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Plant ID: Himalayan Blackberry vs. Salmonberry Shrubs

Last Saturday, I did some invasive species removal with the Stanley Park Eco-Stewards. We removed Himalayan blackberry from some sites that had previously been cleared of invasive species and replanted with salmonberry shrubs. Because Himalayan blackberry is such a persistent plant – it, along with English ivy, is one of the most aggressive invasive species in Stanley Park – there were several spots in which it had grown back.

One of the most helpful things I learned during this eco-stewardship session was how to tell the difference between a Himalayan blackberry shrub and a salmonberry shrub – we wouldn’t want to be digging up the native salmonberry vegetation, after all! I’ll share with you some of the plant identification tips I learned.

Have a look at the picture below. It contains a Himalayan blackberry branch and a salmonberry branch converging with each other. Can you tell which is which?

Can you guess which branch belongs to a salmonberry shrub and which belongs to a Himalayan blackberry shrub?

If you guessed blackberry on the left and salmonberry on the right, you are correct! If not, don’t worry – let’s walk through it together.

First, let’s look at the colour and texture of the branches. The blackberry branch is green and thorny. The salmonberry branch is brown and smooth (Wild Berries of British Columbia tells me that younger salmonberry branches are prickly, and then they shed their prickles as they get older... I'll have to start paying more attention to these things!).

BRANCHES: notice the prickly green blackberry branch on the left versus the smoother brown salmonberry branch on the right.

Secondly, notice the leaf pattern of each. Himalayan blackberry leaves tend to consist of 5 leaflets, each of which round and then end in a point. Salmonberry leaves have three leaflets that are more angular in shape:

LEAVES: A Himalayan blackberry leaf (left) vs. a salmonberry leaf (right).

A good trick that Ivy, our Stewardship Coordinator, taught us: if you fold down the top leaflet of a salmonberry leaf, you get a butterfly!

 A salmonberry-leaf butterfly!

A salmonberry-leaf butterfly!

Try the same trick with a blackberry leaf, and here’s what you get:

 Not quite a butterfly.

Not quite a butterfly.

It’s useful to note that there are exceptions to these identification rules. I’ve certainly seen some salmonberry branches (I think they are, at least!) that are green…

 Green salmonberry branches

Green salmonberry branches

… some Himalayan blackberry canes that are reddish…

 Red Himalayan blackberry branch

Red Himalayan blackberry branch

… and some Himalayan blackberry leaves that have three leaflets (though note that the overall leaflet shape is much rounder than that of a salmonberry leaflet):

 

 A Himalayan blackberry leaf with three leaflets

A Himalayan blackberry leaf with three leaflets

But hopefully sticking with the aforementioned guidelines will help you to identify these shrubs. Happy plant ID-ing! For those readers with a little more nature expertise, please let me know in the comments if I've made any mistakes.

Pulling Ivy with the Stanley Park Eco-Stewards

Last week, I wrote a post about the wonderful experience I had weaving English ivy into bio-netting with artist Sharon Kallis. Sharon uses English ivy as an art medium, and determines ways to convert this invasive plant into structures that are beneficial to the forest and our surroundings (i.e. bio-netting, fencing). Now, I’d like to take a step back and talk about the role I play in pulling ivy from the ground.

The Stanley Park Eco-Stewards – a volunteer group that I’m a part of – are responsible for removing English ivy and other invasive plant species from key places throughout the park. Why does the ivy need to be removed, you ask? English ivy is a non-native, invasive species that likes to take over large areas and crowd out the native species that provide habitat and food for the wildlife in the park. Once English ivy is removed from an area, the native vegetation has more space to flourish.

 Here are two piles of invasive species that the Eco-Stewards pulled last weekend. The pile in the front is holly, and the ivy is piled in the back. Sorry about the camera smudge!

Here are two piles of invasive species that the Eco-Stewards pulled last weekend. The pile in the front is holly, and the ivy is piled in the back. Sorry about the camera smudge!

I’ve been an Eco-Steward since March, and have been pulling ivy once a month with a great group of volunteers. There are several things that I like about this experience. Of all the nice sensations I get from being close to the forest floor (the smell of mulch, an increased ability to breathe, the light compression of the soft ground under my feet), the feeling I love the most is the tug of war with the ivy vine as I pull it from the ground. English ivy is anchored to the ground horizontally by rootlets that are distributed across its vine. Sometimes I can extract the vine easily, with the sensation of ripping out a length of yarn from an unraveling sweater. Sometimes it is more challenging – often the ivy vines don’t end when I think they will, and continue for several metres underneath the weight of fallen branches, or are busy strangling the base of a sword fern. In this case, the ivy vine often breaks before I can pull it in its entirety, and I spend time digging through the soft mulch with my gloves, extracting the remaining rootlets and removing the rest of the vine. In these cases, I work like an electrician searching for the correct wire, trying not to mistake the severed ivy vine with the slender roots of trees and shrubs.

 A tangled circuit of extracted ivy vines.

A tangled circuit of extracted ivy vines.

Another great thing about being an Eco-Steward is the opportunity for learning about the forest in real time, as it develops throughout the seasons. Our energetic and knowledgeable group leader, Ivy, is very in tune with emerging vegetative growth at Stanley Park. She is good at scanning the landscape and finding many teachable moments as she leads us toward our work site. From Ivy I’ve learned how to identify douglas fir trees, salmonberry canes, and salal shrubs. I’ve learned facts about fiddleheads, salamanders, and spittlebugs. If I have a specific question about an aspect of the forest, I can ask Ivy rather than paging through a book or typing a vague question into Google.

If you’re interested in learning more about invasive species in the park, there are some pictures and notes on these species on the Stanley Park Ecology website. There’s also a handy-dandy picture poster that lists the common invasive plants and suggests native alternatives for gardeners. If you’re interested in eco-stewardship at Stanley Park, check the Stanley Park Ecology Society events page and look for “community invasive species management” or “eco-stewardship” events.

 

Weaving a Bio-Net from English Ivy

Last Saturday I learned how to weave a net out of invasive English ivy vines that had been pulled from the ground. Cool, right? My net will become a small piece of a functional bio-netting community art project led by Vancouver-based environmental artist Sharon Kallis.

 Our raw materials - English ivy that had recently been pulled from the park.

Our raw materials - English ivy that had recently been pulled from the park.

What is bio-netting, you ask? It’s essentially a woven layer that’s placed atop the soil of an ecologically-sensitive area. The bio-net helps to prevent soil erosion and protect new plantings of native vegetation while still letting in light and air. Eventually (in about 2-3 years), the net biodegrades and enriches the soil around the newly established vegetation.

In 2009, Sharon led The Ivy Project, a community bio-net weaving and installation project in Stanley Park. If you’re interested in learning more about The Ivy Project, it has a website and a video. Sharon has recently written a good blog post about the growth results of the netted area on her website. The bio-netting from Sharon’s current project will be installed on a slope on the north side of Lost Lagoon in October.

I was greeted warmly by Sharon on Saturday morning as she was setting up above the Stanley Nature House on the southeast side of the lagoon. She was busily taking strands of ivy and looping them around a series of fenceposts, setting up about 4 or 5 community workstations so that people could drop in and try the weaving technique throughout the day. With a cheerful and relaxed attitude, Sharon showed me how to wrap the ivy around a fencepost and leapfrog a loop overtop of this wrap to create a “stitch” in the net. I worked back and forth across 6 fenceposts to create my rectangle of netting.

 

 A piece of bio-netting in the works!

A piece of bio-netting in the works!

Over the course of the day, many patrons of the park stopped by and asked what we were doing. Sharon explained how, when, and where we’d be using the bio-netting, and also highlighted that we were repurposing English ivy (an unwanted, invasive plant that covers much of Stanley Park, crowds out native vegetation, and takes thousands of volunteer hours to remove) into a functional structure that will benefit the park ecology. She pointed out that the woven hat she was wearing – a stylish newsboy cap – was also made out of English ivy.

“Would you like to try? I can teach you the technique and have you weaving in about two minutes.” This is Sharon’s invitation to curious passers-by. Some people take her up on her offer and spend a few minutes to an hour at a work station, looping ivy around the fence and creating a length of netting. This community project is ingenious in its ease – no special tools or materials are required; we simply use what the built environment and the forest provide.

I’ve been thinking lately about environmental education, and how well-meaning messages can often come off as boring and technical. Sharon’s way of communicating about ecology is different. She channels fresh ideas into small, local projects that combine craft and conservation science, and have clear, visible, and measurable outcomes. She accesses the sensation of touch when she teaches people to weave, and invites us to create hand rhythms that literally seal nature in a loop and link our fingerpads to the forest. I wonder: how could other environmentalists make use of all 5 senses to impact people’s minds and actions? How else can the arts guide the sciences in delivering effective ecological messages?

Sharon told me that the next phase of the project will take place in August around Third Beach. We’ll be creating woven circles of ivy to join the larger pieces of netting together. If you’re interested in joining in, check out the events section of Sharon’s website and scroll down to the August listings.