All posts by Ben VanderWeide

About Ben VanderWeide

I am the Natural Areas Stewardship Manager for Oakland Township Parks and Recreation in southeast Michigan. I have a doctorate in biology (focused on plant ecology) and I am passionate about protecting and managing natural areas.

THIS WEEK IN STEWARDSHIP: Wetland Grass Identification is Fun!

While the crew was hard at work, one of the members, Grant, attended a wetland grass identification workshop through Michigan Wetlands Association. Dr. Tony Reznicek from the University of Michigan taught the class – he is widely considered a sedge expert (and a good teacher!), so it was quite a treat to learn from him. Over the two days of the workshop the group visited several wetland habitats to examine the wetland grasses occurring there. The class members were from different parts of the state, different organizations, and different stages in their careers, which made the workshop a great place to learn.

The first day the class visited a fen wetland where they identified a rich diversity of grasses. At this particular fen they found little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), blue-joint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), marsh wild-timothy (Muhlenbergia glomerata), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

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At the Bakertown Fen the class found little bluestem, bluejoint grass, and Indian grass. Too bad that wall of glossy buckthorn is creeping in!

The next stop that day was a bog, where they saw a different set of grasses that grow in a bog compared to a fen. At this bog some of the highlight species were cotton grass (Eriphorum virginicum) and wool grass (Scripus cyperinus), as well as other species of plants like poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix).

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Entering the Buchanan Bog. Cotton grass (Eriophorum virginicum) and wool grass (Scirpus cyperinus) were highlights here, while avoiding poison sumac!

The final stop for the day was on the St. Joseph river, where they not only found an abundance of wetland grasses, but also the biggest ragweed (Ambrosia) field anyone in the class had ever seen!

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Ahhhh-choo! The biggest giant ragweed patch ever 😦

The second day started at Warren Dunes State Park where the class got to see the many different grass species found in forested wetlands. During this stop, they saw rice cutgrass (Leersia oryzoides), deer tongue (Dicanthelium clandestinum), wood reed (Cinna arundinecea), and fox grape (Vitis labrusca, a rare viney species).

Then the group hiked through the dunes to an interdunal wetland, where one of the smallest bladderwort species in Michigan lives (Utricularia subulata), as well as Lindheimer panic grass (Dichanthelium lindheimeri), and Tickle grass (Agrostis hyemalis).

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Checking out the interdunal wetlands at Warren Dunes State Park

The final stop for the workshop was one of the best tamarack fens in Michigan. At this spot we saw many tamarack trees (Larix laricina). This stop has many species we had previous seen at different stops like Big blue-stem (Andropogon gerardii), Marsh wild-timothy (Muhlenbergia glomerata), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

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Unfortunately many of our wetlands are being degraded by invasive species like invasive Phragmites. Dr. Reznicek is holding a stem of this large wetland grass here.

Through this workshop, Grant got hands-on experience with many species of grasses. He also got to practice his grass ID skills – grasses can be some of the most difficult plants to identify! We continually improve our land stewardship skills so that we care for the natural areas in Oakland Township’s parks.

THIS WEEK IN STEWARDSHIP: Battling Oriental Bittersweet

The stewardship crew has been busy managing more invasive woody shrubs along the Paint Creek Trail and at Bear Creek Nature Park. One invasive woody shrub species we would like to highlight is oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). Bittersweet can be found in a wide range of habitats from woodlands to marshes. It’s a woody vine that will wrap around other plants and trees, covering the vegetation completely and killing them in the process. The twining stems can even climb up to the top of mature trees!

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Oriental bittersweet climbs anything it can. The weight of its heavy vines can take down mature trees and smother ground vegetation.

One way to identify bittersweet is by its extensive, bright orange roots. The leaves are alternate along the stem (not in pairs), with toothed margins. The leaves often have a roundish body that tapers to a long tip, but can vary in shape. Its flowers are a pale greenish-yellow and can be found at the base of the leaves along the stem. Bittersweet produces small orange fruits, which makes the vines popular in holiday wreathes.

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Ripe bittersweet fruits are attractive with their orange and red contrast, but don’t be fooled! Bittersweet will take over if you throw your holiday wreath in the woods. Photo by iNaturalist user Ganeish, used with permission CC-BY-NC.

This aggressive invasive species can produce large populations from just one seed! Small root fragments can also regenerate, making it difficult to remove completely. Birds and small mammals enjoy the fruits and help this invasive species travel long distances – however the fruits are poisonous to humans and livestock. Don’t spread bittersweet with your holiday wreath!

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So if you see the crew out in the parks and would like to learn more about bittersweet and how to identify it, please stop to ask questions!

This Week in Stewardship: Native Plant Gardens are Sprouting at Gallagher Creek Park

This post was written by our Land Stewardship crew. Look for weekly posts from them throughout the summer, in addition to the posts from Cam Mannino!

On Thursday the stewardship crew helped host the grand opening of the new playground and safety paths at Gallagher Creek Park, which is on Silverbell Road just east of Adams.

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Alex and Alyssa share information about native wildflowers at the Gallagher Creek Park Grand Opening.
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On Thursday, May 23, 2019, township officials, staff, residents, consultants, and friends gathered to celebrate the opening of new playground and path facilities that help us create a sense of place.

In July 2018 parks staff, our contractor, and volunteers from the community gathered for a workday to install the playground. This year, the stewardship crew will be planting an interactive children’s garden around the newly constructed playground, using plants native to this area.

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Alex and Marisa with our trailer filled with a bounty of native grasses, sedges, and wildflowers.
Before they start planting next week, the crew has been prepping the site by placing logs to border of the garden and adding stepping stones to encourage children to explore the planting. Stay tuned for updates on this project!

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The back side of the playground will planted with wildflowers, grasses, and sedges that are native to southeast Michigan.
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Black locust logs we harvested for a different project a few years ago will be used as the border for our native plant landscaping. Black locust is rot resistant, and provides a rugged, natural look.

This Week in Stewardship: Great Progress Controlling Garlic Mustard!

This post was written by our Land Stewardship crew. Look for weekly posts from them throughout the summer, in addition to the posts from Cam Mannino!
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Volunteers brought a burst of energy to help us control garlic mustard along the Paint Creek Trail. A special thanks to all the volunteers from Fiat-Chrysler Automotive (FCA)!

The crew has been working on removing garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), an invasive plant, in Blue Heron Environmental Area, Cranberry Lake Park, and O’Connor Nature Park. Today they collaborated with Six Rivers Land Conservancy, Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (OC CISMA), and Paint Creek Trailways Commission to host a volunteer work day pulling garlic mustard along the Paint Creek Trail. Thirty volunteers joined us, mostly from Fiat-Chrysler Automotive. We collected a total of 36 garbage bags full of Garlic Mustard! Great work!

Garlic mustard is originally from Europe and was brought to North America in the 1800s for cultivation as a garden herb. It escaped cultivation and spread through natural areas across the US. It is detrimental to natural areas due to its lack of natural predators, early growing season, and ability to produce up to 3,000 seeds per plant. It also releases a chemical that inhibits the growth of nearby native plants that provide food and habitat for native wildlife. Together, these traits allow this aggressive plant to quickly take over many areas, including intact woodlands. Check out the before and after pictures below!

You can control garlic mustard effectively by hand pulling the second year flowering plants before they set seed, taking care to remove as much of the root as possible. So if you see it in your yard, help out your native Michigan plants and wildlife by pulling it out!

Check out the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network website for identification tips and more information on Garlic Mustard: https://www.misin.msu.edu/facts/detail/?project=misin&id=22&cname=Garlic+mustard

Welcome to the new Land Stewardship Crew!

This post was written by our Land Stewardship crew. We’re lucky to have a great team again this year that is excited about natural areas management in our parks. Look for weekly posts from them through the summer, in addition to the posts from Cam Mannino!

Meet the Oakland Township Parks and Recreation Stewardship Crew! Now that the field season has begun, we’d like to introduce two of the new Land Stewardship Technicians who will be working hard all summer to restore the natural areas of the township park system (the third technician will be starting soon!). The Stewardship Crew will be working on prescribed burns, invasive species removal, and native seed collecting and planting. They also spend time monitoring vernal pools, bird nest boxes, changes in vegetation, and lake water quality.

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New to our crew this year are seasonal Land Stewardship Technicians Marisa (left) and Alex (center). Alyssa (right) is our Stewardship Specialist who has been with us since April 2018. Grant (not pictured) will be joining the crew soon.

New to our crew this year are Marisa (left) and Alex (center). Marisa is a sophomore at Grand Valley State University studying Natural Resources Management. Alex is a graduate from Michigan State University, and is currently focusing on gaining experience in land and wildlife management. Alyssa (right) is our Stewardship Specialist who has been with us since April 2018. Grant will be joining our crew soon, so check back soon to learn about him.

Stay tuned for weekly posts on what the crew is up to. If you see us in the parks, make sure to stop and say hi!