Tag Archives: invasive species

Jeanne Li - Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

In Your Words: Jeanne Li

In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected] to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 

Jeanne Li - Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
Jeanne Li – Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

I have always enjoyed the outdoors and science. When I went to college at Vassar in the 1960s, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and other writings started me thinking about a career in ecology. I wrote to government agencies asking about job opportunities; the replies were not encouraging. So I switched my focus from zoology to chemistry and spent my working life in laboratories—indoor places. In my free time, I went hiking, skiing, sailing, and birding, and had many other outdoor adventures around central Pennsylvania.

When I moved to Massachusetts in 1984 and began looking for places to hike, I discovered Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries. In 2000, a move to the North Shore put Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield just 10 minutes away. I wanted to give back and help the environment but my job did not permit donating much time. So I helped with special events and did trail monitoring while I hiked, reporting any problems I found to the property manager.

Boardwalk choked by Glossy Buckthorn
Boardwalk choked by Glossy Buckthorn – May 2012

As retirement approached, I began looking for new ways to fill my time. I spoke to the staff at Ipswich River about volunteering to do some type of outdoor work related to ecological management and they asked if I would help restore a field by removing an invasive plant, Glossy Buckthorn. That fall, I successfully cleared a small patch with the guidance of Richard Wolniewicz, the property manager, and Lou Wagner, the now-retired regional scientist.

Unfortunately, the buckthorn grew back the following spring. To permanently eradicate it, we would need to take a targeted approach, individually cutting and applying herbicide to each plant by hand. Today, the fields contain more grasses and wildflowers and fewer invasive plants, which is very satisfying to see. With the help of other volunteers, student interns, and staff, we have extended the work to remove buckthorn along the wetland trail edges, as well.

Clearer views and healthier native plants after Glossy Buckthorn removal - Winter 2019
Clearer views and healthier native plants after Glossy Buckthorn removal – Winter 2019

This volunteer work has provided opportunities to meet and work with people from many different backgrounds, to learn botany and ecology, to present at Mass Audubon’s annual Staff Natural History Conference, to drive a tractor, and to keep physically fit. As a bonus, I observe birds, mammals, amphibians, and insects as I work. I am honored to be a part of Mass Audubon’s effort to conserve our natural world.

Jeanne Li is a volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield.

Attack of the Garlic Mustard

The name of this plant may conjure thoughts of a tasty meal. But for gardeners and native plant lovers, garlic mustard has a bitter flavor: it’s an invasive species brought over by the settlers in the 1800s, and it’s taking over yards and forest floors.

How did garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) move from spicing up a few colonial gardens to dominating the northeast? Here are just a few of this plant’s clever adaptations:

  • Its roots leach chemicals that destroy the important fungal partners of nearby plants.
  • It makes a type of chemical antifreeze that helps it stay green in cold weather, allowing it to shoot up as soon as the snow is gone.
  • Each plant can release a thousand or more seeds.
  • Even after you remove the plant from your yard, its seeds can hang out in the soil for five years (or more).
  • It is toxic to some insects. Some types of butterfly eggs laid on its leaves will fail to hatch.

How to ID Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard’s most iconic features are its green heart-shaped leaves with deep veins and tiny four-petaled white flowers. Note that the flowers don’t appear during the plant’s first year. You can also employ the smell test: true to its name, when crushed it gives off a garlicky smell.

Removing Garlic Mustard

May into early June is the best time to remove this plant from your yard. Many of the plants are flowering, making them easy to identify, but they haven’t yet had time to make seeds.

To remove a garlic mustard plant, grab it at the very base, and twist while pulling upwards. If the soil is loose, you may be able to pull up the roots, eliminating any chance that the plant could regrow. But even if you’re only able to pull up the above-ground portion, you will have at least stopped the seed-making process for this year.

Once you’ve picked the plants, put them in a plastic bag for disposal. Don’t dump them in your compost heap, or they may re-root or release seeds. Whatever you do, be sure to keep at it—because of those long-lasting seeds, you may be battling garlic mustard for years to come.