On Monday, June 22, BTLT welcomed Larry Totten of the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF) to the Tarbox Preserve in Topsham. The ACF is a national organization whose mission is to preserve and protect the native chestnut tree as well as to cultivate and plant blight-resistant trees. Totten, a member of the Maine chapter, brought twelve saplings grown at the University of Maine-Orono. With the help of Stewardship Manager Margaret Gerber, BTLT summer intern Dylan Sloan, and CREA summer intern Alex Gates, the Tarbox Preserve is now home to those twelve chestnut saplings, which will eventually grow into a small grove.
The Chestnut tree is native to the eastern United States. “[The tree grows on the] eastern seaboard,” said Totten. “More in the mountains than the coast, along the Appalachian Mountains and all the way uphill.” Although the tree does grow in the wild in Maine, the ACF’s work is vital in ensuring that blight-resistant trees can be introduced to coastal environments such as midcoast Maine.
Totten and the rest of the Maine chapter of the ACF often reach out to organizations such as the BTLT inquiring about possible locations to plant chestnut seedlings. When the BTLT suggested the Tarbox Preserve and brought him out to take a look at it, he had a feeling it would do the trick.
“[This spot] had some good decent soil on top, and it appeared to be well-drained,” said Totten. The clearing, which is just a few hundred yards from the parking lot, receives direct sunlight and drains well because it is on top of a small hill. Hopefully, the prime location will yield healthy trees that will quickly grow out of their support tubes. However, it’s hard to estimate at what rate these trees will develop.
“It’s so hard to define as a single answer. In ideal soil, these seedlings will be out of their planting tubes (around 4 feet) by the end of the summer,” said Totten. “If they get enough water and they like the soil…they’ll get out of the tube. But then you have to worry about deer eating the leaves!”
The trees at Tarbox Preserve are the offspring of wild American chestnuts discovered and preserved by the American Chestnut Foundation. They will hopefully grow to adulthood before the fungal blight gets to them.
“These [saplings] are all wild stock. Elsewhere in Maine, we’ve got 45,000 trees in the ground that are a fifth-generation crossbreed from the Chinese,” said Totten. “[All of the candidates] will be injected with blight. The blight kills most of them, but if we end up with two blight-resistant trees, we’re good. All you need is two!”
One of the ACF’s largest projects is experimenting with disease resistance in chestnut trees. Recently, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York has a breakthrough in injecting wheat genes into a Chestnut tree for increased disease resistance. The specimen is still awaiting governmental approval, but if it is given the green light it could be the “next big thing” for chestnut reforestation on the east coast.
“We have three different programs going, and [disease resistance] one of them” said Totten. “Another is gene preservation, which is in a sense what we’re doing here—but I hope it’s going to be more than that!”
Indeed, as the years go by this grove of chestnut trees will hopefully do much more than preserve the chestnut gene pool—they will also be a beautiful feature for visitors to the Tarbox Preserve to enjoy. Although it will be more than a few years before these trees grow to adulthood, this partnership between the BTLT and the ACF will yield a gorgeous chestnut grove in the future.
The Heath Loop, a beloved walk by many along the perimeter of the heath at Cathance River Nature Preserve, will be closed for the winter by Preserve partners Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT), Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA) and Seacoast Management. The closure comes in response to concerns about hiker safety, as the loop hosts a large number of bog bridges whose condition has deteriorated since they were first installed over 15 years ago.
Trails at the Preserve are maintained by BTLT in partnership with CREA and Seacoast Management. Despite replacement of 15 boards on the Heath Trail last year, the partners have been unable to keep up with the pace at which bog bridging around the Heath is failing. The wet spring appears to have accelerated board failure, and the need to obtain state environmental permits for large-scale boardwalk replacement at the Heath is a factor. Other maintenance issues at the Preserve, including the efforts to re-route and sign areas of the Preserve’s trail system affected by development of Sycamore Way Extension, have also strained our trail maintenance budget and capacity.
Hikers will be advised to proceed at their own risk over the winter, and people with balance or mobility limitations are strongly discouraged from using the trail. The east side of the Heath Loop will be reopened next year after the trail has been made safe for passage. If you have questions, or would like to help with Heath Loop boundary marking this winter or board replacements in the spring, please contact Margaret, BTLT’s Stewardship Manager, at email@example.com.
If you google the plant “Euonymus fortunei,” or “wintercreeper,” you’ll get two different kinds of results. The first kind will detail a plant that has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, has cultivars named “Emerald Gaiety” and “Emerald Surprise,” and may be on sale at your local garden center for $39.99. The second kind details a plant that is listed on the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States, was named an “alien plant invader” by the Plant Conservation Alliance, and often is accompanied by the words: “DO NOT PLANT.”
We sure got an “Emerald Surprise” when we realized this plant was growing rampantly at our Smart Property this summer. The Smart Property, one of our newest acquisitions, is a 3-acre floodplain forest on the banks of the Androscoggin River, filled with towering silver maples and green ashes and home to warblers and waterfowl alike. We first noticed the mysterious emerald evergreen vine climbing nearly to the tops of some of these trees, and saw that where it touches the forest floor, it transforms into a blanket of dense groundcover growth. We can’t know for certain how or when wintercreeper first appeared at this property, but its proximity to the riverbank indicates that it hitched a ride on the Androscoggin River, likely after getting washed out of somebody’s garden upstream, and was deposited during a spring flood.
As stewards of our conserved lands, it is our responsibility to protect our properties from invasive species—which reduce biodiversity, threaten rare species, and choke out native trees and herbs. But there are many occasions and circumstances where the battle against invasive species feels futile—that you could spend your whole life cutting brush and yanking weeds, and you’d hardly put a dent in the waves of bittersweet, knotweed, honeysuckle, and barberry that seem fated to overtake our native landscape.
However, this time is different: because this is only the second known wild population of wintercreeper in the state, treating this infestation means that we have a real chance to prevent this plant from creeping into the rest of the state and strangling floodplain forests from Salmon Falls to the St. John. And we weren’t about to let that chance pass us by!
So we spent a few days with our Regional Field Team yanking the vines down last week—they come off the tree with a satisfying zzzzzip!—and digging the roots out of the ground, but it will likely take a few years of active management to fully remove wintercreeper from the Smart floodplain forest.
So if you’re looking for new plants to put in your garden, don’t just go with what’s on sale at your local garden store, because it may have ulterior motives for world domination. Please consider buying New England natives! The Native Plant Trust has published a database of great garden plants that also support our native biodiversity—learn more by visiting their website.
By Lily McVetty, Summer Intern
On Monday, I attend an educational program hosted by the Androscoggin Valley Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) along with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The goal of this program was to help educate community members about invasive species, their various forms throughout Maine’s four seasons, and their associated prevention techniques. The program placed an emphasis on several types of moths: Winter, Browntail, and Gypsy. The Emerald Ash Borer, Asian Longhorned Beetle, and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid were also central topics.
The key message that I gleaned from this workshop was to purchase camp wood and landscaping materials from the area in which they will be used rather than using imported ones. By doing so, you are helping prevent the spreading of invasive insects, plants, and bacteria—and supporting local businesses!
Over time, imported invasives will extinguish Maine’s native biotas, degrade property values, and negatively impact the state’s industries. For example, logging and maple syrup industries are at risk from invasives killing vast quantities of their stocks and resources. Tourism could also be dramatically affected when Maine’s native characteristics become depleted and when physically irritating species like Browntail Moth cause visitors great discomfort and worry (see images below). As anthropogenic activities continue to cause native species to disappear, the state will become a more unfamiliar place to those who have lived here for decades.
There seems to be a disconnect between ecologists and members of the general public. I would argue that both campers who bring their own camp wood from home and homeowners who choose to do business with companies that import landscaping materials have good intentions. Rather than intending the state any harm, I believe these people and companies are unaware of the impact of their choices. Although organizations like the Androscoggin Valley SWCD and University of Maine Cooperative Extension are doing their best to spread awareness on invasive species and prevention practices, there is still a significant knowledge gap. Creating effective and far reaching dialogue will be critical to combating this growing issue in Maine.