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Demonstration site features canopy thinning, invasive plant removals, tree plantings and more.

Arboretum testing “next level” of woodland restoration

The Morton Arboretum has begun testing a new approach to woodland restoration, having now set up an important 60-acre demonstration project that will “take woodland restoration to the next level,” according to Kurt Dreisilker, Arboretum Manager of Natural Resources.

“If we’re to preserve our natural areas for future generations, we need to make sure they are healthy and feature a diverse array of species. We believe this project will yield a blueprint, so to speak, on how to achieve that,” Dreisilker said, adding the findings will be useful for those managing oak woodlands anywhere in the Midwest.

Healthy woodlands are important for sustaining good air and water quality in the region, and for sustaining a variety of trees, other plants, and wildlife, particularly native trees and plants. 

Workers planted almost 500 trees and approximately 600 shrubs in a section of the Arboretum’s East Woods area. The project’s goal is to improve the woodlands’

biodiversity and composition, that is, to create a healthy and sustainable mixture of trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers, and sedges. This, in turn, will allow increased numbers of trees, other plants, and animals to inhabit the natural areas and flourish. 

Early settlers of the East Woods logged the area, and for many years, the region was used to produce crops.

Restoration work began in October of 2007 with some preparations, and later, Arboretum crews were clearing overstocked native trees. The cut trees were used as benches, or chipped and recycled as mulch for Arboretum trails or garden beds.

“We’re experimenting with a new approach to thin the canopy, to allow enough sunlight through, enabling saplings to grow,” Dreisilker explained.

Crews have removed invasive plants–many small enough to be pulled by hand, many others needing chainsaws, and the removals are continuing.

Workers also removed old drain tiles that farmers used to convert wetlands to farmland.

The removals have already begun to restore the natural movement of water through the site, and water has begun to pool in low-lying basins. Native species are growing from the seedbank within the wetlands.

In the spring and fall 2008, the Arboretum planted native species strategically to create a sustainable environment – trees such as white oak, red oak, bur oak; and shrubs such as American hazelnut, buttonbush, viburnums, elderberry and dogwood.

“This allows us to take a bigger step in restoring our natural areas – excelling restoration beyond introducing fire and controlling invasives. This is a massive replanting of native trees and shrubs,” Dreisilker says.

His team will closely monitor the project, looking for natural canopy regeneration in general, and among oaks in particular. The team will also see if the species being planted will flourish.

The Arboretum Education Program has begun presenting a series of classes, and is using the restoration efforts for field study and stewardship training.

“We have the opportunity to display, introduce, and study advances in woodland management,” says Megan Dunning, Manager of Natural History Education. “Here at the Arboretum we have a unique opportunity to explore new methods to enhance and restore woodland health, and then share those strategies with neighboring communities.”

The Morton Arboretum gratefully acknowledges Grand Victoria Foundation and DuPage Community Foundation for their generous support of the woodland conservation program and woodland stewardship training program respectively.

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