For the first day of buck season, I again went with my friend, Charlie Fox, to his hunting camp in Babylon, Potter County.
In Greek, Babylon means the "gate of the gods" while, in the Bible, it is signified as a place of luxury and corruption.
At one time, the town of Babylon had 60 residents, mainly loggers, as well as one school and one blacksmith shop. Today nothing remains except the hunting camp.
The opening hour found me at the head of a stream called Bloody Run, which is far from civilization.
At one time, there was an apple orchard, one house and a barn at the head of Bloody Run, with a stone bridge crossing the stream. Today the old apple orchard and stone foundations are the only signs that the area was at one time cultivated.
Although no deer passed my way, I was not dejected because if it had not been for deer hunting, I would not have been out there enjoying a day in Penn's Woods.
While on deer watch, I had time to sit and investigate my surroundings. The old apple trees were bent and gnarled and had not produced any fruit this year. The area was overrun with briars and barberry bushes, which made it an ideal place for wildlife, such as grouse. I was startled when several grouse flushed as I walked into the old orchard.
I wondered what species of barberry plants were covering the area because I was aware that barberry is the host species of a serious fungal disease on wheat.
I became aware of the plant known as European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) when I first reported to Bradford County. I had been patrolling State Gamed Lands 12 when I came upon a man digging up shrubs. Of course, I stopped with the intention of giving the man a fine; however, I found that he was working for the Department of Agriculture and was in the process of removing barberry because it was the host plant of wheat rust.
Berberis vulgaris was planted by the settlers to use as a dye, in jam and for hedgerows. Later, wheat farmers claimed the barberries were spreading rust as early as 1600; however, the claims were ridiculed by the makers of barberry jam.
The matter was not settled scientifically until 1865 when it was proven that the barberry was the host plant for wheat rust.
However, after pouring over several books, researching on the Internet and finally contacting my friend Jim Lacek, a retired forester, I now believe that the bushes were Japanese barberry, due to the single spine thorns on the stalk.
Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) was introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental plant in 1875 at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Mass. In 1896, seeds from the plants were planted in New York City's Botanic Gardens.
Japanese barberry was promoted and sold as a substitute for the European barberry and escaped into the wild.
Barberry produces a large number of seeds, which have a 90 percent germination rate and are spread by birds and small animals.
Japanese barberry forms dense stands in natural habitat and alters the soil pH, nitrogen level.
According to the Conneticut Department of Agriculture, earthworms and other bacteria that are numerous in barberry stands, feed so heavily on the leaf duff on the forest floor that it is thin.
Their research also has found that Lyme disease-carrying ticks are more numerous in a stand of barberry than other areas of the forest.
In studies, 122 ticks (the type that carry Lyme disease) per acre were found in barberry thickets. Compare this to 30 ticks per acre in areas where the barberry is controlled, and 10 ticks per acre where barberry does not exist.
European barberry is prohibited in many areas and imports to the U.S. are forbidden. At one time, barberry was used for its medicinal abilities. Although the plant is mildly poisonous, wine and jams are made from the fruit because the seeds are not poisonous.
Japanese barberry has been reported to be an invasive species in 20 states, including Pennsylvania.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.