April 6, 2024

There is always something intriguing about a walk in the woods.  My recent stroll through the Art Teasell Wildlife Refuge caused me to stop and notice a few items of intrigue.

The sunshine.  For the next few weeks and until leaves bring dense shade, the forest floor receives lots of sunshine.   The resulting light and heat triggers spring growth for vegetation and wildlife.

The soft ground.  Winter brings subzero temperatures, mysteriously adding air to the soil.  I am always amazed how spongy the earth’s surface is in early spring, even after this year’s mild winter.  The spongy soil bodes well for sprouting seeds and emerging insects.  It is only after a few heavy downpours that ground becomes firm.

The birds.  Long before trees produce leaves and wildflowers sprout, birds deliver a chorus of praise.  After a quiet winter, birds busy themselves preparing for a productive spring.

The intruders.  Phragmites has become the dominant plant in the Art Teasell Wildlife Refuge, now covering at least 25% of the area.   This invasive weed shows no regard for the immense variety of plants and wildlife that once graced the forest.

Phragmites is not easy to eradicate.  Cutting it down only encourages it to return with a vengeance.  Until researchers come up with a better solution, today’s control measure for Phragmites involves cutting it down or flattening it with a roller, allowing it to sprout, then applying an herbicide at its juvenile stage.  Not a quick and easy solution, but if we don’t stay ahead of it, Phragmites will continue to invade.

The foreigners.  The Art Teasell Wildlife Refuge is not an old growth forest.  The dominant tree species is Manitoba Maple, a scrubby, weak wooded native tree that grows anywhere.  At the south end of the plot there are broken rows of Skyline Locust, Norway Spruce, London Plane and even a few Hydrangeas.  All evidence of the City of Sarnia’s former nursery, abandoned about 50 years ago.

The debris.  A healthy forest is an ecostystem that rejuvenates itself in many ways.  Leaves fall, becoming compost, adding nutrients and rich soil to the forest floor.  Dead and broken limbs continuously drop, providing food and shelter for wildlife, eventually adding organic matter.

Next week’s Garden Clippings will explore the earliest spring flowering perennials.