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Branching out with 'Free a Tree' tips



During the Forest Preserve District's recent "Snow Day Festival" at Plum Creek Nature Center, staff organized a "Free a Tree" activity that educated people about the need to keep non-native vegetation away from trees.

Fest-goers were encouraged to remove vegetation from around an oak tree in Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve. Judith Wallace, a Forest Preserve natural resource management crew leader, said the "Free a Tree" activity was a hit with the crowd. "The interest and the enthusiasm from the public exceeded my expectations, especially the kids," she said. "I had some people visit the exhibit multiple times."

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Freeing trees and other plants from non-native species is something the District's natural resource management staff and volunteers are doing on a routine basis, Wallace said.

"We remove non-native vegetation under and around trees in order to reduce competition and allow more sunlight to reach the ground," she said. "The non-native species we tackled during the January 20 'Snow Day Festival' were honeysuckle and autumn olive, which both grow very densely with a lot of leaves and branches. Virtually nothing can grow beneath them due to all of the shade they cast on the ground. Removing them allows more sunlight to reach the ground giving our native flora a chance to grow and reproduce."

"The clearing activity also allows the trees to reproduce," Wallace added. "For instance, the oak tree that 'Snow Day Festival' participants were working to free now has a nice open area for its acorns to thrive in."

Removing native species is something that is a continuing battle.

"Many of our natural areas have an abundance of non-native species that result in degraded habitats," Wallace said. "If we do not address this problem, our native trees and shrubs don't have much of a chance. With intervention, our non-native species grow much more rapidly and leaf out earlier, which gives them a competitive advantage."

Freeing trees is something that can be done on a smaller scale in someone's yard as well. Homeowners simply have to remove non-native species that might be growing around a tree and replace the invasive species with native plants.

"The non-native invaders do not attract our native birds, butterflies and insects," Wallace said. "So it's very important to remove the invasive species and plant with natives."

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