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UC Professor Works to Bring Native Plants Back to Cincinnati

Professor of biology Denis Conover says the best way to bring native plants back to the area is to kill off the invasive plant species.

Date: 5/26/2014 12:00:00 AM
By: Courtney Danser
Phone: (513) 556-8577

UC ingot   Cincinnati is being invaded! But not by monsters or zombies. Rather, the city is being invaded by several kinds of invasive plants that are killing off the native species in local parks such as Burnet Woods. The invasive plants include Amur honeysuckle, Japanese honeysuckle, winter creeper euonymus, English ivy, garlic mustard, Callery pear, lesser celandine, common periwinkle and others.

Some of these plants – such as winter creeper euonymus, Callery pear and common periwinkle – can even be found growing on the University of Cincinnati campus, where they were planted intentionally. These plants would be OK if they stayed where planted, but they don’t. They produce fruits that are eaten by birds which disperse the seeds to other locations such as local nature preserves. These invasive plants tend to take over, crowding out the native wildflowers, shrubs and trees that should be growing there. Loss of native plant species is detrimental to the native wildlife, which depend on those plants. 
Denis Conover
Denis Conover holding invasive plants that grow around campus.

Denis Conover, an educator professor of biology in UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, has been conducting botanical research in southwestern Ohio, including control of invasive species, since the 1980s. Conover says that other than commercial and residential development, invasive species are the biggest threat to the native biodiversity of nature preserves. 

“In addition to invasive plant species, introduced insect pests such as the Emerald ash borer, and introduced fungal pests such as Dutch elm disease and Chestnut blight, have wreaked havoc on native plant diversity,” says Conover.

Part of Conover’s research involves conducting botanical surveys in an effort to identify all of the different plant species in an area so that he can make recommendations about how to best manage the environment. He is currently conducting plant surveys in City of Cincinnati Parks such as Burnet Woods and Avon Woods; Great Parks of Hamilton County parks such as Miami Whitewater Forest; Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum; the Oxbow Area; Bender Mountain Preserve; and other locations. 

Bender Mountain Preserve on Bender Road is protected and managed by the Western Wildlife Corridor. Conover specifically enjoys the preserve because the Western Wildlife Corridor volunteers have worked relentlessly to remove invasive species such as Amur honeysuckle from the preserve. After removal of the honeysuckle, native wildflowers reappeared on the property. 

“That is why I think that Bender Mountain Preserve is now the best place in Hamilton County to observe native wildflowers,” Conover says.

But Tim Sisson, president of the Western Wildlife Corridor, says it certainly wasn’t easy to bring those native wild flowers back.

“We undertook an aggressive program to remove the aliens,” he says. “Bender Mountain is a great example of the success of our efforts. Because of our efforts, we now have a healthy forest that supports many, many species of animals and hundreds of species of native plants.”

Bender Mountain Preserve is fortunate to have many dedicated volunteers working to keep the invasive plants under control. Conover says that other parks in Cincinnati, like Burnet Woods and Avon Woods, still have some native wildflowers such as Jack-in-the-pulpit and the wood poppy, but these native plants are threatened by the alien invaders that are starting to take over. 

Most people are not even aware that this is taking place. 

“The word needs to get out so that concerned citizens can stop planting invasive plant species in their yards and start serving as volunteers in the city parks and county parks to work with park land managers to get rid of the invasive species,” says Conover. 

The battle is constant. Until native plants grow back thick enough to keep out invasive species, the effort must be persistent. 

Conover is currently teaching a Maymester class at UC called Wild Flowers of Ohio. 

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