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Ripping Out ­Invasives by Their Roots

High schoolers take on English ivy

       Ivy-covered homes may look charming, but the more English ivy grows, the more malignant it becomes. Brought over by early European colonists looking to add a bit of home to their new landscape, English ivy is now one of the most devastating invasive species in the United States. The leafy vine climbs tress and chokes whole forests.
      In college, my biodiversity class attacked English ivy in our small campus park. We didn’t use chemicals; instead we severed each ivy vine from the waist up and dug out the roots as deep as we could go. By the end we were tired but satisfied; the work was immediately rewarding and educational.
      Chesapeake Country is not immune to invasive plants, and our parks are full of them. This April, environmental science students from six Anne Arundel County schools joined a new program to eradicate invasives at their roots.
       More than 800 environmental science students and 16 teachers surveyed and developed management plans for six county parks with the help of county park rangers and watershed stewards. The teachers creating the new environmental science project-based curriculum also get help in the form of money and classroom resources.
      “Engaging youth in local stewardship opportunities not only enhances their learning experiences but also improves the health and beautification of our county parks for all to enjoy,” said County Executive Steve Schuh of the new project. 
      Some of the student groups, many from Southern High School, removed invasives at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian. Liana Vitali, a naturalist and educational coordinator for Jug Bay, planned the project over two trips, one for surveying and planning, and the other for extraction.
      The kids found that worse than English ivy were Japanese honeysuckle and garlic mustard, which were overwhelming the habitat and resisted removal.
      “At our debrief meeting last week we weighed the invasive plant species removed, and it exceeded 1,200 pounds,” Vitali said. 
       Some trepidation about a working field trip quickly passed.
       “It was incredible,” Vitali said. “The students who seemed the most resistant and disengaged in the classroom became the most excited to learn in the field.” Some students signed up to be invasive species removal volunteers at Jug Bay after their project.
–Shelby Conrad
 
Way Downstream …
        A new scientific paper suggests the octopus might have originated in outer space.
        It is no secret that octopi are weird creatures. They have blue blood, their brains are in their arms, and their intelligence may exceed that of some people you know.
      Now, a study published in the ­journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology posits that octopi are so strange that they could not have originated on Earth. 
       Instead — drumroll — they may have hitchhiked here on an icy meteor some 540 million years ago.
      The paper asserts that octopus genes “are not easily to be found in any pre-existing life form [so] it is plausible then to suggest they seem to be borrowed from a far distant future in terms of terrestrial evolution.
      “One plausible explanation … is that the new genes are likely new extraterrestrial imports to Earth,” explained the paper, signed by 33 authors.
     Many scientists dismiss the findings as myth. We did, too, until we listened again to the Beatles’ Octopus’s Garden and read about the octopus that solves puzzles (but so far not the ones in Bay Weekly.)