GREEN  More than 40 volunteers gathered May 18 to clean trash, lay mulch and remove a variety of invasive plant species from the 197 acres of Southgate Park as part of the Living Green Task Force’s annual Cleanup Day.

“Back in the day, every farm had a dump site,” said Green Parks and Recreation Superintendent Michael Elkins. “We hope to get the majority of that (in Southgate Park) today.”

Glenn and Becky Witsaman, of Green, are frequent Cleanup Day volunteers.

“I just hate to see litter around,” Becky Witsaman said, adding with a laugh. “I always pound it in my grandkids heads: do not litter.”

Past Cleanup Days have included volunteers from the Portage Lakes Advisory Council (PLAC) and have focused on areas around the Portage Lakes. Funded in part by a $308,555 Ohio Public Works Commission Clean Ohio Greenspace Conservation Program grant, Elkins said the city was able to concentrate this year on litter and non-native plants within its own park system.

Since obtaining the grant, Elkins said scientists from EnviroScience have identified a number of these plant species within Southgate Park. In spite of their beauty, he said, plants like knotweed and, in particular, bittersweet, can wreak long term havoc on a native ecosystem.

“There is a lot of bittersweet (in the park) – it looks great but it wraps around trees and chokes them out,” Elkins said. “There are others (plant species) here too, like tree of heaven – with a name like that, you wouldn’t think it was an invasive species.”

Brendan Morgan, vegetation management specialist for EnviroScience, said the non-native species make their way into an area in benign fashion, but can have a huge impact over time.

“Oriental bittersweet is great for birds and people will sell bittersweet boughs and put it out like a bird feeder,” Morgan said. “Then the birds will (distribute) it. And bittersweet is a ‘strangler.’ It grows up a tree and tightens as it grows.”

Another example, he said, is garlic mustard. While butterflies will lay eggs on native mustard seed, they are not as likely to on garlic mustard. Likewise, deer prefer native mustard seed, which creates a “double hit” on the native species, Morgan said.

Many are surprised to find that a number of other attractive and fairly common house plants, from English privet to burning bush, while not as destructive or “invasive” as others, are also non-native to the area. Morgan suggests “doing your research” and considering planting gardens with native plants.

“Take multiflora rose. Years ago the U.S. Forest Service encouraged planting multiflora rose because it is great for ground nesting birds, but it is also a destroyer of native plants,” he said. “So by playing God, we screwed things up.”

Morgan allowed that more recent efforts to restore wetlands and reroute streams to their original states, in order to make them more usable to native fauna, is also, in essence, “playing God.”

“The unofficial motto is ‘saving nature from itself’,” Morgan chuckled. “My goal is to get rid of the majority of the bittersweet here, but it is going to be a years-long process to (eradicate) it.”