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.

2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Environmental Events

Please join your friends, neighbors, and fellow environmental stewards in participating in the following habitat restoration events during Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Enjoy the satisfaction of helping to restore these natural areas. Dress in layers for cold weather, bring work gloves, your own tools, filled reusable water bottle, and face mask. Please also follow COVID guidelines for each event.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=136494.
  • Date: Saturday, January 16, 2021
    Event: Habitat restoration and invasive plant removal
    Time: 10:00 am – Noon
    Location: Tuckahoe ParkContact: Mary McLean, 703-966-2047, marydmclean@verizon.netDetails: Please call ahead since we’re limited to 10 people in the group. Meet at Tuckahoe Elementary’s parking lot. After orientation, volunteers head into the park.
  • Date: Saturday, January 16, 2021
    Event: Restoration work
    Time: Noon – 3:00 pm 
    Location: Upton Hill Regional Park
    Contact:
    To register, email Jill Barker, crosswell2630@verizon.net.
    Details
    : Rototiller day! Volunteers will come behind it and remove five-leaved akebia to prepare pollinator plant beds. This event is for volunteers over age 9. Training on invasive removal will be provided. Participation is limited to ten persons per event, so registration is essential.
  • Date: Sunday, January 17, 2021
    Event: Habitat Restoration & Invasive Removal
    Time: 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
    Location: Long Branch Park
    Contact
    : Steve Young, 703-966-2966, frazmo@gmail.com
    Details
    : COVID restrictions/limits on volunteer numbers apply, so rsvp required. Dress for the weather, and consider wearing appropriate clothing, including sturdy footwear. Bring work gloves, clippers or a folding hand saw, trash bags, water bottle, sunscreen/hat.
  • Date: Monday, January 18, 2021
    Event: Invasive Removal
    Time: 10:00 am – Noon
    Location: Mary Carlin Woods at Bluemont Park (bounded by N. Carlin Springs Road, N. Kensington Street, N. 4th Street, the Bluemont Junction Trail and the Arlington Forest Club). Meet at the Mary Carlin Woods entrance along the Bluemont Junction trail just west from the rocks.
    Contact: Register by emailing: naturalresources@arlingtonva.us
    Details: COVID restrictions/limits on volunteer numbers apply, so rsvp required.
    Training on identifying invasive species and proper removal techniques will be provided by Master Naturalists and Tree Stewards. Participation is limited to ten persons per work site, so registration is requested. Bring your own gloves, tools, filled reusable water bottle, and face mask. Weather appropriate clothing is advised.
  • Date: Monday, January 18, 2021
    Event: Invasive removal or cleanup
    Time: 10:00 am – Noon
    Location: Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. Meet at the Belle Haven Park south parking lot registration table.
    Contact: Register here and indicate your choice of invasive removal or cleanup, as described below.
    Details: There are two types of service: (1) a shoreline trash cleanup, and (2) removing English ivy from trees. Volunteers can choose either activity. You do not need prior plant identification experience. Under Covid-19 protocols, registration is required and participants are limited to 15in each group. Work gloves, tools, trash bags and hand sanitizer will be provided. Wear a mask, sturdy shoes, long pants and sleeves, winter gloves and sun protection. Bring your own water.
  • Date: Monday, January 18, 2021
    Event: Invasive Removal on the Mount Vernon Trail
    Time: 10:00 am – Noon
    Location: 615 Slaters Lane, Alexandria, VA 22314. Group will meet in the courtyard behind the Salvation Army Headquarters and then walk to the work area.
    Contact: Register at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/133621847543
    Details:
    Volunteers will remove English Ivy from trees along the Mount Vernon Trail. No special skills are needed. Bring hand pruners (There will be several to borrow), work gloves (There will be several to borrow), filled water bottle, face covering.

Thank You!!

Flying Squirrels—They’re Still Here!

by Kasha Helget

A couple of years ago, I shared a story about a wonderful program that Long Branch Nature Center runs each year about our local flying squirrel population. Among other things, we learned that these are southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans), 8-10 inches long (including their tails), and weighing on average a couple of ounces. Also, there are about as many flying squirrels as there are gray squirrels in our area. We don’t usually see the flyers because they’re nocturnal and generally hang out in the higher canopy of mature trees. And flying squirrels do not actually “fly.” They glide using skin flaps (patagium) that connect their arms and bodies. They are crazy cute with their huge eyes and tiny bodies—almost like big-eyed children in a Margaret Keane painting.

Photo of a flying squirrel
Southern flying squirrel, “set to soar,” by Christian Collins, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

I was totally intrigued with the flying squirrel nesting box that Long Branch staff attached to a tree along with a feeding platform for nuts and peanut butter. So, I convinced my handy husband, Michael, to build one, which he attached to a tree near our deck with a roof deck where we could place nuts. I ended the story with us waiting to see whether “if we built it, they would come.”

We had no luck that year. It was late February and too near the end of the winter season to encourage the little flyers to use the nest box or grab nuts from the roof deck.

Last season was a mixed bag. Shortly after Thanksgiving, we began setting out mixed nuts for the squirrels as soon as it was fully dark. We set up a night camera to check on visitors and learned a couple of things: a few flyers did visit, usually well into the night. But almost as often, raccoons stole the nuts before the squirrels got to them.

Photo of a racoon peering out from behind a tree trunk
Raccoon looking for nuts on the nest box deck. Photo by Michael Helget.

That’s when we realized that the flyers preferred peanuts to the harder shelled nuts. The very best discovery, however, was that they actually used the nest box for their young! There was traffic in and out of the entry holes, and peanut “hand-offs” to a parent flyer inside the box.

And then came the shocking incident. The advice we read online was to clean the nest box only in January or February—the only time the box would definitely be empty. So, Michael climbed a ladder to remove the box for cleaning last February, and two very surprised squirrels emerged, and an equally surprised Michael retreated, deciding that the box was probably clean enough. He did finally remove it early this April to make a small repair. It was not occupied but definitely needed cleaning of nesting materials and peanut shells. I guess the flyers didn’t read the online advice about vacating the box in February instead of April.

This winter has been another story. We again began setting out peanuts right after Thanksgiving, and it didn’t take long till our little flying squirrels started showing up and waiting for their nightly treat. It’s become very predictable that when it is fully dark there are up to four visitors either sitting on the roof deck waiting for their peanut delivery or running up and down the tree till we place the nuts out for them. The whole show is over within seconds. They are incredibly quick, usually grabbing a peanut and “flying” to the ground or running up the back of the tree with their treasure.

Video of flying squirrels grabbing their peanuts, by Michael Helget.

We plan to continue feeding our little guys peanuts well into the spring or as long as they’ll take them. It has become the best 10 second thrill for us each evening, and definitely worth pausing Netflix to enjoy.

It’s Springtime . . . Shop for and Plant Natives!

Text and photos by Kasha Helget

Note: After this was posted, most plant sales were cancelled with the coronavirus. But some individual sellers continue to operate. For example,  Nature by Design and Earth Sangha are selling native plants with special distancing/handling precautions. So, don’t give up on planting natives! But please check the sales links or contact sellers before you go.

With longer daylight hours, warming soils, and the return of bird, bees, and butterflies, it’s ready to think about gardening, and in particular, installing native plants in your pots or yards. Our local animals depend on them, AND they provide beauty to our landscapes. So, please consider a few—or several native plants to brighten your yard, patio or deck. The native wildlife will appreciate it!

Why Choose Native Plants?

Because they are “from here,” natives are adapted to our climate and soil conditions. They are often the only or most healthful source of nectar, pollen, seeds, and leaves for local butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. Other benefits of native plants are that they:

  • do not require fertilizers and few if any pesticides,
  • need less water than lawns, and help prevent erosion,
  • help reduce air pollution,
  • provide both shelter and food for wildlife,
  • promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural spaces, and
  • are beautiful and increase landscape values!

How to Choose the Right Natives for Your Yard or Pots?

It’s important to install the right plants for your conditions (wet, dry, shade, sun, slope, soil type, etc.). How do you know what’s right for you? One of the best sources is the Plant Nova Natives website: http://www.plantnovanatives.org/, with easy-to-follow tips, dozens of photos, and additional links to learn what will work best for your situation.

Where Can You Buy Natives?

Most commercial nurseries do not carry many native plants. If you have a favorite place that has a weak selection, tell them to please stock more. But there is a wonderful solution in the coming weeks: visit the increasing number of native plant sales in the area (many of which provide food, entertainment, and fun for kids, too). Below is information on several sales in Northern Virginia. Happy shopping and planting!

A plant with yellow flowers
Woodland sunflower (Helianthus strumosus)

2020 Spring Native Plant Sales

NOTE: Please check sale sites for information on any changes due to COVID-19.

Friends of the National Arboretum, Lahr Symposium and Native Plant Sale
03/28/2020 CANCELLED.
Visit the sale site.

Potowmack Chapter Weekly Plant Sale
From April 1st through October is a low-key plant sale on the first Wednesday of each month at the propagation beds behind the main building at Green Springs Garden.
10am to 1pm
4603 Green Spring Rd
Alexandria, VA 22312
Visit the sale site.

Walker Nature Center
Pre-order through 5pm on 04/03/2020. Order online for pick up April 18, 2020 from 10am–1pm at the Nature Center.
Walker Nature Center: 11450 Glade Drive, Reston, VA 20191
Click here for: Online form

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Native Plant Sale
04/04/2020
9am to 3pm
Right BEFORE main parking lot at Morven Park: 17263 Southern Planter Ln, Leesburg, VA
Spring and fall sales.
Visit the sale site. 

American Horticulture Society, Spring Garden Market
04/17-18/2020
10am to 4pm
River Farm: 7931 E. Boulevard Dr., Alexandria, VA
Includes some native plant vendors.
Visit the sale site.

NOVA Soil & Water Conservation District, Native Seedling Sale
Online orders are sold out. However, there are often extra seedlings for sale on the pick-up days (April 17 and 18) and will sell for $2 a “stem” on a first-come, first-served basis. The pick-up begins at 9:00 am on Friday, April 17, and this time will give you the best selection. Sleepy Hollow Bath & Racquet Club, 3516 Sleepy Hollow Rd, Falls Church, VA 22044.
Visit the sale site.

Prince William Wildflower Society Annual Wildflower and Native Plant Sale
04/19/2020
9am–12pm
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church picnic area, 8712 Plantation Lane, Manassas, VA
Visit the sale site.

Long Branch Nature Center
Pre-order through 4pm on 04/15/2020. Order online for pick up Fri., April 24 from 3-6pm and Sat., April 25 from 10am–3pm
On site sale 04/25/2020
1 to 4pm
Long Branch Nature Center
625 S. Carlin Springs Road, Arlington, VA 22204
Spring and fall sales.
Click here for: Online form and sale site.

Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale
04/25/2020
9am to 2pm
The Church of St. Clement: 1701 N. Quaker Ln, Alexandria, VA
Spring and fall sales.
Visit the sale site.

Rappahannock Plant Sale at Waterpenny Farm
04/25/2020
8am to 2pm
53 Waterpenny Lane
Sperryville, VA 22740
Visit the sale site.

Friends of Riverbend Park Native Plant Sale
04/25/2020
8 to 11am
Riverbend Park Outdoor Classroom/Picnic Shelter on Potomac Hills Street in Great Falls.
Pre-order through March 21. Pick up pre-ordered plants Friday, April 24 at the Riverbend Park Outdoor Classroom/Picnic Shelter.
Click here for: Online form and sale site.

Earth Sangha Plant Sale
05/03/2020
10am to 2pm
6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield, VA
Visit the sale site.

Friends of Runnymede Park
05/03/2020
10am to 3pm
195 Herndon Parkway, Herndon VA
Spring and fall sales.
Visit the sale site.

Green Springs Garden Day Plant Sale
Potowmack Chapter native plants and other native vendors
05/16/2020
9am to 3pm
Green Spring Gardens: 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA
Visit the sale site.

Virginia State Symbol: The Northern Cardinal

Text and Photos by Ames Bowman

With its distinct red feathers, or plumage, its deep orange beak, and a crest that resembles a well-groomed mohawk, the presence of the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in Northern Virginia is unmistakable. The Northern Cardinal is Virginia’s state bird. I tagged along with part-time Arlington County Park Naturalist Yolanda Villacampa on Sunday, March 24, 2019 at Long Branch Nature Center to learn more about this bird as a part of her Virginia State Symbols program series.

Photo of an adult male norther cardinal in a tree
Adult Male Northern Cardinal, Outside Long Branch Nature Center.

At the beginning of the program, Yolanda shared some interesting facts about the Northern Cardinal:

  • While the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Virginia, it is also the state bird of six other states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia.
  • When you see a bright-red cardinal with a black patch at the base of the beak (or bill), you’re looking at an adult male Northern Cardinal.
  • Adult female Northern Cardinals are tan but share characteristics of the male: the pronounced crest, the short but big orange bill, and some red feathers.
  • Juvenile Northern Cardinals (both male and female) look like the females but with a grey beak.
  • The bird’s diet is primarily seeds and berries, but it is also known to snack on insects.
  • The bird has several calls, they are easy to identify when the male and female call back in forth in the same song.

Before heading out on the trail from Long Branch Nature Center to Glencarlyn Park, we listened intently to a recording of the bird’s several calls so that we could identify the cardinal by ear on the trail. Click here to listen to calls and responses of male and female Northern Cardinals. (Credit: Larry Arbanas/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (ML466840).)

We also learned how to use a field guide to identify other birds that we were likely to encounter on the trail and received a quick tutorial on how to focus our binoculars and, quietly, alert others in the group to the location of a bird.

During our walk, we heard several Northern Cardinal duets and observed one male Northern Cardinal. We also saw and identified three White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) and two Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens). One White-breasted Nuthatch was defending its territory on a tree from a nearby squirrel by extending its wings and swaying back and forth.

Photo of a stream
Glencarlyn Park, Convergence of Four Mile Run Stream and Long Branch Creek.

Virginia Symbols Programs

Join Yolanda on her next Virginia Symbols program!

  • Program Name: Virginia Wildlife Symbols: The Eastern Oyster
  • Date, Time, and Location: Sunday, June 23, 2019, 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM. Meet at Gulf Branch Nature Center
  • Website and Additional Information: During this program, we will learn about the Virginia coastal two-shelled mollusk resident. The program will include a shell activity. The program is geared towards families ages 7 and up—children must be registered separately and must be accompanied by a registered adult. Stay tuned to the Arlington County Parks and Recreation – Nature & History Program webpage to register for this program. The cost of registration will be $5/participant.

Learn more about the Virginia Symbols program leader, Yolanda Villacampa, a part-time Arlington County Park Naturalist and ARMN member in the 2018 blog post, ARMN: Getting to Know Yolanda Villacampa.

Be a Birder!

You, too, can watch the Northern Cardinal and other birds! While early March till early May are ideal times to observe courtship rituals and migratory species that pass through the region before the onset of summer, Northern Virginia is home to many native birds that you can see year-round! Learn about the courtship ritual of the male American Woodcock in a companion ARMN blog piece, “Sky Dancer: The American Woodcock.”

Whether you’re a beginner birder with a basic interest or a pro, consider joining either of the weekly bird walks at the nearby parks or with groups listed below. Make sure to check ahead before you venture out for information on where to meet, updates, weather-related cancellations, and other birding events. Happy birding!

Location Date & Time Website
Huntley Meadows Park Every Monday, beginning
at 7:00 AM
Friends of
Huntley Meadows Park
Dyke Marsh
Wildlife Preserve
Every Sunday, beginning
at 8:00 AM
Friends of Dyke Marsh
Audubon Society of
Northern Virginia
Various dates and times,
parks throughout
Northern Virginia
Audubon Society of
Northern Virginia –
Bird Walks and Field Trips

Add Native Plants to Your Fall Garden and enjoy them again next Spring and Summer!

Text and photos by Kasha Helget

Fall is the BEST time to install native plants. The cooler air temperatures are less stressful to stems and foliage, and the still-warm soil gives roots a great head start to become established before winter. So, consider choosing a few—or several native plants to brighten your yard, patio, or deck!

Photo of a green plant with small white flowers surrounding a tree trunk

White wood aster (Eurybia divaricata), is a spreading perennial that bloom in early-mid fall, thrive in light to heavy shade, can handle dry conditions, and attract butterflies.

Why Choose Native Plants?

Natives are local species and are adapted to our climate and soil conditions. They also are often the only or most healthful source of nectar, pollen, seeds, and leaves for local butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. These plants:

  • do not require fertilizers and few if any pesticides,
  • 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, and
  • are beautiful and increase scenic values!

How to Choose the Right Natives for Your Yard or Pots?

It’s important to install the right plants for your conditions (wet, dry, shade, sun, slope, bog, soil type, etc.). How do you know what’s right for you? One of the best sources is the Plant Nova Natives website: http://www.plantnovanatives.org/, with easy-to-follow tips, lots of photos, and additional links to learn what will work for your situation.

Close up photo of a plant with yellowish green leaves and deep purple berries clustered around the stem.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a shrub that can grow 3-5 ft. tall and wide. It prefers sun to light shade and moist conditions, produces purple berries in mid-fall, and attracts birds and butterflies.

Where Can You Buy Natives?

Most commercial nurseries do not carry a lot of native plants. If you have a favorite place that has a weak selection, tell them that you’d love if they could stock more. But there are many nurseries that bring plants to us—at local native plant sales. Below is a list of fall native plant sales nearby, with many providing food and entertainment. Happy shopping and planting!

Photo of light purple flowers with small petals and bright yellow centers

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is a spreading perennial that can grow 3- 6 ft, and bloom in early-late fall. It prefers part shade and moist conditions and attracts bees and butterflies.

Fall 2018 Native Plant Sales

Potowmack Chapter Weekly Plant Sale
Weekly plant sale on the first Wednesday of each month through October at the propagation beds behind the main building at Green Springs Garden.
10:00 am–12:00 pm
4603 Green Spring Rd, Alexandria, VA 22312
https://vnps.org/potowmack/events/plant-sale-propagation-party/

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Fall Native Plant Sale
September 8, 2018
9:00 am–3:00 pm
Morven Park
17263 Southern Planter Ln, Leesburg, VA
https://loudounwildlife.org/event/fall-native-plant-sale-2/

Friends of Runnymede Park
September 15, 2018
9:00 am–2:00 pm
Runnymede Park
195 Herndon Pkwy, Herndon, VA
http://www.frpweb.org/10.html

Glencarlyn Garden Autumnfest
September 16, 2018
10:00 am–3:00 pm
Glencarlyn Library Garden
300 S. Kensington St, Arlington, VA
https://mgnv.org/2018/08/22/autumnfest-at-glencarlyn-library-garden/

Long Branch Native Plant Sale
September 22, 2018
1:00–4:00 pm
Pre-order deadline: September 12, 2018 at 4:00 pm
Long Branch Nature Center
625 S. Carlin Springs Rd, Arlington, VA
https://parks.arlingtonva.us/native-plant-sale/

Town of Vienna Native Plant Sale
September 22, 2018
8:00 am–1:00 pm
Vienna Community Center
120 Cherry Street SE, Vienna, VA
https://www.viennava.gov/documentcenter/view/3663

Green Spring Garden and VA Native Plant Society Fall Garden Day
September 22, 2018
9:00 am–3:00 pm
Green Spring Garden Park
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria VA
http://www.friendsofgreenspring.org/programs-a-events/fall-garden-day-2018

Earth Sangha Fall Wild Plant Nursery Sale
EXTENDED to September 30, 2018
9 am–Noon
Franconia Park
6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield, VA
http://www.earthsangha.org/wpn

Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale
September 29, 2018
9:00 am–2:00 pm
Church of St. Clement
1701 N. Quaker Ln, Alexandria VA 22302
http://northernalexandrianativeplantsale.org/

City of Alexandria Fall Native Plant Sale
Online through October 31, 2018
Pickup on November 3, 2018, 9:00 am–3:00 pm
Buddie Ford Nature Center
5750 Sanger Ave., Alexandria, VA 22311
Order information HERE, and click “Shop” button located at the top of the page and select Fall 2018 Plant Sale.
https://www.alexandriava.gov/recreation/info/default.aspx?id=94340

 

Firefly Fest – Fun for all Ages!

Text and photos by Jo Allen

On June 24, 2018, the 10th annual Firefly Festival was held at Fort C.F. Smith Park. This very popular event was scheduled to run from 7:00–9:30 p.m. but was cut short by a cloudburst around 9:10. Still, it was really a great time, especially for the little ones!

This was my first year volunteering at the Firefly Festival at Fort C.F. Smith Park. I got the “bug” last summer at Bat Fest at Gulf Branch Nature Center, where I helped dozens of kids stamp scarves and bags with bat images. It was so much fun, especially seeing the creativity the youngsters expressed. I had always wanted to attend the Firefly Festival (organized by Rachael Tolman, Park Naturalist at Long Branch) but just had never signed up. This was the year.

I was assigned to the table next to Ken Rosenthal, a park naturalist at Gulf Branch Nature Center, whose “Deep Dive” presentations into everything from migratory birds to white tail deer to eels have held audiences rapt each time he gives them. Ken was loaning out bug nets and clear jars to kids for 10 minutes at a time so they could see what they could catch. Grandparents were the best at showing kids how to do this effectively (probably because they did the same activity in their youth). Remarkably, kids of all ages returned the gear in time, no arguments. And some came back with bugs of all kinds, which Ken quickly identified and, with luck, photographed. One team returned a jar with six fireflies. Many others brought earlier-evening insects. But there were so many fireflies that it was possible to catch one carefully by hand as it helicoptered up, blinking its mix of luciferin and luciferase bioluminescence in search of a mate.

My table illustrated how other nocturnal creatures—moths and bats—find their “perfect partner.” Or in the case of bats, their perfect prey: moths.

Headbands, sissors, pictures of bats, insect nets, and jars sit on folding tables in a field

Photo of the moth/bat craft stand.

Kids were told that male moths detect pheromones of females with their fluffy antenna (think feather boa) and that female moths have plain antenna (mere pipe cleaners or chenille sticks) by comparison.

Only girls wanted feathery antenna. And given a choice, most kids went for bat ears, which were more complicated to make, but really fun to wear!

ARMN volunteer wears "firefly antennae" made from bright yellow pipe cleaners

Jo Allen with “firefly antennae.”

I made nearly all of the antenna and ears headbands myself even though this was supposed to be a kid craft project. I realized I needed to do a lot of the assembly when I handed a pair of kid scissors to a little girl who was handling them awkwardly.

“I don’t think she’s ever used scissors,” her dad said. “She’s only three.”

“I use them in preschool,” she promptly corrected.

But she was struggling, so I cut the flap on her paper bat ears, glue-dotted them to the chenille stick I had cut in half and twisted onto a plastic headband and placed it on her head.

“Can you hear better now?” I asked.

Echoing every youngster, and one adult, after donning their bat ears, she replied, “Yes!”

Getting Involved in the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists Program: Why Mentoring Benefits Both Mentor and Student

By Susan Berry

If you have ever thought you might want to get involved in the conservation and stewardship of our local natural resources, then the Arlington Regional Master Naturalist (ARMN) program is for you! ARMN conducts a 3 ½ month basic training course for new volunteers in ecology, botany, herpetology, ornithology, forest and aquatic ecosystems and more—and the next session is coming up soon!

To support new volunteers in the program as they become certified Virginia Master Naturalists, ARMN recently started a mentorship program by asking current members to help out. Susan Berry, one of ARMN’s first mentors, shares her experience:

Photo of ARMN member Susan Berry wearing a blue bandanna standing in front of the woods

Susan Berry. Photo courtesy Pablo Nuesch.

Current ARMN members were recently asked if they’d like to serve as mentors for new ARMN trainees and graduates. From my perspective, this is an activity that has primarily benefitted me, and not just my mentees, though I certainly hope they liked the idea too. I was in the Spring 2012 ARMN class, which has the distinction of always having the lowest turnout at any ARMN holiday party or chapter meeting. We had lots of folks in the class who were already planning to move out of the area at the time of graduation. Others seemed to follow shortly thereafter. So, the opportunity to make a connection with someone from another class really intrigued me, and I signed up to be a mentor. Then, I was fortunate to be matched up first with Colt Gregory, and later with Todd Minners.

Photo of ARMN Member Colt Gregory wearing a ball cap standing in front of a flowering tree with pink flowers

Colt is (among other things) an expert on birds, while I know little about them. Therefore, I was thrilled to use mentoring time to have Colt train me. He was kind enough to take me to Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria for a personal lesson on how to use binoculars and how to look and listen for those delicate creatures that I have always found elusive. His knowledge and ability to communicate were evident on our outing. I also really enjoyed attending his graduation at the end of the ARMN basic training program, and later hearing his first ARMN presentation to the public on “Beginning Birding by Ear” at the Arlington Central Library.

Selfie photo of ARMN member Todd Minners wearing a ball cap standing next to a flowering plant

Coincidentally, my second mentee, Todd, and I signed up for the same volunteer event the week we were matched up as mentor and mentee. Once again, I knew I was the beneficiary. We had the good fortune to help Bobbi Farley, a naturalist at the Long Branch Nature Center, during the “Arlington Palooza” event where we spent several hours with kids of all ages petting the Long Branch animal pelts and marveling over the skulls of some of our local animals. Todd has lived around the world and was great at connecting with the diverse crowd, even in multiple languages. I usually consider myself to be outgoing, but Todd outdid me.

Recently, it occurred to me that Todd and Colt would have some ideas for engaging children at ARMN’s outreach events. Sometimes when ARMN has an information table at events attended by children, we find that if we can engage the children, we can usually also involve the adults, too. Todd and Colt are more comfortable than I am at engaging kids in activities. The three of us met at Long Branch and brainstormed on what would attract children to the ARMN display tables. We came up with several good ideas and I think that some of them will get us moving ahead in the future; a few might even make their way to this year’s Arlington County Fair!

Our new ARMN students have a great deal to share with us, and I was fortunate to learn a lot from Colt and Todd. So, here are two of my recommendations to current ARMN members who may be considering mentoring:

First, do it;

Second, let your mentee’s skills lead the way!

And for those of you desiring to make  a difference in your community, check out the ARMN website and apply for the next basic training course.  Applications for the next basic training session are due Aug. 1 with classes beginning on September 4.  You will find committed master naturalists and your very own mentor in the program!

ARMN Helps DC Area Place 5th Worldwide in City Nature Challenge

By Rosemary Jann

During the weekend of 27-30 April 2018, 180 ARMN members and other area residents answered the call to participate in the third annual City Nature Challenge. The Nature Challenge seeks to encourage interest in urban nature by having groups compete to record and identify the nature around them. It began in 2016 as a friendly competition between Los Angeles and San Francisco to see which area could document the most species and involve the most participants. It went national in 2017 and international in 2018, this year including 68 urban areas worldwide, including greater Washington, DC.

 ARMN members took part in 27 different CNC events held in more than 15 parks in Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and Fairfax County during the weekend. As leaders

Photo of John and Josie Buchanan examining a salmander on a hike in Barcroft Park

Photo courtesy of Marion Jordan.

and assistants on various nature walks, ARMN members helped raise interest and educate other community members in nature observation, like John and Josie Buchanan, seen here examining a salamander they found on their ARMN-led hike in Barcroft Park.

 

Other events included a “birding by bike” tour on April 28 in which Lori Bowes and Phil

Photo of water snake swallowing a fish at Four Mile Run

Photo courtesy of Carol Mullen.

Klingelhofer led more than 10 people on a 22-mile route through Long Branch, Barcroft, Fort F. C. Smith, and other Arlington parks along the Potomac. Cyclist Carol Mullen snapped the accompanying photo of a water snake swallowing a fish at Four Mile Run.

 

ARMN Basic Training class members also contributed observations from their “herps

Photo 3

Copyright David Howell 2018.

and chirps” fieldtrip at Huntley Meadows on April 30th, including photos of a Hooded Merganser with ducklings.

All City Nature Challenge participants documented their observations on iNaturalist, a free app and website that allows individuals to easily upload, share, and identify species.

The results were impressive: we helped the DC Metro area come in 5th place world-wide for overall number of observations (22,866), 4th overall in number of observers (886), and 8th overall in number of species (1,850). 537 people helped make 38,968 species identifications for our area. This year Boston had thrown down a specific challenge to DC: we bested them in observations and species and came in one place behind them in total number of observers. Our area’s most frequently observed species were the Common Blue Violet for plants, the American Robin for birds, and the White-tailed Deer for mammals.

The City Nature Challenge celebrates and supports two vital functions of citizen science: it brings members of the community together to enhance their appreciation of nature, and it provides scientists with valuable data on biodiversity that can help guide the understanding and preservation of our natural resources. Thanks to all members of ARMN and the greater community who participated. Save the date for our next big citizen science project: the Arlington Bioblitz to be held on Saturday, September 15, 2018!

If September seems too far off to collect more environmental data, then look for our next blog piece on how iNaturalist can be used to map a whole variety of observations that can help us better understand our environment.

ARMN: Getting to Know Emily Ferguson

ARMN’s Membership Committee posts occasional profiles of our members, including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they affect their environment. This latest biography features ARMN Member Emily Ferguson, who graduated from our training class in Spring 2010. Many of our members already know her because she currently teaches tree identification as part of the Basic Training class. If you know someone else in ARMN with an interesting story and think others might be interested, please contact Bill Browning (browningwh@gmail.com) or Alison Sheahan (ab.sheahan@verizon.net).

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

Besides teaching the basic tree ID section for the ARMN training class, I’m involved with stream monitoring at Lubber Run and Barcroft parks as well as the salamander patrols at Gulf Branch and Long Branch nature centers. I have a lot of fun with the patrols as I think vernal pools are really cool. I also have helped with tree inventories at Fort Meyer and at Columbia Gardens Cemetery on Route 50 (http://www.columbiagardenscemetery.org/).

This year teaching the incoming ARMN class, I was surprised and honored to teach the Tree ID and Botany sections.  I learn something from the students in the class every time I teach, which makes the experience even more rewarding.

Photo of ARMN Member Emily Ferguson teaching tree ID

Emily explaining features of tree bark during March 19, 2018 Basic Training field trip. Photo courtesy of Oliver Torres.

What brought you to ARMN?

When I moved to Northern Virginia, I was starting a job with the EPA to work on the “superfund” program and I knew I would be stepping away from nature. I knew I needed another connection to nature. So, I went looking for something like ARMN and I was glad to find it. Walking around Arlington, the trees looked so different to me. They were all street trees or had been planted out of their natural environment. Rod Simmons, the Alexandria City Natural Resource Manager and Plant Ecologist, taught the tree ID section when I took the Basic Training and confirmed that the trees weren’t different or new. I needed to re-calibrate my eyes because the trees weren’t in the mountain habitats I knew.

What do you like most about ARMN and what has surprised you?

I like the number of activities you can get involved in. There are bird walks, seed cleanings, plant sales, and invasive pulls. I think what I like most is that people are very open to sharing their knowledge. ARMN is so broad. You can find a walk or lecture to learn or explore about almost any aspect of nature that you’re interested in.

 

Photo 2

Emily leading tree ID field trip in Riverbend Park in January 2017. Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.

Tell us something about your experiences that shaped your perspective on nature?

When I was 15 and attending high school in Bermuda, I dropped biology. Soon after that, my mother took a class to become a tour guide at the local botanical gardens. She taught me about pencil trees (Euphorbia tirucalli) and I challenged myself to identify them when we were driving around. Much to my parents’ horror, these trees were scattered around the island and I pointed them out on every drive we took around the island, which was probably really annoying. I even got my brother to play along.

Since I graduated from the Bermuda High School at the age of sixteen, my parents decided to send me to boarding school in New Jersey for two years. There, I enrolled in ”baby bio” followed by Advanced Placement biology so that I could load up on biology before heading to college because I loved this tree stuff. For the first time, biology made sense and I helped classmates prep for tests.

What is your background?

I attended Rhodes College (http://www.rhodes.edu/) in Memphis, TN where I earned a BS in biology. I also earned my master’s degree in biology (botany and trees) from the University of South Florida in Tampa (http://www.usf.edu/). My mentor and advisor for my thesis wrote the Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida (http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/) and I used to pester him with my irritation at the way he characterized some of the plants.

My parents were not outdoorsy. They sent me to a summer camp in Vermont each year for a month where I first saw the “white dark” (or fog) and hiked in a deciduous forest. I was captivated, but it was not all smooth. One summer my parents sent me to an expedition camp in Pennsylvania, we set out on a weeklong hiking and camping trip. I wanted to dump the 45-pound pack, ditch the other campers, and hitchhike to my uncle’s house in New Jersey where I knew he lived. I didn’t. I stuck it out and ended up having a great time.

What would people find interesting about the non-ARMN parts of your life?

My husband is an ultrarunner. When I started running with him, I learned if you can’t see the top of the hill you can walk up to prevent yourself from overdoing it and focus running the downhill and flat portions of the runs. This approach works great for me. The one thing I like more than running is looking at plants. So, when I run with him, I run downhill and look at plants on the uphill. I’m always walking off the sides of the trail to check out the plants or break off a piece to look at later, much to his surprise.

I’m also my brother’s favorite snorkeling or diving partner. He wants to see the rays and sharks, while I like to drift along just looking at variety of color and beauty under the ocean. Recently, we swam with a manta ray, some white tipped reef sharks, a school of mobula rays, and a school of hammerhead sharks while on a trip through the Galapagos Islands.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I always carry a hand lens. Recently, I set up my boom microscope and immediately had to run outside to grab some twigs. I brought them inside to check out under my scope and got lost looking at the delicate beauty of the bud scales and flowers.