Arlington’s Native Plant Nursery Restores Our Area’s Native Flora

Text and photos by Leslie Cameron. (Photos were taken on a July 12, 2022 workday unless otherwise noted.)

Historically, Arlington County is home to 28% of the native plant species in Virginia—representing substantial plant diversity in the county’s 26 square miles. Unfortunately, Arlington has lost an estimated 200 of these native plant species. Though 600 native plant species are still found here, many exist in small numbers or are considered locally rare.

Under the direction of Alonso Abugattas, Arlington’s Natural Resources Manager, and Jennifer Soles, Natural Resource Specialist, Arlington’s Native Plant Nursery helps to restore native plant species by propagating native trees, shrubs, and other plants for transplanting into Arlington’s parks and other public spaces. Since the Native Plant Nursery was established in 2014, it has enabled the installation of more than 10,000 native plants. 

Two volunteers look down at rows of plants. A third person is gesturing with hands.
Student volunteers working with Alonso Abugattas.

The Nursery propagates local-ecotype native plants and specializes in meadow species, locally rare plants, and native species that historically grew in Arlington but are no longer present. Plants from the nursery are also used in forested areas that have been cleared of non-native invasive plants.

Photo of a plant in a pot. The plant has four leaves and is a purplish green.
Starry Campion (Silene stellata) is a native wildflower no longer common in Arlington that was propagated from plants identified as local-eco-types. (Photo taken in Fall 2021.)
A volnteer
Volunteer sorting the garden gloves.

ARMN members regularly volunteer at the Native Plant Nursery, along with other community volunteers, working to contribute to Arlington’s restoration efforts. 

Volunteers mix and move soil and pot up seedlings. They add rice hulls, which are organic and sustainable, to pots as a mulch to retain moisture and also weed the potted plants on the ground.

Two people crouch in front of rows of plants.
Alonso Abugattas working with one of the volunteers.
A photo showing the native plant nursery. Rows of plants are beneath a shade screen.
Overview of the Native Plant Nursery.

An irrigation system keeps growing plants watered, and an overhead screen protects young plants during the hottest days. Plants spend an additional growing season in the nursery before being transplanted. 

On this workday in July, volunteers helped to pot seedlings and label plants. It turns out the crows pick out the plant labels and toss them around, so volunteers are creating new labels to affix to stakes and pots more securely. 

Volunteer wor
Volunteer creating new plant labels.
Photo of a volunteer planting grasses into pots.
Volunteer potting up Path Rush (Juncus tenuis) seedlings.

Seedlings potted up on this workday include White Cut Grass (Leersia virginica), a native grass that tolerates shade, and Path Rush (Juncus tenuis), which grows to around 2 feet and tolerates full sun to part shade, as well as some mowing and foot traffic. Arlington County plants Path Rush along the paths and trails through county parks where it does very well.

Later, plants will overwinter in the nursery or in the greenhouse nearby, where volunteer work continues into December.

Photo of native plants in the nursery. The leaves are starting to change into fall colors.
The row of “woodies” is changing colors. (Photo taken in Fall 2021.)

The Native Plant Nursery, located behind the ballfield at the corner of S. George Mason Drive and Four Mile Run Drive, is also where residents can pick up one of the free native trees provided by the county. Registration for a free tree opens September 6, 2022. For more information, see https://www.arlingtonva.us/Government/Programs/Sustainability-and-Environment/Trees/Tree-Canopy-Fund-Program/Register-for-your-Free-Tree.

For additional details about the Native Plant Nursery and volunteer to help care for it, see: https://www.arlingtonva.us/Government/Programs/Sustainability-and-Environment/Ecology/Native-Plants/Native-Plant-Nursery

For more on the native flora in this region and many other wonders of the natural world, follow the Capital Naturalist blog by Alonso Abugattas at http://capitalnaturalist.blogspot.com/

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