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Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest Challenge 2020


Welcome to Lower Hudson PRISM's Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest Survey page!!!

Do you love being outdoors and searching for interesting critters and plants in nature? Or maybe you love taking photos when you are out hiking or gardening? Or maybe you just love scavenger hunts! Our EcoQuest surveys allow you to become a part of the action and help us document invasive species in our region while having fun in the process! To become an EcoQuest surveyor, all you need to do is download an easy- to-use mobile app, iNaturalist, and register here for further instructions. Once iNaturalist is downloaded, you can immediately start photographing and uploading pictures, instantly connecting you to thousands of other citizen scientists just like you!

To help you build up your knowledge of invasive species in our region, we offer a monthly challenge which keys in on (a) focal invasive species (and sometimes a native plant counterpart). Each month, Lower Hudson PRISM staff will announce a new scavenger hunt-style challenge to find and document an invasive plant or animal (and/or their native counterpart!) by taking and sharing photos via iNaturalist. See below for this November's The Buckthorn Stops Here! challenge, instructions and other past challenges. While you do not have to join our specific project to participate in the challenge, we HIGHLY encourage you to do so. Search for us, Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest , on iNaturalist and join today to upload your photos directly to our project! Become an official member of our team today!

The Buckthorn Stops Here!: November 2020


Common buckthorn leaves have toothed margins and 3-5 pairs of leaf veins that curve towards the tip of the leaf. Note how the leaves are arranged ALMOST (but not quite!) opposite of one another on the stem. Photo credit: Paul Wray, Iowa State University.

Common buckthorn can have persistent round, dark berries throughout the late fall and winter. Note the spear-like thorns at the end of the twigs- another key characteristic of buckthorn. Photo credit:

While many of our beloved native plants have already lost their leaves and green color, there are many invasive species that “buck the trend” of leaf and color loss in late fall. This month’s focal species (common and glossy buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica and Frangula alnus, respectively) are two such examples of hardy invasive shrubs that tend to hold their leaves longer, retain their green color longer and show more persistent berries than their native counterparts.  At this time of year, both buckthorn species may have round black berries on them that tend to grow in clumps (if the plant is female). Common buckthorn leaves are usually arranged NEARLY opposite to each other on a branch, have toothed edges and 3-5 pairs of prominent veins that curve towards the tip (see above photo). Also be on the lookout for spear-like thorns that are often found at the tip of their twigs (see above photo!) Glossy buckthorn leaves do NOT have toothed edges and have 8-9 pairs of  veins (see photo below). To learn more about these and other diagnostic ID features of buckthorn in the field, watch this Fall/Winter ID video created by Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator Brent Boscarino and/or between minutes of 14:26 and 19:25 of this Invasives Strike Force Intermediate training workshop webinar which focuses on both of the invasive buckthorn species on our EcoQuest list for this month. PRISM partner, Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, also created this fun, shorter field ID video that focuses on common buckthorn. Lots to choose from! Help us spot these invaders and report their distribution by joining our EcoQuest today. The buckthorn stops here!

Glossy buckthorn contains more paired leaf veins than common buckthorn and does not have toothed margins on its leaves like common buckthorn does. Photo credit: Gary Fewless,

I want in! How do I get started?

1. Download the iNaturalist App by visiting your phone's app store, or register to use it on 

2. Visit iNaturalist's Video Tutorial page which has very clear step by step instructions on how to photograph your target species and upload to the iNaturalist database or check out this 5-part Seek and iNaturalist tutorial we created that provides a detailed and informative introduction to both Seek and iNaturalist.

 3. Register here so you receive notice of each month's species.

3. Take photos of this month's EcoQuest challenge target specie(s) by using the iNaturalist app directly (note: this is the easiest way to take and upload photos since your location can automatically be part of your observation)


Take photos of the target specie(s) on your smart phone, then later upload them to the iNaturalist site on your computer. 

4. You can either add photos directly to our iNaturalist project Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest or simply upload your photos to the overall iNaturalist database. Our curators will then sort through the posts and add any invasives you found to our project!

5. Keep searching! Your photos will be used to help scientists track the spread of invasives in our region. It's important stuff!

This is fun! How do I stay informed of each month's challenge?

It's simple! Once you've downloaded iNaturalist and signed up for the project, you will receive notifications from iNaturalist about the next month's challenge as the date approaches! If you have any questions or problems, just shoot an email to LH-PRISM's Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino, at and he will be happy to help!

Please also visit the NYBG EcoFlora page to learn more about their history of EcoQuest challenges in New York City.


Can't Miss Miscanthus!: October 2020

Photo credit:;

Calling all EcoQuest volunteers! October is upon us and as you are out enjoying the beautiful leaf-peeping season, you can participate in this month's EcoQuest Challenge, Can't Miss Miscathus!, which will track the distribution of an emerging invasive perennial grass, Miscanthus sinensis, or Chinese silvergrass. Miscanthus is a popular ornamental grass with a clumping growth pattern (above photo top row) that is escaping cultivation and beginning to negatively impact native biodiversity in natural areas in northern New Jersey and the Lower Hudson Valley. Miscanthus comes in a variety of cultivars as an ornamental, but most of the naturalized (escaped and established) populations in our region can be identified by its leaves that contain a diagnostic longitudinal white stripe along the midrib (see above photo, bottom left). Another key identifying characteristic is the flowering head of Miscanthus that resembles a pinkish/tannish feathery brush (see above photo, middle row) and usually will have silky white/silver hairs and bristles on the seed head at this time of year (see below photo). To learn more about these and other diagnostic ID features of Miscanthus in the field, check out this ID video that also relates how to tell it apart from other look-alikes that you may come across. Finally, a quick note that we are only looking for posts of Miscanthus outside of a garden/ornamental setting. Happy hunting!

Photo credit:

Beech Leaf Investigation: September 2020

The telltale striped banding pattern of BLD in the Frederick P. Rose Preserve in Waccabuc, NY. Photo credit: John Zeiger, Westchester Land Trust

One of the more worrying patterns emerging from anecdotal and official reports from volunteers and partners in the field concerns the health of beech trees in the lower Hudson Valley. Many of our region’s beeches are showing signs of stress, with numerous reports of leaves curling up, darkening, and eventually withering and falling off, thinning out the canopy. These symptoms are not only being seen in older beech trees, but young saplings as well.

Beech leaf disease (BLD) is one possibility that scientists and land managers are exploring as a potential explanation for the symptoms being reported in our region. BLD was first discovered and reported in 2012 in Ohio but has expanded its distribution to include parts of Ontario, and Connecticut as well as Westchester, Suffolk and Rockland counties in New York State. The primary diagnostic symptoms of BLD includes striping of beech leaves between leaf veins; these striped bands tend to start as dark green and later progress to lighter green, then brown and withered as they lose their ability to photosynthesize (see photo above). 

Adding more complexity to this issue are recent reports of large swaths of beech trees in portions of Fahnestock State Park and Granite Mountain Preserve in Dutchess County, N.Y. that are showing similar signs of beech leaf distress (i.e., turning dark green, rolling/curling and withering of leaves- see photo below). However, many of these symptomatic trees in Dutchess County lack the clear diagnostic banding and striping that would point to BLD. Other possible culprits include beech anthracnose (a fungus that causes necrotic growths and a brown, scorched look to the leaves) or eriophyid mites that cause a lightening of leaves on the topside and dimpling on the underside. Another prevailing hypothesis is that the leaf curling and darkening of the leaves (without the other disease symptoms described above) is the direct result of freeze and snow events that occurred in early May of this year. If this is the case, we can hope that the beeches may recover next year, but that growth and potentially beech nut set will have been significantly impacted.

This September’s Invasive Strike Force EcoQuest Challenge is focused on beech leaf health in an attempt to determine how widespread this problem is in our region. If you see beech trees showing any signs of striped banding OR multiple curled up dark green leaves (see photo below) on a given beech tree, please post to iNaturalist under “Beeches”. Make sure to check out this informative video created by our Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino, on some tips for how to ID beech trees and how to tell it apart from other lookalikes as well as what symptoms/diseases to be looking for! You can also find a great presentation done by Joyce deVries Tomaselli of Cornell Cooperative Extension- Dutchess County with a lot of helpful, detailed tips and information on BLD or you can visit the Ohio State Buckeye Yard and Garden onLine website for good information and photographs on different diseases afflicting beech trees.

The withered, dark green appearance of beech leaves in the Granite Mountain Preserve, next to an asymptomatic beech leaf (top left) for reference. Most beech trees in Granite Moujntain and in certain areas of Fahnestock State Park are presenting  this withered, crinkled dark green appearance minus the striped bands suggestive of BLD. These symptoms may be the result of frost and snow events that happened in early May of this year. Photo credit: Julia Rogers, Hudson Highlands Land Trust

Browsing for Blue: August 2020


The brilliant blue color and oval shape of mature sapphireberry fruit is highly distinctive. Sapphireberries typically begin turning this radiant blue (immature fruit is green) in late summer and into early fall. If you see a plant with this color berries, be sure to look for oblong leaves which will have a rough feel to them and have tiny serrations on the margin to further confirm that it is sapphireberry. Photo credit: Keri VanCamp 

This month, we are asking our volunteers to be on the lookout for any type of blue-colored berries, with a particular eye out for an emerging invasive species in the Lower Hudson PRISM region, sapphireberry. Sapphireberry, also known as Asiatic sweetleaf, is a deciduous shrub that can grow to heights greater than 20 feet and is most clearly identified by its brilliant, sapphire-colored berries that mature in late summer into early fall in the lower Hudson Valley. The oblong, simple leaves of sapphireberry are alternately arranged and have a rough, sandpapery feel to them. The margins or edges of the leaves have minute serrations on them as well which help distinguish them from native wild blueberries and huckleberries which have smoother leaf margins.

Make sure to check out this informative video created by our Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino, on some tips for how to spot sapphireberry and how to tell it apart from other plants that may be "showing blue" at this time of year like wild blueberries and invasive porcelainberry! While the focus for this month is on sapphireberry, we encourage you to search for and post photos of any plants that are showing blue berries in August and into early fall! Don’t forget that you can also use the Seek app (which can help with your initial ID in real time!) if you’d like a little more of a confidence boost in your ID skills prior to posting the picture to the iNaturalist app. Sometimes this dual method helps alleviate some of the guesswork associated with initial picture angles and photo distances when photographing on the iNaturalist app.