City arborist and volunteers tackle invasive species one park at a time
BY ILANA WILLIAMS
Wearing neon orange vests and crouching behind tall grasses and trees, City Arborist Dawn Taft and a crew of volunteers tend trees and tackle invasive species at Driskell Park. Every third Saturday of each month, they focus on saving trees and tending native habitats, with a particular eye to those invasives, according to Taft.
“When we just remove without replanting … the area that we’ve cleared, it allows other invasives to come in,” Taft said.
Taft said that porcelain berry and wineberry are persistent in the park. Depending on the season, the crew may also take on bush honeysuckle, English ivy and garlic mustard.
Bamboo, which proliferates quickly, is a problem especially on the east side of the park, Taft said. Bamboo most likely spread to the park from a nearby home.
“My fear is that’s how it came to get in the woods,” Taft said.
Taft said the group mostly maintains the trees at Driskell Park but has also removed English ivy from University Hills and Japanese knotweed at 38th Avenue Neighborhood Park. Later this month, they will be working at Melrose Park.
Taft’s volunteers learn skills that help them maintain their own property.
“I had a lot of invasive plants in my backyard when I moved into Hyattsville,” said resident Brendan McCormick. “[I] figured I could learn how to get rid of them and help out.”
McCormick said he’s pulled English ivy from his yard, but it’s already starting to pop back up.
During the group’s February removal clean-up, Taft noted a vine growing up a tree and demonstrated how to cut the invasive’s root at its base. She used a saw to cut a chunk of the root.
“English ivy on the ground is not so bad if you keep it off the trees,” Taft said. That same ivy, growing up a tree, can damage bark, leaving the tree vulnerable to disease.
Taft has been coaching Hyattsville resident Marino Nunez on the art and skill of removing invasives. Nunez started training in 2019 and is now learning how to lead with a crew himself.
“I wish in my neighborhood we have people come to do this,” he said. “It’s nice.”
Nunez, who was volunteering at the park before the pandemic hit, noted that the February gathering marked his first time back since 2019.
“COVID[-19] destroyed us,” Taft said. “We couldn’t meet at all.”
In 2019, a group of volunteers cleared porcelain berry and bush honeysuckle from the northwest side of the park’s trail. When the volunteers returned to the park in 2021, they discovered porcelain berry completely covering the area they had cleared.
“I don’t think anything [we planted] survived,” Taft said. “It was just these big mounds. They look like little igloos of porcelain berry where it had grown over our fencing.”
February’s meet-up brought out the largest group of volunteers Taft had ever worked with. Taft plans to advertise her efforts in hopes that even more people will come.
“Keeping it beautiful, having a space where we can enjoy and relax [and] have community is important,” Taft said.
Ilana Williams is an intern with the Hyattsville Life & Times.