On a rather pleasant February 8th winter day, a group of Blue Ridge, Foothills and Lakes (BRFAL) Virginia Master Naturalists met with met Mr. Ryan Klopf, Mountain Region Steward, Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR), Division of Natural Heritage and his two henchmen, Wes and Jonathon at Bald Knob Natural Area Preserve (NAP) in order to remove as many privet shrubs as possible.
But first, a little background about Bald Knob NAP. It is the newest NAP in Virginia. The site is called a Piedmont mafic barren where exposed rocks resist weathering and have unusual chemical properties, making them and their derived soils different from typical Piedmont sites. Due to the soil make-up, the NAP is home to the very rare Piedmont fameflower (Phemeranthus piedmontanus) and has only been documented at a handful of sites in the world. Ryan explained that the mafic rock in Rocky Mount was originally formed due to volcanic activity. The original lava was then compressed into a very hard rock that erodes very slowly. The rock is estimated to be about a billion years old and was formed when the Atlantic Ocean was forming for the first time. Bald Knob is one of the most significant conservation sites in the Piedmont.
So what are privet shrubs and why are they considered invasive? The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia on the subject:
“Privet refers to any of a number of shrubs or trees in the genus Ligustrum. The genus contains about 50 species native to the Old World and Australasia. Many members of the genus are grown as ornamental plants in parts of the world, including the United States.
Several species of privet have become a nuisance in regions outside its range. In these conditions it is most commonly found wherever there is disturbed soil, soil that is physically perturbed from its natural state through fire or mechanical machinery, such as along fencerows, old fields, ditches, and forest margins. Privet grows particularly well in riparian forests, which are found throughout the southeastern United States. Although tolerant of varying soil and light conditions, including a tolerance for shade, privet survives best in mesic soil with abundant sunlight.”
As you may surmise, the privet plant can out compete the very valuable and rare Piedmont fameflower. So armed with loppers, pruning saws, a Sawzall and a chainsaw, our team of volunteers attacked the offending invaders with enthusiasm and camaraderie. After about 4 hours our enthusiasm was tempered with sore muscles and aching joints. (The median age of our volunteers was well above 60). Our efforts were highly successful with at least a half dozen brush piles over 6 feet high. Although we made a big dent in the privet population, there is still more to go. We shall return!
If you are interested in seeing more of the BRFAL activities or joining our group, please visit our blog at BRFAL.BLOGSPOT.com.