BRADFORD – Fall can be a popular time to plant trees and bushes, but two members of the University of Pittsburgh’s Faculty of Biology at Bradford discovered that there is a popular species of lilac that may spread and its native cousins Displaced.
White lilac trees (Syringa reticulata) are valued for their fluffy, white early summer flowers and small root systems that keep them from pushing up sidewalks or entering sewers. Understandably, they turned up all over Bradford.
However, they have also appeared along the west bank of Tunungwant Creek and other places where they were not planted. Fearing that it might be an invasive species, Dr. Mary Mulcahy and Dr. Denise Piechnik started a project to map the spread of trees in hopes of learning more about how they could affect native species.
Mulcahy said she was first made aware of the phenomenon by local residents who regularly walk the Richard E. McDowell Community Trail, which runs along the western branch of the tuna, and observe the white lilac trees there.
A recent article in Tracking Invasive Species with Pennsylvania iMapInvasives outlined the professors’ research with students and mapped the spread of trees along streams in the area.
After attentive citizens alerted professors to the spread of the trees by asking about them, professors and alumna Emily Reams ’20 spent last summer mapping the white lilacs as they bloom and more than 40 of the trees along the west Branch to find.
The dense clusters of trees do not appear to have been purposely planted in the creek’s floodplain, and it appears that seeds were moved and planted through the creek.
The research continued last fall with the help of students who were later able to present their results at the Regional Science Consortium’s annual research symposium. Meaghan Adams, a medical student from Warren, and Nicholas Thompson, a biology student from Titusville, researched the natural history of the tree and the costs and benefits of its use in landscaping.
Errion Holness, a Philadelphia biology major, and Samantha Kirchner, a double major in criminal law and forensics from Guys Mills, worked to test hypotheses about the invasiveness of the lilac tree in Pitt-Bradford. Amaya Lovoz, a biology student from Silver Spring, Md., Designed a study to examine how popular the tree lilac is in nurseries, landscaping, and gardening businesses in Pennsylvania.
In the iMapInvasives article, Mulcahy and Piechnik offered gardeners native alternatives to planting, including June berries, tulip poplar, ironwood, and elderberry.
Mulcahy and Piechnik teach courses on biodiversity, ecology and evolution.
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