Botanic Garden Combats Buckthorn

January 23, 2008

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It's too cold to do most gardening these days. But at the Chicago Botanic Garden, it's the perfect time to remove an invasive plant known as buckthorn.

When I meet Jim Steffen, the first thing I notice...

RHEE: You got ice, icicles, on your mustaches there.

STEFFEN: Right, it's cold out here today.

Steffen is the Botanic Garden's restoration ecologist. He and his team are cutting down and dragging out buckthorn trees. The plant is native to Europe. But here, it grows in thick, twisted colonies, blocking sun from grass and flowers.

STEFFEN: Well the winter time is the best time to do it because you're not trampling other vegetation...

Steffen says afterwards, they apply an herbicide to the buckthorn stumps so they don't grow back. Buckthorn used to be popular for landscaping, but most species are illegal in Illinois now. The plants that survive continue to produce seed and keep the species thriving.