Gallberry (Ilex glabra) is the Rodney Dangerfield of Camp Salmen’s plants. It’s a fairly nondescript, knee-high, shrub that occurs everywhere in Camp Salmen’s forest — especially along trails we’ve cut through the woods. Because it thinks so much of itself, it likes to be among the first plants to populate freshly cleared land and flourishes in both shade and sunshine. Plus it thinks it’s pretty funny.
For example, after trees were thinned out from the Pine Savannah Boardwalk area and the ground began to heal up from the heavy equipment, Gallberry just barged right in and took over. What was supposed to become a pine savannah, a mixture of grasses and a variety of shrubs between widely spaced trees to mimic the native Longleaf pine woodland of St. Tammany’s Parish, ended up looking more like a Gallberry plantation.
Somehow, after a judicious herbicide application, the seed from native grasses must have sensed it was they who were supposed to populate this spot and the following year we got the look we were seeking. In fact, the resulting botanical assemblage was pretty handsome, true to form, and stuck it out to make annual reappearances. See what I mean about the Gallberry? No respect, no respect at all.
Despite being such a sad sack, Gallberry plants do have their benefits. For example, bees use their pollen to make excellent honey, their copious berries feed wildlife, and horticulturalists plant them and trim them up to make pretty hedges.
Next, what is envisioned for our simulated savannah is a good replacement for the frequent fires that historically visited southern Longleaf pine forests. These low intensity events would flash through the woods and actually rejuvenate the area. Since this method would be impractical inside of a wooden boardwalk (and may be an unwise move in a suburban environment), mowing is considered the next best thing. As insane as it may seem to destroy a plant installation that took so much trouble to produce, if this isn’t done plant succession will eventually replace the savannah and it will eventually become dominated by shade producing trees and thus, lose the effect. Besides, mechanical reduction is efficient and oxidization is oxidization, whether by a quick fire or by the slow metabolism of decomposing bacteria. In any case, look forward to watching how the savannah recovers this growing season and watch out that Mr. “Gallberryfield” doesn’t try to horn in again.