Volunteers root out invasive shrub in Munson Park

European buckthorn — an invasive shrub that chokes out native species — has nearly been eradicated from a riverside park in Winnipeg.

European buckthorn planted by former private owner nearly eradicated from Winnipeg park

City of Winnipeg staff and volunteers remove buckthorn at Munson Park in Crescentwood. (Submitted by Chris Penner)

Chris Penner soon will be able to fully enjoy his walks through Munson Park.

European buckthorn was taking over in the park, choking out other vegetation, but Penner and other volunteers have beaten it back with help from the city.

"On my weekends I'd come and see it, and because I'm a biologist and I absolutely despise weeds, I couldn't enjoy my walks through here anymore, because I would see this buckthorn."

Penner reached out to the City of Winnipeg four years ago, to see if something could be done to remove the plant in the riverside park on Wellington Crescent between Kingsway and Grosvenor Avenue, south of the Maryland Bridge.

Chris Penner points out European buckthorn in Munson Park (Shannah-Lee Vidal / CBC)

He was told the city would help if he could pull together a team of volunteers.

The city provided a tool for getting to the root of the problem that allowed the team to dig out most of the shrub.

Munson Park had a heavy buckthorn infestation before volunteers got to work. (Submitted by Chris Penner)

"With the vice grip, you wrap it around the stem close to the ground, and with the other end — the handle — you basically jack it out of the ground, and it comes out with a very gratifying crunch."

The work started in one quadrant of Munson Park, formerly the site of John Munson's riverside home Crescentwood, which gave its name to the neighbourhood that grew up around it.

The Munson Park understory growth is recovering two years after buckthorn removal. (Submitted by Chris Penner)

The volunteers tackled a new section of the park each year. 

Now the invasive shrub has nearly been eradicated from the area and the other vegetation is thriving.

"The most sustainable, cost-effective, environmentally responsible, efficient way to maintain forest health is to make sure nothing gets in to cut off its ability to regenerate. Things like buckthorn are a species that are more than capable of cutting off a forest's ability to reproduce itself."

As a bonus, the elimination of the buckthorn will help create growth to replace ash trees that will die off due to the emerald ash borer, Penner said, with native plants filling out the empty space.

Ash trees in Munson Park, like others in the city, are threatened by the arrival of emerald ash borer. (Shannah-Lee Vidal/CBC)

The buckthorn was planted several decades ago, when the green space was still privately owned. Because it wasn't trimmed back yearly, the shrub spread out.

The team is now in the mopping up stages, with just a few more roots to tackle.

Chris Penner holds a buckthorn sapling. (Shannah-Lee Vidal/CBC)

Work is expected to start up in the next week and volunteers are still needed. If you would like to help out, you can get in touch with the City of Winnipeg's naturalist services branch.


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