Belle Island Study Area
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Study area summary
The Belle Isle study area includes approximately 57.4 acres of park land and was divided into six management units of various sizes. The lead organization for the baseline study of this park section was the Richmond Tree Stewards. The task force field team in this study area identified a total of 26 invasive plant species across all management units, including:
- 13 species ranked with high invasiveness;
- 8 species ranked with medium invasiveness; and,
- 5 species ranked with low invasiveness.
Of these, six invasive plant species with high invasiveness are considered dominant components of the overall forest community within one or more management units, including tree-of heaven, Chinese privet, Amur honeysuckle, Chinese lespedeza, Johnson grass (Sorgum halepense), and Japanese honeysuckle. Plants with low or medium invasiveness also found as dominants included mimosa, white mulberry (Morus alba), ground ivy, and English ivy.
The native plant community was also documented by the task force volunteers within Belle Island study area. Native species identified are representative of natural forest communities found along the James River floodplain, including canopy trees such as hackberry, red maple, tulip tree, American beech, eastern cottonwood, American sycamore, river birch, black walnut, box elder, and silver maple. Vegetation in understory strata (i.e., shrubs, herbs, and vines) can include spicebush, paw paw, pokeweed, sunflower, wood nettle, trumpet creeper, poison ivy, roundleaf greenbrier, muscadine, and Virginia creeper.
Updates from the study area: Summer 2015 – Spring 2018
A one-time workday on Belle Isle in January 2015 quickly turned into a continuing commitment for some dedicated Richmond Tree Stewards and dozens of other volunteers who value this unique gem in the middle of the James River. The outpouring of interest in removing invasive non-native plants on this post-industrial site and creating a more productive native habitat continues, thanks to the efforts of dozens of volunteers. Some toil on the island almost every week and others contribute their labor occasionally.
Much initial effort focused on removing vines that blocked views of the river from the access road and on removing aggressive non-native trees that out-compete our native species and spread rapidly. Tackling a small area at a time, volunteers freed trees of English ivy, cut back greenbrier, dug up the roots of winter creeper and removed other invasives; those areas represent about three-quarters of a mile of frontage on the main access road and the main path on the northeastern tip. Grants have permitted major strides in removing the ailanthus, paulownia and privet that were beyond the capabilities of volunteers without power tools.
Replacement plantings, also generally financed by grants, include hundreds of native tree seedlings and shrubs, ranging from black walnut to persimmon and from oaks to dogwoods, as well as native perennials, ferns and grasses. Removing the invasives also lets existing native seeds and plants survive and thrive.
Since that first cold day, Tree Stewards have organized more than 190 workdays that resulted in more than 3,500 reported hours. Underlying the visible work is a strong, essential foundation of expert advice and support from ecosystem scientists, horticulturists, arborists, educators and park operations staff.