Beryl Ivey’s fund helps naturalize Euston Park Woods

Jan. 06, 2015

By Mary Ann Colihan

Euston ParkLondon’s Euston Park is a gem in the making but was once the site of a municipal landfill. Tucked back into a neighbourhood west of Wharncliffe Rd. at the intersection of Rachel and Phyllis Streets, the wooded west end of the park is part of the Coves Environmentally Significant Area. Silver Creek flows north through these woods to the Coves.

The Beryl Ivey Endowment for the Environment, a fund within the London Community Foundation, gave a boost in 2014 to a long-term naturalization project of the Friends of the Coves Subwatershed, Inc. at Euston Park Woods. The goal of this $17,500 grant was to help “rewild” the Park and build a habitat to attract birds, small mammals and other creatures of the woods.

Ben Porchuk is an ecologist and project volunteer and works with neighbours, busloads of school children and other committed park supporters to tame invasive species so native plants and trees have a chance to flourish. This is a tough job and the grant let them bring in heavy equipment to dig out troubling species that rob native plants of space and sunlight. “Our biggest problem was buckthorn,” he says. “We removed ten tons of buckthorn this summer right to the bare soil.”

Clearing away the buckthorn allowed nutrients to reach the soil and a new under-canopy of native species to take root. This also benefits the remaining high-canopy sentinels like century old oak trees. Porchuk practices what he calls round layer seed collection and dispersal at Euston Park Woods. A team of volunteers has collected seeds from over 75 species of native plants. They then broadcast these seeds on the soil without a major intervention– simply allowing natural selection to work.

He instructs me to tuck seeds from plants that include short aster, large-leaf aster, New England aster, maple-leaf viburnum, climbing bittersweet and Virginia anemone in branches and blow them off my palm. I target newly open soil as the seeds go airborne hoping they land in the optimal spot. But volunteers have already “planted” hundreds of thousands of seeds this way and expect the forest will ripple with diversity come spring. Where the buckthorn roots have been excavated, jack in the pulpits and other moisture and shade loving plants will thrive and those that prefer sunnier microclimates will cling to higher elevations.

Porchuk is fond of  highly unusual plants like "Wild Coffee" or Late Horse Gentian (Triosteum perfoliatum) and gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) that lives to 100 years and more common ones like big bluestem grass – the backbone of the prairie – and native sunflowers that grow to 14 feet. With luck, all will find a home here.

Neighbours of the park say that it is not just the beauty and naturalization of the forest that is important. An entire neighbourhood has been reclaimed for dog walkers, seniors and children where once there were syringes, glass, wild teen parties and lots of break-ins. “This work also eliminates that threat,” says Porchuk. He is looking forward to getting a path system in place to make the woods user-friendly and protect the tender seedlings that are sure to sprout from abundant seed and community support – a perfect way to remember Mrs. Ivey.