One of the most prevalent invasive species in Northbrook,Buckthorn is a large plant, typically seen as a shrub or a small tree. The plant ranges up to six meters in height, and it is usually found in lightly shaded areas and all types of soils. It can be seen all around Northbrook — for example, at Techny Fields, buckthorn is dispersed throughout the bushy landscape and can be seen surrounding the golf course and sports fields.
The reason that this matters is because buckthorn is absolutely awful for Northbrook’s ecosystem. Local forest preserve districts consider buckthorn a major threat to the health of natural areas. According to Lydia Scott, director of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, buckthorn’s thick hedges and long branches crowd out sunlight, which makes it difficult for other plants to access sunlight and grow. This turns a diverse area of plants and animals into only buckthorn. Additionally, Scott says that buckthorn’s root systems are shallow, which ensures nothing can grow underneath those roots. That can lead to soil erosion and runoff, only further threatening ecosystems. Furthermore, buckthorn plants grow berries, but they are not nutritious and cause digestive issues for birds. Research at MacArthur Woods in Vernon Hills found that chemicals in buckthorn can kill amphibians, such as salamanders and frogs, which proves the grave threat that the plant poses to local ecosystems. The problem worsens when you consider that the population of buckthorn continues to expand, according to Matt Ueltzen, a restoration ecologist.
The solution to this issue is clear: we need to eliminate the buckthorn. But how do we do so? Removing the buckthorn itself is not too difficult.
Research has shown that chopping the buckthorn to the stump and then placing herbicide or a garbage bag on the stump is effective at removing the plant.
However, what I believe most important is education and communication. Large amounts of buckthorn can be found on private property, so only understanding buckthorn and the dangers it poses to our environment will spur community action. I firmly believe that the Village of Northbrook and the Northbrook Park District should create programs where residents of Northbrook can educate themselves about invasive species. Those programs can include volunteers who remove invasive species from around the Village. Moreover, the Village currently requires permits for certain instances of buckthorn removal. Removing or changing this rule will demonstrate Northbrook’s commitment to protecting native species. I am certain that dedicating resources and time will help solve this issue and keep Northbrook’s ecosystems robust and resilient.
GBN Class of 2021 and CAPT member