The Botany of Desire (And How I Got Hooked on Native Orchids), Webinar, August 20th

Photo: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Tuesday, August 20, 2024
7 pm
Webinar by Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Register here.

How do plants make a living? That question has propelled botanist Dennis Whigham for his nearly 47-year career with the Smithsonian. Orchids were especially bewitching. Join Dennis for a journey of discovery through the orchid world. He’ll take you from their unlikely beginnings as “dust seeds,” to the microscopic fungi they depend on to thrive, to their quirky—or downright sneaky—strategies to get pollinated. He’ll also reveal some of the most shocking discoveries, including the realization that more than half our continent’s native orchids are in trouble. Discover how stewards across the continent are rallying to save native orchids through the North American Orchid Conservation Center, and what you can do to help ensure their survival.

Understanding Cephalopod Behavior, Webinar, August 26th

Photo: Smithsonian Associates

Monday, August 26, 2024
6:45 – 8:15 pm
Smithsonian Associates Webinar
$20 members/$25 nonmembers
Register here.

Some stories that people tell about octopuses almost defy belief. These animals are said to steal from fishermen, escape from aquariums, invent tools, play with toys, make friends, and hold grudges. How many of these tales are true and how many are a result of human imagination or anthropomorphism?

Scientists have indeed documented extraordinary cognitive capacity and behavioral flexibility not only in octopuses but also in their close relatives, squids and cuttlefish. Members of this group of animals, called cephalopods, have large brains and the ability to adapt to myriad situations with creative problem-solving. They can learn quickly, remember what they’ve learned, and communicate with members of their own and other species. Biologist Danna Staaf, who has written several books about cephalopods, sorts fact from fancy and dissects the question of how intelligent they are to see what we can learn from them about our definition of intelligence.

Bird Hill Grassland Field Trip, September 7th

Image: Courtesy of the Clifton Institute

Saturday, September 7, 2024
10:00 am
 – 12:00 pm

Cost: $15 ($10 for Friends of Clifton)

Registration is REQUIRED.

This program will be held at the residence of the Clifton Institute co-directors to experience a remnant prairie, a planted meadow, and a native plant garden. The remnant prairie on the property hosts a remarkable assemblage of native wildflowers and grasses over sandstone bedrock. Bert and Eleanor are managing the prairie with mowing, burning, and invasive plant control. They have also planted a one-acre meadow on an old lawn and they’ve worked with Hill House Nursery to establish a native plant garden.

This program is a case study of how landowners can manage their land to benefit native plants and animals on a relatively small property.

Location: Near Orlean, VA. Registered attendees will be emailed the address and directions.


Bug Fest 2024, September 28th

Photo: FCPA, Tammy Tammy Schwab running the bug identification station at the Bug Fest at Lewinsville park.

Saturday, September 28, 2024
10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Cost: $8.00

Registration: Register starting July 30

Lake Accotink Park
7500 Accotink Park Road in Springfield
For more information, visit:

Insect fans are sure to find something to enjoy at the FCPA third year of Bug Fest at a new location, Lake Accotink, on Saturday, September 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Participants will be able to enjoy bug-themed programs, activities and demonstrations. Embark on an insect safari, discover live insects, inspect insect collections, roll over logs to find creatures, play in soil stations, go on bug walks and hear critter talks. You will also have the chance to design your own bug and use technology to examine the world of insects.

Allies in Amphibian Conservation: Leveraging Partners for Success, Webinar, July 16th

Photo: SERC

Tuesday, July 16, 2024
7 pm
Hosted by Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC)
Register here.

From frogs to salamanders, amphibians are secretive but essential to our health and the function our ecosystems. But despite their critical role, amphibians are facing a crisis: Over 40% are threatened with extinction. How can we reduce that loss? Join Kerry Wixted with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies as SERC dives into the fascinating world of amphibian biodiversity in the eastern United States, a global amphibian hotspot. Learn about the alarming threats amphibians face, from habitat loss to climate change and disease, as well as rays of hope. Kerry will cover the inspiring efforts of Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) and their dedicated partner network working at local, regional, and national levels to combat these threats and ensure a future for our amphibians.

Beyond the Horizon: Going the Distance for Seabirds, Webinar, July 25th

Image: American Bird Conservancy

Thursday, July 25, 2024
4 pm
Presented by American Bird Conservancy (ABC)
Register here.

Seabirds were humans’ first companions when we ventured onto the ocean. With adaptations for long flights over open waters, seabirds like the Laysan Albatross endure some of the harshest conditions on Earth. They are champions of the bird world, holding records for longest migration, deepest diver, largest wingspan, and more!

These often unseen birds are critical to marine ecosystems. For example, healthy colonies of seabirds on islands create healthier surrounding reefs, which are nurseries for the fish many people eat.

Seabirds, however, are one of the most endangered groups of birds. Their populations have dropped a staggering 70 percent globally over the past 60 years due to factors such as invasive species, unsustainable fisheries, and marine trash.

American Bird Conservancy’s Marine Program is working tirelessly with partners to safeguard the most vulnerable species both while at sea, and on land where they nest.

If you can’t make the webinar live, RSVP anyway and they’ll send you a recording to enjoy when the time is right for you.

North American Butterfly Association Counts – Find One Near You

Photo: Rick Ahrens (NABA)

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) has run the Butterfly Count Program in the United States, Canada, and Mexico since 1993. Each of the approximately 450 annual counts consists of a compilation of all butterflies observed at sites within a 15-mile diameter count circle in a one-day period.

The annually published reports provide a tremendous amount of information about the geographical distribution and relative population sizes of the species counted. Comparisons of the results across years can be used to monitor changes in butterfly populations and study the effects of weather and habitat change on North American butterflies.

Counts are open to the public and count on new participants like you. Depending on the count, one or more parties will survey sites within the 15-mile diameter count circle on a given day. Butterfly counts are driven by butterfly lovers just like you. All it takes is a desire to participate in a day-long count to help track the North American butterfly populations.

Find an active count near you on the map page, e.g., search for “Virginia.” (The map takes a moment to work so be patient.) Once you contact them, the compiler (count leader) will let you know when and where to meet.

Good Hedges Make Good Neighbors

Article and photo by Plant NOVA Natives

Dense plantings between properties are a valuable amenity, so much so that they are mandated for many building projects. A mixed hedge consisting of native plant species has the added value of supporting the songbirds in our communities. Privacy screens don’t always work out as planned, though, so here are a few considerations for creating and maintaining them.

Rows of identical evergreen trees or shrubs have been the conventional choice for screening. A strong case can be made, however, for mixing it up a bit. Ten plants of the same species may look symmetrical initially, but nature has a way of laughing at symmetry. Small variations in sunlight and moisture can cause the plants to grow at different rates. In the case of shrubs, this problem can be countered for a while by shearing them all to the same height. But it’s not a lot of fun to be standing on a ladder to shear plants, and eventually plants tend to rebel at being chopped back and start to look tired or leggy. A more serious problem occurs when one of them dies, leaving a hole in the screening, or worse, when a disease spreads from plant to plant, as can easily happen to a monoculture.

By contrast, a screen that consists of a variety of native plants – chosen because their natural sizes are appropriate for the situation – can do the job while reducing maintenance needs. As an important bonus, native trees and shrubs provide not only nesting sites for songbirds but also food for both the adults and the nestlings, unlike plants that evolved elsewhere and do little to support the local ecosystem. A list of native plants that are suitable for screening can be found on the Plant NOVA Natives website.

Sometimes people find themselves in a hurry to screen off an undesirable view and are facing the problem of having to wait for trees and shrubs to grow high enough. A better solution may be to block the view right away with a lattice and cover it with Coral Honeysuckle or Crossvine. Both of these evergreen native vines have colorful blooms that attract hummingbirds..

Unfortunately, our buffer areas between properties have become a prime target for invasive plant species, which can seriously degrade a site before the landowner realizes something is wrong. If screening was mandated in the development process, local ordinances require that the plants be maintained in good health and replaced if they die. The most immediate threat is posed by invasive vines such as Japanese Honeysuckle or Asian Wisteria which strangle and smother trees and shrubs. A nice screening that was an amenity is now a derelict eyesore and an invitation to dumping. Invasive trees such as Callery Pear crowd out the native trees, and invasive shrubs such as Japanese Barberry, Nandina, and Burning Bush prevent tree seedlings from growing. The sooner these plants are recognized and dealt with, the easier and less expensive it will be to preserve the beauty of our homes and communities. You can learn more about that on the invasives management page of the Plant NOVA Natives website.


FMN CE Kayak Tours – 2024

FMN and Mason Neck State Park are happy to announce the ‘FMN only’ summer CE Kayak schedule for 2024. All dates are on Sundays.

Adventures launch from the MNSP car-top boat launch and paddle from Belmont Bay into Kane’s Creek wetlands. The 3 mile round trip takes approximately 1 hour and a half. Stopping along the way to point out various plants, birds, and animals encountered along the way. All tours are led by water safety certified state park kayak guides who also happen to be FMN interpreters.

July Twilight tour: 7/21/24, 6:30-8:30PM, depart park by 9PM.
August Morning tour: 8/18, 9-11AM, depart park by 11:30AM
September Evening tour: 9/1, 5:30-7:30PM, depart park by 8PM.

*Guests – please arrive 30 minutes prior to tour start to gear up*

These are FMN only tours. Limit 12 per tour.
Registration is free and must be done via BI calendar.
Once the tour fills, registration auto-locks and it disappears from the Opportunities Calendar but remains on the Opportunities List.

All guests are required to use park provided kayaks and paddles.
PFDs (vests) are provided but you may bring your own. Personal PFDs must be Coast Guard approved/labeled Type III or better.

Appropriate clothing for the weather, activity level, and closed-toe shoes are recommended. Below is a park provided link to a guide for recommended kayak-clothing. kayaking-what-to-wear

To register:
1. Login to BI and click on your ‘Opportunities’ tab.
2. Select ‘Opportunity Calendar’ from the pull-down menu.
3. Find event in the displayed calendar; Click it to see event details.
4. To sign up, Click the ‘Sign Up’ box in the lower right. This automatically signs you up and puts the event on your personal calendar.
5. To claim 2.5 CE hours: please use All Continuing Education -> FMN All other Chapter Training, as the Approved Org.

FMN Spotlight – Virginia Native Plant Society

FMN once again flicks on the spotlight – this time to shine it on longtime Stewardship opportunity provider, Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS) and FMN Alan Ford, our chapter point of contact for VNPS.

Alan getting to the root of a problem – photo Carol Wolter

Spotlighting our partners and the opportunities they offer creates membership awareness and associates a name with an organization. This also affords FMN a chance to thank them for their tireless contributions over the years.

VNPS has 12 chapters supporting 2750+ members state wide and has endeavored for over thirty years in encouraging appreciation for and promoting engagement with the natural wonders of Virginia. Alan is President of the Potowmack Chapter, which is involved with numerous local and state program initiatives. Activities sponsored and funded by the VNPS include unstinting support for the development and publication of the new Flora of Virginia Project; supporting the Virginia Department of Natural Heritage in their missions, including plant identification, land acquisition and protection; and various educational programs for their membership and the public.
Six Fairfax Master Naturalist’s participated in the inaugural Flora of Virginia Ambassadors certification program in 2024, which was open to all VMN chapters (FMN code E002: Flora of Virginia Ambassadors – – VMN). The next FOV Ambassadors program is projected to convene in spring 2025.

Alan with Lisa Bright (Co-founder & Director Emerita Earth Sangha) sorting native grasses – photo courtesy Alan Ford

The Potowmack Chapter, co-founded the statewide VNPS organization along with the Prince William Wildflower Society. It is the largest VNPS chapter, representing 780 members in the counties of Arlington and Fairfax; cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church. Being the largest chapter in the most urbanized region, poses some challenges on programs and outreach. The chapter is involved with various urban landscape efforts and strives to alleviate the challenges of park funding and invasive plant management.

FMN’s service code for working on VNPS activities is ‘S231: VNPS field work including Green Spring Gardens service — VA Native Plant Society’. This service opportunity provides local stewardship activities for organizing and participating in native plant rescues; assistance with maintaining the Green Spring Gardens Native Plant Trail; and other stewardship and educational programs. VNPS provides lecture presentations, nature walks, and other activities to help the public learn more about local native flora. VNPS provides FMN with many training and volunteer opportunities.  Their programs and field trips are amazing.  VNPS programs emphasize public education, protection of endangered species, native habitat preservation, and encourage appropriate landscape use of native plants. 

Please contact Alan Ford, Potowmack Chapter President, [email protected] for more information on how to get involved as an FMN volunteer or directly in VNPS.
Alan, a former computer science professor at American University, has been an FMN member since 2008 and has accumulated over 2500 FMN service hours, as well as, thousands of hours in service to outdoor parks in Northern Virginia and surrounding communities.

Home Page – VNPS Potowmack Chapter

Alan Ford contributed content and photos for this article.
Marilyn Schroeder contributed the spark.
Cover Photo – Green Springs Gardens, courtesy of FCPA.