Falls Church Farmers Market, ARMN, and the Environment Team: Good for the Body and the Environment!

A dedicated group of members from ARMN and the Falls Church Environment Team have braved all types of weather over the past several years with their informational display at the Falls Church Farmer’s Market. ARMN members Kent Taylor and Toni Genberg have led the weekly effort on Saturday mornings, and change their messages throughout the course of the year.

Photos courtesy of Kent Taylor unless otherwise noted.

The Falls Church Farmers Market has been a go-to location for everything from Artisan cheeses to Zinnias since 1984. In addition to the edible goodies, plants, and specialty items, there are a number of information booths worth a visit, too. From October through April, ARMN manages its own booth and from May through September, it shares a booth with the Falls Church Environment Team. This booth includes representatives from the Fairfax Master Naturalists, Fairfax Master Gardeners, Falls Church Habitat Restoration, and Green Spring Master Gardeners, and also provides local green information from the Falls Church Environment Web.


Falls Church Environment Team Booth and visitors.

There are so many topics we covered with visitors to our booths over the years—more than I could possibly recall. But, off the top of my head, we’ve been asked about:
acquiring native plants,
invasive control,
mosquito control,
monarch butterflies,
cat predation,
rain barrels,
wildlife habitat certification,
and volunteering.

And yes, we have answers, literature, and other resources to address all of these!


Some of the many topics addressed at the Falls Church Environment Team Booth.

We’ve been asked to identify plants, parasites, insects, etc. (Can do!)

We’ve given away seeds, and trees.

We’ve helped with Eagle Scout projects, and solar campaigns.

We’ve also helped the City of Falls Church gain recognition as a Certified Community Wildlife Habitat community by the National Wildlife Federation.

ARMN has an ongoing Choking Hazards campaign that educates people about the strangling dangers of English Ivy on trees. Falls Church Environment Team member, Toni Genberg, simplified the Choking Hazard message with a simple question for market goers:  “Did you know? English Ivy will choke & kill any tree it climbs.”  The message surprised lots of visitors and started a conversation.

The Saturday before this past Halloween, Toni collected some English ivy and printed Halloween-ish signs, which were a good draw to visitors to the market. There were lots of questions on mulch and pruning. It was a good day!

I really have to give a lot of credit to Toni who is still fighting for the plants and animals around us, even on chilly days in the middle of winter. Two women were so inspired by our information that they said they were going to enroll in the next ARMN Basic Training. Someone else said they would stop using pesticides. And another person asked where they could pull invasives. These are baby steps, but baby steps can add up!

The Falls Church Farmers Market operates year around. The hours from January through March are 9 am–noon, and hours from April through December are 8 am–noon. Come to the Market and visit the ARMN booth in the colder months and the Environment Team in the summer. You’ll be sure to be inspired, too!

ARMN: Getting To Know You

From time-to-time, ARMN’s Membership Committee posts profiles of our members including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they work to impact the environment around them. Here is the latest biography of ARMN volunteer Honora Dent who graduated in the Spring 2014 ARMN training class. ARMN would also like to highlight her involvement with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service’s 4-H Youth Development Program and the upcoming 4-H Outdoor Explorer volunteer training on February 15th.

Tell us about the ARMN projects on which you spend the most time.

For the past two years I have been an active member of the Arlington County stream monitoring team. I enjoy monitoring the health of county streams by counting and identifying the various macroinvertebrates present in the water. I would have never predicted at this stage of my life I would be wading in streams, scrubbing rocks, and collecting samples of aquatic organisms, or be able to distinguish between a Damsel fly and a Mayfly larva, but I really enjoy it, and appreciate that the County uses the information to monitor long-term trends of our streams.


Releasing macroinvertebrates into nets, Arlington Outdoor Lab, Broad Run, VA.


Collecting stream samples, Arlington Outdoor Lab, Broad Run, VA.

Volunteering at Earth Sangha has become an important part of my week. I especially enjoy working at the native plant nursery doing whatever task is assigned, such as planting, weeding, and filling pots. I also enjoy going out in the field to collect native plant seeds and later “cleaning” the seeds for future planting. These tasks offer me a reflective, meditative environment as well as an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation with other volunteers.

I enjoy the physical activity involved with invasive plant removal. This past year I joined the National Park Service Weed Warrior program to remove invasives along the George Washington Parkway and on Theodore Roosevelt Island. My most memorable experience was working with 30 students from the International Academy at Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School. Verbal communication within the group was difficult due to language differences, but the smiles on the students’ faces as they enthusiastically removed English ivy and honeysuckle vine from the trees indicated the pleasure and fulfillment they felt working together to make these areas better places.

My most recent ARMN adventure is participating in 4-H Outdoor Explorers at Randolph Elementary School in Arlington. This after school program takes place at a few elementary schools in Arlington and offers students an opportunity to learn more about the environment with a focus on fun and exploration. Partnering with Arlington County’s Extended Day Program, 4-H Outdoor Explorers volunteers promote youth environmental literacy, encourage outdoor play, and serve as positive adult role models. I have had very little experience working with youth, and while working with the students has been challenging, it is also very rewarding.


Photo courtesy of National 4-H Council.

How did you learn about ARMN?

I first heard about ARMN from friend and fellow ARMN member, Pat Findikoglu. We were at the Columbia Pike Farmers Market catching up on our lives and she mentioned ARMN. The more Pat talked about the ARMN training course and the variety of volunteer and educational opportunities, the more I knew that I wanted to sign up. I had always enjoyed spending time in nature but had little formal training and ARMN seemed like a good fit. I submitted my application, graduated from the Spring 2014 class, and have no regrets. Without a doubt joining ARMN was one of the best investments I have made in my life.


Honora at an Earth Sangha plant sale (Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.)

What do you like most about ARMN?

Without a doubt the best thing about ARMN is its volunteers. I have never met a more welcoming, knowledgeable, and fun-loving group. ARMN offers me a vast variety of ways to occupy my time with meaningful work, a community of likeminded people to learn from and share experiences, and educational classes to enhance my knowledge of the natural world. Thanks to ARMN I have learned so much and have become a better steward of the environment.

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

Spending time outside enjoying and observing nature has been part of my entire life. I had the good fortune to grow up within walking distance of the Severn River in Maryland and spent much of my free time exploring the river and nearby woods. I learned about birds, crabs, fish, turtles, snakes, and many other creatures from an elderly neighbor who had lived on the river her whole life. I also learned about local plants and critters from a science teacher who lived across the street. One of my earliest memories is watching a turtle laying her eggs in our sandbox.

My family spent every summer at Higgins Lake in Northern Michigan. Time at Higgins Lake was especially exciting as we had no electricity or indoor plumbing. The family cabin sat along a large freshwater inland lake surrounded by an oak and white birch forest. We spent our days fishing, boating, swimming, and walking in the woods. My favorite after dinner activity was riding my bike along the dirt “2-track” roads looking for deer and other wildlife.

What is your background?

Before retiring I worked for 46 years at a local hospital as a Registered Nurse and IT Analyst. During my nursing career I participated in direct patient care, nursing management, and administration. My information technology positions focused on building and managing the clinical documentation database as well as training clinical staff and physicians.

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

I am a very competitive person who loves to participate in of all types of sports including tennis, cycling, softball, and basketball. Since retiring I have learned to play pickleball, which I play 2–3 times per week with other Arlington seniors at the Walter Reed Senior Center.

ARMN: Getting To Know You

by Toni Genberg as interviewed by Christine Campe-Price

From time-to-time, ARMN will post profiles of its members including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they work to impact the environment around them. Here is the latest interview with ARMN volunteer, Toni Genberg, who graduated in the Spring 2014 ARMN training class.

Tell us about the naturalist projects on which you spend the most time.

An enjoyable short-term project I volunteered for was the Smithsonian’s eMammal survey. I would deploy a wildlife “trap” camera for a month at a time at three pre-assigned parks and in three backyards of my choosing. I would then retrieve the camera, download the data, and count and log the critters that were photographed. There were lots of deer, of course! But once I also “captured” a coyote in Holmes Run Stream Valley Park, which was exciting.


An eMammal photo with deer and fox in Marie Butler Leven Preserve in McLean, November 2014.

An on-going project I’ve been a part of since before I became an ARMN member is outreach at the Falls Church Farmers’ Market. The “Enviro-Booth,” as it’s nicknamed, is set up on Saturdays from October through April as long as the weather is amenable. ARMN member Kent Taylor, the booth’s founder and I, along with other master naturalists, a master gardener, and a tree steward set up a display board, put out lots of informative handouts, and interact with many inquisitive market goers. We’ve had some good conversations with the public about ARMN’s English ivy “Choking Hazard” promotion, Audubon at Home’s Backyard Habitat program, and the Plant NoVA Natives Campaign, among other environmental topics such as tree care, solar power, storm water management, composting, and more recently, the problems associated with rodenticides.


ARMN member, Kent Taylor, mans the Enviro-Booth with Halloween-themed display. October 29, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg)

The organization I share most of my time with and thoroughly enjoy volunteering for is Earth Sangha. At first it was because I was interested in native plants and the fact that much of life depends on them (I think all of it?) but now I’m fully vested in this non-profit because of the blood, sweat, and tears that founder, Lisa Bright, and the rest of the Earth Sangha family sheds in their mission to restore our natural areas. I’m one of currently four Nursery Volunteer Supervisors. This means I help wrangle volunteers of all ages at Earth Sangha’s Wild Plant Nursery but mostly I do what all the other invaluable volunteers do: weed, water, repot, collect and clean seed, remove invasive plants, and plant wild areas with Earth Sangha’s lovingly raised native species.

 What brought you to ARMN?

A long-time proponent of critters, I wanted to do the right thing on my own property when it came to gardening. So when a master gardener neighbor invited me to a lecture by entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy, I naturally went. There were not only master gardeners in attendance but also people with the intriguing title of Virginia Master Naturalist. Master Naturalist? What’s that? It certainly sounded like something I wanted to be a part of. I chatted that evening with some very like-minded people who were earthy and kind and my mind was made up. I knew I wanted to pursue my master naturalist certification. I later met an ARMN member who confidently stated that Arlington was the best chapter to enroll in. Earth Sangha’s close relationship with ARMN sealed my fate. I graduated with the fabulous Class of Spring 2014. Oh, about the Doug Tallamy talk: his argument for native plants was undeniably life-changing.


Toni’s Audubon at Home certified wildlife garden. (Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg)

What do you like most about ARMN?

No doubt ARMN is an amazing organization because of the people. There are all these members with the common goal of helping Mother Earth by generously donating their free time—what better group of people to associate with? The naturalists I’ve met also have an incredible amount of knowledge and enthusiastically want to share it all. When I think about ARMN and the friendships I’ve made, it’s clear that I’ve found my environmental family.

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

For about four years I was one of the video editors of the environmental news magazine, “Earth Focus.” It was my first headlong plunge into the issues facing the planet. Some of the topics covered were fracking, nuclear power, neonicotinoids, the changing climate, everyday chemicals, trash, wolves, elephants . . . you name it; if it was hurting people or the environment, we had a story for it. Although most of what we covered was quite depressing, it ultimately opened my eyes and helped shape me into a better steward of the earth.

Tell us something about your childhood/adulthood experiences that shaped your perspective on nature.

I was born and raised in Hawaii where the balmy outdoors was always beckoning. And like most of the other local country kids, I spent a good portion of my free time outside—playing in the ocean, investigating tide pools, climbing trees, riding my bike, or exploring some wild area. Hawaii has an inordinate number of crawly things so these creatures were also a part of my everyday life. I liked to play with spiders and salamanders and was always eager to find a rock to overturn. With no regrets I regularly chased my dismayed sister with large garden spiders—always returning the arachnids unharmed, of course. My mother has always cared deeply for all animals and I definitely inherited that love from her.


Toni as a young child with dove in Hawaii.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Leaving as small a footprint as possible is a way of life for my husband, Marc, and me. Granted, we’re far from perfect but we’re always looking to do more for the health of the environment. Refusing plastic, for instance, instead of taking it and thinking it’ll be recycled, because odds are it won’t, is a perfect example. It’s easy enough to carry reusable items like a water bottle, utensils, bags, and the like. I also believe in making sound purchases while striving to be even less of a consumer. Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson is a wonderful book with many green philosophies. Not wasting tangible things is the main focus but it’s also about saving time and living simply. Are Marc and I ready to live in a thatched lean-to with zero electricity? That would be a “heck no.” But we definitely can strive for a less impactful lifestyle.

Teaching the Next Generation About the Environment

by Lisa Stern

ARMN member Lisa Stern describes the dedicated work of another ARMN volunteer, Jennifer Frum, to engage Gunston Middle School sixth graders by providing hands-on experience in pulling invasive plants.

(Photos by Lisa Stern, unless otherwise indicated)

The best lessons in life are the ones in which we have the opportunity to participate. And, if we are lucky, these experiences are guided by teachers and mentors who want to encourage the learning process by letting us get our hands into the project.

Several times a year for the past six years, Gunston Middle School sixth-grade science teacher Luz Chamorro has been heading a special project with lead ARMN volunteer and mentor, Jennifer Frum. The project started as trash cleanup around the school. However, as the cleanup progressed, Chamorro noticed invasive plants taking over spaces around the school. What started as trash cleanup became a lesson in helping the environment by pulling invasive plants.

Gunston sixth-grade science teacher Liz Chamorro

Gunston sixth-grade science teacher Luz Chamorro

Jennifer Frum wrestles with English Ivy.

ARMN volunteer Jennifer Frum wrestles with English Ivy.


Over the years, the project has been supported by a number of other ARMN volunteers— including Mary Van Dyke, Judy Hadley, and Bill Browning—and Arlington County. Six Americorps volunteers also assisted one year. But steadfastly, Jennifer Frum has been the lead ARMN volunteer for the project, organizing the effort year after year and ensuring that Chamorro and the classes had extra help and guidance on identifying and pulling the invasive plants. Imagine six classes of 25 excited sixth graders out in the field!

Gunston sixth graders tackle invasives.

Gunston sixth graders tackle invasives. (Photo courtesy of Luz Chamorro)

On a recent Thursday in October, Frum explained to one of the classes that in order to restore habitat for wildlife, invasive plants needed to be pulled so that native plants could survive. Standing in front of the classroom with strands of English Ivy as an example of an invasive, she explained that nonnative invasive plants don’t supply good nutrition to birds, bees, and other wildlife and that native animals need native plants for proper nutrition to survive. “If you ate ice cream every day for a week and it was your only source of food, it wouldn’t be good for you, would it?” Jennifer noted—and the class agreed. After a quick in-class lesson, the eager students headed out the door. Throughout the remainder of the day, six different classes (along with Chamorro, Frum, and parent volunteers) took turns pulling invasive plants and competing to make the largest pile.

Which class made the biggest pile of invasives?

Which class made the biggest pile of invasives?

Frum and Chamorro plan to repeat the project several times this year. The students are always excited to work outside and get a sense of helping the environment. They loved their experience so much that Jennifer Frum was touched to receive a heartfelt, handmade thank you note signed by Luz Chamorro’s students!

Thanks, Ms. Frum!

Thanks, Ms. Frum! (Photo courtesy of Luz Chamorro)

ARMN Discovers a Librarian’s Hidden Gem in the Weeds

by Noreen Hannigan

ARMN volunteer Noreen Hannigan describes efforts to restore Arlington Central Library’s native-plant gardens, a legacy of the late Lynn Kristianson.

Visitors to Arlington’s Central Library may have noticed a work in progress taking place around the rear and side entrances—restoring native-plant pollinator gardens created by a kindred spirit who sadly passed away.

A few years ago, library employee Lynn Kristianson created and maintained native-plant beds for pollinators along the rear and sides of the building. Lynn had a Masters degree in microbiology and was a native-plant enthusiast. With the library’s permission, she bought plants with her own money and tended the gardens on her own time. Lynn planted an impressive variety of flowers, including sundrops, liatris, hyssop, mountain mint, columbine, buttonbush, New York ironweed, spiderwort, and many others. Lynn even placed signs around the gardens with the names of each native plant.

Lynn and her husband were also recreational bicyclists. In February 2014, Lynn was cycling on a country road and was struck by a hit-and-run driver. She was seriously injured and struggled to recover, but unfortunately died in June 2015.

After Lynn’s accident, the library staff did its best to keep the weeds back but were unable to work in the garden on a regular schedule. The invasive plants had their way in the end and the signage became weathered and faded.

Invasive plants take over Central Library's gardens

Invasive plants took over Central Library’s gardens. (Photo courtesy of Yu-Hsin Hsu)

ARMN member Yu-Hsin Hsu was leaving the library one day and saw a library employee frantically pulling weeds. Yu-Hsin talked to her and learned that the library was trying to clean up the garden in time to hold a dedication ceremony in Lynn’s memory. Although not an experienced gardener, Yu-Hsin jumped in and started helping. She returned every week, rain or shine, to work on the weeds. A few weeks later, I joined in on the effort.


Central Library’s gardens begin to recover. (Photo by Noreen Hannigan)

The library held its memorial ceremony in June 2016, placing a plaque to Lynn’s memory. ARMN has now adopted “Lynn’s Garden” as a service project with the hope of keeping Lynn’s good work going.

Lynn’s husband Gordon, a retired construction manager, later designed and installed a lovely pergola in the sunny part of the garden. We envision it covered in coral honeysuckle next summer.

In addition to the groundcover weeds, one plant in particular, a kind of aster called Boltonia asteroides, had seeded itself aggressively and was growing in thick clumps throughout the garden. Although a native itself, it overtook many of the other native plants. So, the decision was made to remove the Boltonia. In its place were vestiges of Lynn’s natives that, happily, came back as spring and summer wore on.

Boltonia asteroides at Arlington Central Library

Boltonia asteroides at Arlington Central Library (Photo by Noreen Hannigan)

Another challenge was remedying the conditions around the line of four river birch trees planted in the library’s berm garden. The trees are mature and beautiful, but they are surrounded by pavement on all sides and the soil is very hard, dry, and rocky. They experienced some significant leaf drop during the hot spells, but the library has allowed us to use the outdoor faucets for watering. Now we are looking for ways to spruce up the berm garden without impacting the birch trees.

There is much work yet to be done.  We will have periodic volunteer work parties to bring Lynn’s Garden back to the way it was when she was alive. Check the Volunteer tab on the homepage of this website for updates. If you have a few hours here and there, we’d love to see you there.


Dedication plaque (Photo by Noreen Hannigan)



ARMN Volunteers in the Making

Article and photos by Suzanne Dingwell 

ARMN member Suzanne Dingwell provides a firsthand account of the launch of the latest Master Naturalist training class.

Expectations and energy levels were running on high settings on the night of Tuesday, September 6, when the newest class of ARMN trainees came together for the first time. The new group is full of motivated people who are primed to “Go!” They come from many walks of life, but all have the same desire to learn more about the natural world unique to Virginia. And, importantly, they want to make meaningful contributions to our local community by educating others and improving environmental conditions. During the ice-breaker activity, the folks quickly shared with each other their backgrounds and their hopes for using their newly acquired skills at training’s end.


Behind the scenes, the ARMN Training Committee had been hard at work, scheduling talks and field trips, getting materials, putting notebooks together, and assembling the bag of resources each new trainee received the first night. Trainees were eager to delve into the carefully chosen collection of books related to our local natural world.

Past-president Caroline Haynes was on hand to remind the class of the mission statement of Virginia Master Naturalists and the commitment to volunteer. Certified Master Naturalist volunteers give 40 hours of their time each year (and many give far more! ) to help provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities.

Basic information about the course and the Master Naturalist organization was shared and —as a taste of things to come—the class put their detective skills to work on some mysterious tree branches. Using a simple dichotomous key in one of their new books, Common Trees of Virginia, they deduced that the tree was a mulberry. A lively discussion ensued over the question of white mulberry versus red!

Matt Bright and Kyle

Matt Bright (right) and Kyle Chapman confer over tree identification.

It was such a pleasure to be on hand for this new beginning; I was inspired and impressed by the knowledge, passion, and commitment demonstrated by this latest group of ARMN trainees. Welcome! I can’t wait to be out there volunteering at your side.

Barcroft Magnolia Bog Restoration Project Receives 2016 Achievement Award

The Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) recently recognized Arlington County’s Department of Parks and Recreation’s (DPR) Barcroft Magnolia Bog Restoration Project with a 2016 Achievement Award. VACo described this innovative program “as a model for natural resource management in urban areas by highlighting opportunities to incorporate community groups in environmental stewardship activities.” http://www.vaco.org/pressreleases/16releases/16programdescription.pdf.

The Barcroft magnolia bog occurs as a collection or mosaic of 18 separate springs that create wooded wetlands within a 25-acre undeveloped portion of Barcroft Park in South Arlington. The bog ranks as one of only two dozen such bogs known in the world and gets its name from the Sweetbay Magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) that grow naturally there.


Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), the signature plant of magnolia bogs. (Photo courtesy of Greg Zell)

The bog area lies just steps away from baseball fields, picnic areas, and tennis courts in Bancroft Park. Nearby development, changes in the water table, invasive plants, and other environmental stressors have all taken a toll on this globally rare ecosystem.

The bogs were identified by botanist Rod Simmons in 2004 and brought to the attention of Greg Zell, then chief naturalist at the Long Branch Nature Center. Zell and Simmons immediately began a series of field studies to document the presence of both state and globally rare wetlands. Several dozen locally rare wetland plants were found that grow nowhere else in Arlington. As a result, a plan to protect and restore this natural treasure was drafted. The draft became the basis for DPR’s five-year-long Barcroft Magnolia Bog Restoration Project. The goals of the plan were to:

  • Preserve high-value natural lands through removal of nonnative plant species and targeted reforestation of extant species.
  • Restore degraded wetlands through re-introduction of historically appropriate native plant species and wildlife.
  • Stabilize the hydrologic regime to former conditions where possible to favor long-term stability of wetland plant communities.
  • Develop a holistic plan that favors an ecosystem approach to ecological management of the site.

To implement the plan, Arlington County staff partnered with AmeriCorps and volunteers from ARMN, the Windgate townhome community, Earth Sangha, the Virginia Native Plant Society, and the Remove Invasive Plants (RIP) group to inventory the bog’s plants, remove invasive plants, build a vernal pool, and install locally sourced native plants. The work extended to areas around the bog to stabilize and protect it.


Greg Zell supervises the removal of invasive plants from the floodplain adjacent to the bog area. (Photo courtesy of Christ Bright)

In 2011, DPR also received a grant to restore an additional 13 acres of the Barcroft magnolia bog area and to provide for outreach to Arlington residents about invasive plants and the restoration work. In 2012, AmeriCorps helped the County expand existing wetlands near the bogs, release Wood Frog eggs in the new vernal pools, conduct further inventories at the site, and help to lead additional volunteer events. In 2013, County staff and ARMN members re-introduced local ecotype native species to the bog area.

Today, the bog and its surrounding buffer are nearly 90-percent free of invasive plants.  Long-lost animals and plants are returning. New colonies of Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs, Gray Fox, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and Little Wood Satyr butterflies, as well as uncommon plants such as Dwarf Ginseng, Bloodroot, and Wood Anemone, are expanding their range inside of Barcroft Park. Long-term success will be measured through periodic plant and animal surveys.

Swamp Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) (Photo courtesy of Sarah Archer)

Swamp Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)
(Photo courtesy of Sarah Archer)

“This is a real success story for our County,” said Jane Rudolph, director of Parks and Recreation. “The bog is home to wetlands, natural forest, and more locally rare plants than any other site in the County. We want it to be here for generations of Arlingtonians to enjoy.”

Royal Fern: Osmunda regalis

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) (Photo courtesy of Vincent Verweij)





Show Some Pollinator Love with a “Protect Pollinators” License Plate

ARMN member Samantha Gallagher combined a talent for graphic art—and advocacy—to make a Protect Pollinators license plate a reality in Virginia. Read on….

The efforts of ARMN’s own Samantha Gallagher just keep generating wonderful benefits for pollinators. Samantha has always loved bees and other pollinators, advocating for them from a young age. When she moved to Virginia a few years ago, she learned that the state had a specialty license plate for wildflowers, but not for pollinators. So she decided to do something about it. Using her skills as a graphic artist, Samantha designed a custom plate that features Virginia native pollinators, and in 2010, began the long process to gain approval for a Protect Pollinators license plate.


Samantha Gallagher holds a sample Protect Pollinators license plate. Photo courtesy of Claire Harper and The Zebra.

Once she submitted the proposal to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the hardest part of the process began: getting 450 people to commit to purchasing the license plate and pay the specialty-plate fee in advance. The effort took four long years, with Samantha attending Earth Day activities, nature festivals, and any event even vaguely connected with pollinators. During that time she also kept in touch with those who pledged to buy the plate with her upbeat reassurances that it would become a reality.

After Samantha gathered the required applications, she still needed a state legislator to sponsor a bill to approve the pollinator plate. She found a perfect ally in someone who had already introduced pro-pollinator legislation: Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds. In January 2014, Deeds introduced the bill “to authorize the issuance of special license plates for supporters of pollinator conservation bearing the legend: PROTECT POLLINATORS.” On April 6, 2014, the bill became law.

While this was a wonderful accomplishment, it isn’t the end of the story.

In the summer of 2014, Nicole Hamilton of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy had a brilliant idea. She had watched with despair as medians filled with milkweed and other wildflowers were mowed time and time again. She wondered: Can we simply change the mowing schedule to allow this valuable resource to continue growing for migrating Monarchs? And, ideally, use medians along Virginia’s highways to plant more milkweed and other native flowering pollinator plants as well? She contacted the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) regarding changes to the mowing schedule for existing patches of milkweed and scheduled a meeting with VDOT’s vegetation management. She invited Samantha to attend the initial meeting as well; while Nicole could speak about the Monarchs, Samantha could speak about our native bees.

VDOT was excited about the opportunity, but there was an issue of funding for digging up existing fescue in medians and creating new plantings. The pollinator license plates were discussed as a potential fundraiser for what would eventually become VDOT’s Pollinator Habitat Program. This program provides for naturalized areas planted with native  pollinator species along state-maintained roadways and also creates meadows and gardens with informative signage at park-and-rides and rest areas. [http://www.virginiadot.org/programs/pollinator_habitat_program.asp]


Pollinator meadow at Dale City rest stop. Photo courtesy of Samantha Gallagher.

To make changes to the existing legislation, Samantha contacted local Senator George Barker, who agreed to sponsor an amendment to ensure that the revenue from the pollinator plate would be used strictly for the Pollinator Habitat Program. In July 2016, with more than 5,000 plates now on the road, the pollinator plates officially began generating revenue for the new program.

To learn how to get your own Protect Pollinators license plate and find out more about why this effort is so important, visit Samantha’s pollinator plate website at: http://www.pollinatorplates.com/. To read the full story of Samantha’s efforts to make the pollinator plate a reality, see Tom Sherman’s article, “The Bees, Creigh Deeds, and the DMV,” in The Zebra: http://thezebra.org/the-bees-creigh-deeds-and-the-dmv/.


Fall is the Perfect Time to Plant Native Trees and Perennials!

by Kasha Helget

ARMN communications chair Kasha Helget provides inspiration for fall planting and a list of upcoming sales that feature native plants.

Spigelia marilandica (Photo courtesy of Lark Wells)

Spigelia marilandica (Indian Pink) (Photo courtesy of Lark Wells)

Autumn is one of the best times to install plants. The reason is that conditions are usually ideal to give plants a great start. The soil is still warm, which allows roots to become established before the plant goes dormant, and cooler air temperatures allow for less plant shock for the parts above the soil. There are also many plants that bloom in the fall and provide wonderful winter interest. You and your garden will also have a jump on the spring season—when the new plants will emerge ready to delight you all year.

Native plants are a particularly attractive choice because they have adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. They do not require the fertilizers and pesticides that lawns and many nonnative perennials do, and when installed in the right location, will need less water and help prevent erosion. Moreover, they are beautiful and they provide nectar, pollen, and seed sources for native butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. Most nonnatives do far less.

As far as the right location for particular natives in your yard, there is a wonderful FREE guide to help: the Plant NoVA Natives website (http://www.plantnovanatives.org/) provides detailed information and photos about plants local to Northern Virginia so you can choose native species that are best suited to your property. Both beginners and expert gardeners can appreciate the site’s colorful guide to local natives, a list of local businesses that supply them, and links to organizations that will come to your property and offer customized landscaping recommendations.

Asarum canadense (Canada Wild Ginger) Photo courtesy of Kasha Helget

Asarum canadense (Canada Wild Ginger) (Photo courtesy of Kasha Helget)

Fall Native Plant Sales around Northern Virginia

There a number of fall native plant sales coming soon to the area. Following is a list of dates and locations of those that provide reliable stock and where you can receive guidance from sellers who know their plants well.

First Wednesday of the month from April to October, 10 am to noon, Virginia Native Plant Society–Potowmack Chapter  VNPS–Potowmack propagation beds behind the Green Spring Gardens Horticulture Center, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312. http://vnps.org/potowmack/

Saturday, September 10, 9 am to 3 pm, Green Spring Fall Garden Day, Green Spring Gardens. The VNPS–Potowmack propagation beds are behind the Green Spring Gardens Horticulture Center,. There are some vendors of native plants mixed in with the nonnatives vendors, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312 (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/events.htm).

Saturday, September 10, 9 am to 3 pm, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Fall Native Plant Sale, Morven Park, 17263 Southern Planter Lane, Leesburg, VA (http://www.loudounwildlife.org/Event_Native_Plant_Sale_Fall.html).

Saturday, September 17, 1 to 4 pm, Long Branch Nature Center, 625 Carlin Springs Road, Arlington, VA (https://parks.arlingtonva.us/events/fall-native-plant-sale-3/; plants may be ordered online by September 7: https://parks.arlingtonva.us/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2016/07/Fall-Order-Form-16.pdf

Saturday, September 24, 9 am to 2 pm, Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale (formerly Parkfairfax Plant Sale), Church of St. Clement, 1701 N. Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA (http://home.earthlink.net/~sknudsen/)

Sunday, October 2, 10 am to 2 pm, Earth Sangha Open House and Plant Sale, Cloud Drive entrance to Franconia Park, Springfield, VA 22150. See http://www.earthsangha.org/#!wpn/c1drm for plants and directions.

Bird Mobs at Long Branch Nature Center

by Steve Young

ARMN member and Long Branch environmental steward Steve Young shares a mindful encounter with nature.

During a warm July morning, I found myself walking along the Long Branch Nature Center access road. Just east of Willow Pond, I began to hear a commotion among small birds. First to get my attention were the scolding alarm calls of Wood Thrushes—”Whip! Whip!” Then I began to notice other birds calling and in some cases flying around near the stream: Eastern Towhees, Common Grackles, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Blue Jays, and undoubtedly some others I either missed or have forgotten.

To me the uproar was almost a sure sign of the presence of some predator. Birds alert each other to a predator and often “mob” it. Interestingly, even though there are crows around and they tend to be very aggressive mobbers, I heard or saw none.

I slowly walked closer to the stream, toward the epicenter of the activity, expecting to see perhaps a ground-based predator like a domestic cat or a fox, maybe with a victim in its grasp, since that would amplify the upset of the birds. But I saw nothing. Barred Owl? I looked up in the trees, but saw no owl. Finally, about 15 feet above the stream, I spotted a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk perched motionless in a tree. This was the cause of the racket. As I got close, it flew to a new perch about 3 feet away from its previous one. As soon as it moved, two grackles dived at its head. There was no more direct mobbing, but the sonic uproar continued. I took several pictures and walked on.

Red-shouldered Hawk at Long Branch (upper right in tree)

Red-shouldered Hawk at Long Branch (upper right in tree)

Had I not focused on the message from the birds and realized they could tell me something, I would never have known the silent, motionless hawk was there. The more attention we pay to nature with our various senses, the more stories nature shares.