Seeds of Hope: American Chestnut Replanting

by Catherine Howell

As the late afternoon light began to fade and frigid air penetrated gloved hands, the last of the Arlington replanted American Chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) was patted into place on a slope in Glencarlyn Park on a gray day in mid-December, 2013. There, with some serious luck, it could grow into a sturdy tree with viable fruit and possibly help reverse the bad fortune of the iconic American Chestnut––once one of the most common tree species in the northeastern United States, but now largely decimated due to a virulent fungus.

Vincent and Jerry backfill the last hole of the day on a slope in Glencarlyn Park while County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas tamps down the soil.

Arlington County Forester Vincent Verweij and ARMN volunteer Jerry Cowden backfill the last hole of the day on a slope in Glencarlyn Park, while County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas tamps down the soil.

Chestnut Blight Fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America through Japanese or Chinese Chestnuts; those species co-evolved with the fungus and are not affected by it. American Chestnuts, however, soon succumbed to the novel pathogen. More than three billion native chestnuts perished, removing a species that was a valuable source of timber and a prolific native producer of fall mast for wildlife.

American Chestnuts survive locally in a very limited fashion. Most grow as shoots from stumps of decimated trees and rarely reach 20 feet in height. December’s replanting project involved the distribution of a hundred saplings grown at the Earth Sangha nursery from viable seeds collected mainly in the northern Blue Ridge. Unlike the hybrid trees that are bred from American and Chinese Chestnuts (with an effort to back breed the American species’ characteristics while maintaining blight resistance), these saplings represent true American Chestnuts. Continue reading

ARMN Member Home Is Showcase for Native Plants

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists who are engaged in the Audubon at Home Program found real inspiration in a visit to the home of member Kasha Helget.  The Audubon at Home certified property is beautifully landscaped almost completely with native plants in both formal and informal styles around the house.  The tour included a plant list and Kasha’s narration of the techniques for turning several challenges such as steep slopes, stormwater issues and a large stand of bamboo into attractive assets for the home.

Tour of Kasha's garden.4

In the front, the property uses a permeable paver driveway with a channel drain and a six foot deep dry well to capture and infiltrate runoff from the adjacent street.

Along the driveway, a shrub and perennial border contains large sweeps of native plants for a variety of seasonal interest including American Beautyberry, Wild Blue Indigo, Threadleaf Tickseed, and several varieties of both Asters and Mountain Mint.

Tour of Kasha's garden.8Tour of Kasha's garden.5 St. John’s Wort (Hypericum frondosum) is sheared as a low formal hedge surrounding a paved area. 

Unlike many traditionally landscaped local homes, most of the foundation plantings (against the base of the house) are deciduous – Clethra, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Coralberry – which is quite freeing from a design standpoint and one that allows the textural interest of the plants and the design of the patios and walks to shine in the winter months.

Evergreen plants – Junipers, Hollies, Wax Myrtle – are concentrated along the edges of the property for screening of neighboring property views and from weather.

Kasha's garden.9

Rainwater is directed around the foundation of the home using a sinuous system of dry creek beds lined with attractive stone. A small pond set into the dry creek bed along the side of the house is a beautiful accent and reminds one of the function of the creek stones.  The existing (invasive but beautiful and functional) bamboo clump that serves a s screening between properties is kept from spreading further by a poured concrete border several feet deep.   As the property slopes steeply downward along the side of the house, pervious steps, terracing and edging manage the grade change.

Tour of Kasha's garden.7Tour of Kasha's garden.6Tour of Kasha's garden.3

Numerous species of often little-used native plants are used in a variety of ways with very attractive results: Hog Peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata) is used as a ground cover below other perennials and on a deeply shaded slope;  Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is used in containers on the shaded deck;  Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) is used as a foundation planting in front of a low window;  and both Blue Wood Sedge (Carex flaccosperma var. glaucodea) and Purple Lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) were used as bed edging plants in shade and sun, respectively.

Tour of Kasha's garden.1

Overall, the Helget property is a testament to good landscape design using appropriate native plants.  Over 115 species of trees, shrubs, perennials and vines flower and produce fruit and seeds throughout the season.  These large sweeps of perennials and shrubs provide cover and food for numerous species of wildlife and four-season landscape interest for the owners and visitors.  The large variety of species vastly increases the biodiversity of the site and, during our short visit, we saw and heard many birds and species of pollinating insects visiting the garden.

Tuckahoe Park Habitat on the Mend…

by Mary McLean

July 2013:  Dangerous Plants on the Run!

You may have seen the warning signs “Don’t walk off the trail.” Plant specialist placed them to protect pets and people. Arlington County hired Invasive Plant Control (IPC) to help improve Tuckahoe’s habitat. IPC employees are specially licensed and trained. Only the most environmentally suitable chemical, a glyphosate-based herbicide, was used on non-native plant species. A sturdy crew of four bush-wacked throughout Tuckahoe Park, giving no ground to the plants harming Tuckahoe’s habitat. The dead, brown-leaved plants indicate plants killed by the treatment.

Plants Removed or Treated:
Norway maple, Asian bittersweet, Winter creeper, English ivy, Japanese holly, Prunus avium, Prunus subhirtella, Golden Rain tree, Malus spp., California privet, Chinese barberry, Callery pear (Bradford pear), White mulberry, Amur bush honeysuckle, and Multiflora rose.

Please contact Sarah Archer, Arlington County Invasive Removal Coordinator.

August 2013:  Natives are back!

Grow Zone sign

The “Grow Zone,” replanted with natives by Eagle Scout, Jacob Heidig, has flowers in bloom. Rare native Smartweed, Great Blue Lobelia, Cardinal Flower, orchid Joe-Pye, fucia Bergamot, Ox Eye Sunflower, and purple New England Aster.

New England Aster Sympyotrichum novae-angliae

New England Aster Sympyotrichum novae-angliae

Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia Siphilitica

Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia Siphilitica

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September Barcroft Park Habitat Restoration Work Party

by Marion Jordan


Join us on September 21 from 1 – 3 pm for the next Barcroft Park Habitat Restoration Work Party. We will join with Arlington for a Clean Environment (ACE) to help lead volunteers in cleaning up trash in the park. There are over 55 volunteers already signed up with ACE so leaders are really needed to help direct the volunteers.  The ACE team will focus on the stream and we will lead teams on the trails and other areas in the park.

We will meet at the picnic pavilion in Barcroft Park at 1 pm.  If you park in the Barcroft recreational area parking lot, walk past the soccer fields, bear right and then cross the stream on the wood and steel bridge. Wear long pants and long sleeves. Bring gloves if you have them. We will also supply gloves and garbage bags for trash pick-up. In order to help ACE plan for supplies and snacks, please register at the ACE site ( as an ARMN volunteer.

This is a wonderful opportunity to see the results of the work done so far in Barcroft Park, and observe a park on its way to natural health. If you have worked with us in the past, come see the results of your hard work and the significant investment by Arlington County. If you are new to Barcroft, join us to see the park that has been designated as a top priority for Arlington due to its unique habitat. After the work party, we will provide a short update on the results of Arlington County’s continuing work to treat invasives and improve habitat as well as describe longer term plans for meadow habitat.

This project needs you! Every pair of hands makes a difference for this valuable ecological site. Your work will help improve the habitat for birds and other wildlife in Barcroft.

If you have questions, please contact Marion Jordan at

Take Back the W&OD Trail in Bon Air Park

A determined and energetic group of allies put their hearts, souls, and backs into transforming a tangled, rocky slope into a smooth bed ready for native plants on Saturday August 17th.  Their combined efforts transformed a large embankment alongside the W&OD Trail in Arlington where it runs past Bon Air Park.  Project coordinator Patrick Wegeng, the Environmental Landscape Manager for Arlington County Parks and Natural Resources Division, had put out a call for help to the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, Tree Stewards, Remove Invasive Plants (RIP), Virginia Native Plant Society, and Arlington Master Naturalists, who responded in force, and with gusto!

Patrick and his crew had already removed invasives and re-planted the ornamental garden on the opposite side of the Trail, where Boy Scouts and a large corporation had lent their hands in order to protect the riparian buffer of Four Mile Run Stream at that site.  But the new planting was threatened by a constant influx of invasive seeds from the embankment nearby. This part of the trail is right off Wilson Boulevard, where it gets a lot of public traffic. People noticed the improvements that were made and had shown a lot of interest in the project, so completing both sides of the trail seemed like a good use of time and funds.

The Park and Natural Resources crew prepared the site by cutting down 20 foot high invasive Japanese honeysuckle and porcelain berry plants while preserving the natives that had been marked. On Saturday our task was to clear the embankment of dead stems, branches, vines, and roots – many of which were still deeply embedded in the ground – as well as rocks and trash. Working on the steep slope was a real challenge!

County landscape staff was on hand to help, and the county provided tools, equipment, and trucks as well.  A system of ID, mark, rake, and remove was quickly established.  As the piles of debris grew at the bottom of the slope, wheelbarrows were filled, pushed to the dumpsters and emptied. While the work went on, the volunteers made good use of the time multi-tasking by sharing information and networking. Who knows what future collaborations may be springing from ideas exchanged on that slope?

 By the end of the morning, two dumpsters were completely full, and the entire section had been cleared. A job well done!

MultitaskingOur president in search of any empty dumpsterRisky maneuvers

Patrick explained that the first planting will consist of annual and perennial rye grass in strenuous manouversorder to complete the eradication process. He said that if the eradication was sufficient, it was possible for the next phase to begin in October. His eyes sparkled as he described the bank’s new look: “drifts of native wildflowers and grasses; broom sedge, milkweed, little blue stem, black-eyed susans.” Instead of porcelain berry and honeysuckle. Thanks to all!

Suzanne Dingwell

ARMN Members Help Rebuild Grass Enclosure in Belmont Bay

By Kasha Helget

In response to a request from the staff of Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), ARMN members Melissa Perez and Kasha Helget got their feet (legs, and knees) wet on Friday, May 10th to assist in the reconstruction of a celery grass enclosure on the Potomac River’s Belmont Bay at Mason Neck Park in Lorton.

Perez is a grass grower and Helget is a regional coordinator in CBF’s “Grasses for the Masses” program. In this program, Virginia residents grow underwater celery grass (Vallisneria americana) in their homes or schools during winter, and then plant the grasses during spring in Belmont Bay at Mason Neck Park or in James River. The aquatic grasses filter nutrients and provide important habitat for fish and other aquatic creatures, and help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

The grass plantings take place on several days between mid-May and early June; however, CBF staff was notified that the enclosure at Belmont Bay was destroyed by some errant driftwood and needed to be rebuilt before the grass installations could be done there.

Bare enclosure for celery grass prior to installation of new screening to protect the new plantings.  (No, the driftwood in the foreground is not a shark. :-)

Bare enclosure for celery grass prior to installation of new screening to protect the new plantings. (No, the driftwood in the foreground is not a shark.) 🙂

So, a group of seven CBF staffers and volunteers jumped (waded) in to replace screening around the enclosure and anchor it to the sand for better support, and to prevent turtles and other large interlopers from entering the enclosure and destroying the grasses.

Master Naturalist Melissa Perez holds up a support post while awaiting additional cable ties for the screen.

Master Naturalist Melissa Perez holds up a support post while awaiting additional cable ties for the screen.


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Potomac Overlook Park Native Shade Garden’s Second Spring

By Sue Dingwell

The Potomac Overlook Park Native Shade Garden is growing up! ARMN members have been carefully tending this little niche, encouraging the natives, discouraging the weeds, and doing battle royale with the deer. This is the garden’s second spring. Volunteers were greeted on Tuesday, April 23 with colorful blooms and  vigorous green shoots as preparations continue for the Open House at PORP on May 11.

It has been fun to watch the progress and evolution of this space, which was created to  provide education for homeowners by showcasing native plants that thrive in the shade. Joanne Hutton, who is one of the the garden’s moms, says that the Packera aurea, commonly known as Golden ragwort, has done a marvelous job of filling in, making a dense patch that keeps out weeds. In fact, ARMN volunteers had to remove some of it from the pathways and surrounds of other desirable groundcovers!

If you visit the site this week, you will be welcomed into the garden with sunny ragwort blossoms gracing the entrance.

Golden ragwort & tools.

Golden ragwort & tools.

Ragwort buds

Ragwort buds

Ragwort rhizome

Ragwort rhizome

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Homeowners save wildlife by creating a green network across Northern Virginia

By Leigh Pickering

In the past month, seven local properties have joined the ranks of homeowners creating a green network for wildlife in Arlington and Alexandria. This critical work is intended to blunt the impact of habitat loss in our area by providing small sanctuaries desperately needed for the survival of wildlife in our increasingly urban environment. The properties range in size and style from a narrow lot in Old Town Alexandria to a wooded ravine and intermittent stream just above Chain Bridge.

The Audubon at Home program seeks to make every home a wildlife sanctuary by certifying that each property works to achieve the goals stated in the Healthy Yard Pledge. The Healthy Yard Pledge is an amalgamation of many of the topics covered in our Master Naturalist Training. The five points of the pledge include:

1. Remove invasive exotic plants.
2. Reduce or eliminate pesticide and fertilizer use.
3. Conserve and protect water, waterways and water quality.
4. Install native plants to support the local food chain.
5. Support wildlife with water, cover and food to the extent possible.

Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata) is a great evergreengroundcover for a hot sunny area. Here, on a south- facing slate patio. groundcover for a hot sunny area. Here, on a south- facing slate patio.

Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata) is a great evergreen groundcover for a hot sunny area, shown here on a south- facing slate patio.

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Woodfrogs at Potomac Overlook Regional Park

By Joanne Hutton

If you had been out volunteering with Meet Me on a Sunday on this glorious afternoon, you too might have enjoyed the chorus of woodfrogs spawning at the pond and in vernal pools.


Thanks to Sherry McDonald for the great shot and for throwing herself into the Master Naturalist enterprise with whole heart!

Meet Me on a Sunday (MMOAS): Instituted summer of 2012, volunteers help set up and staff information or interest-area tables in Potomac Overlook Regional Park on Sunday afternoons for two hours, from 1:30 – 3:30, just outside the Nature Center. Volunteers work alongside Nature Center staff, and you are welcomed to set up your own display on a topic of your interest, or to use a range of interpretive materials already there. Most park visitors are families with young children. The Native Plant Garden is a new addition to the park, and ARMN has created a box of information and display materials on invasive and native plants to help with that.

Willing to talk with the public about most any subject of interest to you?
Want to help develop children’s activities to supplement our box?
Want to lead short nature hikes for mixed audiences – e.g. to see wood frogs in action?

If so, this activity could be for you!

Seed Cleaning Begins

By Rodney Olsen

On Monday, Feb. 4, master naturalists and sundry others gathered at Long Branch Nature Center for the first Earth Sangha seed cleaning of the winter season. Fourteen people in all enjoyed conversing while preparing Common milkweed, Deertongue grass, and Virginia wild rye seeds for spring planting.


For those of you who wish to become intimate with seeds, the next seed cleaning at Long Branch will be Feb. 11, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eight large bags of mixed Goldenrod seeds, Solidago juncea, Solidago graminifolica, Solidago rugosa, and Solidago nemoralis, will be awaiting you.

Cleaning Virginia wild rye.

Cleaning Virginia wild rye.

Photos by Rodney Olsen.