Cages in the Park - What's that All About?

Friday, February 28, 2014 - 12:40am

Why is Some of the Park Off Limits?

You may have noticed big fenced-in areas when you were walking along the path in the Little Falls Park below Massachusetts Ave and Little Falls Parkway and wondered what is being enclosed. 
 
Volunteers installing deer exclosures in the Little Falls Park
These are actually deer exclosures, areas protected from deer by netting wrapped around posts, part of a project to restore native habitat.  
 
Restoration is a multi-step process:
  1. Rid the area of invasives;
  2. Let the area rest free from invasives to allow the soil to mend (soil nutrients are leeched by invasives);
  3. Add native plants suited to the area as available;
  4. Allow the area to seed naturally;
  5. Give the plants the freedom to expand.
 
There are three exclosures  (and some other areas of note near them):
  • The exclosure near the park entrance at Little Falls Parkway and Massachusetts Avenue, on the right, is shady, and protects one of the last areas of Virginia bluebells and wild ginger in the Park;
  • The exclosure on the left  further from Massachusetts Avenue is in a sunny location, and is the recipient of viburnum and hazelnut shrubs.
  • Further along that side, not enclosed, is swamp milkweed, which is a larval host to the Monarch butterfly and a great nectar plant.  It will bloom with a pink flower;
  • The third exclosure is at the Albemarle entrance to the Park, and while it has many invasives which must be removed, it also has a beautiful grove of holly, and several paw paw and spicebushes, which provide food for songbirds and the Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies. 
 
All of these plants are available at Garden stores if you wish to replicate this look in your yard.   
 
Help us Maintain the Exclosures
 
The exclosures were erected by Montgomery Parks as part of a joint venture between the Parks, LFWA,  the Little Falls Weed Warriors and neighbors of Westmoreland Citizens Association.  If you would like to help with this effort, consider adopting an exclosure under the guidance of a Weed Warrior Supervisor and help us choose names for the exclosures.  If you see vines on the mesh, gently remove the vines.  If you see rips, which would allow deer to enter and strip the seedlings and eat plants, please contact LFWA at info@LFWA.org. 
 

Why are there Trees and Bushes in Cages?

These cages were Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillarestablished by the same joint venture.  The young trees and bushes are caged to protect them from being stripped by deer.  Some of the caged flora include:
  • Native viburnum, which is a larval food plant for the spring azure butterfly and several moths. Its fruit is eaten by the phoebe, mockingbird, robin, brown thrasher, northern flicker, cardinal, cedar waxwing, vireo, bluebird, and grosbeak. The plant is also used by several bird species for cover and nesting;
  • Oaks, whose acorns provide food for more than 100 different vertebrates like squirrels and voles;
  • Spicebush, which provides food for songbirds and Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies and its adorable caterpillar pictured here;
  • Sycamores, which grow to 60-100 feet tall, have seeds inside the "button balls" which are eaten by American and Purple Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, Mallards, Beavers, Muskrats and Squirrels.
 
If you wish to nurture the growth of these plants and trees, you can help by removing any vines which might climb the cage.  You can gently lift limbs back inside which poke out of the cage.  Please do not push or pull the posts which ground the cage, and if you see that one has snapped, please contact LFWA at info@LFWA.org.  Join your neighbors who have generously donated to make these exclosures and plants possible. You can earmark your donation for Little Falls Park and donate online at www.LFWA.org/donate.  All donations are tax deductible.  
 
The restoration of a park is a long term process and there are many ways to be involved.  Visit us at www.LFWA.org to learn how you can help.