Trailing Strawberry Bush 2011

by Carl Strang

One of my autumn rituals is to visit Meacham Grove and Maple Grove forest preserves to continue a study I began in the 1980’s, of two plants and their herbivores. One of these, which occurs only at Meacham Grove, is the trailing strawberry bush.

Trailing strawberry bush is a low, sprawling member of genus Euonymus.

Once an abundant understory plant, this species was reduced to a minor component of the forest community by the colonial caterpillars of the ermine moth, which defoliated the plants repeatedly in the 1980’s. Though I have not seen signs of that moth in years, the trailing strawberry bush has not grown much, in part because of browsing by deer, and in part because of scorching by controlled burns. No new fruits have been produced since 2000.

This year, herbivory again was minimal though a couple study patches had been browsed a little by deer. There was no burn last year, and two of the 16 study patches showed some growth, but 5 were smaller, probably because of overtopping by other plants. One of these apparently is gone as I could find no trace beneath the Virginia creeper and other plants. Mean and median measures of patch size were close to last year’s, but these are very small (median ground coverage by patches is 0.1 square meter).

There is no question that the overall floristic quality of this forest has improved thanks to the burning and other management measures, but such good work has its casualties as well. The trailing strawberry bush is not endangered there yet, but at best it is holding on.

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