What makes a landscape beautiful?

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. – Henry David Thoreau

When Mike and I drive and work around the reserve, we pass units that are not being actively managed. He often sighs and points out these areas crowded with invasive plants, then points out a high-quality area that he wants it to look like. Sometimes I really don’t see a difference. Looks like a nice prairie to me, I’ll think.

When one of my good friends visited me a few weeks ago, we went on a hike around Shaw. She asked how my work here so far has changed me. I thought for a moment and said that I used to think of nature as just beautiful, no matter what. It was an escape for me; as long as it was green and alive, I enjoyed being in it. But now that I’ve learned more about ecosystems and can identify more plants, I know what I’m looking at. I am beginning to have some sense of whether an area is degraded when I see it, and if it is filled with invasive plants I’ve worked on, I know for sure. That led me to think about what makes a landscape beautiful. If a natural area is full of non-native plants, is it still beautiful?

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Hello from Missouri!

I started my placement three months ago, but this will be my first blog post. I am living and working at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Shaw Nature Reserve (SNR), located 30 miles west of St. Louis. It encompasses 2,400 acres of prairies, woodlands, glades, and other lower Midwest ecosystems. The mission of SNR is to increase environmental stewardship through education, restoration of habitats, and public enjoyment of nature.

I work primarily with Mike Saxton, the Ecological Restoration Specialist here. My challenge focuses on restoration of a 60-acre woodland at SNR and interpreting this large-scale restoration to the public. We call it the IMLS Woods because Shaw received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for this restoration. This project will serve as a demonstration area that will build capacity for regional restoration efforts. Sometimes I work in the prairie, glade, and wetland units as well. Most of my day-to-day responsibilities include a combination of invasive species control and seed collection. I am also building a restoration and stewardship website for SNR to inform the public on restoration projects and their progress as well as opportunities to get involved. In addition, I have been helping to prepare and lead Saturday volunteer workdays that are open to the public.

My long-term professional goal is to work in natural areas restoration and management as well as environmental outreach. During my time at Shaw so far, I have been working towards the specific goals for my placement, which are gaining plant identification skills, knowledge of different ecosystems, hands-on restoration experience, and understanding of public gardens. I have also had the chance to meet conservation researchers and professionals to learn about their projects and talk about new ideas in restoration.

Invasive species control has been a large focus since I began in February. Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) and privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium) are two that are very widespread throughout the reserve. We cut and treat large shrubs with herbicide to ensure that they don’t re-sprout. Some areas, such as the IMLS Woods, were mowed in the winter, and much of the invasive brush was cut to the ground. When they re-sprouted to a few inches tall, we walked through areas using backpacks with herbicide mixed in oil (instead of water) to spray them. The oil part is important because it allows the herbicide to penetrate through all living tissues, including leaves and woody stems. If mixed in water, the herbicide will only be absorbed through the leaves, and these resprouts do not have enough leaves to transfer enough herbicide throughout the plant. Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) is another invasive plant we have been treating. This is a woody vine that crawls along the forest floor and only flowers and fruits after it finds a tree to climb. Therefore, we focus our limited time on vines already wrapped around trees. Euonymus stays green all winter, so we can wait until the fall to spray the mats of it on the ground, when most native plants have senesced.

Catherine the Brush Killer_1391

Cutting and treating invasive brush

Spraying RCG

Backpack spraying reed canary grass with Adam (Conservation Tech) using an aquatic safe herbicide

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