Volunteers remove invasive plant in hopes that native species may return to Dane County

In an attempt to bring back native species after those plants and animals were forced out by an invasive plant called buckthorn, people volunteered their time Saturday at the Capital Springs Recreation Area in southeast Wisconsin.

Buckthorn is native to western Asia and eastern Europe, but definitely not southeastern Wisconsin, where the volunteers worked through the organization Friends of Capital Springs Recreation Area.

Buckthorn is a shrub that can grow upwards of 25 feet (7.62 meters), which blocks out sunlight from plants that could be growing in that area. Naturalist Clare Carlson at Friends of Capital Springs Recreation Area said the buckthorn in Dane County Parks is killing native wildflowers and native oak trees, among other species. She said that since buckthorn isn’t native to Wisconsin, it has no natural predators.

“(Buckthorn) creates a monoculture, so nothing can grow under it,” Carlson said.

She said buckthorn is forcing animals and insects, such as bees and butterflies, out of the area.

For those who are unfamiliar with buckthorn, Carlson described it as a dark, glossy leaved plant. Tom Kazmerzak, a volunteer at Saturday’s cleanup, said that although he wasn’t able to identify the shrub before coming to volunteer, he’s now able to identify it not only by its leaves, but also by thorns running along its stem.

Kazmerzak volunteered as part of a University of Minnesota alumni association for alums who are from Madison, but beyond volunteering, he said taking away the buckthorn is important.

Removing the buckthorn “is important if we want more natural habitats to come through, which will help clear out the area, get more breeze through here, less mosquitoes, so we can enjoy the park,” Kazmerzak said.

Removing the buckthorn is not as easy as cutting it down. Carlson said buckthorn grows back stronger if it’s cut down, so removing it by its roots is the best solution. With the help of volunteers working from 9 a.m. to noon, Carlson said the goal for Saturday was met.

It may take years for the woodland area to restore its natural habitat, but volunteers were optimistic that when they return a bit later, they’ll find natural species that have returned.

“I think we’ll see less buckthron, and we’ll see more native plants start to come through,” Kazmerzak said. “I’m excited to visit and see the fruits of our labor for many years.”

Carlson said those wishing to help bring back biodiversity to Dane County should plant native plants in their gardens, as this will encourage native animals to return.

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