Japanese Barberry: Not an Average Landscape Shrub

Barberry in fall, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is an invasive shrub from Asia. Invasives are species not native to our country or state and can cause ecological, economic or human harm. They arrive here as a result of international trade and intentional or accidental release. Outside of their native ranges, they lack predators or other factors that keep them from out-competing, or overcoming native species. Invasive species have been shown to degrade habitats and cause declines in native plant and wildlife populations. They can cause the loss of crops and income, and can also affect recreational opportunities in addition to other species. The United States spends billions of dollars a year in efforts to control invasive species and reduce their impacts.

Japanese barberry was introduced in the 1870’s for landscaping, and was used extensively for hedgerows and prized for its attractive red berries and bright red fall foliage. It is a dense spiny shrub (you might know it as a “pricker bush” that is common in neighborhoods and farms).  They can grow up to 8 feet tall, have zig-zag branches and small oval leaves that range from green to purple in the summer, with white to yellow flowers.

Barberry fruit, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Barberry can produce large numbers of seeds at a rapid rate and tolerate a variety of conditions –which are typical of invasives. It escapes from gardens and farms and can crowd out native plants, which threatens native biodiversity and normal ecological functions in forest, field and edge habitats. Wildlife help barberry spread by eating the berries and dispersing the seeds in their scat (poop). Studies have shown that these berries have less nutritional value for wildlife than native fruits such as native cherry or viburnums. Barberry grows into dense thickets, crowding and shading out native plants and seedlings, reducing habitat and forage for other species. Additionally, barberry has been found to alter soil pH and the layer of vegetative litter on the ground. This change in soil pH can persist long after the invasive has been removed, further inhibiting native plant growth. It poses a threat to humans as well by creating prime habitat for deer ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease.

Thicket of Japanese Barberry in a forest community, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

A simple control method for established Japanese Barberry plants is to dig them out.  Barberries are fairly shallow-rooted and typically easy to dig out, but all of the roots must be removed to prevent regrowth. The roots are easily identified by their yellow color when broken. Once dug from the ground, the shrub should be disposed of in a manner that leaves it dead and unviable. This can be done by burning, chipping or leaving the plant in the open sun to desiccate.  Plants may be bagged in thick heavy bags, such as contractor bags, and thrown out, particularly if berries are present to avoid establishment of new plants.

Digging out a barberry, photo by State Parks

For very large shrubs or thickets where manual or mechanical removal may not be feasible, systemic herbicides may be used with a basal bark  (spraying the entire circumference of the lower trunk or stem of the plant) or cut stump application. Chemicals are recommended as a last resort and should be applied by a licensed applicator. It is advised that people carefully follow label instructions to minimize impacts on native species.

Though new regulations prohibit planting of Japanese Barberry in New York State, it is still sought as a landscape shrub because deer do not eat it, it is hardy (further traits of invasive species), and the red phase offers a pleasing color to gardens. Thus, established barberry plants continue to threaten native ecosystems and efforts to control invasives.

There are native deer-resistant shrubs that could be planted in place of this invasive, such as St. John’s Wort, Highbush cranberry, Winterberry, and Shrubby cinquefoil. You can consult native plant nurseries and other sources, but also check the New York Flora Atlas to make sure the shrubs are native to New York State.

The simplest precaution that can be taken to control invasive Japanese barberry is to increase awareness of it and plant only native plants in gardens. This helps to support native plant species and the wildlife and native pollinators that rely on them.  You can also look for volunteer opportunities in your local State Park for invasive species removal workdays in the spring to fall.


Going Native: Invasive Species

New York Flora Atlas

New York State Prohibited and Regulated Invasive Species Regulations

Post by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Summer Stewards of Hudson Highlands

Welcome to the Hudson Highlands, New York City’s backyard!  Just a short train ride or a car ride from NYC, people can regain their sense of summer freedom in the network of trails throughout the Eastern Hudson Highlands.  Patrons come from all over – day-trippers from neighboring states, as well as international hikers staying in NYC – to enjoy a pleasant hike.  The trails are as diverse as the people who visit, and there is a trail for every type of hiking goal.

Breakneck, photo by Penelope Guccione

Breakneck Ridge and the Washburn/Cornish Trailhead are two of the most popular trailheads, which are places where trails begin.  These trailheads are where you are likely to bump into a summer trail steward.  New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) staff is stationed at Breakneck while State Parks stewards are posted at Washburn on weekends and either location during the weekdays.  Say hello to the trail stewards at either spot; they can help suggest the best route options and point out unique features that can be found along your desired hike.  Trail stewards from State Parks are based out of the Taconic Outdoor Education Center (TOEC): Outdoor Educators, Student Conservation Association (SCA) members, and seasonal staff who all teach about the natural world.  Stewards are happy to answer questions about any animals you have seen or plants you have discovered.  You can even chat to get some information about local history and places to go post-hike.

Trail stewards are here to empower people with information about safety and about protecting the fragile natural area of the state park.  Working as a part if visitor services, trail stewards help hikers make more informed, positive decisions.  Did you know that trail blazes or trail markers indicate which way the trail winds through the forest?  Trail stewards are there to help brief people on how to read the blazes so that hikers stay on the trail.  Wandering off trail has a devastating impact on the mountains’ natural resources, which supports rare species and sensitive natural communities.  Some hikers purposefully stray from the path, thereby creating false or social trails that can easily mislead novice hikers and escalate erosion, a major issue in the state park.  The rocky summit communities along the ridgeline can be destroyed by visitors trampling the low lying vegetation.  So tread lightly and stick to the designated trails and viewpoints marked on the trail maps.  The goal is to allow people to utilize the mountains as a recreational resource without harming or putting too much stress on the ecosystem.  When hikers make informed decisions, the state park stays in better condition for current and future generations.

Breakneck and Washburn trailheads are the last outposts before you begin your journey to the ridgetops and woods, so make sure to prepare ahead of time.  There are many trails that intersect and overlap.  Grab a free detailed, colored map of the Eastern Hudson Highlands as well as valuable advice from the stewards.  Make sure to bring plenty of water: at least one to two liters during the hot, humid summer months.  Water needs vary based on climate, exertion, and individual needs.  Just remember that there are no water fountains or pumps along the trails.  Washburn has complimentary water most weekends in the summer to help unprepared hikers avoid dehydration.  Snacks may also be useful, providing fuel for long and strenuous hikes.  Other helpful items may include sunscreen, sturdy hiking shoes, and bug spray.  Trail stewards will remind you to “Leave No Trace” (LNT).  LNT is a set of seven principles that provide an outline for outdoor ethics, such as, “Plan and Prepare,” “Carry Out Items that you Carry In,” “Leave what you Find,” “Respect Wildlife,” and “Be Considerate of Other Visitors.”  Essentially, you want to leave no trace of your visit so that the mountains look the same as before entering the state park.  The LNT outdoor ethics are critical for patrons to observe in order to preserve the natural splendor of the Hudson Highlands.

Hudson Highlands, photo by Penelope Guccione

State Parks is also planning for improved management of the park by collecting and analyzing data.  Trail stewards keep track of the number of hikers who start their hikes from these trailheads and conduct surveys to get vital feedback from patrons.  Hikers can help influence future planning in the region by taking a moment to complete a brief survey.  You can take the survey by speaking with a summer trail steward or answering the questions online.  You can help by taking surveys for other trails by clicking on “Survey” under “Quick Links” at the bottom of the State Parks’ website.

As the summertime comes to a close, the trail stewards move from their summer post to other duties until the next summer season.  While the trail stewards may be gone, the trails are still eager to be traveled.  Soon there will be a crisp nip in the air signaling the beginning of autumn.  Will you be there when the forest erupts in a sea of rich, fall colors?  Will you help uphold the outdoor ethics to safeguard the natural resources of the Hudson Highlands?

Learn more about the forest and summits on these trails:

Pitch Pine-Oak-Heath Rocky Summit

Chestnut Oak Forest

Appalachian Oak-Hickory Forest

Post by Catherine Francolini, State Parks

Breakneck Sunset, photo by Karoline Nowillo

Oh Those Autumn Leaves

This weekend, take a walk, ride your bike, go for a paddle and enjoy the beautiful fall colors in a state park.

Sugar maples at Allegany State Park, photo by Tom LeBlanc
Photo contest entry Bear Mountain State Park
Enjoy the lakeside views at Bear Mountain State Park, photo by Renee Moskowitz
Look up at the trees at Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site, photo by State Parks
Bike along the carriage paths at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, photo by State Parks
Walk by the ponds and elegant birch trees at Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park, photo by State Parks
Camp by a stream under the color of beech, birch, and maples at Allegany State Park, photo by Tom LeBlanc
Watch some wildlife like these buffleheads on a pond at Betty and Wilbur Davis, photo by State Parks
Check out the view from the Grafton fire tower, a vast hemlock-northern hardwood forest in Grafton Lakes State Park, photo by State Parks
Kayaking in the Fall - Moreau State Park
Paddle at Moreau State Park, photo by State Parks
Stroll at Taughannock Falls State Park, photo by State Parks
Walk near the St Lawrence River at Waterson Point State Park, photo by State Parks

Autumn is such a great time to enjoy the outdoors in our State Parks.

Outdoor Activities in State Parks: Hunting

Among the many recreational outdoor activities available in our state parks, hunting is one that many may overlook. Hunting is a long-standing tradition in our nation, both as a necessity and an opportunity to be connected with the outdoors. Hunting is a safe and economically important activity; providing an excellent source of food and promoting family traditions while nurturing an understanding and respect for the environment and the complexity in which it functions. Today, an individual looking to take advantage of hunting opportunities must first complete a hunter safety course, and obtain a hunting license.  The hunter safety course will provide instruction on firearm/ bow safety and planning a hunt, by providing information about the biology of the game species in New York State.

A hunter with her dog, photo by Bellamy Reynolds

During this fall season many New York residents and out-of-staters will venture out into the woods and wetlands to take part in the multiple hunting seasons that New York State has to offer. Among the vast huntable acreage across the state are properties managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York State Parks. In State Parks alone there are about 80 parks, 3 historic sites, 3 golf courses and 50 boat launches that provide opportunities to hunt an array of wildlife from small game, waterfowl to big game species like bear and deer.

Being a hunter – what does it take?

Let’s take a step back and investigate what is involved in becoming a hunter. Besides the hunter safety course and a New York State Hunting license, the hunter must understand the biology of the animal and how that animal interacts with its habitat. Hunters have to be keen observers in order to be successful. Let’s learn about some of the signs a hunter looks for when pursuing whitetail deer.

Deer Path: Deer tend to travel through the forest in a path of least resistance – clear of downed trees and shrubs. Over time these paths become visible as the deer travel them regularly, just like a hiking trail.

A deer path, from, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADeer_Path.JPG

Tree Rubs: Male deer, or “bucks”, will make rubs on small trees with their antlers to mark their territory, deposit scent and declare their presence to other deer. A hunter must look for rubs in the woods and learn how to tell the difference between and old rub and a new rub. This can be done by closely looking at the tree. A new rub will have the presence of shavings or sawdust on top of the leaf litter that are scraped off when the buck makes a rub. Additionally a new rub will be contrastingly much lighter in color compared to an old rub that is weathered and darker.

Scat: Where deer eat, they poop! A hunter will look for fresh scat (poop) as evidence of recent activity. Fresh scat will be on top of the leaf litter – whereas old scat will be noticeably under leaves and sticks.

Sounds: Deer make a variety of sounds including a soft bleat, grunting, stomping with their hooves, and blowing air. The varying sounds and body language have different meanings. For example a deer may stomp their hooves and blow air out their nose when they smell or see a person in the woods. Observing how deer interact with each other and the sight and scent of humans helps a hunter better understand deer behavior.

A hunter should look for signs of deer well before the hunting season begins to learn the habits of the animal he/she is hunting. Equally important is practice, practice, practice! To be proficient with a firearm or bow a hunter must hone their skills year round. Hunting isn’t easy, it takes practice, time and a lot of patience to be successful. There are many hunter safety education courses available through DEC including the popular “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” (BOW) series. Take a look for yourself.


Learn more:

Department of Environmental Conservation Sportsman Education

Post by Lilly Schelling, State Parks

Twelve Years and Counting….. Allegany State Park Celebrates National Public Lands Day

Twelve years ago the Environmental Education/Recreation Department at Allegany State Park decided to host a new event –National Public Lands Day (a National Environmental Education Foundation program). It is our nation’s largest one-day event designed to give people a chance to give back to the public lands they use and love by volunteering some of their time. This mission of National Public Lands Day really resonated with park staff.

Picnic table assembly, photo by Tom LeBlanc

From its beginnings in 2005 when we thought it was a great idea to have service projects all over our 65,000 acre park, our volunteers have done much to improve Allegany and enhance the visitor experience for park patrons. We quickly got smart and now rotate this event between the Red House and Quaker sides of the park each year. A few of our accomplishments include:

  • ŸCreating a two acre butterfly meadow incorporating an Americans with Disabilities Act accessible sensory trail
  • ŸRemoving invasive plants, (Japanese Honeysuckle and Multiflora Rose) and opening up vistas around Red House Lake
  • ŸInstalling a hummingbird/butterfly garden in an under-used area in front of the Quaker Museum
  • —Freshening up many buildings and cabins with new coats of paint
  • ŸMaintaining park structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps
  • ŸRemoving litter –an unglamorous, but to park staff, majorly appreciated task
  • ŸPlanting new trees

We are immensely grateful for our volunteers and count ourselves fortunate to work with so many great individuals, families, community groups, area high school and college students, and scout troops. They are the driving force that makes National Public Lands Day a success!

Refurbishing the garden outside the Quaker Rental office, photo by Tom LeBlanc

According to the Independent Sector (www.independentsector.org), the estimated dollar value for volunteer hours in 2015 was $23.56. That means that the 100 volunteers who turned out for last year’s event contributed a total value of $11,780. That is amazing for a 5 hour workday! A big thank you to all who made this possible!

2016 finds us preparing for our twelfth National Public Lands Day celebration. We are looking forward to seeing our core of “regulars,” and extend an invitation to all Allegany State Park fans interested in caring for this New York State treasure. Please join us! This year’s celebration is on Saturday, September 24th and takes place on the Red House side of the park. Check-in/Registration is from 9:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. at the Red House Toll Booth. Service projects are from 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. (please bring a lunch) followed by a barbecue chicken dinner at 4:00 p.m. (for a very nominal charge). We ask that you come dressed for the weather and plan to get dirty. This event will be held rain or shine.

Painting the inside of St. John’s in the Woods chapel, photo by Tom LeBlanc

For more information and to pre-register (by September 19th) please contact the Environmental Education/Recreation Department at 716-354-9101 ext. 236 or email Katie.vecellio@parks.ny.gov. We will also gladly accept walk-in volunteers the day of the event.

Hope to see you there!

Please note: There are many other volunteer events taking place in our state parks around the state. Please visit our Events Calendar to search for opportunities near you.

Litter pick up on ASP Route 3, photo by Tom LeBlanc

Post by Heidi Tschopp, Allegany State Park Educator

The New York State Parks Blog

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