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Volunteers clean up aggressive plant
Brian Harding throws some Chinese privet on a stack Saturday as he helps clean out the area in front of Gainesville State College. - photo by Tom Reed

A crew of Master Gardeners, students, faculty and other volunteers have teamed up for a cleanup effort with a challenging goal: remove thick Chinese privet out of Gainesville State College.

The cleanup project is a four-Saturday event throughout the month of November geared toward removing the privet in the entrance way to Gainesville State, across from Walmart on Mundy Mill in Oakwood. The effort to get rid of the privet wrapped up Saturday.

Brian Harding, a Gainesville State student and instigator of the cleanup effort, has been working in the “green industry” for 12 to 13 years. He noticed the problem that Gainesville State was having with privet on one of the trails about six months ago.

“Just like people look at a picture and notice different things, I looked at this and saw the privets,” Harding said.

Harding said that the privet makes the trails less safe because it encloses the woods.

“The majority of the privet here is about shoulder high, so there’s no telling who or what is hiding in there,” Harding said.

Chinese privet, which crowds out native plants, becomes a menace by forming a thick blanket across the ground, like it has done at Gainesville State.

“It was introduced in the 1850s in China as a privacy hedge, and it has quickly escaped cultivation,” Harding said. “It is found throughout the state, and it is naturalized as far west as Texas.”

To get rid of the Chinese privet, volunteers use shears to cut it off at the base, and then spray it with the herbicide Roundup, which contains glyphosate as an active ingredient.

“You want to use something that is at least a 41 percent glyphosate,” Harding said. “The plant will translocate that chemical to the root system and it will kill it.”

Privet tends to be found in moist, open areas, but it can also be found in shaded or dry areas. It forms thickets in fields and reproduces by sprouts and seeds, and it can be very difficult to remove.

“Individual plants can produce over 1 million seeds over the course of their life,” said Harding, who advises homeowners to be very diligent about Chinese privet.

“Homeowners can recognize it,” Harding said. “In this area it is usually evergreen, the leaves typically aren’t bigger than your thumbnail, they are oppositely paired on the stem, they have a creamy white flower in May, and they are a terrible allergen.”

Even if the privet is serving a purpose in someone’s yard, such as blocking a view, it still needs to be removed because of its impact on the environment.

Once a clean cut is made, privet needs to be sprayed within one minute of being cut. Every time privet is cut, it sprouts again quickly if it is hacked down and not sprayed.

Margi Flood, a Gainesville State biology professor, believes that the cleanup project is important for the college because it sets an example for others.

“If we go out and we spend the effort to clean up privet and beautify the habitat, then other people will see it and perhaps be interested in learning about invasives and removing invasives from property,” Flood said.

Flood said invasive species such as Chinese privet can disrupt secondary succession and limit food for birds.

Birds love privet, but it only blooms once a year, so if it limits other plants from blooming there is less food for the birds.

Blythe Butler and Brad Brown, both Gainesville State biology students, chose to volunteer with the cleanup project last weekend.

Butler feels that it is good for college students to help make their campus look better. Brown said he wanted the chance to be outside and work with his hands.

“It is something I enjoy doing,” Brown said.

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