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Grants to fund plant studies at area parks

May 09, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park and Catoctin Mountain Park are using $50,000 in private grants to study alien and native plants.

The grants are among 62 funded by Canon USA Inc. and distributed through the National Park Foundation.

C&O National Park is home to more than 1,500 different plants, including 170 rare, threatened or endangered species such as yellow nailwort, Virginia mallow and harperella.

Natural Resources Specialist Dianne Ingram said the grant money will be used to survey a 60-mile section on the eastern side of the park from Georgetown to Sandy Hook.

A complete inventory of the rare plants will document where species are located and help the park protect them, she said.

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The project also involves making a photographic exhibit, brochure and slide show to educate the public on the park's biodiversity.

At Catoctin Mountain Park, biologists are fighting a war with weeds. Exotic species are invading and crowding out the native plants, many of which are rare or endangered, such as the Purple Fringed Orchid.

"They have spread so far and wide it's impossible to eradicate them," said John Voigt, resource management specialist.

The grant will fund a field study of the three worst offenders: garlic mustard, multiflora rose and Japanese stilt grass.

The study will determine how the park can best deal with the alien species. Kerrie Kyde, the principal field scientist, will use different methods to treat them and evaluate the effects, Voigt said.

Noxious exotics such as Tree of Heaven make their way into the park in a variety of ways, according to Voigt. Animals, humans and wind can transport the seeds from one place to another.

For example, a rabbit nibbling on an exotic species planted in a resident's yard can later leave feces in a nearby forest. Even nonsterilized soil brought into the park for road work can spread seeds, Voigt said.

The 18-month project began May 1 and is a joint effort between the park and Hood College. The park will share the results of the study with other parks such as Antietam National Battlefield.

C&O National Park contracted with Maryland Department of Natural Resources botanist Richard Wiegand to do its two-year survey.

The public outreach part of the project will begin at the end of this month, Ingram said.

A portable photographic exhibit will eventually be on display at the park's visitor's center and the slide show will be designed for self-service, accompanied by a voice recording and text.

Protecting the park's biodiversity is important because some plants may have undiscovered medicinal uses, Ingram said. They are also part of a broader life cycle.

"Losing one species can cause a domino effect into other species," Ingram said.

The park's plants are also valuable because they are beautiful, she said. "A lot of people get pleasure and aesthetic enjoyment from them."

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