Why Didn’t Hudson Valley Native Americans Have Poison Ivy?

There are many things that were destroyed or changed greatly once Europeans arrived on the American continent. Healthy forests are on that list.

The invasive species that we spend so much time battling and ripping out; poison ivy, barberry, multiflora rose, and more, simply weren’t issues when Native Americans were tending to our forests. The reason can be boiled down to two words: edge habitats.

Edge Habitats Explained

Look at your back yard. If you live in the Hudson Valley or Catskills, you probably have trees beyond it, and there’s a cleared out section where trees used to be. It’s probably hard for you to just walk into the woods, because there’s a big curtain of invasive plants in the way; vines, brushes, shrubs, stickers, and yes, poison ivy. That’s an edge habitat.

Edge habitats are the result of forest fragmentation. The center of a forest is the core of a biological cycle where everything is a complete circle. Insects, bees, animals, trees and plants all work together in a circle. If the circle is broken by human intrusion or the introduction of invasive species, the sudden changes can disrupt the forest and break down the cycle, creating conditions where invasive plants thrive, native forestation dies, and wildlife can’t be supported sustainably.

If you live on the edge of a forest, and want to get rid of invasive plants for good, it’s not just a matter of removing the plants. It’s a matter of turning an edge habitat into a core habitat, creating the conditions for a healthy forest.

After removing invasive species, a next step is to replace them with native plants that can support birds and other pollinators, like bees. Once invasive plants take over, birds and bees can’t sustain themselves, resulting in a vacuum where the invasive plants would grow and grow. Replacing invasives with native plants means that birds and bees can protect and pollinate your core habitat, and a side benefit is that you won’t need a birdfeeder anymore; birds will already be in your yard, feasting on nourishing native plants.

How did we get here?

The Native Americans were truly the stewards of the forest. When Europeans arrived, they cut down every last native tree in the Hudson Valley and the Northeast, harvesting the wood to build farms and houses, and using hemlocks for leather tanning.
After the forests were completely gone, they were replaced by different kinds of trees, mostly white pines, in what is known as the first successional forest. A couple hundred years went by, and during the Industrial Revolution, the trees were cut down again, turning into 2x4s. Then the second successional forest came, which are the current hardwoods that we have. Each successional forest is less fertile and supports less wildlife, making them more vulnerable to invasive species.

We covered 12 of the most common Hudson Valley invasives in a recent post.

What has accelerated the problem is civilization; not just cities being built, but farms expanding, highways, power lines and dams. All of these developments can split forests in half, creating multiple edge habitats where new invasives, like japanese knotweed, can thrive. It can take native insects and animals decades to adapt and find a food source among all of the invasive plants, which leads to their displacement and death.

The edge habitat phenomenon is why forest animals are now few and far between. All of the animals left are scavengers like bears, deer, possums, skunks and porcupines, who are basically urban animals now.

Edge habitat ruins the enjoyment of your yard

People are moving to the Hudson Valley and Catskills in droves to live in nature. But over time, plants start growing up around the edge of their yards; tall grassy plants like mugwort or poison ivy. Every year, the edge of the yard pushes in by a foot, until eventually there’s a five foot buffer between the yard and the trees where even a lawnmower can’t go.

Some indicators that you have an edge habitat that’s getting out of control:

  1. You can’t actually sit in the shade of the trees while in your yard
  2. You can’t see into the forest
  3. You can’t walk into the forest
  4. Your trees have dead branches or are covered in vines
  5. You need a birdfeeder to get birds to come out
  6. You have poison ivy

Poison Ivy Patrol uses all-natural methods to return your edge habitat to usable space, and extend your yard back to the canopy of trees, where you can walk directly into the forest or sit in the shade of your trees. We serve Ulster, Dutchess, Rockland, Westchester, Orange, Greene, Columbia and Albany counties. Contact us today for a free consultation at (845) 687-9528.

Keeping Glenwood Park Green With Poison Ivy Removal Services in New Rochelle

We recently had the opportunity to remove poison ivy and perform woodland restoration at Glenwood Lake Park in the City of New Rochelle.

Background

Keeping the park green and healthy for residents is a major priority for the community. It’s a mini-nature preserve covering about six acres, and the 60-foot deep lake serves as a destination for ducks, herons, swans, and other birds. The lake feeds into the Huntington River and eventually the Long Island Sound, and the park also features a wood chip trail that’s maintained by local Eagle and Girl Scout troops.

A typical day at the park means seeing lots of people walking dogs, jogging, and even fishing. It’s a popular space for the dense surrounding community, but it’s also ecologically stressed.

“The park is used by a lot of people, and it helps maintain our sanity in a crazy world,” says Michael Yellin, the Chair of the Glenwood Lake Association. “But last year, the park was overgrown with poison ivy, particularly around the trail system. Many members of the community, particularly the children in the elementary school, could not use the park for fear of getting poison ivy.”

After getting the city’s approval to match some of the association’s funds to address the problem, Yellin began looking for landscaping partners.

“Any solution that involved pesticides or chemicals was not an option, he says. “Even though the lake is a relatively small body of water, we want to do everything possible to improve water quality and not contribute to pollution. Some people do some fishing there, and it’s great for enjoying the peace and solitude of fishing. It provides life lessons for younger people to understand the importance of engaging with nature and protecting our natural resources.”

“The organic options that we found were very few and that led us to John at Poison Ivy Patrol,” says Michael.

After taking a look, we noted that it’s a really high-trafficked area, very sensitive, and not very healthy. We took care of the safety issue of removing the poison ivy, but as is often the case, there were a number of other invasives in the area that needed to be addressed long-term. Without addressing the long-term health of the wooded area, there won’t be any defense against poison ivy coming back again and again.

“We were very satisfied with the work that John and his crew did,” says Michael. “We decided to engage with them more this spring as a follow-up to what was done in the fall.”

The follow-up is a service that we call Woodland Restoration. It involves the removal of other non-native, invasive plants, shaping and pruning the remaining native plants and trees, and managing the return of sunlight and water resources to the area to allow for a more sustainable, healthy ecosystem.

Here are some of the invasives that we’re addressing this year at the park:

Grape Vine and Bittersweet

The first step this spring has been to remove invasive vines to keep the remaining trees alive. If the park’s trees died, the micro-ecosystem would be devastated. The trees have been choked by both grape and bittersweet vines.

Grape vine is probably the most common invasive we see here in the Hudson Valley. They hang off of branches, stealing sunlight, water and weighing trees down. If left unchecked, grape vine can pull entire trees down.

The trees also had spiraling bittersweet vines, which choke trees around their trunks. You can read more about them here.

Multiflora Rose and Barberry

The grounds are covered in multiflora rose; while it’s pleasant to look at, and even smells nice, it can easily take over areas with disturbed or unhealthy soil. Finding and digging up the roots is very resource intensive, so we have to take a strategic approach to removing areas of the rose and preventing it from aggressively growing back.

The other ground-bound invasive is barberry, which grows into a dense, thorny shrub that can get up to six or eight feet high. It leafs out early in the spring, and its spiky thickets of branches crowd out native plants and provide shelter for brown field mice, who are known for carrying tickets and Lyme disease. The best time to remove barberry is in the late summer or early fall, before its berries appear, to stop the cycle of reproduction.

Do you have poison ivy on your property, and want to have it removed without the use of chemicals, pesticides, or poisons? Learn about our services!