Everyone is really respectful of plants here – weeds can be used for tea, making medicines, compost and nothing is needlessly removed. But there are invasive plants on the Sanctuary – especially Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) and Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora). This week we got out the tools – loppers, secateurs, mattocks – for some serious work on pulling out these plants choking up young trees around the edge of the wood. Prickly work, and tough steering around occasional stems of Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans) which can cause a horrible rash, but great to see young trees bouncing up free of twining stems of Honeysuckle. We piled up the pickings to be taken down to a bonfire since they have to be destroyed and the compost bin will not do this sufficiently. This work will continue for some days. One other job is to make sure the woodland trails are clear for walking and have signs which are readily visible. The signs are made from old slate tile with white paint and include the common name, Latin name and family of key plants. Holes are drilled in the slate so that it can be hung round a tree with wire or screwed to a wooden post. Sometimes the slate cracks because the tree grows and stretches the hanging wire, or a fault splits it, and the sign needs to be replaced. Foliage around the signs needs to be cleared away to ensure visibility. Plants along the trail are clipped back too if they are obscuring the path or the signs.
Last week we collected Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) plants for distribution to members of the United Plant Savers group. This is an incredible plant. It could easily be missed in a woodland, with low growing roundish hand-like leaves. The root is briliant yellow and bitter-tasting. It contains important alkaloids, such as berberine and hydrastine, and is traditionally used to treat inflamed mucous membranes and infections. It has been over-harvested in the wild, and so is a plant ‘at risk’ in its natural habitat. The dissemination of roots to members is part of an attempt to develop more sustainable cultivation. We were digging up the rhizomes and roots remaining after some trials with roots planted over 10 years ago. The roots were stored for a few days in cool damp conditions while we assembled peat, bags and boxes for mailing out to over 250 people. The boxes included instructions so each little root and bud could face a new future in rich, damp shady conditions all over the US.