Spotted Lanternfly Watch Underway in Fairfax County

Photo: Spotted Lanternfly, Stephen Ausmus, USDA

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va – While there are still no sightings of the spotted lanternfly in Fairfax County, it is getting closer, and experts are on the lookout for it. This summer the invasive pest was found in nearby Loudoun County. To reduce the spread of this destructive insect the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service has expanded the spotted lanternfly quarantine to include an additional 18 counties and cities.

Fairfax County Forest Pest Management also is asking County residents to help slow the spread of this invasive pest by being vigilant about not moving spotted lanternfly life stages when traveling through known infested areas. The spotted lanternfly is known as a ‘hitchiker’ since it is often found near railroads and inside shipments of items such as produce.

The insect feasts on more than 70 plant species, though its preferred host is the tree-of-heaven. In the Commonwealth the peach, apple, grape, and wine industries are most threatened.

Adults begin laying eggs in September and through the first few hard frosts. The egg masses are covered in a light gray colored wax that looks like mud when it dries.

Spotted lanternfly identification information with links to the quarantine area can be found on the Fairfax County web site Spotted Lanternfly. Please keep an eye out for spotted lanternfly in Fairfax County and report sightings to [email protected] or to 703-324-5304. The popular mobile app, iNaturalist, is an effective and efficient method for reporting a SLF sighting.

Be Nice to Your Trees

Article and photo by Plant NOVA Trees
On a recent day, driving out of the sun into a wooded community resulted in a temperature drop from 91 to 86 degrees. We all try to stay in the shade in hot weather, competing for the parking spaces under trees. What we may not realize is that tree-lined neighborhoods are cooler not just because of the shade but because the trees themselves act as air conditioners. The basic concept is that it takes energy to turn a liquid into a gas – we see that when boiling water. When a tree sucks up water through its roots and releases it as a gas through its leaves, a process known as transpiration, the energy that causes the water to evaporate is absorbed from the surroundings in the form of heat, and the result is a lower air temperature. This principle of physics also explains why sweating cools our bodies.
Newly planted trees are particularly vulnerable to high heat, so the most basic care needed from us is to provide enough water until they are well established. Seedlings establish quickly, but a landscaper-sized tree needs several years for its root to grow out of the planting hole into the surrounding soil. Our torrential summer storms can fool us into thinking we are getting enough rain, but many of them are brief and don’t even budge the rain gauge. A young tree with brown leaves is a very sad sight. At the same time, overwatering any plant can be worse than underwatering, by depriving the roots of oxygen, so we need to be careful to follow instructions in that regard and allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
Once a native tree gets established, though, little if any care may be required for the next twenty years or so. Our oaks and other native trees evolved here and are accustomed to the local soils and our variable temperatures and rainfall, although those 91 degree days are adding to the stress of living in an urban or suburban environment. Because older trees may start to develop issues, it is wise to have those that are near houses inspected every two years by an independent consulting arborist, meaning one who has no financial incentive to sell tree care services. They can recommend procedures that may prevent a tree from becoming hazardous. Even better, they may be able to provide reassurance, for instance, that a tree that is leaning a little may be quite stable, despite the dire warnings of a marketing rep from a tree company that is eager to keep its crew busy. Always use the services of arborists certified by the ISA (International Society of Arboriculture.)
When future residents are facing temperatures even higher than today’s, a five degree lower temperature may make a life or death difference. Consider what hundred degree weather does to the human body when a prolonged blackout shuts down everyone’s air conditioning. It pays to take good care of our trees. Find out how on the Plant NOVA Trees website.

The Annual Virginia Geological Research Symposium

Feature photo:  At the 2019 Virginia Geological Field Conference, our excursion group investigated the landslide damage of Hurricane Camille in Nelson County. After 50 years this mountainside is still stripped to its bedrock from the floods and landslides caused by the hurricane.

Article and photo by FMN Stephen Tzikas

The annual Virginia Geological Research Symposium is an event I enjoy attending. It is typically held in April and is approved for the FMN Better Impact continuing education requirement. It is presented at a professional level and is a conference from which one can acquire valuable knowledge if working in the associated engineering and science fields. Moreover, because it is Virginia centric and geology related, it’s a great learning venture for Virginia master naturalists.

The last couple of years the symposium was held virtually, but it normally meets in Charlottesville. It is free and hosted by Virginia Energy, Geology and Mineral Resources. This organization serves as Virginia’s geological survey. The last symposium was held on April 21, 2022. At this symposium, the U.S. Geological Survey gave a couple presentations related to the 2011 Mineral, Virginia 5.7 magnitude earthquake felt over a wide area including Fairfax County (something most of us will remember). The quake was further discussed in the context of the more recent 2020 Sparta, North Carolina 5.1 magnitude earthquake. Other presentations given by the U.S. Geological Survey included Earth MRI geophysical datasets along the fall-line in SE Virginia and NE North Carolina, and the origin of Carolina Bays in the Coastal Plain of Virginia.

The College of William and Mary had several presenters too. Topics included:

  • Age and origin of the Albemarle-Nelson mafic-ultramafic complex in the eastern Blue Ridge.
  • Structural geology and geochronology of the Shores Melange in the Piedmont.
  • Geology of the Schuyler 7.5-minute quadrangle in central Virginia and understanding Iapetan rifting, sedimentation, and magmatism.
  • Petrology, structure, and geochronology of the Oakville metavolcanic sequence and the implications for the provenance of the Smith River Allochthon.

Of particular interest to me was the landslide hazard mapping in western Albemarle and Nelson Counties by Virginia Energy. I once attended a geologic field trip to Nelson County, the location hit hard by Hurricane Camille in 1969 through the devastating flooding and landslides caused by the hurricane. Another interesting topic was on geologic storage potential in Virginia, also by Virginia Energy.

James Madison University and Radford University students made presentations too.

It is worth exploring the Virginia Energy website at The website features such links as “Ask a Geologist” and information on the geology and mineral resources of Virginia at

This symposium is a wonderful resource among many available for geology enthusiasts in Fairfax County. Others include are:

  • The Northern Virginia Mineral Club:
  • The Annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show at George Mason University
  • NVCC 1-day 1-credit excursions (Field Studies in Geology under GOL-135)
  • The Virginia Geological Field Conference (also with counterparts in PA, NJ, and NY)


Free Trees for Communities

Article and photo by Plant NOVA Natives

As community associations around Northern Virginia ramp up their native tree planting efforts, they are looking around to find ways to make it affordable. Burke Centre resident Craig Willett has solved that problem for his neighbors: all they have to do is fill out a simple form to get a free tree. A member of Burke Centre Conservancy’s volunteer Open Space Committee, Craig has organized a system both for private property and for common land. On private land, residents pick up seedlings from Craig’s house and plant them themselves. On common land, the Trustees of the various clusters put in a request, and Craig and his colleagues will install trees or shrubs either to replace ones that have died or to reforest open areas. You can see him pictured here with fellow volunteer Mike Hathaway, in red.

Trees grow slowly, and they also die slowly. Many neighborhoods around Northern Virginia have been losing their canopy coverage, bit by bit, so that once pleasantly shaded yards and streets where neighbors and children could gather are gradually becoming intolerable as our summer temperatures rise. Communities that wish to reverse this trend are most likely to succeed if they build a long-term routine for tree care and tree replacement into their master plans. Where there is no community association, residents will need to step forward to help each other make a plan.

Burke Centre Conservancy obtains its tree seedlings from Fairfax ReLeaf, a non-profit organization of volunteers who plant and preserve native trees on public and common lands in Northern Virginia. Individual landowners may also request seedlings from Fairfax ReLeaf.

Any community in Fairfax County that owns open space may also apply for free trees from the Fairfax Tree Preservation and Planting Fund. It is not necessary to be a 501(c)3 organization to apply as long as the open space is commonly owned. This is a solid funding source for organizations that want to plant either seedlings or larger trees. The application process looks a little intimidating at first glance because of the long list of requirements, but in fact the required steps are all ones that any organization would take anyway when planting trees.

Programs for obtaining free native trees are also available to communities in Arlington and Falls Church. And although not free, there are numerous ways to obtain native trees for a very low price. For example, the Virginia Department of Forestry sells tree and shrub seedlings for $2.00 apiece for orders of ten or more. Our local native plant garden centers all sell medium-sized trees in containers at reasonable prices. Those trees may look a little small when first planted, but they will rapidly catch up to trees that were planted when larger, since older trees suffer more transplant shock. Two wholesalers of larger trees offer their trees at wholesale cost to people who are organizing community plantings. Links to all these programs can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website.

Since 2018, Burke Centre Conservancy has planted over 600 bare root seedlings, which is in keeping with the nature-centered philosophy of this community with its extensive network of trails through the woods. More details about their process can be found on this web page.

Fort Ward’s Maclura pomifera Tree

Feature photo: The arranged fruits of the Osage Orange tree into a happy face caught my attention and consequently initiated my interest to write this article.

Article and photos by FMN Stephen Tzikas

Osage Orange has a tough “stomp-proof” fruit that will not be crushed with foot pressure. It is grapefruit sized, about 4 inches in diameter, with an outer surface that looks like “brains.”

In December 2021, while on a trail review for the Birdability website (, I came across a most unusual tree. I had traveled throughout the US and the World, and walked many trails in Fairfax County, but never have I seen this type of tree. It’s commonly called an Osage Orange tree, but also goes by many other names, including its scientific name Maclura pomifera. As I approached it, I saw grapefruit sized yellow fruits on the ground beneath it, with a pile of them arrange in a happy face configuration, as if beckoning me toward them. I looked at those fruits in greater detail, and I thought to myself that the exotic fruit looked like brains, because of the convoluted nature of it.

The bark of the tree has scaly ridges with irregular furrows.

I asked a passer-by if he knew what kind of tree it was. He told me it was a “Monkey Tree,” so that became the basis of my internet search. Indeed, the fruits are also known as “Monkey balls” and “Monkey brains.” The Osage Orange tree is originally native to parts of Texas and Oklahoma. Today the tree has spread to much of the United States and Canada. Male and female trees have different flowers. Only the female tree bears fruit, but it is not edible. The early settlers of America had many uses for this tree and a lot of information on the tree and it uses can be found on the internet. The bark pattern on the tree has a characteristic deeply furrowed, scaly nature. Its twigs have thorns.

Fort Ward is a pleasant place to have a walk, with many ADA amenities. It also has a small museum on its grounds.

The location of the Osage Orange tree is just beyond the historic gate. Notice the Corp of Engineer’s insignia logo (castle) on top of the gate.




North American Butterfly Association(NABA) Butterfly Count, July 23rd

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Saturday, July 23, 2022
9:00am – 3:00pm
Where: The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
Cost: Free
For more information and Registration click here.

Every year community scientists help count the butterflies in 15-mile-diameter circles all around the country and contribute their data to the North American Butterfly Association. This summer The Clifton Institute will host their 27th annual butterfly count and celebrate their 20th year contributing their data to NABA. Butterfly enthusiasts of all levels of experience are welcome! If you feel like you don’t know many butterflies, this is a great way to learn and it’s always helpful to have more eyes pointing out butterflies.

Stream Monitoring: Citizen Science & Training Opportunities

Photo by J. Quinn


Below is a list of the various Stream Monitoring workshops and other monitoring opportunities in the area throughout June and July.


Accotink Creek Stream Monitoring

When: Saturday, June 11, 9:30 – 11:30am

Where: Accotink Creek, Springfield

Join Friends of Accotink Creek to monitor the health of the stream. For more information and to register, click here.


Little Hunting Creek Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Sunday, June 12, 10:00am-12:30pm

Where: Paul Spring Stream Valley Park, Alexandria

This workshop was originally scheduled for April but was rained out… twice! Take this opportunity to join us as we visit the Paul Spring Branch of Little Hunting Creek for the first time in many years! Space is limited, please register for the workshop here.


Sugarland Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Tuesday, June 21, 4:00-6:30pm

Where: Sugarland Run Stream Valley Park, Herndon

This site is close to one of the largest great blue heron rookeries in the area at Kincora along Route 28, and seeing these beautiful birds along Sugarland Run isn’t uncommon. What a nice bonus to complement Sugarland Run’s big crayfish and other mighty macros! Space is limited, please register for the workshop here.


Pohick Creek Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Sunday, July 17, 10:00am-12:30pm

Where: Hidden Pond Nature Center, Springfield

This is the workshop site of a recently-retired stream monitor and is currently up for adoption. Come join us at this beautiful county park! Space is limited, please register for the workshop here.


Holmes Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Saturday, July 23, 9:00-11:30am

Where: Holmes Run Stream Valley Park, Falls Church

This workshop site is ae easily-accessible location just downstream of Lake Barcroft. Come explore this beautiful spot in the Cameron Run watershed! Space is limited, please register for the workshop here.

More Training and Stream Monitoring Opportunities


The Northern Virginia Water and Soil Conservation District(NVSWCD) is very excited to contribute their stream data to state and national datasets. If anyone would like to see data from all the NVSWCD regional stream monitoring team’s active sites, the NVSWCD organization can be found on the Clean Water Hub. Keep in touch with NVSWCD on our Facebook and Instagram.

How to Invite Hummingbirds to Your Backyard

Article and photos by FMN Barbara Saffir

THEY’RE BAAAACCCCCKKK!  Flying fairies — ruby-throated hummingbirds — returned to Virginia in April so now it’s time to invite some to your house or apartment.  It’s easy and cheap.  Just serve up some irresistible food and an inviting home.  That means a clean hummer feeder, native plants, and nearby trees for them to eat, nest, and snuggle in.  A water source is a huge plus for all birds and critters, especially to help them survive summer’s searing heat.  And it’s also paramount to avoid insecticides in your yard since bugs are the main course and high-octane fuel for these feisty, flying jewels that can beat their wings about 53 times each second, according to Cornell’s respected “All About Birds” website.  Ruby-throats are the only hummers that nest east of the Mississippi.

First the flowers.  Even if you can’t plant salvia, cardinal flower, bee balm, coral honeysuckle, trumpet vine, or other hummer-magnets in time, or if you live in an apartment with a pint-sized balcony, you can still buy them in containers.  It’s best to place them near your hummingbird feeders so they can slurp some sugar water for desert after gobbling down their bug buffet.  Cornell says they especially love the bugs that humans sometimes hate, including disease-carrying mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, small bees, and spiders.  And your local big box store is NOT the ideal place to buy hummer plants. Native plant nurseries appear to be the best sources for hummer-preferred flowers.  When you go shopping, if you can, chose the plants with butterflies or hummers already feeding from them. And gobs of other wildflowers and flowering trees seduce hummingbirds, not just the ones you typically hear about.  Virginia Tech offers some suggestions below.

Second, the feeders.  All you need is a $4 hummingbird feeder (see below) and some plain white

granulated sugar.  But NEVER hang any hummingbird feeders unless you’re willing to clean them every couple of days in the heat because dirty ones can form mold, fungus, bacteria, and fermentation, which can hurt or kill your hummers.  The National Wildlife Federation says you need to refill the nectar “as often as every two days when summer temperatures remain above 90 degrees F.  Rinse the feeder thoroughly—without soap—before refilling. Clean it once a month with a very mild, diluted bleach solution.”  It also helps to hang the feeders from a ($4 and up) ant moat to prevent ants from monopolizing the nectar.

Don’t add anything to Audubon’s standard nectar recipe: “The best (and least expensive) solution for your feeder is a 1:4 solution of refined white sugar to tap water. That’s ¼ cup of sugar in 1 cup of water. Bring the solution to a boil, then let it cool before filling the feeder.”
Hummers love water but ordinary bird baths are too big for little ruby-throats, which only reach 3.7 inches long and weigh 0.1-0.2 ounces, roughly the weight of a penny.  Instead, they love to take showers in misting sprinklers and they sometimes flock to bubbling fountains, says “The Spruce” website.
Male hummers (only adult males have full red throats and they only appear red in the sun due to the feather structure) start to return to Florida and Central America by August. But keep your feeders up through October because some young males and females are hungry stragglers. And when autumn rolls around, offer orange jewelweed wildflowers to your hummers.  If you can’t wrangle up a supply, just stroll along the W&OD Trail by Hunter Mill Road or any other trail or garden with lush jewelweed and if you listen and watch carefully, I almost guarantee that you can find some happy hummingbirds.

Geology Adventures: Man-Made Slag

Feature photo:  Slag Nuggets line this railroad track near Willoughby Brook, High Bridge, NJ

Article and photos by FMN Stephen Tzikas

Not too far from Fairfax County is geologic treasure. Engineers love it. It is a by-product of iron ore smelting, one of the oldest chemical engineering processes. The by-product is called slag and it is unique and beautiful.

A few years ago I stopped at the Burden Iron Works in Troy, NY on my way to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) for Reunion and Homecoming not far from the iron works. The iron works are not a big tourist attraction, so I had to call the curator for an appointment. The meeting I had with curator was just grand. We talked at least a couple hours on the engineering history of the area which included RPI. Before leaving he took me outside to walk the perimeter of the iron works

Catoctin Furnace Slag Nugget Sample 1.  Vesicles pockmark this brownish and green tone slag sample.

and told me about slag. Slag is the rock remaining after iron is extracted from the ore. The property and surrounding area has some slag scattered around. He told me it can usually be found easily along a building perimeter because that’s where it’s thrown by ground keepers who cut grass and don’t like hitting it with the mowers. He gave me a few pieces of the century-plus old slag and I finally departed.

Later, at the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center building at RPI, while looking at the geologic collection located there, a graduate student came out of his research lab and I struck up a conversation with him on the Burden Iron Works. He quickly went back into his lab to pull out a slag sample from the iron works in which some residue ore in a large slag sample formed a colorful blue glass mix with the ore. Impressed, I have ever since included old iron furnace stops on my road trips. If you keep in mind that slag samples are likely to be located along perimeter building ruins, you’ll find interesting nuggets. One especially pleasing location is the Lock Ridge Furnace Museum if you are passing through the Allentown, PA area. There are literally thousands of slag samples all over the grounds. It is much rarer to find slag samples with colorful shades of glass in them, but if you are curious, do a google image search on “colored iron slag” to see what I mean. Some slag samples can also be magnetic, and the color of a slag sample is due to the different mixes of elements and leftover metals in it.

Catoctin Furnace Slag Nugget Sample 2. Vesicles and Blebs are found in this gray slag sample.

Iron smelting was a big industry in the 18th and 19th century America, and you can usually find industrial furnace ruins from that period everywhere that had settlements. My stops at old furnaces usually take me through Pennsylvania on my trips to NJ and NY. However, we have local furnace ruins too. One nearby is the Catoctin Furnace in Thurmont, MD. This is a 19th century iron works and the website can be found at

Slag samples could appear in a variety of other places too. The iron industry of yesteryear produced so much slag waste, the industry found uses for it. Iron ore slag is generally safe. It is just ore rock with the iron removed. While hiking in High Bridge, NJ one day, I came across large amounts of it lining the railroad tracks (along Buffalo Hollow Road near Willoughby Brook, and just off of Cregar Road). The slag made a suitable material cushioning the track area from the extended environment. Normally, one might see other forms of crushed stone gravel around railroad tracks. If you come across railroad tracks in your nature trail excursions, take a look at whether the tracks have stone ballast in the track bed, and whether it is slag.

If I have interested you to build a slag collection, please be aware that some parks might have rules requiring visitors not to remove anything from a site. Such rules, if they exist, are usually posted so visitors know. Now that you are aware, keep your eyes open for interesting geology on the ground at old furnace ruins.


Native Groundcovers and Trees: The Perfect Pairing!

Photo and article by Plant NOVA Natives

Native groundcovers are becoming increasingly popular, for good reason: even if they have minimal time for gardening, people want to use native plants to support our local birds and butterflies. To avoid invasive non-native groundcovers such as English Ivy, Vinca, Yellow Archangel, and Japanese Pachysandra, they turn to native plants for the same landscaping benefits without the damage to our trees and the rest of the environment.

Equally popular among time-pressed residents are native trees, which are similarly easy to install and which have benefits that far exceed those of any other plants. Not only does the great mass of tree leaves and roots provide food and homes for birds, soak up stormwater, and cool the air, the insects that evolved with native plants are adapted to the chemical make-up of those plants and are able to co-exist peacefully with them. An American Beech tree, for example, is the host plant to 126 species of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Hickory to 200 species, Black Cherry around 450 species, and native oaks over 500 species. (The numbers for non-native trees are in the single digits or even zero.)

Over 30 species of locally native plants make excellent groundcovers, with options available for any growing condition. Several are evergreen, and many have the bonus of a month or two of colorful flowers. Some form a tight mat on the ground, while others such as ferns and White Wood Aster provide a taller look. Native sedges provide even more options. Some sedges make a beautiful substitute for the invasive Liriope, some look more like a grass that never needs mowing, and still others sport spiky seed heads that add a touch of quirkiness to the garden. Our local conventional garden centers are starting to carry some of these plants, and many more can be found at native plant garden centers.

Encircling native trees with native groundcovers makes eminent sense. Turf grass does poorly under trees because of the limited light. Trees do not appreciate lawn chemicals, not to mention the risk of injury from lawnmowers and string trimmers. A harmful but common practice, especially in commercial areas, is to pile layer after layer of mulch in a “mulch volcano” around trees and spray it with herbicides to prevent grass and weed growth. Not only does this poison the soil, but mulch that is touching the trunk will rot the bark, and compacted mulch prevents rainwater from reaching the roots. Arborist wood chips, which allow the water to run through, are an improvement over shredded bark mulch if applied properly and can protect the tree as it gets established. But in the long run, why not use nature’s alternative to a toxic mulch bed, which is to allow the fallen leaves to remain in place and add a “green mulch” made up of native plants? The trees and the soil will thank you for it.