Vines choking Dorchester Park woodlands

The Dorchester Park Association is strategizing for a battle against a vine and a handful of invasive plants that threaten the future of the park's tree canopy.

"If you look at the park in the wintertime you can see that the trees are being smothered," said Bill O'Connell, a DPA board member. "Unless something is done, we will not have the same park in 2091 as we have today."

The 2091 date will mark 200th anniversary of the park, said O'Connell.

One of the two farms the park was originally created from belonged to a furniture maker, said O'Connell, and came with pre-existing woods. Like many parks in the city, including Franklin Park, a number of plants from overseas and some destructive local vines have since invaded the area, making it difficult for the young saplings of native species to replace the older growth.

"My feeling is [Boston's] Parks Department should have addressed this issue long ago," said O'Connell. "It's not unlike what they're saying about the bridge in Minnesota. Governments are interested in making new things but they're not so interested in maintaining old things."

Knowledge about invasive plants has become mainstream in urban forestry only in recent decades. But when one unidentified Parks maintenance person was asked if he could identify a vine climbing a tree in Dorchester Park, he said: "Couldn't tell ya."

The vine turned out to be a local variety of catbriar that climbs trees and eventually blocks all their sunlight, killing them. Catbriar could be Dorchester Park's biggest problem.

"Catbriar is native, but we consider it an invasive because it destroys so much," said Christine Poff of the Franklin Park Coalition.

Franklin Park faces similar problems with invasive species. The FPC has developed a management plan with the help of professional foresters paid through a $35,000 grant from the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Parks Department has yet to accept the year-old plan, however. Negotiations to do so are ongoing.

The invasive problem generally, said spokesperson Mary Hines, is too much for the Parks Department to handle.

"We tackle it every single day," said Hines. "But we have 100 park employees trying to take care of 246 parks."

Foreign invasive plants in the Dorchester Park include, to name a few, garlic mustard, buckthorn bushes and ailanthus trees.

The DPA recently received a $10,000 Small Changes grant from the Parks Department, and will hold a gala fund-raiser on Friday, Sept. 28 to endow a non-profit fund aimed at maintenance. Through these and other efforts, they hope to raise enough cash to hire a professional to assess the situation in the park, and possibly create a test area in the park where invasives would be removed.