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.

From Every Bee to Every Tree – Cathy Ledec

Recognizing Cathy Ledec for her support of County environmental initiatives. Photo courtesy of BOS newsletter.

In July 2022 the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS) distinguished FMN Cathy Ledec, former chair of the Fairfax County Tree Commission, with a proclamation for her years of service in progressing our County’s environmental initiatives. Notably, Cathy led the charge in developing the 2019 Tree Action Plan for Fairfax County which, through its robust inclusion of a diverse group of stakeholders, continues to serve as a model for how the county develops environmental initiatives.

Photo Rachel Habig-Meyers County Urban Forest Management Division

Cathy joined the Fairfax County Tree Commission in 2016 and an early draft of an update to the Tree Action Plan had been prepared.  Starting in 2016 she worked to improve the draft and positively influenced the final version submitted by committee, which was approved towards the end of 2019. The Tree Action Plan is a document of the Fairfax County Tree Commission. Tree action plan.

Cathy was also a key contributor to the Community-wide Climate Action Plan (CECAP) developed in large part by citizen volunteers and then approved in 2021 by Fairfax County. In a New York Times article Jim McKay (Chairman, BOS) emphasized that the county’s climate action plan is unusual in part because it was produced by several dozen community members instead of county officials. In most cases, programs like these come from the top down.
One goal of the plan, approved in September 2021, is to educate county residents about environmentally friendly choices they can make. “If the community’s not on board, you’re not going to accomplish anything other than to write a beautiful plan and have it sit on the shelf and collect dust,” said McKay.
A group of more than 50 residents heard from experts, examined data, debated and voted on recommendations. The document identified 12 broad strategies in five areas: buildings and energy efficiency, energy supply, transportation, waste, and natural resources. The strategies were broken into 37 recommended actions and scores of narrower “activities.”

Planting for the future. Photo George Ledec

Dan Storck (Mt. Vernon District Supervisor) extolled Cathy’s past performance and service to Fairfax County in an official letter by writing, “Cathy served on the Fairfax County Tree Commission since 2016, and as Chair since January 2019, until she recently stepped down. As Chair, Cathy led the creation of the 2019 Fairfax County Tree Action Plan, which was subsequently approved by the Board of Supervisors, and led to the institution of the Community of Practice in 2020. During Cathy’s tenure, she led discussions and compiled research for the Commission to comment on a variety of County Board priorities, including solar projects and trees, the Joint County/Schools Environmental Task Force (JET) recommendations, land use decisions affecting trees, actions affecting trees in the Community Energy and Climate Action Plan’s (CECAP), among others. As noted by the current Chair of the Tree Commission, Cindy Speas, “Cathy’s work made the Tree Commission more relevant in a changing environmental world through the adoption of the Tree Action Plan and the Community of Practice”.”

The letter continued by noting, “Cathy has served on the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park since 2010 and as its elected President since 2012, where her leadership has contributed significantly to the long-term preservation of natural resources at Huntley Meadows and throughout Fairfax County. She volunteers with the Resource Management Division (RMD) of the County Park Authority (FCPA) assigned to Huntley Meadows, educating the public on the importance of being good environmental stewards and contributing to data collection supporting scientific research. Cathy has led countless cleanups, invasive species removals, bird counts, nature walks and organized volunteers for many other park activities. In 2020, Cathy received the Sally Ormsby Environmental Stewardship Award for 17 years of volunteer service at Huntley Meadows Park and for the Fairfax County Park Authority.” She even donated a bench to Huntley Meadows Park.

Cathy and George Ledec Bench at Huntley Meadows- photo Jerry Nissley

Mr. Storck commended Cathy and her service by saying, “Cathy is truly a protector of our natural world, from every bee to every tree. Her knowledge of trees, natural landscaping, climate and environmental issues, living shorelines and so much more is unmatched, as is her passion and enthusiasm”.

Cathy also serves our community via her multi-functional involvement in many citizen action groups such as, Friends of Huntley Meadows Park, Inc. (FOHMP), Board Member Emeritus; Fairfax County Park Authority, Resource Management Division, Huntley Meadows Park, 2003 to present; Invasive Management Area Program: Site Leader, Mount Eagle Park, 2016 to June 30, 2022; Certified Master Naturalist, Virginia Master Naturalists (Fairfax Chapter) (2017- present); Pavilions at Huntington Metro Community Association, President (2019-present); Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, Reston, VA Member, Board of Directors, November 2019 – August, 2021; Audubon-At-Home Ambassador, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia( 2018-2020); Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations (2007 to 2018); and Fairfax Federation of Citizens Associations.

George and Cathy checking a bird box. Photo by Doug Mason.

However, needs change and a good life marches forward opening doors to new adventures. Cathy mentioned to me in an email interview, “My husband and I will be relocating to Barnstable, Massachusetts and will remain connected and involved to a much lesser degree with Fairfax County.  I retain my affiliation with the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park where both my husband and I are now Board Members Emeritus.  I expect to return to Fairfax County regularly for visits and hope to be able to continue some of our activities in the area.  We regularly lead bird and nature walks in our Alexandria, Virginia neighborhood and hope to continue to do this. I also intend to maintain my certification status with Fairfax Master Naturalists and can complete activities here when we are in town.”

Tilling the soil. Photo George Ledec.

She said, “I hope that my work inspires others to get involved. I have enjoyed living here in Fairfax County for almost 30 years and am sad to leave.  On the other hand we are very excited about our new adventure in Massachusetts.  We purchased a 4.25 acre waterfront property in the village of Cummaquid and will be working to restore this land to a more natural state.  This includes some reforestation and invasive plant removal along with the planting of many native species of trees, shrubs, forbs and grasses.  On the property we are lucky to have about 1 acre of salt marsh and a fresh water (Kettle pond) on the property.  Already we have a day roost of both Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons and nesting Willow  Flycatcher and nesting Yellow Warbler.  We are nearby the Mass Audubon Society’s Long Pasture Nature Preserve and there is so much to see!  Our new home is about 15 minutes away from my 92 year old parents where I am so fortunate to be able to move there to help them out.”

Given all of the above, Cathy remains a humble, altruistic individual who doesn’t mind, in fact, loves to get her hands into the dirt. She said she does not do what she does for the accolades, they seem to come with the territory. She is very appreciative though when the County gives thanks for influencing their decisions towards positive, sustainable environmental impact. So for ‘every bee and every tree” in Fairfax County, FMN joins in thanking Cathy for all she has done and hopefully will continue doing in our shared communities.

Piedmont Prairie Field Trip August 20

Photo courtesy of Clifton Institute

Saturday, August 20, 2022

9:00 am – 12:00 pm

Leopold’s Preserve

16290 Thoroughfare Rd, Broad Run, VA


During this field trip, Executive Director Bert Harris will lead a walk through a mega-diverse prairie, highlighting some of the special species that are found there and discussing the conservation and restoration of this important habitat. Participants will meet at Leopold’s Preserve and then carpool to the site.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center – Redux

All photos by Jerry Nissley

The day I visited the newly renovated Hidden Oaks Nature Center (HONC) the primary parking lot was full so I drove around to the secondary lot, which only added about 75 yards to my walk to the Nature Center. Had the primary lot not been full I would have missed the delightful new Storybook Trail. The trail provides stations along the way that tell a story about two friends – a chipmunk and a squirrel, with pictures and paragraphs. The flip side of the station signs provide fun facts about the critters.

New pond area

In a way, this concept incapsulates what the park is all about. HONC creatively makes everything a learning experience without overtly stating, ‘Now children, this is an educational experience, blah, blah, blah”. All the children I saw were having fun and deeply engaged with whatever activity they were involved with. While I was there, according to their identical multi-colored t-shirts, two summer camp groups were visiting. One in the outside learning center and another experiencing the indoor facilities. Outside a younger group was being read a story fully supported with visual aids; I saw a fox and a squirrel in a frenzied action sequence controlled by the puppeteer all approved by chortles and guffaws of children.
Inside a preteen group was immersed in viewing several terrariums and aquariums housing different Virginia native reptiles, amphibians, insects, and fish.

Inside critter room with day camp group

Hidden Oaks Nature Center is nestled inside the 52-acre Annandale District Park. You’ll find live animal displays, exhibits, a pond, creeks, ADA compliant woodland trails, gardens, play areas, a rain garden and a resource library. In 2019 artisan Andrew Mallon was commissioned to carve a wildlife tree sculpture utilizing the 10’ high tree stump left after a poplar tree was struck by lightning right outside of the Nature Center. The fabulous carvings creatively depict 11 animals native to the park.

Closeup of new pond

The $2.1 million expansion to the Nature Center provides new rooms to host community events, freshly designed creature displays, bilingual reading corner, and ADA compliant restrooms. Improvements to the park grounds include a short interpretive nature trail, updated outside creative play area, ‘The Nature Playce’, and a newly designed pond. The formal grand opening was held last weekend, 16 July 2022, with much fanfare, speeches, Bolivian dancers, ribbon cutting, and fun activities for all.

New pond resident

Sure, HONC may be geared towards the children’s learning experience but I didn’t want the storybook to end.

For more park info and a Flickr review of the grand opening check out the following link. Once on the park site, scroll down for the Flickr show.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center

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)


Dragonfly Biology and Identification, August 4th & 6th

Photo: Banded Pennant by FMN Don Coram

Classroom presentation: Thursday, August 4, 2022
7-8:30 pm
Field trip: Saturday, August 6, 2022
9:45 am-1 pm
Register by email to or by telephone 703-476-9689 ext. 5
Walker Nature Center
11450 Glade Dr., Reston, VA

Join FMN Don Coram, instructor, for a course on dragonflies covering their beauty, physiology, behavior, ecological role, and identification. The course includes a classroom presentation followed by a field trip to identify and count dragonflies in Reston. The count is part of an ongoing data collection effort that began in 2009. Although they do count and record the dragonflies that they observe, most of the participants are still learning about dragonflies, and the count is more of an educational field trip than a scientific wildlife survey.

Natural Filters in the Anacostia River: The Recovery of an Urban Waterway, webinar August 16th

Photo: Eric T. Gunther, Anacostia River near Kingman Island

Tuesday, August 16, 2022
7-8 pm
Register here.

For more than three decades, the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) has been working on recovering the Anacostia River’s ecosystems, especially its natural filters. After decades of restoration, education, and advocacy AWS is seeing a great recovery of the biodiversity of the aquatic ecosystems in the Anacostia River.

Jorge Bogantes Montero, Natural Resources Specialist for AWS, will present a virtual tour of the river and speak about the recovery of this once-neglected urban waterway in the nation’s capital. An in-person field trip and boat ride will take place on Saturday, August 20, 2022 for 20 participants.

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.

FMN CE Hike: Herp Hunt on June 26th

Article and photos by FMN Barbara Saffir except as noted

Orange turtles, slinky snakes, and shy salamanders were the highlight and delight of FMN’s first-ever continuing education “Herp Hunt” hike on June 26, 2022.

Identifying Fowler’s toad

Pickerel frog, photo Bob Macke

Thirteen enthusiastic FMNers (including some board members) attended the three-hour hike at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, including FMN event coordinator, Barbara Saffir, who co-led the hike with two experts (and an assistant expert) from the Virginia Herpetological Society.

Caroline Seitz led one group, taking the “high road” through the hilly park, so to speak.  She’s VHS’s education chair.  VHS’s Mark Khosravi, a science teacher who was recently quoted in the Washington Post discussing venomous copperheads, and his assistant led his hikers on the lower trail.  Both groups “herped” upland wooded areas and lower stretches along the Bull Run stream.

Among their discoveries were: SNAKES (a small ring-necked snake, a queen snake that repeatedly posed in the stream, adult and immature

Ring-necked snake

northern watersnakes, and an eastern worm snake); TURTLES (several male and female woodland box turtles, a red-bellied slider turtle, a painted turtle, and broken turtle eggs); FROGS/TOADS (pickerel frog, adult and baby green frogs, baby wood frog, and Fowler’s toads); and SALAMANDERS/SKINKS (a red-spotted newt, a northern two-lined salamander, a long-tailed salamander, and five-lined skinks).

Woodland box turtle

FMNers even learned how to differentiate male from female box turtles and American toads from Fowler’s toads.  A five-lined skink hopped aboard board member Amy Stulman, who handled the opportunity with a smile. Debbie McDonald spied the first herp of the day on Seitz’s hike, a precious woodland box turtle. We learned to report box turtle sightings to VHS online.


Co-leader Caroline Seitz shows us a juvenile Northern Watersnake

Queen snake practically performed for us for a while

“Restoring the Little Things that Run the World,” webinar with Doug Tallamy, September 25th

Photo: Doug Tallamy

Sunday, September 25, 2022
3 – 5pm
Fees: $10 + fees
Register here.

Doug Tallamy is an entomologist, ecologist and conservationist, a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, and a successful author. Tallamy will deliver a talk for us titled, “Restoring the Little Things that Run the World.” A recent UN report predicts that as many as 1 million species will disappear from planet earth because of human activities. Many of these are insects and nearly all species at risk rely on insects. A world without insects will be a world without humans! So, how do we create beautiful landscapes brimming with life – landscapes that support the butterflies, caterpillars, bees, beetles and other insects that run the ecosystems we depend on? Tallamy will remind us of the essential roles insects play, and describe the simple changes we must make in our landscapes and our attitudes to keep insects on the ground, in the air and yes, on our plants.