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Explore the Trees and Forests of Virginia

Saturday, 10 March 2018

9.15 am to 3.30 pm

University of Richmond
Ryland Circle
Richmond, VA 23173
Building Number: Jepson Hall (Website Campus Map #17)

Please join the Virginia Native Plant Society for a one-day workshop that celebrates Virginia’s trees and woodlands.

The workshop will begin with a review of tree biology and ecology and a review of some of the recent research on what trees are doing. It will move on to the topic of interactions with other organisms, specifically birds and insects. Finally it will explore two Virginia forests – the longleaf pine of the coastal areas, and an old age mountain forest.

For more information and to register, click here.

Review of The Forest Unseen, by David George Haskell

Reviewed by Anne DiFiore

A square meter of Tennessee forest can give us insights into all forests.

This is the premise of The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature (2012, 288 pp). Haskell, Professor of Biology at Sewanee, the University of the South, visits a corner of old growth forest every few days over the course of a year to record his observations. Inspired by the intricate sand paintings, or mandalas, created by Tibetan monks to represent the cosmos, Haskell lays down a hula hoop to mark the boundaries of his mandala. Armed with a hand lens, he uncovers within this microcosm stories of creation, evolution, adaptation, life unexplored, and man’s relationship to the natural world.

For Master Naturalists, this book deserves a place of honor on our bookshelves, alongside A Sand County Almanac and other classics of ecology/natural science. Through Haskell’s penetrating lens, readers are able to see and appreciate the often unseen organisms that populate the forest’s soil and upper layers. He then switches to a wide-angle lens, educating the reader on larger ecological issues and emphasizing always the interconnectedness of life on our planet.

In his January 1 entry, “Partnerships,” Haskell discusses the amazingly successful union of fungi and algae—the “world-conquering” lichens and the first living thing he encounters in the mandala. Lichens cover 10% of the earth’s surface. How symbiotic relationships push evolution forward–microbes living in digestive tracts, the interdependence of fungi and plants—is a recurring theme in the book.Humans, he notes wryly, “… are lichens on a grand scale” (p. 5).

A sense of humor infuses his writing. In “Faces,” he reluctantly confesses to finding a trio of young raccoons adorable (naturalists aren’t supposed to make such judgments)—and then analyzes human responses to animals. In “Earthstar” he debates removing golf balls from the mandala and decides to allow geological forces to return them to their elements, reminding us that humans are part of nature and “our biggest failing is a lack of compassion for the world, including ourselves” (p. 158).

Haskell’s sense of wonder at nature’s ingenuity and variety is evident in each entry. The firefly’s incandescence, the turkey vulture’s ability to destroy anthrax bacteria and cholera viruses through digestion, the snail’s reproductive strategies—fascinate him, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Haskell takes the scientific community to task for its alarm cry that the recent rise in deer population is ruining our forests. He argues that historical and archaeological records point to deer being plentiful inhabitants until the 1800s, when they had been extirpated. “The deerless forests of the early and mid-1900s were aberrations” (p. 31). For 50 million years, large mammalian browsers—wood bison, oxen, tapirs, peccaries, herbivorous bears, and mastodons—feasted on forests until they were hunted into extinction. Only the deer remain. In “Flowers,” he credits deer for dispersing wild flowers from their post Ice Age home along the Gulf Coast across the continent, arguing that ants who travel little more than a few feet from their nests would not have been able to accomplish the task so quickly.

The author laments that while science informs and educates us, it does not help us “listen” to nature. In “Epilogue,” Haskell urges us to create our own mandalas for ecological exploration. His advice: To leave behind expectations and to be present—see, listen, smell—and return, over and over again.

“The desire to name, understand, and enjoy the rest of the community of life is part of our humanity. Quiet observation of living mandalas offers one way to rediscover and develop this inheritance” (p. 245).

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

Review of Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

Reviewed by Sarah Glassco

Lab Girl (2016, 512 pp) recounts the life and career of a research scientist in the field of  geobiology. Because her roots are relevant to her present, Jahren writes about  her childhood in Minnesota, where she was raised in an unemotional, uncommunicative family. She spent her days with her mother, who gardened to put food on the table and studied literature to earn a college degree by correspondence course. In the evenings, Jahren played in her father’s laboratory. (He taught college physics and earth science.) Here she felt she “transformed from a girl into a scientist,” so she took the necessary steps to become a plant scientist with a gift for writing. Her anecdotes are as compelling as her insights. Clear-sighted, funny, and unromantic, she describes the professional challenges for a female scientist.

A failed experiment early in her career caused her to shift her approach to botanical research. “I tried to visualize a new environmental science that was not based on the world that we wanted with plants in it, but instead based on a vision of the plants’ world with us in it.” Much of what we study in our master naturalist training backs up this sensibility. The whole field of ecology is based on understanding the complex interrelationships of unique organisms. In our naturalist training lecture on botany, we learned about the importance of fungal mychorrizae to the growth of plants. We also learned that the invasive garlic mustard is particularly destructive because it poisons the arbuscular fungal mychorrizae on which many native plants rely.

Science is complex, but good storytellers like Jahren make it as simple as possible. To this end, she structured the book in layers, with essays about plant lives that parallel phases in her life and career. She recounts the latest research into plants, and gives us glimpses of discoveries that are changing scientific ideas about their natures.

Her observation that “perhaps I was destined to study plants for decades only in order to more fully appreciate that they are beings we can never truly understand” is relevant to all of us, no matter where we are in our own quests to be worthy, engaged participants in the natural world. Now, when I see a maple tree, I remember that the saplings beneath it rely on water drawn up and shared from the mature tree’s roots for their survival. When I see a willow tree, I remember that its annual growth rate is nearly twice that of its closest competitor, and that it stores nutrient reserves in older branches and sheds them to send colonists out into the world.

You too will be amazed by the stories this masterful naturalist tells, and inspired to share her appreciation of plants as complex beings with lives of their own.

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

Register for 14th annual Woods and Wildlife Conference, 24 February, Culpepper

The 14th Annual Woods & Wildlife Conference will be held on February 24, 2018 at the Daniel Technology Center, Germanna Community College, Culpeper.  On-line and mail-in registration are open.

Pre-registration is due by 14 February. $45/person. $80/couple

Topics:

  • Scientific and social challenges of timber harvesting on private lands
  • Early successional habitat: Why and how?
  • Invasive species update
  • Forest pollinators
  • Case study: The Shenandoah National Park Fire
  • Selling timber: Panel of practitioners
  • Snags: Dead trees are good
  • Introduction to wild edibles
  • Pine savannahs: Where wildlife and pine production intersect
  • Habitat triage and congnitive mapping
  • Frogging by ear
  • Coyotes in Virginia: Here today and here to stay

View presentations from previous conference.

This conference counts toward continuing education credits for master naturalists.

Learning opportunity: Identify Trees at Riverbend Park

A Field Trip with Emily Ferguson
Sunday, January 28, 2018
1:00 to 3:00 pm

Riverbend Park
8700 Potomac Hills St.
Great Falls, VA 22066

VNPS programs are free and open to the public, but space on field trips is strictly  limited.  Registration for field trips is required.

Emily Ferguson will lead a beginner winter tree walk providing easy tips to help identify native tree species.
Emily developed her interest in Virginia’s flora and fauna while living in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville.  When a career move relocated her to Northern Virginia, she struggled to maintain a connection with the natural world.  Emily completed the Arlington Regional Master Naturalist course in 2010, the Tree Steward course in 2011, and a bee-keeping class in 2012. Since then, she continues to provide support for activities involving trees and enjoys sharing her knowledge about them.
Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society
PO Box 5311
Arlington, VA  22205
www.vnps.org\potowmack

 

September 30th: Growing Native – Get Nuts for Public Lands!

Growing Native season is almost here! Try your hand at tree and seed ID while doing your part for the Potomac.

Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to help collect native tree seeds in the beautiful and historic Leesylvania State Park.

These seeds will go to local nurseries that grow trees for reforesting efforts across the region.

What could possibly make this day even better?

September 30th is National Public Lands Day! National Public Lands Day is the largest single volunteer effort for public lands. If this year is anything like the last, you will be joining over 75,000 volunteers at more than 2,100 public land sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to do your part for these national treasures.

  Leesylvania State Park
2001 Daniel K Ludwig Drive
Woodbridge, VA, 22191United States (map)

Visit the Potomac Conservancy website to learn more