East Lansing parks volunteers swap out invasive plants for indigenous ones

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Garlic mustard invasive plant

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Invasive species: Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

The Environmental Stewardship Program will host its second Environmental Stewardship Work Day after a 10-month hiatus from the practice. The event will take place 9-11 a.m. Nov. 13 from 9-11 a.m. at 2801 Abbot Road, East Lansing.

On Environmental Stewardship Work Day, volunteers meet to replace invasive plant species with native Michigan plant species to improve the ecosystems in East Lansing parks. 

Workdays typically take place the second Saturday of every month. They resumed in October. 

Environmental Stewardship Coordinator Heather Majano is focused on getting Environmental Stewardship Work Days back on track after the long break. She said, “The 10-month break was partly because of COVID and partly because the program changed hands a couple times within the department.”

Majano said, “The East Lansing Environmental Stewardship Program is organized by me in coordination with a lead volunteer. At this time, we are focusing on having one workday per month, on the second Saturday of the month. I spend the month before the workday talking with groups about volunteering and responding to community inquiries. Anyone can help and everyone is welcome.”

The return of Environmental Stewardship Work Days was successful in October. Director of Parks, Recreation and Arts Cathy DeShambo said, “I know that our last workday was very well attended.”

It is expected that there will be an even larger turnout for the November workday.

Majano said, “October was the first one back and we had about 30 volunteers. For the November work day, I currently have 30 volunteers signed up and two groups that are still polling their members, but who will likely each bring 10 people. Fifty people is the maximum I am comfortable hosting for a workday.”

The program relies on volunteers to complete work needed to improve local ecosystems. 

DeShambo said, “With the exception of Heather and sometimes an intern, the work is completed with volunteers. Sometimes a large group requests a workday, and sometimes the day is made up of a lot of different volunteers who simply want to enjoy helping in the parks for a good cause.”

For volunteers, the removal and replacement process consists of hard work guided by the Environmental Stewardship Program’s collective knowledge of invasive species, local ecosystems and native plants. 

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Invasive species: Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Majano said, “How the plants are removed is dependent on the plant. Our two main plants that we focus on are garlic mustard, in the spring, and buckthorn, in the fall and winter. Garlic mustard is a plant that is easily pulled out of the ground and buckthorn is a tree.”

Majano said, “For buckthorn we work on removing the larger trees, typically about the size of an apple tree, and the sprouts. Our work days are about two hours long. But, we come back to the same locations for removal and replacement many, many times. There’s a lot to remove.”

On the October workday, buckthorn was the focus.

Majano said, “We don’t typically remove and replant in the same workday, but in October the lead volunteer had some trees he wanted to plant that he’d been growing during the COVID shutdowns. So, we planted five trees and also removed about one-fourth acre of buckthorn. Usually, we’ll only plant in the spring and we’ll have a whole workday or two dedicated to it.”

The program acquires the native Michigan replacements from several sources.

Majano said, “Oftentimes for tree replacement we purchase trees from our local Conservation District. They have tree sales in the spring and fall. And for several years we were able to secure tree donations from MSUFCU and purchased from a few local tree nurseries. But, we also have one tree nursery that is maintained by a volunteer in one of our parks and two volunteers grow trees in their own yards for us.” 

“For plants, we purchase native plants from Wildtype Plant Nursery and I maintain two native seed banks in our parks. These seed banks allow us to have beautiful gardens in the parks and also save money on restoration,” said Majano.

This attention to local parks and concern for local ecosystems sparked a positive reaction from community members. Ethan Macka, a MSU student and lover of East Lansing parks, said, “native Michigan plants should be protected and I’m glad that’s happening. I am happy there are great people taking care of our ecosystem. After looking into the program briefly I’m definitely interested.”

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