Campaign to weed out European buckthorn across the suburbs

 
 
Updated 2/5/2019 7:59 AM
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  • Buckthorn shrubs are trimmed as a solid hedge along a highway. Various groups want to trim down buckthorn altogether.

    Buckthorn shrubs are trimmed as a solid hedge along a highway. Various groups want to trim down buckthorn altogether. Courtesy OF Lake County Forest Preserve District

  • Students clear invasive buckthorn during a Lake County Forest Preserve District education program.

    Students clear invasive buckthorn during a Lake County Forest Preserve District education program. Courtesy OF Lake County Forest Preserve District

  • A backyard landscape after buckthorn removal and the addition of native plants.

    A backyard landscape after buckthorn removal and the addition of native plants. Courtesy of Tamima Itani

A public campaign against a pesky invader is being launched across the region.

European buckthorn, an invasive plant that gobbles up valuable space and light wherever it grows, long has been a bane to conservationists and natural resource managers.

Forest preserve districts and other organizations for years have been waging war against the pesky shrub or tree that forms dense thickets and crowds out native wildflowers and other plants. And they want your help to get rid of it.

A campaign dubbed "Healthy Hedges" is being rolled out to arm nonprofessionals with information to deal with buckthorn and options to replace it.

"This is a key conservation goal across the region," said Allison Frederick, assistant public affairs manager for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

"We're joining forces to make this truly a movement to eradicate buckthorn wherever possible."

The district and the Morton Arboretum through its Chicago Regional Tree Initiative, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Barrington Area Conservation Trust, Illinois Landscape Contractors Association, independent contractors and others are working to improve the health of backyards and other landscapes.

"It really is starting a campaign," Frederick said. "We are definitely arming people with the information and resources to get rid of it," she said.

Illustrated brochures outlining suggestions to replace buckthorn once it is removed, tips from landscape architects and best practices will be made available at nurseries and other locations as the growing season nears.

"When they get rid of it, they want to know what goes in its place," Frederick said. "This is one of those resources to plan the next step."

According to a 2010 census by The Morton Arboretum and the U.S. Forest Service, buckthorn accounted for 40 percent of the tree canopy and was the most common tree in the Chicago region. Lake County has the highest concentration with 42 percent.

The Lake County Forest Preserve District, for example, about three years ago began a pilot project to eradicate buckthorn in a large area constituting 2,900 acres in and around the Middlefork Savanna near Lake Forest.

While agencies have resources and expertise to deal with buckthorn, the invasive pest will be an issue until private landowners, homeowner associations, golf courses, garden clubs and others join the fight, say those involved with the campaign.

"We've been trying to get this missing piece to make the connections," Jim Anderson, the district's director of natural resources said of the united effort.

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