I write this during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. “Sukkot” is the plural of sukkah, the temporary hut that Jews construct for the fall harvest holiday.
I had an epiphany this year: build the sukkah out of buckthorn! Common buckthorn is an aggressive invasive species that plagues the city of Ann Arbor, the state of Michigan, and the Great Lakes region. Since a friend showed me some growing near my house, I notice it everywhere and take pleasure in removing it, as outnumbered as I am in that fight. I’ve cleared it at my previous home in Scio Township, at my in-laws in East Lansing, and now pull it from city parks.
A sukkah needs a roof of s’chach, or cut plant matter. Buckthorn is perfect for this: it’s slender, long, and leafy. In fact, it could do double-duty: it’s ideal for the roof but larger, thicker specimens could also make up the frame of the sukkah (which can be reused from year to year). At the end of Sukkot, the buckthorn can be disposed of in municipal compost carts, where any berries will be destroyed in the heat of the city’s compost piles.
Buckthorn is free and removing it from wild areas is a mitzvah. It’s readily available around Ann Arbor. Dicken Woods is choked with it. It’s all over Gallup Park Trail, Pittsfield Preserve, Pioneer Woods … rare is the local nature area or park that doesn’t have buckthorn (volunteers fight it on the perimeter of Eberwhite Woods to keep the interior buckthorn-free). It’s also ubiquitous on private land throughout the city. If you or a friend has some, start there.
Read up on it before cutting it, to ensure it doesn’t grow back. Buckthorn plants in Allmendinger Park bear the marks of being cut back and returning stronger than before. You’ll need to pull it up from the roots (the library has a tool for that) or, if you cut it, cover the stump with a can or treat the fresh cut with herbicide.
Friends outside of Ann Arbor: find an invasive plant species plaguing your ecosystem and use it for your sukkah.
Friends in Ann Arbor: should we harvest buckthorn together next Sukkot? Imagine if several families, an entire congregation, or multiple synagogues, got together with Ann Arbor’s Natural Area Preservation department and teamed up to wipe out a huge swath of buckthorn – and replant it with native species. It would be an act of tikkun olam and we’d stare up at the stars with satisfaction through the glossy green leaves of our buckthorn-roofed sukkot.