Time to Think About Spring Planting: This Year, Plant Natives!

by Kasha Helget, ARMN Communications Chair


Scarlet Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

Why plant natives?

As described by the USDA, native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. They also are critical sources of nectar, pollen, and seeds that provide food for native butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals.

Native plants are also advantageous, because they:

  • do not require fertilizers and require fewer pesticides than lawns.
  • need less water than lawns and help prevent erosion.
  • help reduce air pollution.
  • provide shelter and food for wildlife.
  • promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage.
  • are beautiful and increase scenic values!

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

How to know which plants are right for your yard

Take the guesswork out of choosing native plants for your yard. Whatever your goal and whatever your knowledge level, the Plant Nova Natives website (http://www.plantnovanatives.org/nova-native-plants.html ) is a perfect resource for our area. It includes picture-filled, easy-to-follow information that will help you choose native species that are suited to your property. The website includes a colorful guide to local native species, a list of local businesses that supply natives, and links to organizations that will come to your property and offer customized landscaping recommendations.

New England Aster Sympyotrichum novae-angliae

New England Aster (Sympyotrichum novae-angliae)

So, now that you have an idea of which plants you might want to install, where do you get them?

The best locations are at spring native plant sales all around the area. Wherever you live, there is likely to be a plant sale close by.

Saturday, March 28, 9:30 am – 2 pm, Friends of the National Arboretum Native Plant Sale, US National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave., NE, Washington, DC http://www.fona/org/lahr-symposium/

Falls Church Native Plant Sale—order online now. Contact melanite@verizon.net for the plant list, which will be emailed with an order form to interested persons in April. The vendor is Sassasfras Farms, http://www.sassafrasfarmnatives.com/, a Virginia-based native wildflower grower. The plants may be picked up on Sunday, May 3 from 11 am – 1 pm at Cherry Hill Park http://www.fallschurchva.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/Cherry-Hill-Park-4.

Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District’s Native Seedling Sale—now accepting online orders. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/nvswcd/seedlingsale.htm#shrubs. Order by Monday, April 22, or until supplies run out. Orders may be picked up on Friday, May 1 from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm or Saturday, May 2, 9:00 am – noon.

Saturday, April 25, 9 am – 2 pm Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale         (formerly, Parkfairfax Native Plant Sale), The new location is the Church of St. Clement, 1701 N. Quaker Lane, Alexandria, Virginia 22302, www.NorthernAlexandriaNativePlantSale.org.

Saturday, April 25, 1 – 4 pm (rain date: April 26, 1– 4 pm), Long Branch Native Plant Sale, Long Branch Nature Center, 625 S. Carlin Springs Road, Arlington, VA 22204. You can also order online at https://parks.arlingtonva.us/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2015/01/Spring-2015-Order-Form.pdf.

Sunday, May 3, 10 am – 2 pm, Earth Sangha Open House and Plant Sale,         Earth Sangha Native Plant Nursery, Cloud Drive entrance to Franconia Park, Springfield, VA 22150. See http://www.earthsangha.org/wpn/wpn.html for plants and directions.

Wednesday, May 6, 10 am – 1 pm (and first Wednesday of each month through October, Virginia Native Plant Society-Potowmack Chapter. Native plant propagation beds behind the Horticulture Center at Green Spring Gardens are open for sales. 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.

Saturday, May 9, 9 am – noon, Prince William Wildflower Society Native Plant Sale, Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, 8712 Plantation Lane, Manassas. 20110. (Contact: Nvehrs1@yahoo.com)

Saturday, May 16, 9 am – 3 pm, Green Spring Gardens Day. Includes VNPS-Potowmack propagation beds behind the Horticulture Center, and some native plant vendors mixed in with the non-native vendors, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.

Got CabIn Fever? Try the Invasives-Pull Cure!

Barcroft workgroup posed with ARMN banner

Photo by Jim Hurley

Does this grinding winter weather have you feeling cooped up and claustrophobic? Get out and get moving at one of March’s scheduled invasive pulls. Take out your frustrations on plants that don’t belong in our area’s lovely parks. Dress for the weather, wear rugged shoes or boots, and bring your own gloves and drinking water.

The public is welcome to join the efforts of ARMN members and others at any of these events. Those with a * occur regularly. If the weather is iffy, contact the listed organizer for event status.

*First Saturday HOG (Haley Park, Oakridge, Gunston) Pull, March 7

2400 S. Meade St., Arlington, 9 to 11 am                                                                             Contact Marti Klein: cummingslc@aol.com

Monticello Park Invasives Pull, March 7 & 8

320 Beverly Drive, Alexandria, 1 to 3 pm Saturday & 2 to 4 pm Sunday                             Contact Phil Klingelhofer:  phil.klingelhofer@gmail.com

*Second Sunday Gulf Branch Park Invasives Pull, March 8

3608 Military Rd., Arlington, 2 to 4:30 pm                                                                             Contact Jen Soles: jsoles@arlingtonva.us

*Third Saturday Tuckahoe Invasives Pull, March 21

6550 26th St. N., Arlington, 10 am to 12 pm                                                                       Meet at school parking lot.                                                                                                   Contact Mary McLean: marydmclean@verizon.net

*Third Saturday Madison Manor Park Invasives Pull, March 21

6625 12th Rd. N., Arlington, 2 to 4 pm                                                                                 Contact  Jo Allen: jo.allen.f2014@gmail.com

*Third Sunday Long Branch Park Invasives Pull, March 15

625 S. Carlin Springs Rd., Arlington, 2 to 5 pm                                                                     Contact Steve Young: frazmo@gmail.com

*Fourth Sunday Fort Bennett Park Invasives Pull, March 22

2200 N. Scott St., Arlington, 10 am to 12 pm                                                                       Contact Mary McCutcheon: mmccutcheon@gmu.edu

*Fourth Saturday Benjamin Banneker Park Invasives Pull, March 28

6620 18th St. N., Arlington, 10 am to 12 pm                                                                       Contact Eric Sword: ericsword@gmail.com

Powhatan Springs Park Invasives Pull, March 28

6020 Wilson Boulevard, 10 am to 12 pm                                                                          Contact Bill Browning: browningwh@gmail.com

Under the Ice

By Cliff Fairweather

Long Branch naturalist Cliff Fairweather reveals the secrets beneath the  surface of winter freeze.




Snapping Turtle under the ice at Poplar Pond, Long Branch NC (Photo by Cliff Fairweather)

In summer, the ponds at Long Branch and Gulf Branch Nature Centers are a lively places. Green Frogs and bullfrogs sit along the edge or float in the water. Turtles bask on logs and rocks. Northern Watersnakes lie in the sun or patrol the water for frogs to eat. Dragonflies and damselflies zip about in aerial duels or in pursuit of prey.  Green Herons silently stalk fish and frogs.

As fall advances and the weather turns colder, this activity slows and finally ceases, at least above the surface. Beneath the surface, though, the ponds are full of life, even when they are covered by ice. One of the many unusual properties of water is that it gets less dense and lighter as it approaches the freezing point.

Like most substances, water becomes denser and heavier as it gets colder. Water, however, does something odd––it starts to get less dense and lighter after it falls below 39o F (3.8o C). As a result, water colder than 39o F rises above the warmer water. At 32o F (0o C) water turns to ice, which floats on top of the slightly warmer water underneath.

If it didn’t, our ponds would freeze from the bottom up and probably remain mostly frozen all year round. Very little, if any, life could survive in that environment. This is especially important for animals that spend the winter underwater.

Bullfrogs and Green Frogs hibernate at the bottom of the ponds, breathing through their skin. Frogs usually lie on the bottom rather than dig into the oxygen-poor mud because they maintain a relatively high (though still pretty slow) metabolism during hibernation. If they burrowed into the mud, they couldn’t get enough oxygen to survive.

Painted, snapping, and other native aquatic turtles also breathe through their skin during hibernation, but maintain a much lower metabolism than frogs. Consequently, they need less oxygen and can afford to bury themselves in the mud.

In more northern latitudes, where ice can cover ponds and lakes for months and oxygen can be depleted, turtles have another trick up their shell. They can switch to anaerobic respiration, meaning respiration without oxygen.

However, this trick can result in a lethal buildup of acid in their bodies. To counter this, turtles can use buffering agents in their bodies, including the calcium in their shells and bones, to neutralize the acid. Turtles can survive for months this way with little or no oxygen!

Both frogs and turtles sometimes become active under the ice and can be seen moving slowly about. You might also get a glimpse of other winter-active pond life, including fish or aquatic insects such as Water Boatmen and Predaceous Diving Beetles. As cold as it is, the water under the ice is still warmer than the often subfreezing temperatures on land.

Application Period Open for ARMN Spring 2015 Training Class

Adults, standing in marsh, looking through binoculars at somethingTaking the ARMN basic training course changed my life. It opened up so many opportunities to meet great people, get outdoors, and educate the community about nature and its preservation.

~a current ARMN-certified master naturalist

Have a passion for nature? Want to learn how to channel that passion and share it with your community? Apply now to train as a certified master naturalist through ARMN’s 15-week Spring 2015 basic training class. No prior experience is necessary.

Classes will be held on Tuesday evenings from 7 pm to 10 pm at Long Branch Nature Center, beginning February 24 and ending on June 9. (There will be no session on March 31.) In addition, all trainees are required to attend four all-day field trips on selected Saturdays, dates TBA.

Apply by filling out the application available through the Apply tab above and returning it to Long Branch by mail or in person no later than February 1, 2015. Space in this popular course is limited, so act now.

Have a question? Ask it through the Contact Us portal above.

MLK Day Service Opportunities

The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is now nationally recognized as a day of service. On January 19, join ARMN volunteers and other like-minded community members at these earth-friendly projects at the times and locations listed. You can also take advantage of upcoming weekend service opportunities listed here in the spirit of Dr. King. We hope to see you at one or more of these events, which are open to the public.

  • ARMN and APAH Join to Save Trees from English Ivy

ARMN will partner with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing to train and lead volunteers in saving trees from the choking hazard of English Ivy at the APAH Columbia Grove property and nearby Bailey’s Branch Park.

Time: Volunteers are needed for both morning and afternoon shifts

Location: Columbia Grove is at 1010 S. Frederick St., Arlington

Contact: Please register with Emily Button (ebutton@apah.org) if you plan to come.

  • Invasive Plant Removal at Gulf Branch Nature Center

Gulf Branch naturalist Jen Soles will lead an invasive plant pull at the park.

Time: 1 – 4 pm

Location: Gulf Branch Nature Center, 3608 Military Rd., Arlington

Contact: Jen Soles (jsoles@arlingtonva.us)

  • Fraser Preserve Japanese Barberry Removal

ARMN volunteer Margaret Chatham will lead removal of Japanese Barberry from Fraser Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property in Great Falls.

Time: 12 – 4 pm

Location: Meet at corner of Springvale Rd. and Allenwood Lane, Great Falls (street parking)

What to wear/bring: Wear layers, sturdy, waterproof boots, and heavy leather gloves. Bring own water (There are no “facilities,” though.); garden forks and strong hand clippers are optional.

Contact: E-mail Margaret Chatham (margaret.chatham@verizon.net) if you plan to come. Call 703.785.8175 after 11 am on MLK Day to check on conditions or if you arrive after the group has gone into the woods. (This number not answered at other times.)

Note: Workday cancelled for frozen ground or heavy precipitation.

Can’t volunteer on MLK Day itself? Consider these two service opportunities on the holiday weekend:

  • Winter Tree ID and RiP Invasive Plant Pull at Tuckahoe Park, January 17

ARMN member Mary McLean will conduct a winter tree identification and follow it with removal of invasive plants at Tuckahoe Park.

Time: 9 – 9:45 am (tree ID); 10 am – 12 pm (invasives pull)

Location: Tuckahoe Park, 2400 North Sycamore St., Arlington

Contact: Mary McLean (marydmclean@verizon.net)

  • Third-Sunday RiP Invasive Pull at Long Branch Park, January 18

ARMN volunteer Steve Young will lead the monthly invasive plant pull at Long Branch Park.

Time: 2 – 4 pm

Location: Long Branch Nature Center Park, 625 S. Carlin Springs Rd., Arlington (Meet in parking lot)

Contact: Steve Young (frazmo@gmail.com)

Restoring Upper Lucky Run: Marginal Mess to Native Meadow

Author Jim Hurley is the outgoing ARMN service committee chair. Here, he describes the transformation of a small patch of Arlington County parkland. 

Text and photos by Jim Hurley

Upper Lucky Run before restoration

Upper Lucky Run before restoration, 2009

In January 2009, after years of looking at a tangled jungle of invasive shrubs and exotic vines climbing into stressed trees along a 100-yard wooded margin on Walter Reed Drive at South Dinwiddie Street in Arlington, I decided to do something about it. Five years later, this former “marginal woodland” is now the County’s largest and cleanest native meadow. How did we get from there to here?

Here’s how it happened….

The site is Arlington County parks property and I needed authorization to do any work there. In February 2009, I invited the park area manager to look at a woodland native plant garden I’d created on private condominium association property across the street. Like Lucky Run, It had also been an overgrown tangle of invasive shrubs, trees, and vines.

The manager quickly got on board with the project. As the Lucky Run site also had canopy trees, we intended to create a similar habitat there. In early April, we mobilized County jail inmates, invasive species technicians, and tree maintenance staff to cut, treat, and remove the woody invasive plants. But then, a week later, I returned after work one day to find several large canopy trees gone, too. Vanished! That morning the site was 80 percent shade; by the evening it was 80 percent sun––a meadow opportunity.

But we would not get to the meadow until the invasive vines growing all over the site were removed. That turned into five months of work for myself and two master naturalist companions. We dug out the English Ivy, Porcelainberry, Japanese Honeysuckle, and Wintercreeper, while preserving the native Virginia Creeper, goldenrods, and asters. I’d set goals for the site: It would have 100 percent native plants, support pollinators, be attractive from the street, bike path, and back yards, and be sustainable with minimal maintenance into the future.

To reach these goals, I sought botanical guidance from Rod Simmons, plant ecologist for the City of Alexandria. From late August to October, Rod led us to a number of meadows in the area, where we collected the seed of native grasses, wildflowers, and herbs that would naturally belong together in a native meadow plant community on a site like Lucky Run. In mid-October, with 90 percent of the site bare dirt, we scattered bags full of mixed seed on the ground and festooned branches and fences with milkweed pods.

Rod had promised us a six-foot meadow by the next summer. I was skeptical. Truth be told, 50 percent of the site was six-foot meadow in 2010, 80 percent in 2011, and 100 percent in 2012. Close enough.

Spring 2014

Spring lushness, 2014

In April 2009 when the work began, there were 70 plant species, 30 of them exotic. Today, there are some 80 native plant species on the site, with only remnant invasives present. Below are two of the pollinator-friendly plants introduced to the site in 2009.


Monarch on Thin-leaved sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus), August 2011


Stand of native Field Thistle, Cirsium discolor, August 2011

It has been interesting to watch the plants find their way and move through the site over the past few years. Strong stands of Devil’s Beggar-ticks (Bidens frondosa) and Late Thoroughwort (Eupatorium serotina) are now largely gone or pushed to the margins by the perennial grasses, goldenrods, asters, and milkweed. The meadow displays a changing guise through all four seasons. A diversity of plants supporting a diversity of insects in a diversity of visual forms flows from one season to the next.

Fall 2014

Fall colors, 2014

All the site needs to maintain it as meadow is several hours of mowing in March, with the dead plant stems dropped onto the ground to preserve the insect eggs sheltered in the hollow stems. In mid-March, the rosettes of leaves of the perennials are just beginning to take off, and so there are just a few weeks when remnant invasive vines can be treated and removed. By mid-April, the meadow has begun to grow in earnest, and any invasive treatment for the remainder of the year risks collateral damage to the native plants. With this minimal annual investment, the meadow can take care of itself well into the future. Without it, the meadow will revert to the tangled mess of 2009.

After annual mowing

Upper Lucky Run after annual mowing

Meet the Litter Critters

Cliff Fairweather
Park Naturalist, Long Branch Nature Center

It happens every autumn, the leaves turn color and then drop to the ground. So why don’t the leaves pile up to the branches, along with all the twigs, branch, and logs that fall throughout the year? A vast army of organisms recycles all that organic material back into the soil, releasing nutrients that support new plant growth. This critical task goes on virtually unseen by the most humans.

Fungi and bacteria do the heavy lifting in this world, decomposing of 80 – 90% of forest detritus. But other than mushrooms, the fruiting bodies of fungi, they are mostly visible only under high magnification. More visible, if you know how to see them, are a wide variety of animals that also play an important role in breaking down all that stuff that falls from the trees. Though some of them are microscopic or nearly so, others are visible with the naked eye or with a magnifier.

Collectively, these animals are often called litter critters, since they dwell in the leaf litter covering the forest floor. Perhaps the best know litter critters are earthworms, which emerge from their burrows at night to feed on dead leaves. Another familiar litter critter is the roly-poly or pill bug. Roly-polies are crustacean rather than an insects and breathe through gills. To keep their gills moist, roly-polies usually stay in the moist microclimate under leaves, logs, or other cover.

A pseudoscorpion uncovered during a ARMN litter critter ID  class, October 5, 2014 (Photo by Cliff Fairweather)

Ready for its closeup: A pseudoscorpion uncovered during an ARMN litter critter ID class, October 5, 2014. (Photo by Cliff Fairweather)

Other readily visible litter critters include slugs, snails, millipedes, adult beetles, beetle grubs, and fly larvae. Much smaller, and usually found under logs, termites play a huge role in decomposing fallen branches and logs. This is because they are among the few animals capable of digesting cellulose, the major component of wood. Smaller still are various springtails (of the order Collembola) and mites. These are best appreciated through a hand lens, although you might spot a bright red velvet mite walking across the dead leaves.

Not all litter critters eat leaf litter. Spiders, centipedes, ground beetles and other tiny predators search the forest floor for other litter critters. And the danger isn’t limited to predatory invertebrates. Salamanders, relative giants in this world, feed on predators and detritivores alike. It’s a real jungle down there!

You can get a glimpse of this world by sifting a few handfuls of leaf litter through some hardware cloth onto a white sheet. Watch for tiny creatures moving a few moments after you stop sifting. A small jar or bug box will help you detain some of these critters for a closer look. But be sure to them back in the leaf litter to continue their important work. They might be tiny, but they are essential to the health of the forest.

Five Favorite Woody and Perennial Native Plants

Just in time for the fall native plant sales (See sidebar), ARMN volunteer Kasha Helget shares some of her favorites for landscaping.

by Kasha Helget

I grow a number of native plants in my yard, but there are some real standouts that deserve special recognition. Here are five each of shrubs and perennials and the features that make them real stars.

First, the shrubs:

by Kasha Helget

Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet) is a good foundation plant to place near an entrance because of its fragrant blooms. It can grow tall or be pruned to be shorter (after the bloom period). It has nice structure even without leaves in the winter. It can handle average moisture conditions and does well in part sun.

Wildlife: Butterfly nectar


Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea) has wonderful year-around interest. First are the big white blooms in spring that smell terrific, and that later become pinkish, and then tan. Even when foliage drops in fall, the dormant flowers look good. It’s a good screening plant even with no leaves. It prefers part shade and average moisture.

Wildlife: Bird habitat


Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’ (St. John’s Wort) is another year-around favorite. It is fast growing, which makes it a good border plant. Its beautiful yellow blooms in spring are a magnet for a variety of bees. It’s a behaved self-seeder, and benefits from pruning after flowering. It can handle average moisture and full to part sun.

Wildlife: Bee nectar

Itea virginica 8-13-14

Itea virginica (Virginia Sweetspire) is a very versatile woody. It can take sun or part shade, and can handle moist or fairy dry conditions. It’s a moderate spreader (suckers) that are easily controlled or can be rooted as new plantings. It’s a great foundation or screening shrub.

Wildlife: Birds; larger mammals.

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus 8-13-14  

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry) is even more versatile than the Itea virginica. It has beautiful foliage all year; great “coral” colored fruit in the winter, likes both shade and sun, can handle dry conditions, its runners are easily transplanted, and it can hold soil on a hill. It doesn’t grow very tall, which makes it a good foundation plant for low windows. While it can get powdery mildew, it can be prevented easily with a baking soda/dish soap/water spray.

Wildlife: Birds (berries); butterflies, moths, and bees (flowers). The dense thickets can provide nest sites.

Continue reading

Going Batty at Gulf Branch


We’ve all heard of Christmas in July, but how about Halloween in August? The annual Gulf Branch Nature Center Bat Fest on Saturday, August 16, definitely had the feel of a Halloween preview with its celebration of all things bat. The planet’s only true flying mammals got their moment in the sun…er, dusk…with a wide variety of activities that acknowledged their important roles in insect control, pollination, and ecosystem health–– and especially their enormous contribution to international agriculture.


Why Bats Matter: A display from The Save Lucy Campaign (Photo courtesy of David Howell)

There were games of skill, crafts, bat walks, and lectures and live-bat demonstrations, as well as several opportunities to “be” a bat. ARMN volunteer Samantha Gallagher made another one of her whimsical animal boards that allowed bat aficionados of all ages to be photographed as a bat on the wing. To make the experience more authentic, the bat wannabe could chose from a variety of bat nose types to wear in the photograph. (Samantha’s glow-in-the-dark firefly board has been the hit of the past two Firefly Festivals at Fort C.F. Smith.)


A vampire bat and a leaf-nosed bat hit the skies. (Photo courtesy of David Howell)

Continue reading

A Red-shoulder’s Red Letter Day

by Mary Martha Churchman

On July 11, a Red-shouldered Hawk soared into the trees at Turkey Run Park, as an excited crowd of about forty fans––including ARMN members––watched and applauded and four local TV news channels filmed the release.

The bird’s journey to that moment began one evening in early April, when Mark Stein was walking his dog in the woods at Turkey Run. He noticed a large bird on the ground near the path and was concerned enough to go back the next morning to check on the bird, which was still there. He called the National Park Service Police and stayed with the injured bird until the park police arrived, along with National Park Service (NPS) Biologist and ARMN friend Erik Oberg, to capture the hawk and transport it to Raptor Conservancy of Virginia for recovery and rehabilitation.

According the press release issued by the NPS, “this hawk was likely struck by a vehicle on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. It suffered a concussion and leg injuries but did not have any broken bones.”

Erik Oberg and Gabby Hrycyshyn with the rehabilitated red shouldered hawk

Erik Oberg of NPS and Gabby Hrycyshyn of the Raptor Conservancy with the rehabilitated Red-shouldered Hawk (Photo by Sherrie Burson)

At the Raptor Conservancy center, the adult hawk was treated for its injuries and fed. Once it was medically stable, it was put into a large flight cage to regain its strength for flying––and eventually, hunting.

Before the rehabilitated bird was released, Oberg introduced Mark, the Good Samaritan, who seemed pleased to see the results of his intervention, though slightly embarrassed by the attention, especially from the TV reporters with their notebooks, microphones, and cameras.

As songbirds in the trees loudly signaled their distress, Gabby Hrycyshyn of the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia displayed a flightless Red-shoulder, trained as an education bird, and explained the important role raptors play in local ecology.

When the moment arrived just after noon, Gabby removed the rehabbed hawk from its cardboard pet carrier, held it for a moment while the TV cameras rolled, and then gently tossed the bird aloft. It knew just what to do and soared immediately into the woods, perching on a high branch just long enough to look back over a red shoulder at its admirers before returning home.