Volunteers remove buckthorn near Garvin Heights lookout

2013-11-17T00:00:00Z Volunteers remove buckthorn near Garvin Heights lookoutBy Stefani Schmidt stefani.schmidt@winonadailynews.com Winona Daily News

Invasive plant species seem to be found everywhere these days.

A Winona State University student is attempting to study and eliminate one of those plants found in the area as part of  her senior capstone project.

Erin Skelly, 22, of Champlin, Minn., is an environmental science major at Winona State studying buckthorn.

The buckthorn is an invasive species that was brought over from Europe for mostly ornamental purposes that is now growing rapidly in North America, Skelly said.

The small tree like plant was banned for purchase in the 1930s, Skelly said, but it’s spread rapidly due in part to the berries it produces.

“Birds scatter the seeds in the summer when they eat the fruit,” Winona State biology professor Bruno Bosari said.

Bosari, along with other volunteers, helped Skelly get rid of as much buckthorn as possible Saturday afternoon at the land near Garvin Heights lookout.

The 80 acres or so near the lookout was recently donated to the WSU Foundation, Winona State professor Neal Mundahl said.

The group of a dozen or so volunteers that came out despite the dreary weather consisted of some of Skelly’s family, friends, roommates and professors Bosari and Mundahl.

Before they got started, Skelly described what buckthorn looks like to those who didn’t know.

While most trees and bushes are leafless, the buckthorn retain theirs a little longer, which makes the process of finding them easier this time of year, Skelly said.

The leaves themselves are egg-shaped and once some bark is scraped off the mini-trees, a bright orange and red is visible. 

“This area we are in right now is one of the worst I found with my research,” Skelly said to the group.

For her project, Skelly set up different plots to figure out where the worst areas of buckthorn were located and studied the different ways to get rid of the plant. 

The plant has a tendency to choke out native plants and overtake the areas, Skelly said.

Since there aren’t any current bugs or diseases that naturally control it, the buckthorn is taking over and blocking sunlight for other species.

Overall, everyone should be aware of possible buckthorn living in their own yards.

“It’s important to remove them,” Skelly said.

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