Years from now, one topic of conversation will be: “What did you do during COVID?” The answers will be as diverse as the people – read all of my bucket list books, learned a musical instrument, played mahjong online with older family members. These are all laudable, but my wife and I became buckthorn busters.

After employing time, patience and machinery, a Yarmouth couple found out about a simple way to vanquish a destructive invasive plant.

In 2015, we purchased a one-acre property in Yarmouth with a small back lawn abutting a pine woods. We were baffled by a wall of secondary growth that filled our pine woods right to the edge of our lawn. My wife is a master gardener whose expertise is invasive plants. She quickly realized our woods was host to a variety of invasives, most prevalently buckthorn.

Buckthorn is not just a nuisance but also an ecological catastrophe. Like many invasive species, it thrives on disruption. It takes root in disturbed soil and begins madly reproducing, so efficiently nothing else can grow. Buckthorn trees are the first to leaf out and last to lose their leaves. They produce scads of berries the birds detrimentally eat, giving them diarrhea, and thus they spread the seeds everywhere. Eventually, the buckthorn onslaught absorbs the nutrients, water and light needed for other flora to survive, destroying the native species. As Yale University warns, this pattern is contributing to the rapid decline of insects. Where once stood a grassland, woods or, in our case, a pine forest, there is an ecological desert.

Another side effect recently discovered is that woods dominated by invasive plants promote deer ticks. The buckthorn creates a shaded understory, thus the woods is cooler, moister and more conducive to ticks. It also provides them more opportunities to brush off on potential hosts.

We started by pulling the buckthorn with our old Jeep and a logging chain. We created enormous piles, rented a dumping trailer and hauled them away. It was painfully slow and hard. We heard about a gadget called an UpRooter and tried it out. It clamps on the base of the buckthorn and then you lever it out with the handle. The UpRooter was effective on smaller saplings but not the larger ones. We were making progress, but too slowly. And then we discovered another dark buckthorn trait.

If you disturb the soil around them, it activates their seed bed. The following spring, a carpet of baby buckthorn had sprung up where we had worked. Undeterred, my wife sectioned off areas and patiently pulled every little seedling – all 124 garbage bags.

My wife continued researching and found that a Minnesota teenager and his father realized that if you cut off the buckthorn and put a heavy black plastic bag over its stump, it dies in two years. We cut mountains, chipped the trees and bagged their stumps.

Now, we can see a hundred yards back into our woods, where a flock of turkeys has taken to foraging, secure in being able to see predators better. And they have found a delicacy that they spend hours picking up – deer ticks.

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