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.