.

This year, we spotted two wild azaleas blooming along Herrontown Road. Fifty years ago, it would have sounded strange to be excited about a couple wild azaleas in the preserve. They were numerous back then, but have been literally laid low by increasing deer numbers and deepening shade. 

It's taken more than a decade of ramblings in the preserve to realize that some kinds of native shrubs we thought long gone in fact remain numerous on the forest floor in miniaturized form, browsed before they can grow sufficiently to bloom. The town's deer culling program has helped native shrubs like spicebush to rebound, but for some species, additional effort is needed.

Protected by cages and given some sun, pinxter azaleas, serviceberries, and hearts-a-bustin' are making a comeback in the Botanical Art Garden (Barden) next to the main parking lot. New plantings of native buttonbush, silky dogwood, pussy willow and elderberry are also being protected until they can grow and flower beyond the deer's reach.

In these ways, we help another layer of beauty in Herrontown Woods to express itself.

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