By Mike Kost, Matthaei-Nichols associate curator
Weather permitting, during the first week in February 2021 a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) contractor will begin thinning trees and shrubs at Dow Field savanna in Nichols Arboretum (between the prairie and the path along the railroad tracks at the Arb) and removing invasive shrubs in Cummings Fen (north end of Matthaei Botanical Gardens near the tennis club – accessed from Cherry Hill Rd.). The work will likely last approximately 1-2 days at each site and will be very noisy, so we may receive questions from the public.
This tree and shrub clearing is an important component of our ecological restoration efforts to restore native ecosystems for both conserving biodiversity and teaching University of Michigan students and the public about biodiversity conservation, natural communities, ecosystems, native and invasive species, and ecological restoration. The contractor’s work is being paid for by the FWS through their Partners For Wildlife Program, a cost-share grant program to restore native habitat for wildlife.
At the Arb we are working to restore the north side of Dow Field to oak savanna, a globally rare natural community. Following the clearing we will be planting a wide assortment of native woody species. To further restore the savanna, over the following years we will also be seeding native herbaceous plants into the area and conducting ecological prescribed burns.
The outcome of the Arb project will be to restore 17.7 acres of grassland habitat, including 13.6 acres of prairie and 5.1 acres of savanna. Native plant diversity will be increased through tree and shrub removal, burning, and seeding. The open conditions and increased floral diversity will directly benefit pollinators by improving habitat conditions and increasing pollinator food reserves.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens Work
At Matthaei Botanical Gardens we are working to restore a prairie fen, a globally rare wetland natural community that provides critical habitat for the federally threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake. The contractor will be primarily cutting invasive shrubs, especially common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus). To further restore the prairie fen, over the following years we will continue to remove invasive shrubs, seed the area with native wetland seeds, and conduct ecological prescribed burns.
The outcome of the work at Matthaei will be to create approximately 16 acres of open fen habitat. This work will benefit the many plant and animal species that require open, wet conditions, including the eastern massasauga. Reducing shrub cover will significantly increase the amount of basking habitat for the massasauga and improve habitat for its small mammal prey. Pollinators will also benefit through increased foraging habitat.