I recently began managing a forest in Missouri. As I began walking through and examining the forest, I noticed that there were some huge vines that I had first mistaken for skinny tree trunks. When I looked up, following the vines with my eyes, I noticed that these vines were vast and entwined on many trees. I could tell that what was going on with them was not healthy.
I went online to the conservation website for the state to get an idea of exactly what this vine was and if it is more harmful or helpful to the forest. What I found out was that these vines are Virginia Creeper. When managed, they can be good for various animals, or as ornamentals but when not managed, they are destructive.
In general, the Virgina Creeper is known mostly for strangling trees and/or growing up to the top of the canopy to get light, while blocking out light for its host tree/plant/etc. but I noticed there was much more harm going on in the forest than just a strangling and a darkening.
When I looked at trees that were hosting these vines, I noticed from a distance that many of the trees were actually being pulled downwards to the ground. When I looked at the base of the trees, I noticed that many of them were rotting only at the base, which may have been contributing to the trees being pulled so harshly.
On closer examination of the ground near the tree bases, I noticed the topsoil was large quantity of clay. On top of the clay, the forest has years of leaves piled up, which, on top of not easily draining, clay can cause a huge wet soggy blanket, with mushroom mycelium over populating. Add all of the above conditions together, and you get a sick forest. A sick forest, on my watch, is not acceptable!
I began a plan to start saving my forest from the dangers within it.
Rule #1: Get the vines off the trees that are still living and able to be saved.
Rule #2: Get the forest floor dried out near the tree bases.
Rule #3: Prep the forest for the next leaf drop.
One big thing I noticed is that there are not enough wild leaf eating animals around the area to keep the leaf/clay rot problem from happening. It is sad to me to know that there is not an abundance of wildlife such as wild goats, tatanka, deer, etc. Not abundance enough to help this issue.
The plan is to get the soil exposed, carefully leaving any and all important native plants unharmed. Then I plan to add native grass seed to the surface and see how well it can grow. I feel the grass would add a better barrier between the soil, the base of the trees, and the next season's incoming leaf matting.
After the grass grows and finances permitting, I hope to get some goaties to put in the area where the leaves had been cleared, so they are ready to start eating some of the new season's leaves. Their hooves will also help aerate the soil and their poo will fertilize the area.
There are many more things I will be discovering and improving as I continue on with my mission to refresh the forest. . .Stay tuned.....
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