Volunteers sought in buckthorn battle

NEW ULM-As she has been doing for the past seven years or so when the weather allows and time permits, Ellen Vancura was outside Saturday pulling, sawing and lopping buckthorn in city parks.

After cutting it with a small chainsaw and/or pulling it out of the woods adjacent to the New Ulm bike trail near 12th South Street, Vancura dabbed herbicide on the freshly-cut thicket stumps.

The freshly-cut buckthorn trees are transported to the city burn pile. “We’re trying to get a chipper,” Vancura said. There is no ongoing city, state or federal budget for buckthorn removal.

Buckthron is a non-native, invasive plant that out-competes native plants for nutrients, light and moisture and degrades wildlife habitat.

Buckthorn leaves are dark green, egg-shaped, dull to glossy with finely-toothed edges, three to five pair of curved, leaf veins that stay dark green and on trees late into fall. Round, green-black, berry-like fruit is arranged in large clusters and one-quarter inch in diameter that stain driveways and sidewalks with purple splotches.

“If any private landowners want to talk to me about their buckthorn or want to know if they have it, they can e-mail me at newulmbuckthorn@gmail.com,” Vancura said. “I’m always looking for other volunteers to help me control it for the City of New Ulm on public land. We rely on volunteers and some city equipment like Weed Wrenches.”

Vancura began removing buckthorn as a volunteer at Flandrau State Park. After talking to New Ulm Parks & Recreation director Tom Schmitz she began volunteering for the City of New Ulm.

Over the past 25 years, buckthorn, brought to the U.S. from Europe as a landscaping plant, has become one of the most destructive species around, choking out native trees and shrubs for light, moisture and nutrients while reducing the diversity of plants, shrubs, wildflowers and songbirds.

Birds eat buckthorn seeds, which are natural laxatives and deposit them around trees, which begins to kill the tree and everything around it. Buckthorn is the first plant to leaf out in spring and the last to lose leaves in the fall.

If buckthorn trees or bushes are cut down, multiple sprouts return. Proper chemical application or “pulling, plucking and/or picking” is the best way to remove it. This can be done by hand or with a Weed Wrench if the trunk is less than 1-1/2 inches in diameter. If it’s larger, the tree can be cut down and a tin can placed over the stump, flush with the ground, and fixed with nails.

Buckthorn seeds in the soil can remain viable for up to five years, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Follow-up control of seedlings that emerge after initial control efforts is important, or buckthorn grows back.

After buckthorn removal, many sites require replanting of desirable trees, shrubs or herbaceous species. A resource that may help you find the right plants for your location is a multimedia CD program called Restore Your Shore. For more information, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/woody/buckthorn/control.html

Citizens who live near parks are encouraged to become active in cleaning them out and keeping them free of buckthorn, on their own time, with friends or a neighborhood group. Watch for group event notices in the Editor’s Mailbag or news briefs in The Journal. Always dress for the woods with long pants, gloves, sunscreen and insect repellant.

For more information, visit buckthorn removal information on the City of New Ulm website: www.ci.new-ulm.mn.us/

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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