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As the months roll by, community members utilize GVS student project to study Ohio’s ecology and invasive plants

Daniel Kington
July 3, 2017

Each fall, students in Loraine McCosker’s Community Based Environmental Studies course work with the regional community on a variety of environmentally themed projects, allowing the class to apply their academic skillset to real-world problem solving. In fall 2016, Master of Science in Environmental Studies (MSES) candidates Daniel Williams, Miles Gordon and Courtney Donker, produced an invasive plant calendar for the class project. Both beautiful and educational, the calendar seeks to inform citizens about southeast Ohio’s invasive plants as the year progresses, depicting one plant per month as it would appear at that time of year. 

Last month, for instance, those using the calendar learned about the Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima, which grows in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. In addition to a vibrant photo of the plant, the June page features a few facts to aid in the plant’s identification: the tree features pinnately compound leaves with a chestnut brown stem, white or pink flowers in the late spring and early summer, grey bark that blackens with age and winged seeds. The information allows novices to get their start in invasive plant identification, without providing so much information as to be overwhelming. For the especially curious, the page also features a link to a website where citizens can find more information about the plant.

The other months follow the same pattern, each featuring a different invasive plant that grows in the region. Nestled in the center of the calendar is a more in-depth series of removable information panels about the featured plants, providing tips for their management.

Daniel Williams, one of the students who worked on the project, explained why his group chose a calendar as the medium through which they wanted to present their information.

“I think that seeing a picture of each invasive plant every day for a whole month will help people remember what each plant looks like in a way that other types of publications would not,” Williams said. “The calendar shows you that in April you can expect to see the white flower clusters of garlic mustard and that in November the bright red berries of multiflora rose will still be clinging to the thorny brambles.”

Students produced the calendar in partnership with the Vinton County Soil and Water District, under the guidance of the district’s forester and wildlife specialist, Cody Hacker. The Soil and Water District printed the calendar and distributed it to community members and various agencies.

McCosker, who is a research associate and instructor in the Voinovich School’s MSES program, hopes that providing the community with identification skills and knowledge of invasive species will result in more citizens choosing to remove invasive species and replace those plants with native species, thereby expanding native habitats and enhancing local environments.

“The calendar is a wonderful educational tool that provides photos and information while encouraging the community to think critically about invasive plants,” McCosker said. “The students created a valuable resource.”  

Williams agreed, adding that he thought the calendar might encourage community members to take more ownership over their green spaces.

“Maybe community members will begin to see the invasive species as weeds that can destroy our beautiful green spaces as surely as thistle and crabgrass can overtake an untended vegetable garden,” Williams said. “I believe that when community members recognize the threats to the outdoor treasures of their communities, they will find ways to protect what they value.”

Although the problem of invasive species will not be solved by a single, informational project, Williams said he views the project as part of a much larger effort.

“I have met so many people who are eager to do what they can, many spending time each week in the forests behind their homes or volunteering in parks to remove invasive plants,” Williams said. “By each doing our part, we can preserve at least the places we love from the ravages of invasive species. And maybe, someday, our children or grandchildren will remember that some things are worth hard work, and that the price of being careless with our environment is losing the parts of the environment we love best.”