A landscape assessment led to a group of Grayslake volunteers taking on invasive buckthorn
Eradicating a tenacious invasive plant and expanding efforts to help where needed has become a mission for a newly formed Grayslake-based volunteer group.
Finding buckthorn during a routine landscape assessment about a year ago, Michael Canino had no clue what it was or how pervasive the shrub is. Until he began researching it, Canino didn't know it can prevent spring flowers, oak seedlings and other plants from growing by shading them out.
"I was ignorant back then," Canino said. "It's eye-opening."
Buckthorn can grow up to 22 feet and release a chemical called emodin from every part of the plant, which is bad for the soil and wildlife, experts say.
Noticing that buckthorn was an issue at Lexington Woods Park across the street from his home, Canino founded Uncommon Buckthorn, a volunteer group to contribute where it could.
The name is not a description of the woody plant but the goal of making common buckthorn uncommon -- an admittedly tall order.
"Individual citizens can do a lot of good work," Canino said. "I'm trying to do my little part."
The group held its first event in mid-March at Lexington Woods working with the Grayslake Community Park District.
"We're starting small, trying to partner with individual park organizations," Canino said. "We had 25 people come out, which is kind of amazing."
About 2 acres of buckthorn was cleared in two hours, Canino said.
The group's second buckthorn removal is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Round Lake Area Park District's North Shore Park. Volunteers should meet at the nearby Sports Center, 2004 N. Municipal Way.
Ane Olivares, superintendent of parks, said the help is welcome. The district tried to organize volunteers in the past, but because attendance was minimal, "that kind of went by the wayside."
Volunteers on Saturday will be dealing with a roughly 5-acre area that had been cleared several times, most recently about four years ago. The stubbornness of buckthorn is among its banes, and requires chemical treatment and follow-up.
That's where the partnership comes in. Volunteers cut it and the park district follows up with treatment.
"They just come with loppers -- no chain saws," Oliveras said.
Canino said the work is satisfying.
"It's very immediate. You can see the impact," he said. "It's a good way to meet your neighbors. It's accessible to anyone and it's fun."
But because of the danger of trampling good plants during the growing season, Saturday's event will be the last until the fall. In the interim, the group will work at making connections with other agencies and potential volunteers.
"There are a lot of us out there if there's a mechanism to get us together," Canino said.
That's one of the bigger-picture ideas the Lake County Board's energy and environment committee is considering for a pending native tree and plant restoration program.
"We should use all the resources and brainpower we can, combine efforts and go big," said county board Member Jessica Vealitzek, who has been working to remove buckthorn at her home in Hawthorn Woods.
"The piecemeal efforts, though beneficial and worthwhile, don't solve the problem," she said.
Visit lcfpd.org/buckthorn to learn about how to remove and replace buckthorn.