Volunteers participate in Fermilab biodiversity efforts

Fermilab’s Ryan Campbell points out poison ivy to a group of student volunteers from Outreach Community Ministries who came to Fermilab on Wednesday, May 17, to participate in biodiversity efforts. Photo: Christine Herman.

Non-native plant species continuously invade Fermilab’s natural areas, threatening to choke out native plants. Thankfully, volunteers from neighboring communities are stepping up to put a stop to the invasion.

On Wednesday, May 17, a group of 14 students and three adults from Warrenville Youth & Family Services came to Fermilab to help increase biodiversity.

Invasive plant species squelch biodiversity by adversely affecting the growth of native plants. The volunteers pulled garlic mustard, a particularly aggressive intruder, from Morgan’s Woods near the Fermilab main entrance.

To prep the volunteers for fieldwork, Ryan Campbell, consulting restoration ecologist at Fermilab and volunteer with Fermilab Natural Areas, pointed out the plant to pull, garlic mustard, and a plant they should avoid, poison ivy. FNA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to restoring natural habitats and native species to the area.

Campbell pulled a garlic mustard plant out of the ground and passed it around for the kids to see and smell its horseradish-like odor. The edible plant gets its name from its mild flavor of garlic and mustard, although no taste-testing took place at the fieldwork event.

Campbell split the group into two and challenged them to see who could collect the most garlic mustard during the roughly two-hour outing.

Initially, it was tough to spot garlic mustard, which sports heart-shaped leaves and clusters of small white flowers, from amongst the rest of the green plants and ground cover. With time, the volunteers got the hang of it and collected a total of 171 pounds of the invasive plant.

“To collect that much garlic mustard would have taken one full-time employee an entire week to accomplish,” Campbell said. “Morgan’s Woods is now completely free of this year’s garlic mustard and prescribed fire will help control it in the future.”

Kemy Samuels, a sophomore from Carmel Montessori Academy, is an experienced garlic mustard puller—he participated in a similar volunteer effort in another Illinois forest as a part of Boy Scouts.

Another student, Corey Zavala, a fifth grader from Clifford Johnson Elementary School who was visiting Fermilab for the first time, said it feels good to help Fermilab out. David Arute, academic teacher for Outreach Community Ministries and fellow volunteer at the event, said he thinks it’s important for kids to make volunteer work a part of their lives.

“The purpose of getting involved in community service is to teach the kids that being a part of a community means giving back to the community,” Arute said.

— Christine Herman