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!

Spring Wonders in Potomac Overlook Regional Park

ARMN volunteer and Master Gardener Joanne Hutton reports on spring’s largesse in the native plant garden at Potomac Overlook Regional Park (with photos by the author unless otherwise indicated).

by Joanne Hutton

Spring rains yielded floral abundance this year, and the unfolding of spring at Potomac Overlook Regional Park’s Shady Native Plant Demo Garden was glorious—if you got there in between the showers. This is a space that ARMN maintains for public enjoyment and edification.

The PORP garden was the brainchild of, among others, Long Branch Nature Center naturalist Cliff Fairweather, and has enjoyed support and donations from the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, Virginia Native Plant Society, Earth Sangha, Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, and the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists. It is coming into its own in its fifth year, even as it is a work in progress. We’ve learned a lot about what the deer like to eat in a setting to which they were already habituated, especially geraniums, goldenrods, viburnums, ninebark, and some asters.

We have watched the lovely Woodland Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) establish under a dogwood and twine with the Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens). The latter is a very quiet little groundcover, and I’ve discovered that, while it’s happier with the drainage a small slope offers, this year it bloomed happily the first week of June, despite the rainy conditions.

The Sweet Wake Robin (Trillium erectum var. vaseyi), also called the Stinking Benjamin, was also in bloom, although I confess I didn’t inhale it deeply. This plant is hardly “erectum,” which is why it’s treated as a separate species in some references, and is likely more common farther south. It has various medicinal (and also toxic) properties, and the freshly unfolding spring bracts are edible. To my mind they are too beautiful to consider harvesting.

Sweet Wake Robin (Trillium erectum var. vaseyi)

Sweet Wake Robin (Trillium erectum var. vaseyi)

(Trillium erectum)

Sweet Wake Robin, a.k.a. Stinking Benjamin

Deer do NOT browse on the Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) that has spread to several beds and throws a golden haze over them in March and April. Similarly, deer avoid the native Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) that’s created a rich green border under the Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus). Another delightful groundcover, Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), has eluded predation. Like the Partridge Berry, it prefers decent drainage, especially during winter months. It’s a merry little plant that bloomed this year for nearly two months and is still going strong. Try it in your garden, if you haven’t already. Better yet, come to a work party (look for upcoming events on the ARMN Volunteer page) and we’ll dig you a piece!

Green and Gold (Chrysogonum  virginianum)

Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)

Ferns are only occasionally sampled by deer, and you can see at least eight different species in the demo garden. Some are delicate and others like the Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) are statuesque.

Photo 4 Cinnamon fern fertile spikes (Joanne Hutton)

Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) spikes

There are always things to see in the park. Some of them require a careful eye—to discover a recently emerged toad, uncover a baby box turtle not two inches long while weeding, or spot the source of warbler songs in the high canopy above.

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus)

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus)

Photo 6 Baby box turtle (Elizabeth Gearin)

Baby Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Gearin)

We are grateful for the support of the new park manager, Doranne Pittz. If you come to visit PORP, please introduce yourself to Doranne, who is new to Arlington. She has promised to install a sign to explain the garden’s purpose. And we are working on garden markers to highlight the valuable species that flourish in the shade and offer something for everyone—even the White-tailed Deer.

How to Control Mosquitoes Without Killing Pollinators and Other Important Wildlife

by Susan Gitlin, ARMN member

Aedes aegypti from Wikipedia

Warm weather and mosquitoes will be here before you know it, leading many of us to look for ways to enjoy the outdoors without being pestered by those annoying little—and sometimes disease-bearing—biters.

There is a lot of information being disseminated by health organizations about health risks to humans from mosquito bites (see CDC links, below). But besides protecting ourselves from being targets, we need to work at eliminating mosquito habitat and controlling their numbers. There are a number of ways we can do this safely and effectively.

Because mosquitoes have no trouble flying from yard to yard, the best way to combat them is to work with our neighbors to collectively identify and implement opportunities to reduce mosquito populations. Below is a set of approaches that are suggested by entomologists, public health organizations, and agricultural extension programs.

1. Eliminate potential mosquito-breeding grounds. Mosquitoes can breed in any water that stagnates for just 2 or 3 days. Actions to remove potential mosquito habitat include:  

  • Unclogging gutters
  • Covering, turning over, or moving indoors any equipment, containers, or toys that might collect water
  • Straightening sagging tarps or other covers
  • Filling in areas under outdoor faucets or air conditioning drains
  • Repairing damaged screens on rain barrels
  • Removing English Ivy (The dense nature of ivy allows it to hold in pooled water where mosquitoes can breed, provides a humid area that mosquitoes like, and protects mosquitoes from pesticide sprays.)

2. For areas of uncovered water, like ponds or bird baths, consider these approaches: 

  • Changing the water regularly
  • Using Mosquito Dunks ® (deadly to mosquito, blackfly, and fungus gnat larvae, but harmless to other living things), or
  • Keeping the water moving (e.g., with a fountain)

3. Treat mosquitoes like foes, but treat bees and other beneficial insects like the friends they are! The pesticides used to kill mosquitoes also kill other invertebrates, including pollinators and other insects—insects on which birds feed and insects that eat mosquitoes. Mosquito-spraying companies typically use pesticides of a group of chemicals called pyrethroids, many of which are highly toxic to honeybees, fish, and small aquatic organisms.

4. If you spray pesticides or hire a company that provides such services, please consider taking the following precautions and/or asking the pesticide spraying company to do the same:  

  • Spray only in the early morning or early evening. Most pollinators are not out and about during these time periods.
  • Do not spray flowering plants. (One company that provides pesticide spraying services says that before spraying flowers they “shoo” away bees with bursts of air. It is doubtful that this truly protects bees, as the majority of native bees are less than ¼” long and therefore difficult to spot. Moreover, bees will return immediately to those flowers, either into the path of the spray or to the flowers, where there may be pesticide residue.)
  • Make sure that no spray enters your neighbors’ yards, and notify your neighbors before you spray so that they can take any desired or necessary precautions to protect any bees or other insects that they have in their yards.
  • Consider using nontoxic repellants in lieu of the toxic pesticides. Some mosquito-spraying companies offer such alternatives.

5. If you use sprays, do so only when needed, and not on a preemptive basis. (Spraying on a predetermined schedule can waste pesticide product, and therefore money, and may also contribute to the development of pesticide-resistant mosquitoes.)

By taking these steps, we can work together as a community to fight this annoying pest while protecting our other precious environmental resources.

Some useful websites:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/prevention/ and http://www.cdc.gov/features/stopmosquitoes/

Environmental Protection Agency—Mosquito Control: http://www.epa.gov/mosquitocontrol

Virginia Cooperative Extension Service: http://offices.ext.vt.edu/chesterfield/programs/anr/Wildlife/Fight_the_Bite.pdf

Maryland Department of Agriculture: http://mda.maryland.gov/plants-pests/Pages/avoid_asian_tiger_mosquitoes.aspx

Backyard Mosquito Management—Beyond Pesticides: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/mosquito/documents/backyard_mosquito_management.pdf

Honeybee Love: Keeping Honeybees Safe While Using Pesticides:


Mosquito Dunks ® Fact Sheet: http://www.planetnatural.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/mosquito-dunks-faq.pdf

Bees of Singular Tastes and the Plants They Love

by Sherrie Burson and Brooke Alexander, ARMN

Sam Droege, a scientist at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, entertained and educated ARMN volunteers and members of the public on May 11 in a talk at the Arlington Central Library. Droege works on the design and development of status and trends data for U.S. plants and animals. Currently, he is swept up in surveys for native bees.

Droege shared research from a soon-to-be-published paper he co-authored with Jarrod Fowler that lists plant genera and the native specialist bees that need them. He explained that specialist bees have more finicky needs than generalist species. Generalist bees are out all season, have higher population levels, and can handle disturbed sites. In contrast, specialist bees are out for an average of five weeks, have lower overall population levels, and are good indicators of quality habitat. Of the bees that carry pollen (not all do––parasitic bees, for example,) specialist bees feed their young from a limited range of one to three plant genera. Native bee specialists tend to visit perennial plants commonly found in vernal woodlands (ephemerals), summer composite communities, and ericaceous (plants in a family that includes blueberries) heaths.

Sam Droege

Sam Droege at Arlington Central Library. Photo by Suzanne Dingwell.

Droege dazzled the audience with photographs of flowers and the bees that frequent them, describing their interactions. In response to a question about cultivars, Droege said that initial research performed at the Mt. Cuba Center, a horticultural institution in northern Delaware, and by the New England Wild Flower Society shows that cultivars are less attractive to bees. However, planting native species is a known benefit to native bees.

Droege and Fowler’s paper includes a list of plants that native bee specialists find particularly appealing. The list includes a number of native plants that are not commonly planted in local yards. Droege encouraged the audience to consider planting some of these species to support the bees that need them.

The following table lists genera and common names for a host of native plants that thrive in our area. Most of them should be available from the Earth Sangha plant nursery in Springfield (www.earthsangha.org) or from the Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria (www.vnps-pot.org).


New Jersey Tea




Golden Aster








Spring Beauty




Trout Lily
























Rose Mallow








Dwarf Dandelion










Golden Alexander


Bee Balm

Planting species that native bees depend on is one important strategy to help save these important pollinators. Another is to provide patches of bare ground for ground-nesting bees. These kinds of measures, when practiced widely by homeowners and caretakers of community landscapes, go a long way toward ensuring the continued––and critical–– presence of native bees in our ecosystems.

More information about Sam Droege can be found at these links for a National Geographic article and video: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/features/140114-bee-native-macro-photography-insects-science/#.VVjZr7lViko and http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/news/140711-droege-bees-vin?source=featuredvideo

Also, check out Droege’s amazing bee photographs from the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab via this Flickr site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml/

Andrena ziziae

Andrena ziziae by Sam Droege

ARMN Member Mary McLean Wins Bill Thomas Award


Mary McLean in Tuckahoe Park

The Arlington Regional Master Naturalists proudly announce that on April 21, 2015, ARMN member Mary McLean was named a recipient of the Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Award for her work in 2014.

McLean is a steward at Tuckahoe Park in Arlington and her specialty is invasive plants. Since the early 2000s, she has enlisted the help of neighbors, volunteer and school groups, and many others to transform the park and educate them on how to spot a non-native plant species. As a result, Tuckahoe has benefitted from a significant decline in non-native, invasive species, restored health of the native trees, and the return of native shrubs and ground cover.

In addition, McLean has also conducted focused tours and presentations on Tuckahoe Park’s underground stream and other ecological wonders to help educate and motivate others to join in the beautification effort. She also has volunteered at and served professionally as the Outdoor Learning Coordinator at Tuckahoe Elementary School. In those roles, she has worked with teachers, volunteers, and students in Tuckahoe Park on restoring habitat, planting natives, controlling erosion, and learning the natural history of the park.

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An Interview with Stumpy, Arlington County Spokes-turtle


Stumpy, Long Branch Nature Center’s three-legged eastern box turtle, is one of only a few wildlife rescues at Arlington County nature centers that have been given individual names. Most animals on exhibit answer to generic monikers, such as Ms. Owl or Mr. Ratsnake. This is to remind people that the resident animals are not pets, but belong in nature, whether or not they will ever be able to return to their natural habitats. Stumpy, however, is a special case, as he would be the first to tell you.

Stumpy, Long Branch Nature Center's celebrity box turtle

Stumpy (Photo courtesy of Amanda DuPrey)


In advance of the annual Turtle Trot fundraiser on Saturday, May 17, at Lower Bluemont Park, a volunteer with the Arlington County Master Naturalists (ARMN) visited Stumpy at his residence at Long Branch to get his take on life and the importance of the Turtle Trot. As the interviewer was not fluent in box turtle (well, at least not in the eastern dialect), Amanda DuPrey, a Long Branch staff naturalist, assisted with the translation.

ARMN: You’re an eastern box turtle, Stumpy. I notice that you’re not in a pond habitat like some other turtles at Long Branch. Can you tell us something about box turtles and their lifestyle?

Stumpy: Everyone thinks that turtles belong in the water, but I much prefer the terrestrial life. In my opinion, the grub is much better. Worms, mushrooms, insects––oh, my! I’m drooling at the thought of a worm. There is really so much to say about turtles. We are great! Turtles are one of nature’s longest-lived creatures. I take pride in my long life span and leisurely lifestyle. I’m hoping to break that record of 138 years old. I say, 140 years old or bust! Part of the reason we live so long is because we don’t have a lot of enemies. Our shells keep us well protected and we can close ourselves up just like a box when we are scared or in danger.

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Turtle Talks

By Esther Massey

… and frogs and toads and snakes. O, my! Showing the Gulf Branch reptiles to the birthday party attendees has been an absolute blast for me. As a former teacher, I really appreciate being able to enjoy the instructional part without the daily toil. Each party is different, as are the parents and the children. The children vary in ages from 3-6 and sometimes their older siblings come along as well.

Before the children and parents arrive, I decorate the room with posters and pictures availablable at the center and put up the “Private—Birthday Party” sign. I gather the materials that I intend to use for the talks on a table in the front of the room and place a cloth over them to keep the children from playing with them. The center provides puppets, skeletons, models, and other audiovisual aids to help the kids learn about the life cycle of the different reptiles and amphibians. The one they seem to like the most is the frog croak identifier. Pushing a button elicits the different calls of the specific frog. I let the kids take turns pushing the buttons. Continue reading

Calling All Tree-Loving Master Naturalists

By Nora Palmatier

Tree Canopy Fund

YOU have a great opportunity to get native canopy trees planted in your Arlington neighborhood – last year the Tree Canopy Fund got 515 trees planted, including 61 Nyssa sylvatica, 110 Quercus species, and 45 Betula nigras!  All of the information you need to start planning is on the ACE website at the link below.  It is a group application – you’ll have to recruit in your neighborhood, church or temple, or just your block.

Last year, everywhere I saw a space that cried out for a tree, I left a flyer promoting the program and my email and phone number.  This year, I am targeting all the garden apartments around Westover with the goal of getting 20 more trees planted.  Continue reading