Restoration for the Ages – RiP in Arlington’s Haley Park

Text and images by Devin Reese, unless otherwise noted.

Photo of a volunteer sitting on the ground under a tree
Arlington Regional Master Naturalist and Haley Park Steward Jennifer Frum sitting on invasive Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia numularia) that spread from a house plant discarded in the park.
Photo of a volunteer holding a plant and looking at the roots.
Bill McLaughlin removing invasive Porcelain berry from the park.

A decade ago, the five-acre James W. Haley Park above Gunston Middle School was a mess. Bill McLaughlin, then Curator of Plants for the U.S. Botanic Garden says, “When I walked my dog in Haley Park, I didn’t like what I saw.” He was referring to a mess of invasive vegetation, such as tangles of porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, syn. Ampelopsis glandulosa var. brevipedunculata). 

Jennifer Frum, now the Haley Park Steward, recounts a similar experience. Years ago, as she walked her dog, she noticed thick sleeves of invasive English ivy (Hedera helix) around tree trunks. As a trained Arlington Regional Master Naturalist,

Their mutual concern was the genesis of a collaboration to remove invasive plants (RiP) that is still going strong today. It started small, with Jennifer and Bill, plus a couple of others who have since moved away. But the support of Arlington County and engagement of various groups has magnified the impact of the Haley Park invasives removal program along the way. 

First, there were Mormon volunteers. When they launched a new Arlington branch for teens and young adults in 2011, the Mormons included a service component. Bill supervised 100 young Mormon volunteers as they freed large areas of vegetation from the porcelain berry’s hold near the entrance to Haley Park. 

Then there were AmeriCorps volunteers pitching in regularly for a year, including an intensive spring break week, to beat back the bush honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.). The first Saturday of every month from 9-11 AM became a standard meetup time for volunteers to team up and do RiP work at Haley Park.

Arlington County also brought a contractor, Invasive Plant Control (IPC), to the task to spray herbicides when needed. The County also plants and encourages natives such as Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). 

These days on the first Saturday of every month from 9-11 AM, you’ll still find Jennifer, Bill, and people of a range of ages removing invasive plants at Haley Park. 

As Bill shows people how to find and remove porcelain berry, he laments that it’s “like the kudzu of the North,” an infamous weed that has terrorized southeast U.S. ecosystems. He explains that every time you open an area to sunlight, for a road or a trail or a building, you risk nonnative plants getting a foothold. 

Photo of a volunteer pulling invasive plants
Volunteer tackling porcelain berry during a recent invasives removal.

Listening to the history of invasives removal at this site, I think that it’s like getting dust out of your home. The common burdock (Arctium minus) Bill yanks out is a plant introduced from Europe that he played with as a D.C. area kid—using the seeds like Velcro to stick things together. And the invasive is still here. As Bill says, “We can only do so much, but it feels better than doing nothing.” The fewer invasives, the more natives can make a comeback. Haley Park saw a return of the delicate purple bluets (Houstonia purpurea) this year. (See more about this lovely native below.)

Photo of a volunteer crouched and pulling Japanese stiltgrass
Camilla pulling out handfuls of Japanese stiltgrass.

It does feel better, not only to me but to all the other people who came to volunteer one warm Saturday. I met Camila, who got her college degree in an environmental field and signed up to spend more time outside.

Photo of two volunteers removing invasive plants
Family working side by side to extract invasives.

I worked alongside an entire family whose youngest squatted down to pull out Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum).  

Photo of a volunteer looking at the camera while leaning over to pull an invasive plant
Reid trading a pickax for gloves to remove a less stubborn invasive.

And I reminisced with a young man—Reid— about how we took turns at the laborious task of wielding the pickaxe the last time we had crossed paths in Haley Park. 

Jennifer, who at 80 years old and now living in Alexandria’s Goodwin House, is still heading this effort every month on Saturday mornings. While she says she gets more tired now that she is older, her enthusiasm for the task is still evident—and shared by follow devotees of Haley Park.

Wildlife (All forms of life that are wild, including plants, animals, and microorganism – Natural Resources Service)

Purple Bluets (Houstonia purpurea).

Photo
Purple Bluets (Houstonia purpurea). Photo by Bill McLaughlin.

Named for a Scottish surgeon and avid plant collector (William Houstoun, 1695-1733), Houstonia purpurea is native to the eastern half of the U.S. A perennial plant, it blooms in the summer with a dainty white, bluish, or purplish flower, earning its common name of purple bluets. Its pairs of simple, opposite leaves are typical of its family, the Rubiaceae, which also includes the coffee plant. Native American Cherokees used the tiny bluet flowers to treat bladder ailments and cure bedwetting. Purple bluets are now critically imperiled in Texas and Massachusetts, and the variation H. purpurea var. montana in the southern Appalachian Mountains is listed as federally endangered.Learn more about Purple Bluets at: https://wildflowersearch.org/search?&tsn=35051, https://nativeamericanmuseum.blogspot.com/2020/08/medicinal-mondayblue-for-bluets.htmlhttps://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=HOPU2, and https://inaturalist.ca/taxa/132219-Houstonia-purpurea.

ARMN at the Arlington County Fair!

By Devin Reese

Photo of an Arlington County resident holding pamphlets from the ARMN table.
Arlington County resident “Ace” visiting the ARMN table. Photo by Devin Reese.

 During the weekend of Aug. 21-22, ARMN volunteers staffed an information table at the Arlington County Fair. Adjacent to the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) and 4-H Youth Development tables, we were in a great spot for collaboration and outreach with the Fair’s visitors. 

The ARMN table offered a variety of visual materials, including an ARMN poster on Stewardship and Citizen Science, enticing people to plant natives and get involved in bioblitzes and other wildlife inventories. The “Being a Good Neighbor” brochure explained how to adopt practices on your property, such as providing habitat for wildlife to enhance the ecological well-being of neighboring parks. A “Deer Management” handout alerted people to the negative environmental consequences of unmanaged deer populations. Audubon materials were also on display, including “Plants for Birds” and “Making Your Windows Safer for Birds.” The PlantNovaNatives brochure on “Native Perennials for Your Garden” included free seed packets for several native pollinator favorites: Cardinal flower, Milkweed, and New England aster. And a suggested donation of five dollars had visitors taking a copy of the thick, colorful booklet on “Native Plants for Northern Virginia.” 

A steady stream of visitors trickled by the table. Some steered right over at the sight of the wildlife materials, while others were lured with a friendly “Hello.” The variety of interests and intentions visitors brought underscored the broad appeal of connecting with our natural environment. 

Arlington resident, “Ace,” was excited to discuss the diversity of plants she was growing in her apartment balcony garden, which included an eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) she had been given by Arlington County’s Adopt-a-Tree program. A young couple from Southwest D.C. has no land around their apartment building but dreamed of a future garden. Inspired by the Fair’s agricultural competition, the woman hoped one day to grow a prizewinning gourd, while her husband fantasized about putting Cardinal flowers in his future flower garden. Recognizing the lack of planting opportunities for apartment dwellers, a building superintendent for an 8-unit apartment complex discussed what tenants could plant on their balconies.

Also from Arlington, David came over to ask about how and when to cut back his roses. The Arlington Master Gardener at the adjacent VCE table was able to give him some guidance about pruning them in late fall or early winter after they’ve bloomed. 

Photo of an ARMN volunteer speaking with a visitor with the ARMN booth visible in the background.
Visitor David discussing roses with Master Gardener Joan McIntyre. Photo by Devin Reese.

Two passersby noticed the American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on the Audubon at Home brochure, and it sparked a conversation about which plants could attract goldfinches to yards. An elementary school girl proudly described the garden she was cultivating by herself and that it was so chock full of plants that she couldn’t add any more.

Some Westover neighborhood residents lamented that they had planted butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) but couldn’t seem to keep them alive. This is just as well; Butterfly bush is an invasive, nonnative plant in this region. They took seed packets of the New England aster (Aster novae-angliae) to make a fresh attempt at attracting butterflies with a native plant. Another couple newly-moved to the area were curious about where to buy native plants. Master Naturalist Colt Gregory directed them to Earth Sangha, Nature by Design and the Nova Natives sales at Green Spring Gardens

Photo of an ARMN volunteer holding up an example pamphlet available at the ARMN booth.
Master Naturalist Colt Gregory shares brochures and wisdom with ARMN booth visitors. Photo by Kirsten Conrad.

Editor’s note: see the related piece “Fall 2021 Native Plant Sales” on the ARMN homepage sidebar that lists a number of local native plant sales in September and October. 

There were also visitors stopping to discuss specific environmental concerns. A Maywood neighborhood resident had noticed the die-off of white oaks (Quercus alba). We talked about how oaks in this region are suffering Sudden Oak Death because of a fungal pathogen that infects the living tissue under the bark. (Editor note: Sudden oak death has not yet been detected in the area.) He had also noticed that many trees were colliding with power and phone lines and advocated for moving utility lines underground to make more canopy space for trees. Another resident shared that, while she loved using her compost as rich soil, the unfortunate outcome was lots of stray seeds germinating and shading out the butterfly flower she had intended to grow. 

Photo of two visitors and an ARMN voln
Master Naturalist Marj Signer addresses visitors’ questions. Photo by Kirsten Conrad.

Overall, the combined attraction of the side-by-side tables and lots of visual material related to wildlife and natural resources management seemed like an effective way to ignite conversations at the Arlington County Fair. We even got a visit from the former County Board Chair, the Honorable J. Walter Tejeda! The Fair highlighted just a few of the benefits that ARMN and VCE provide. Plan to contact us with questions you may have about and ways you can support our local natural environment while enjoying its beauty. 

Battling Invasives at Glencarlyn Park

Text and Photos by Devin Reese, except as noted.

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists have a vendetta against invasive plants because of the damage these invaders do to ecosystems. Invasive plants outcompete native plants, disrupting age-old relationships with insect pollinators and typically reducing the biodiversity of an area.

Go on an invasives removal field trip with an ARMN volunteer and you’re guaranteed to witness moments of reckoning between human and plant. Those moments, kicked off by exclamations of dismay such as “Oh no, that’s kudzu!” often involve clipping, lopping, grappling, tugging, hurling, bagging, and otherwise taking invasive plants to the mat. 

If you want to join in the excitement of plant wrestling, there’re plenty of regular outings in Northern Virginia. One of those is the invasives removal program at the Long Branch Nature Center’s Glencarlyn Park in Arlington, monthly on Sunday afternoons. Wear long pants and bring your gloves, clippers, and enthusiasm for helping native plants. The site offers extra gloves and tools if you arrive empty-handed.

One of the people you’re bound to interact with is Long Branch Environmental Steward Steve Young, who is a font of information about the native and introduced flora. He’ll lead you through recognizing and removing invasive plants, while sharing plant-related lore. 

Photo of volunteer holding up a garlic mustard plant
Steve Young shows seed heads on garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

You’ll likely remove garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a common invasive that has cropped up all over the NOVA region. Crush its leaves for a whiff of garlic, which explains its introduction from Europe as a food plant. Despite its tastiness to humans, garlic mustard is not palatable to native wildlife. Because it can self-pollinate or cross pollinate, produce lots of seeds, and grow in shade or sun, garlic mustard spreads fast. Steve will show you how to tug it gently, roots and all, out of the ground, and bag it to keep the seeds off the soil. 

Another plant Steve will point you to is the mile-a-minute vine (Persicaria perfoliata) that was introduced from Asia and first got a foothold in the U.S. at a plant nursery in Pennsylvania, from where it spread. Its delicate stems and leaves bely its hazard as an introduced species. Its other common named, “devil’s tear thumb,” comes from miniscule, curved barbs on the stems and triangular leaves. Using its barbs to cling to other vegetation, mile-a-minute vine grows up to six inches a day, spreading laterally and horizontally. Feel the sticky barbs as you extract the vine from its hold on native vegetation.

Photo of a volunteer pulling a vine
Volunteer Erin removes mile-a-minute vines (Persicaria perfoliata).

Expect Steve to show you some introduced plants that are problematic but cannot be eradicated by pulling them. For example, while small areas of Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) may be removed by hand, it can quickly grow into dense stands to create short, vertical groundcover. Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) makes ivy-like blankets, but pulling it out will be futile, says Steve. When he first started working at Long Branch about 25 years ago, he says he was “totally anti-chemical and didn’t believe in ever using herbicides.” But he soon realized that “if you don’t use herbicides, you’re going to lose your native plants.” Experienced contractors do regular, targeted herbicide treatments to get rid of invasives that cannot be hand managed.

While battling the invasives, you’ll find moments of gratification in coming across elusive native plants. For example, ghost pipes (Monotropa uniflora), which benefit from the ongoing restoration effort, may peek out of leaf litter with their pale white stems and papery flowers. Lacking chlorophyll, they survive as saprophytes, drawing nutrients from tree roots. Keep your eye out for the equally odd-looking Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) with its hooded flower. Fold back the hood to see its spike of tiny flowers. The plant is poisonous to humans, but some animals feed on its berries.

Steve may point out the native dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), that grows in clumps like other bunch grasses. While it is attractive to many insects, Steve notes that this milkweed relative earns its name—it is indeed toxic to mammals.

Photo of the Dogbane plant
Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum).

The taller native bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix) has feathery seed heads. Birds enjoy its grainy seeds. Another is poverty oat grass (Danthonia spicata). While deer resistant, poverty oat grass supplies forage for various insects. These are some of the plants that can transform a yard from turfgrass to habitat for native animals. As Steve says, “these grasses will be taller and won’t look like turf grass, but we have to change our thinking about what a yard can be. Many yards have empty spaces that you would not miss.” 

Photo of a tree sapling in a protective cage

At Glencarlyn Park, you may also encounter some native restoration plantings. Redbud saplings (Cercis canadensis) are enclosed in wire cages to protect them from grazing deer as they mature. 

You may be asked to wrestle the climbing porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) off the cages to make sure the redbuds get enough access to light. Be careful that you’ve got the right plants, though, because porcelain-berry is closely related to the native grapevines (Vitis spp.) that are valuable to nesting birds. 

Steve’s lively conversation is so information-packed that time passes quickly and you may find yourself looking eagerly forward to the next invasives removal opportunity. 

Learn more on Steve Young’s blog: Plant Whacker, http://www.plantwhacker.com. You can also sign up on the ARMN Volunteer webpage for Arlington County for the Long Branch Park Invasive Plant Removal and other park sessions. The Glencarlyn weed removal event is monthly on Sunday afternoons. 

Additional Wildlife Information (All forms of life that are wild, including plants, animals, and microorganism – Natural Resources Service)

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum):

One of the more distinctive plants on VA forest floors, Jack-in-the-Pulpit is native to all of eastern North America. Each plant produces a large, fleshy flower on its own stalk, adjacent to a separate stalk with several leaves. The way the flowers’ sheath (the “spathe”) encloses and curls over the flower stalk (the “spadix”) explains its common name. The spadix (Jack), however, is actually hermaphroditic, able to produce male flowers, female flowers, or both. A plant growing just male flowers on the spadix has a hole at the base of the sheath that allows pollinators to do their job and then escape through the bottom. The plants growing just female flowers, however, lack the hole; the theory is that insects get trapped and pollinate as they writhe around.

Learn more on the USFS website about Jack in the Pulpit.

Revitalizing the Pollinator Garden at the Buddie Ford Nature Center

Text and photos by Leslie Cameron

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists joined Extension Master Gardeners and community volunteers on July 17th in an ongoing effort to revitalize the pollinator garden next to the Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center in Alexandria

This hillside pollinator garden contains native plants local to the area, including Upland Ironweed (Vernonia glauca), Sundrops (Oenothera frutica), and various Milkweed species (Asclepias spp.). Many of these inhabit the nearby Dora Kelley Nature Park and the Holmes Run Gorge. The pollinator garden has for several years been an important part of the work the Nature Center to share the wonders of nature with the community, as well as to support our local pollinators.

Photo of the pollinator garden
Pollinator garden at the Buddie Ford Nature Center at the beginning of the day on July 17th.

Unfortunately, the garden has gradually accumulated many invasive species and other weeds that have been crowding out the native plants. Recognizing the need for some serious TLC, Master Naturalist Valerie LaTortue collaborated with Master Gardeners Bob Besse, Mary Lou Leary, and Scarlett Swan to begin a rejuvenation project. They met several times this spring and realized that they needed a lot more help. So, Valerie organized the July 17th volunteer garden day and reached out to other Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, and park neighbors to pull invasive plants and other weeds from the garden, clear paths, and spread mulch. 

Photo of volunteer Valerie LaTortue weeding in the garden
Master Naturalist Valerie LaTortue, organizer of the volunteer garden day, pulling invasive plants and weeds in the pollinator garden (and too focused on the weeds to look up for a photo 😊).

Although it was a hot day, the volunteers worked tirelessly to uproot stubborn invasive plants and weeds and clear the pathways, filling many yard-waste bags.

Some roots were tough to remove, but the volunteers were tougher!

Photo of volunteer holding a weed with a long root
Nick Nichols wins the prize for longest root pulled—a nasty porcelain berry vine.

And for breaks, volunteers enjoyed snacks, cold water, and Valerie’s herb iced tea under a canopy on the deck overlooking the garden. 

Photo of two containers of iced tea
Valerie’s herb iced tea.

Best of all, the volunteers could enjoy the fruits of their labor right away! Check out Valerie’s video of accomplishments of the day:

Photo of a dirt pathway through the garden
Success! A pathway is now cleared of invasive plants and other weeds in the pollinator garden.

The ongoing work to rejuvenate the pollinator garden is part of a long-term plan to redesign and replant the garden and increase its access to and public education value for the community. In addition to supporting pollinators and improving the ecosystem, Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, and other area volunteers are helping to reclaim this treasured public education resource for visitors to the Buddie Ford Nature Center and Dora Kelley Park.

More volunteers are needed and welcome! During the foreseeable future, volunteer days are scheduled each Saturday from 9:00-11:00 am (https://armn.org/volunter-alexandria/). Instructions, tools, and refreshments are provided. Volunteers should bring gloves, sunscreen, and insect repellent, and a favorite digging tool if they like.

Paddling for Litter on Four Mile Run Stream

by Devin Reese

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists find ways to improve their local ecosystems not only on land, but also on the water. The Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation hosts regular stream clean-ups by kayak. All you need to bring is yourself, your enthusiasm for a cleaner stream, and a sense of humor about getting your feet wet. The program provides the boats, paddles, life jackets, gloves, and grabbers for fetching trash from the stream and tossing it into bins. 

Photo of volunteers on kayaks in four mile run creek
The June 5th flotilla of Four Mile Run cleanup volunteers included community members as well as three Arlington Regional Master Naturalists. Photo by Kurt Moser.

When you set out, it’s natural to wonder whether you’ll be able to find and retrieve trash. While it’s not a competition, something about the standardized bin strapped to each kayak ignites your ambition to fill it up fast. Some pickups are quick; your grabbers readily clasp a soda bottle perched on the grassy bank. Some of them take time; plastic bags seem to have a way of burrowing into the soil so that what you think is a quick fetch turns out to be a long tug of war. 

Litter encompasses everything from a multitude of water bottles and cans to larger items like gallon jugs and clothing. Elusive litter shows up in small scraps, such as gum wrappers or bottle labels. Occasionally, you’ll land a big, impressive piece of trash. Those mega-finds have their pros and cons. The Four Mile Run cleanup lore includes a story about the retrieval of a full-sized shopping cart, which had to be strapped on the front of a kayak.

Photo of a bin filled with trash from the creek
Litter bounty is strapped to the front of a kayak. Photo by Devin Reese.

When you’ve filled your bin or fetched an item worthy of showcasing, you paddle for the put-in, a gently sloping dirt ramp where the President of the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation, Kurt Moser, waits. He has big trash bags in hand to relieve you of your treasures and get you turned around and back onto the stream as efficiently as possible. Lest it sound like all work and no play however, Kurt also offers granola bars and drinks! 

Each time you launch, you have exciting choices to make—upstream or downstream, right bank or left. Whether you paddle up towards Shirlington or down towards the Potomac, you find plenty of opportunities to load the bin. And you may also find opportunities to chat with people, share what you’re doing, and learn more about how people enjoy Four Mile Run as a natural area. 

Photo of a volunteer holding a channel catfish
Liam proudly displaying the Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) he caught with his dad, Robert, by the Four Mile Run bridge.

While nestled in an urban area, Four Mile Run stream gets lots of day use by people fishing, jogging, watching birds, and even taking a dip.

After a couple of hours of paddling the stream, especially if it’s a hot day, you may drift into reflections about whether you’re really making a difference. Plucking the litter from the stream bottom or streamside vegetation can be tedious and slow-going. And, as ARMN volunteer Marilynn Lambinicio said, “You won’t necessarily see a change from one cleanup session to another, since litter continues to enter the stream from lots of upstream development.” 

Photo of a volunteer picking up litter while in a kayak
Arlington Regional Master Naturalist Marilynn Lambinicio dumps litter into a bin. Photo by Devin Reese.

Don’t lose sight of the purpose however, as the reward comes in the collective results. The session ends with the flotilla of kayaks pulling back into the put-in area, washing boats, snacking some more, stowing equipment, and amassing the litter loot. At the most recent June 5th kayak cleanup, in just a couple of hours, a group of just eight volunteers retrieved 171 pounds of litter from the Four Mile Run Stream!

Photo of bags of litter collected during the stream clean up

Don’t lose sight of the purpose however, as the reward comes in the collective results. The session ends with the flotilla of kayaks pulling back into the put-in area, washing boats, snacking some more, stowing equipment, and amassing the litter loot. At the most recent June 5th kayak cleanup, in just a couple of hours, a group of just eight volunteers retrieved 171 pounds of litter from the Four Mile Run Stream!

That’s approximately 20 pound each, a phenomenal haul that left the stream looking a lot more inviting for recreation and wildlife.

Would you like to participate in one of these kayak cleanups? If so, see Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation, or email: info@fourmilerun.org for more information.

Wildlife
Wildlife includes all forms of life that are wild, including plants, animals, and microorganisms according to the Natural Resources Service.

The Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is one of the most common fishes caught on Four Mile Run Stream. While native from Canada to Mexico through the central U.S., Channel Catfish were introduced to the eastern U.S. more than a century ago. First observed in Virginia water bodies in 1969, Channel Catfish became established and are now prized for aquaculture and recreational fisheries. Their success stems from opportunistic feeding habits (choosing whatever is available), prolific reproduction, disease resistance, and tolerance for a range of environmental conditions from fresh to brackish waters. While accepted as an important food fish in this region, Channel Catfish may be causing declines of native animals such as crayfishes through competition and predation.

Learn more about the Channel Catfish on the United States Geological Service website.

Periodical Cicadas! What You Should Know About Them and More

The periodical (17-year) cicadas are most definitely here. And there has been a lot of information floating around about them. If you’re confused about where to get the most accurate details, look no further than here!

Below are links to three items: a blog piece and two videos—all by renowned local nature experts.

If you only have time to do a quick read, check out the piece by Alonso Abugattas, Arlington’s Natural Resources Manager for the Department of Parks and Recreation. It includes need-to-know details to identify cicadas, and learn how they mate, where females lay eggs on tree branches, and who eats them (including people!). http://capitalnaturalist.blogspot.com/2021/02/periodical-cicadas.html.

A couple of hour-long videos provide a bit more detail: 

The first is by Kirsten Conrad, the Agriculture Natural Resources Extension Agent for Arlington County and the City of Alexandria. Along with Alonso Abugattas, Kirsten covers many of the same details as Alonso’s blog (history and distribution, species, lifecycle, tree damage, management, and resources), with visuals and closed captions. The video notes the exact time that each topic is discussed, for quick analysis. https://mgnv.org/brood-x-cicadas-video/.

The other video is by Ken Rosenthal, a Park Naturalist at Gulf Branch Nature Center in Arlington. Ken is known for his “Deep Dive” presentations on a variety of nature topics and recently gave one on cicadas. Ken details more differences between the periodical and annual cicadas. He also includes a lifecycle calendar of the “what” and “when” from emergence of full-grown nymphs to return of “baby” nymphs underground for the next 17 years. https://youtu.be/2C4w-oCeIcI. 

A few concerns have arisen about deformed cicadas, including those both alive and dead with body parts missing. The experts here note that these happen with every cicada cycle: some of the insects don’t survive the molting process from nymph to adult (it’s a tricky, time-sensitive progression), others are infected with a fungus that results in the loss of body parts while the cicadas are still alive, and—of course—most are eaten by predators. The cicadas’ only “strategy” to continue their brood to the next generation is to overwhelm cicada hunters with prodigious numbers.

So, while listening outdoors to the alien-sounding background of cicada mating calls, and a (hopefully covered) beverage, enjoy one or more of these excellent accounts of this most amazing phenomenon!

Clip art of a cicada
Cicada Clip Art. Public Domain.

Two Honors! Glenn Tobin Earned the 2020 Bill Thomas Volunteer Award, and ARMN is presented the Virginia Chapter of the Wildlife Society’s 2021 A. Willis Robertson Award

Glenn Tobin is the 2020 Bill Thomas Park Volunteer Award Winner

Photo of Glenn pulling kudzu vine in front of a creek
Glenn conquering invasive kudzu from Windy Run Park. Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.

On April 20, 2021, Glenn Tobin received Arlington County’s Bill Thomas Park Volunteer Award for the year 2020. The award recognizes an individual or group whose efforts show ongoing dedication and tangible benefit to Arlington’s natural resources, parks, and public open spaces.

Glenn has been an ARMN member since 2016 and a Trail Maintainer with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) since 2015. For years, he removed invasive plants at Windy Run Park and the adjacent Potomac River waterfront in the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Because of his work alone and with other volunteers, significant natural areas are recovering and becoming more beautiful and biodiverse. In 2020, Glenn raised money and worked with the PATC and the National Park Service (NPS) to rebuild the stone stairway that connects the Windy Run park trail to the Potomac Heritage Trail along the river, improving access for many people. Then, inspired by the reemergence of diverse native flora at Windy Run and along the Potomac, Glenn began working with experts in ecology, botany, and natural resources to create the website, Natural Ecological Communities of Northern Virginia, which provides information about the local natural plant communities to help make better plant selections for ecological restoration purposes in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and close-in Maryland. As a result of Glenn’s leadership, ARMN is adopting natural plant communities as a framework for park restoration, in collaboration with local jurisdictions. This work will have lasting impact on restoration planning throughout the County and on selection of plant species for the County’s native plant nursery.

Some of Glenn’s other work includes helping lead Weed Warrior Training with the NPS, assisting in leadership for Park Stewards, and mentoring others who share deep passion for helping restore natural areas in Arlington County and beyond.
(From: The Arlington, VA webpage: “Arlington Honors Park Volunteers”.) 

In a clip from the April 20, 2021 Arlington County Board Meeting, Board Member Karantonis describes Glenn’s accomplishments followed by an address from Glenn. In closing, Chair de Ferranti congratulates Glenn and 2019 Bill Thomas award winner, Elaine Mills: https://youtu.be/oPU84gCj9Lw.

ARMN is selected for the Virginia Chapter of the Wildlife Society’s 2021 A. Willis Robertson Award

On January 29, 2021, ARMN was selected as the 2021 recipient of the A. Willis Robertson Award from the Virginia Chapter of The Wildlife Society for its work on public outreach and education related to deer management. The award honors a wildlife non-professional or group that has exercised outstanding conservation practices on their own land or have made significant contributions to conservation activities in the Commonwealth.

Photo of a plaque in the shape of Virginia for the A. Willis Robertson Award
The Virginia Chapter of The Wildlife Society’s 2021 A. Willis Robertson Award for ARMN. Photo courtesy of Marion Jordan.

In the last few years, members of ARMN led by Bill Browning have spearheaded public education to alert the community to the effects of deer browsing and begin the process of addressing barriers to developing an effective and humane program to control deer population in Arlington County. (See armn.org blog piece, “White-tailed Deer and Forest Health in Northern Virginia” that addresses how deer impact our forests.) The team worked on deer browse surveys, major outreach events with the Virginia Native Plant Society, the Deer Advisory Council for Northern Virginia, Arlington’s Urban Forestry and Environmental Services departments, and in 2019, with regional experts from VA, MD, and DC to create a volunteer training and public presentation that has been delivered over 40 times in the past two years.

Photo of ARMN volunteer Bill Browning
Bill Browning. Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.

Bill (the 2018 winner of the Bill Thomas award) and the other volunteers have also addressed Arlington County Board members, School Board members, the County Manager, the Chair of the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Acting Chief of Police. Bill also made presentations to Park and Recreation department employees and to several Arlington County civic commissions who have supported this message with letters to the County Board.

They also talked to civic/neighborhood associations, garden clubs, Extension Master Gardener volunteers, local TV and social media, and spoke at regional parks and conservancy, and hunting club meetings. This outreach has done much to bring the issue forward, engage stakeholders, and provide county decision-makers with sound, unbiased information for their consideration of a deer management plan.

ARMN is excited for this honor and opportunity to credit members like Glenn Tobin for their instrumental work to benefit our local natural environment.

The Ozone Bio-indicator Garden Project: A Cooperative Effort Between ARMN, Arlington County, NASA, and Harvard

By Jane Metcalfe, Louis Harrell, Nicolasa Hernandez, and Barbara Hoffheins

ARMN has been working with Arlington County, NASA, and the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Science Education to build and maintain a “bio-indicator” garden as part of a project to monitor the impact of ozone air pollution on plants. Bio-indicator gardens consist of plants that exhibit a typical and verifiable response when exposed to ozone air pollution. This project is part of a NASA-sponsored network of ozone bio-indicator gardens across the U.S.—and internationally—in conjunction with its the TEMPO (Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring Pollution) mission.

TEMPO will be the first space-based instrument to monitor major air pollutants across the North America continent every daylight hour at high spatial resolution. Data collected from the garden over a period of three or four years will be merged with data from other gardens across the country. The mission’s ultimate aim is to monitor the air we breathe with greater detail and precision. This information can be learned from monitoring the plants chosen for the project.

In addition to the overall mission, what are the goals of this ozone bio-indicator garden and what information will it collect?

The Ozone Garden has several goals:

•           To illustrate visually the impacts of ozone pollution on plants

•           To educate all ages about air pollution in Arlington

•           To connect individual actions, as well as official policy, to local air pollution

•           To better understand the impact of ozone air pollution on plants.

Understanding the impact of ozone air pollution will be achieved by merging Arlington data with data from across the country. Data will be collected from all participating gardens using a standard procedure and reported to a project website used by all the gardens. Uniform procedures are critical for data quality.

The TEMPO satellite, which is currently projected to be launched in 2022, will provide very high-resolution hourly data on ozone and will be correlated with data on the impacts to plants in the bio-indicator garden in Arlington.

How concerned are we about ozone in this area?

Ground-level ozone is a harmful air pollutant and is likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot sunny days in urban environments. Ozone can be transported long distances by wind. For this reason, even rural areas can experience high ozone levels. The Washington-Baltimore-Arlington area is one of the country’s most polluted areas due to ozone pollution. The American Lung Association gives Arlington an “F” for ozone pollution from 2016-2018 (the latest information available) (http://www.stateoftheair.org/city-rankings/states/virginia/arlington.html). The American Lung Association also notes that the entire DC area is ranked 20th out of 229 metropolitan areas for high ozone days (https://www.stateoftheair.org/dev/city-rankings/most-polluted-cities.html). The Environmental Protection Agency currently places the Washington DC area in “Marginal – Nonattainment” for ozone standards (https://www3.epa.gov/airquality/greenbook/jbca.html#Ozone_8-hr.2015.Washington).

How did ARMN become involved with the project and where is the garden located?

2018 ARMN trainee, Jane Metcalfe, became aware of the NASA effort in the process of developing a class presentation. She then spearheaded an ARMN Project for an ozone garden and worked with other ARMN volunteers to launch it. The Ozone Monitoring Garden became a true partnership: ARMN developed the project and provided basic funding and volunteers; Arlington County furnished the garden site along with site support, mulch, and fencing; and NASA/Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Science Education is responsible for providing genetically-similar plants and seeds, and support for education and outreach.

Walter Reed Community Center in Arlington was chosen for the garden’s site because its conditions were suitable for the plants and it is visible to the community for visits and eventual education events. An area was fenced off and the ground was initially broken and prepared for planting in September 2019. However, an early frost in 2019 prevented the garden from being planted that year and the subsequent pandemic prolonged efforts to continue work on the space. In addition to Arlington, the NASA/TEMPO program directors were unable to get seeds to the 17 gardens across the U.S. and internationally.

Photo of the garden
Photo on March 11, 2020 just before all work stopped with pandemic. Photo courtesy of Kasha Helget.

Has the ozone garden been planted?

Yes! It was determined last fall that planting and monitoring could proceed with Covid-19 safety procedures in place. So, a team led by new ARMN member, Nicolasa Hernandez, along with other members of ARMN and the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, began clearing the site on August 7, 2020.

Seeds were planted on October 2, 2020 so they could establish before the first frost of the season. The bed was divided into four areas that were outlined with mulch paths. Individuals can walk on the mulch paths to get a close look at the plants without disturbing them. They can later inspect the plant leaves for evidence of any elevated presence of ozone. 

Photo of volunteer in the garden
Volunteers Barbara Hoffheins and Todd Minners install seeds and mark walkways on October 2, 2020. Photo courtesy of Nicolasa Hernandez.

The team installed two of the areas with common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) a local native perennial, the third area with snap beans that are sensitive to ozone (Phaseolus vulgaris ‘S-156’), and the fourth with snap beans that are less sensitive to ozone (Phaseolus vulgaris ‘R-331’).

Below is a photo of the garden three weeks after planting. The first two leaves of each of the snap bean plants are easily visible. These plants should continue to develop through the winter. The seeds planted for the common milkweed (a perennial requiring overwintering) will emerge in late this spring. The weeds that have returned throughout the garden since planting will be removed by the team.

Garden three weeks after planting with visible snap bean plants. Milkweed hadn’t come up yet. The remaining plants are weeds. Photo courtesy of Nicolasa Hernandez.

What will ozone impacts to the plants look like?

Damage caused by ozone is typically observed as stippling or purpling on the top side of older leaves of the plant. If foliar damage occurs on younger leaves, then it is not ozone damage. The team also has to be aware of mimicking symptoms and other pest problems that look like ozone injury.

Later, signposts will be placed in the garden to describe its purpose and identify each area along with photos that indicate the conditions to look for.

As the plants grow, ARMN volunteers will monitor them for physical effects of ozone pollution and report the results to the national database.  

What is the future plan for the ozone garden?

ARMN volunteers will need to keep the garden weeded, and plan to install additional seeds this spring.

ARMN, via the Virginia Master Naturalists, has applied for a grant from Harvard to pay for signage to explain the project and how it links to TEMPO. A public education program is planned so that members of the community will be able to see the link between ozone and plant health. Additional procedures will be developed for people who will be monitoring the garden.   

For more information about the TEMPO Citizen Science program, see: http://tempo.si.edu/pdfs/AGU_O3garden_1Dec2016.pdf.

Finally, thanks go out to the ARMN Ozone Bioindicator team for their hard work and dedication in the development and care of this Ozone Garden: 

  • Sonya Dyer
  • Mary Frase
  • Louis Harrell
  • Nicolasa Hernandez
  • Barbara Hoffheins
  • Phil Klingelhofer
  • Jane Metcalfe
  • Todd Minners
  • Marj Signer

The Virginia Opossum: An Extraordinary Marsupial in Our Own Backyards

by Sandy Sohns

The Virginia opossum is much maligned, and has a reputation as being a repulsive, aggressive, dirty, garbage-eating pest that should be avoided or killed. Sadly, it is misunderstood and is unappreciated for its contribution to the environment, public health, and science.

The Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is one of the oldest surviving mammals on the planet, and the only marsupial found in North and Central America, Mexico, and Canada. 

In 1608 in Jamestown, Virginia, John Smith first observed and described the opossum as the size of a cat with the tail of a rat and the head of a pig.

Photo of an opossum
The Virginia opossum is North America’s only marsupial. Image Credit: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org, CC BY NC 3.0.
Photo of an opossum
Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock. Courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Will County.

Males are usually larger than females. They weigh from 4-15 pounds and are 2-3 feet long, including the tail. Opossums have hairless black or white ears, black eyes, a triangular shaped head with a long white face, a pink nose, and mostly dark gray fur. They have 50 teeth, the most of any marsupial. Their front toes have a span of 180 degrees and their opposable great toes on their hind feet act as thumbs and help them grasp and climb. Their scaly mostly hairless prehensile tail also helps with climbing, provides balance, as well as carrying leaves, grass, twigs, or other material for nesting.

Photo of three opossums hanging by their tails
Credit: Frank Lukasseck/Corbis, backyardzoologist.wordpress.com. CC BY NC SA 3.0.

Opossums are generalists, adapting to a wide variety of habitats such as deciduous forests, open woods, marshes, streams, and urban and suburban areas. They move from an area when water and food are not available. They don’t hibernate but they do slow down in cold temperatures; their hairless ears, nose, and tail are susceptible to frostbite. Opossums are not destructive in creating habitat: they don’t dig holes or build burrows. Rather, they’re opportunistic in selecting living arrangements made by other animals or seeking shelter in garages or under sheds. Opossums are not territorial but can be confrontational during mating season or if encountering individuals in their current habitat.

Opossums are nocturnal, solitary, independent, and do not initiate an attack on animals larger than themselves including humans. If confronted by a perceived threat, its offense, which is really bluffing, is to open its mouth showing its teeth, drool, growl, hiss, belch, scream, or screech to scare away whatever is frightening them.

Photo credit: http://www.maxpixels.net. CC0 (Public domain).

If stress increases, their defense—which is an involuntary physiological response—is to collapse. This is what is often called “playing ‘possum.” Their heart rate and respiration decreases, eyes are open or slightly closed, mouth is open, drooling is evident, defecation and urination can occur and if that isn’t enough to ward off whatever is bothering them, they can excrete a foul-smelling green liquid from their paracloacal glands near the base of the tail. This coma-like state can last from a few minutes to 4 or 6 hours.

Photo of an opossum playing dead
Opossum playing dead on back porch of apartment building. Photo by John Ruble. Wikimedia (Public domain).

They are meticulous groomers to keep their fur clean and dry. And it is estimated that they can consume upwards of 5,000 ticks per year. Females are especially fastidious before and after giving birth.

Opossums are omnivores and eat whatever is available including fruit, nuts, insects, frogs, rodents, grass, pet food, garbage, and carrion. They are referred to as “nature’s sanitation engineer” or “nature’s cleanup crew.” Their keen sense of smell and ability to remember where to find food is second only to humans.

They have a low body temperature which is unsuitable for the rabies virus and they are resistant to venomous snake bites due to a naturally occurring protein in their blood, the Lethal Toxic Neutralizing Factor (LTNF) which binds and neutralizes the venoms. This is scientifically important and the NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information has found LTNF to be a potent antidote for animal, plant, and bacterial toxins including scorpion and honeybee stings, plant-derived ricin, and botulism toxins.

Opossums have a short life span of 1-2 years. Motor vehicle accidents, hunting and trapping, disease and parasites, exposure and starvation all contribute to their brief existence. While their shy demeanor and proclivity for being killed by cars during their nocturnal food hunts implies decreased intelligence, they outperformed rats and cats in maze testing.

Their reproductive cycle is the shortest of any mammal, 12-13 days, with usually 2 litters a year between December and June. Females may bear as many as 25 babies (also called joeys like their distant kangaroo cousins) but the average survival rate is only 7-9 young. The reasons for this high mortality are many: the embryonic newborns are light pink, blind, about 1/2 inch long, and weigh 0.006 of an ounce. While they have deciduous claws on their front feet to climb up into the pouch, once there, they need to locate one of only 13 teats—some of which will not be viable. Those who make it will remain in the pouch for about 10 weeks, then gradually begin to leave and return to the pouch, and finally be completely weened by about 13 weeks. They stay with the mother for another 3 to 4 months, becoming stronger and independent. Around 7 or 8 months they become sexually mature, and then the mating season begins again.

Photo of an opossum mother with babies on her back
Opossum with babies. Jim Rathert. Photo by MDC Staff, courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation.
Photo of mother opossum with two babies on her back
Photo by Monica R./Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The Virginia opossum is indeed a remarkable animal with many distinctive characteristics that is worthy of respect and protection.

References

Krause, William J. and Krause, Winifred A. The Opossum: Its Amazing Story, Research Gate, January 2005. www.researchgate.net/publication/265347494_The_Opossum_Its_Amazing_Story 

“Virginia Opossum Didelphis Virginiana,Nature Worksnhpbs.org/natureworks/opossum.htm 

Kirchner, Jane. “Opossums: Unsung Heroes in the Fight Against Ticks and Lyme Disease,” National Wildlife Federation. June 13, 2017, blog.nwf.org/2017/06/opossums-unsung-heroes-in-the-fight-against-ticks-and-lyme-disease/ 

Debczak Michelle.“13 Facts About Opossums.” Mental Floss. June 8, 2018, www.mentalfloss.com/article/544902/facts-about-opossums

“Creature Feature: Opossums Are Nature’s Pest Control,” The Buzz, March 1, 2019, www.reconnectwithnature.org/news-events/the-buzz/opossum-creature-feature

Sometimes the Small Things Tell the Real Story: Windy Run Park

Text and photos by Glenn Tobin

I was Zoom talking with a small group of ARMN Park Stewards the other day about what inspires us as we help restore ecosystems in our parks. (ARMN Park Stewards are volunteer leaders who work with local park management and staff to help preserve, enhance, restore, and potentially expand the parks’ natural areas, habitats, and ecosystems.)There were many inspirations, but everyone had one in common—seeing how nature begins to heal itself when troublesome invasive plants are removed. It does not happen immediately, but if one observes, the rewards are great. 

Several weeks ago, I was walking along a path I frequent in Windy Run Park in North Arlington. Those who have been there know that the park connects to the George Washington Memorial Parkway and from there to the Potomac River via a steep set of stairs along a beautiful waterfall. 

Photo of a waterfall

As you descend, you might use your right hand to steady yourself along a vertical rock face that extends up from the stairs to far above your head. 

In 2016, that cliff face was covered with English ivy. After getting the o.k. from the National Park Service, I began clearing invasives along the river. The problems were huge in comparison to that small spot. However, I decided to clear it to improve the overall look of the area as I would walk up the stairs. 

As I walked down the stairs several weeks ago, I looked at the cliff face more closely and noticed that a new set of beautiful plants had colonized cracks in the wall from which the ivy had been pulled earlier. Here’s a wide view: 

Photo of plants colonizing a cliff face

Then I started to look more closely. As I saw more and more detail, I also saw more and more beauty—and a great variety of living organisms. Here are two pictures: 

Photo of plants on a rock face
Several types of mosses, likely including spikemoss (Pogonatum sp.) and ferns including a Spleenwort (Asplenium sp.), Mackay’s bladder fern (Cystopteris tenuis) or Blunt woodsia (Woodsia obtusa).
Young versions of the species noted above.

Sometimes I tell people that the process of ecological restoration is like an addictive drug. You rip some ivy off a small rock wall in 30 minutes and then a few years later something like this emerges. It is magical. I dream of a day where we have restored our forests, and the true beauty of biodiverse natural systems becomes obvious to all. 

And there are more improvements to the park than just invasive plant removal. If you know the Windy Run area, you are aware that more than a decade ago, a rockslide destroyed the lower part of the stairs and getting across the boulder field was a bit tricky. Last fall, the stairs and handrail were repaired to address the safety concerns. A unique collaboration across ARMN, the National Park Service, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, and a few regular trail users funded stone masons and iron workers to make the necessary repairs. 

The photos below show the before/after stair repairs. The small blue circles provide common reference points across the two pictures. 

Before and after photo of a stair repair project in Windy Run Park.

The new stairs are much more accessible to a wider range of hikers now. Below is some detail of the improved surfaces. 

Windy Run Stair- details of surface through former boulders and uo staircase. Three photos show details of stairs repair.

And finally, this photo shows the new handrail along with the new stairs. 

(The “Warning” sign has since been removed.)

Photo of new railing along Windy Run stairs

Access to Windy Run Park is from the cul de sac at the end of North Kenmore Street, off of Lorcom Lane. The waterfall and stairs are about a half mile away, following the stream. There are four unimproved stream crossings before reaching the top of the stairs (and the stairs themselves are very steep), so the park is not for everyone. You should feel comfortable on rough terrain and crossing potentially wet rocks to make the trip. But if you can manage it, Windy Run Park and the Potomac riverfront along the Potomac Heritage Trail are among the most beautiful spots in the region.