ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (WFXR) — Bald Knob rises up above Rocky Mount like an ageless sentinel.
The whole time, you wouldn’t know that there is a shadow war raging on its slopes.
That battle is being fought against an invader, an enemy that threatens native wild and plant life, leaving the balance of Bald Knob’s fragile ecosystem hanging in the balance.
So, what is this invader?
It is a plant known as privet. It was brought to this country from Asia to be used as an ornamental shrub in yards and gardens.
“Nobody planted this here,” said Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Natural Area Science Coordinator, Ryan Klopf. “It spread from being planted ornamentally somewhere, and has dispersed into the preserve where it’s begun to invade the native forest.”
The DCR has recently acquired a large portion of Bald Knob and is turning it into a state nature preserve. Klopf says privet threatens native plants because it blocks out the sun those natives need, while also depriving them of water and nutrients.
“Here, privet has no native herbivores, no native insects or other animals that can effectively control the size of its population,” said Klopf.
That means the battle has to be taken to privet by experts like Klopf and teams of volunteers.
“Our approach has been a treatment called the cut stump treatment,” Klopf said while gesturing to a privet plant. “Essentially with that what we do is cut off the shrub close to the ground with a saw and then immediately apply a small amount of concentrated herbicide to that stump, and that spreads to the roots and kills that shrub without harming any of the other plants nearby.”
Klopf and his team are winning the fight. He took us to an area where privet thickets are in the process of being cleared.
“This is part of the privet patch that we haven’t treated yet,” said Klopf as he pointed to a thick patch of privet. “As you can see uphill from that patch we’ve got about five or six piles where the cut stems from that cut stump treatment were piled by volunteers.”
How can you help in the fight?
The easiest way is just to not buy or plant privet. Klopf says to use native shrubs like blueberry or American holly for ornamental purposes. While the DCR welcomes help with privet eradication efforts, it is not something you should do on your own. The DCR does offer volunteer opportunities where you can help battle privet and other invasives, as well as take part in other state park and conservation programs.
According to Klopf, it is a battle worth fighting: “We still have a lot of work to do in restoring the health of the native ecosystems here at Bald Knob, but we’ve made a good start.”