Museum’s New Native Plant Nursery and the Battle Against Invasive Species

July 2022
Traveling down Belle Hill Road towards the Duck Pond, you will notice obvious signs of plantings in the H. Lee Ferguson, Jr. Wildlife Sanctuary. H.L. Ferguson Museum Board member Terry McNamara is working to make the sanctuary more biodiverse by replacing invasives with native species. This is one of the many HLFM Land Trust properties where the Museum is working to restore habitats to their natural and diverse state. In addition, a new Native Plant Nursery situated within the Sanctuary will be used to grow plants to aid in that effort. The lessons learned and documented will be used for all the properties under HLFM Land Trust management.

Up until a few years ago, the Sanctuary was completely overrun with blackberries. Previous attempts at native plantings and roadside mowing had opened the door for invasive plants. When a ground area is disturbed, new plants colonize the soil. Certain plants like porcelain berry, mugwort, and Japanese knotweed propagate from seed and grow more vigorously than natives. They have an advantage in being non-native and therefore free of insects and other predators. These invasives subsequently spread by rhizomes and choke out competing vegetation, creating a monoculture.

As a consequence, the native blueberries, Joe Pye weed, New York ironweed, swamp milkweed, elderberry, and coastal sweet pepperbush (summersweet) that would grow in these spaces and support a robust and diverse insect and bird population are eliminated.

Beach plum (Prunus maritima) blooming at Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts, May 2016. Photo courtesy of Wiki commons.

To combat these threats, the areas around individual native plants in the Sanctuary are being culled of invasives. Once the protected plants are established, they can withstand the invasive threat. To further aid in the establishment of a diverse habitat, a nursery with irrigated beds is being used to propagate native plants that are no longer present in certain areas. Cardinal flower, real beach plum Prunus maritima (not the spiny Rosa rugosa with rose hips), and summersweet are raised to maturity and size so they can be introduced and compete successfully.

All these activities are labor intensive. However, the end result of these efforts should be a beautiful and diverse Sanctuary that can be maintained with a minimum sustained effort by future caregivers.

We encourage you to take a walk through the H. Lee Ferguson Jr. Wildlife Sanctuary and enjoy its various pathways. (Enter off West Street which leads to Belle Hill Avenue from the town green or from the back of the Museum.) To find the nursery, look for the puffy white hydrangea canopy off Belle Hill and an enormous maple tree that is one of the best on the island. There you will also see mugwort (with leaves resembling chrysanthemum leaves) and porcelain berry, both invasives that remain a challenge, but you will also see evidence of the effort it takes to restore natural habitat.

As the nursery project grows, Terry needs helpers who enjoy working with plants. He currently is aided by the HLFM Land Trust Youth Crew which helps him in all activities associated with the plants and trails on our Island.

If you would like to help with this important project, please reach out to Terry through the Museum by calling 631-788-7239.

Did you know?
In the United Kingdom, mortgage lenders often will not issue a mortgage for a property that has knotweed on it unless a full-scale treatment plan is also submitted.

Pictured here: Fishers Island School’s Agricultural Technology Teacher Adam Murray working with his students in April 2022 to place and level the raised garden boxes in the Museum’s Wildlife Sanctuary. His various classes at School built the boxes located on Belle Hill Avenue, now lined, planted, and beginning to show the ‘fruits’ of their labor.

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