Earth’s Climate: Present, Past, and Future, VNPS Annual Workshop, Mar. 14th

Piedmont Virginia Community College
V. Earl Dickinson Building Theater, 444 College Dr., Charlottesville VA
Saturday, 14 March 2020
9 am – 3:15 pm

Many are concerned about climate change and no longer need to be convinced that it is real. But we can always learn something new about the study of climate and its changes and impacts on Earth’s ecosystems. This Workshop will focus on climate changes at different periods of time, how it might relate to our current climate, and inform our thoughts about today’s changes.

The speakers this year will cover more than 50 million years of Earth’s climate history. From the present state of our coastal ecosystems, to climate perturbations during the historic period, to the glacial ages and their influence on eastern forests, and finally to the fossil record far in the past, we will explore environmental changes in our world.

More information, workshop brochure and registration here. Brought to you by the Virginia Native Plant Society.

Mount Vernon High School needs Science Fair Judges, Feb. 4th

Mount Vernon High School
8515 Old Mt Vernon Rd, Alexandria, VA 22309
Tuesday, 4 February 2020
(Snow date Monday, 10 February)
8 am – 12 pm

IB and Honors science students have been working on their projects since September. Volunteer to be a part of their Science Fair experience. Judging is easy! Previous experience as a judge is not needed, however, judges should have in interest in science. Judges will listen to student presentations, ask questions, and evaluate student work using a simple rubric. Refreshments will be served.

Please contact Alexander White at for further details about Science Fair judging.

Master naturalists earn service credit using code E152.

Certified Interpretive Guide course, Feb. 24-27th

Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria VA
Monday, 24 February – Thursday, 27 February
8:30 am – 5 pm
28 February a possible snow make-up day

A Certified Interpretive Guide course is being offered by the Fairfax County Park Authority. This certification workshop focuses on the skills needed to interpret natural and cultural resources to an audience allowing them to not just learn about resources but connect to and care about them.
This is a national certification program offered by the National Association for Interpretation hosted by the Fairfax County Park Authority for its staff. It requires no prior knowledge or training.
There are 5 spots open to the public. You can register online.
Here is the link:

The course is 32 hours and meets 8:30am-5pm for 4 days, more details will follow after registering. Remember to indicate whether you want the certification option.
For more information about the course, please contact Patricia Dietly at or call (703) 642-0128.

Inside Out Gardens

Article by Plant NOVA Natives

Before we turn our thoughts to spring, let us take this opportunity to plan for next year’s long stretch of cold and gray. Does your landscape give you pleasure in the winter, as you sit inside looking out? Or is it only designed for curb appeal, with the plants crammed up against the foundation so that all you see from your window is the lawn and the street? Or perhaps the shrubs that were installed with the house are now overgrown and blocking your view altogether. A little rearranging can give you both curb appeal and a vibrant vista from your breakfast table or living room.

The first thing to consider is that movement brings a landscape to life. That can be provided by wind bending the grasses but most importantly by birds and other critters that are making use of your yard. A bird feeder can help you obtain that experience, but to actually support the wildlife, you need to provide them with the plants they need for shelter and food for both themselves and their babies. With rare exceptions, baby songbirds cannot eat seeds – they require insects, which themselves require the plants with which they evolved. In other words, to support life, your yard needs native plants.

If you take out any overgrown shrubs and plant new ones fifteen or twenty feet away from the window, from the inside the effect can be as if you added on a room to your house. Native shrubs can be arranged into a living backdrop where birds entertain you as they eat and shelter. Winterberry, Chokeberry and Elderberry are examples of shrubs that provide colorful berries to feed the birds. Multi-stemmed Serviceberries, with their lovely white flowers followed by berries that are also edible to humans, provide a place for birds to sit while they eat the seeds from your feeder. Native Heucheras and evergreen native ferns and sedges can fill the lower levels, which are also the perfect place to include some small shade-loving species that might get lost in a flower garden bed. Partridgeberry, for example, lies flat on the ground and has adorable red berries from November to January. Not as tiny but still quite small, the spring ephemerals start to emerge just when you need relief from winter.

Spring ephemerals are shade plants that emerge and quickly flower in late winter and spring and then fade away once the trees leaf out. If you plant them in the woods, you will be mimicking nature, but you may miss the whole show. How often do you walk in your woods in cold or rainy weather? On the other hand, if you also tuck them under your deciduous shrubs out front where you can spot these treasures from your window or as you walk by on the way to your car, you can enjoy them the same way we appreciate snow drops, crocuses and daffodils as they emerge in succession. One of the earliest harbingers of spring is Round-lobed Hepatica, whose cute three-lobed leaves peek out in March to be followed by pale purple flowers. Another plant with intriguing leaves is Bloodroot, which starts to flower by late March, around the time that the pink and white flowers of Virginia Spring Beauty begin their long bloom period, providing an important source of nectar to bees as they first awaken. The blossoms of Virginia Bluebells may occasionally start to appear that early as well. A whole troop of other ephemerals burst forth in April. You can find details about spring ephemerals and other native plants on the Plant NOVA Natives website, as well as information about where to buy them.

Fireflies: Hosting Nature’s Light Show into Your Garden, program Feb.3rd

American Legion
400 N. Oak Street, Falls Church VA
Monday, 3 February 2020
7:30 pm

Lightning bugs (aka fireflies) are part of the magic of growing up in the eastern United States, yet most people know very little about them. Nature education specialists Kris and Erik Mollenhauer have studied fireflies, seen “blue ghosts” and “synchronizing fireflies,” and explored some of the dark secrets of the Night Country. This program explores the “fairies of the night” and how we can create habitat in our gardens to keep them flashing for years to come.

BIO: Erik and Kris Mollenhauer are retired educators but committed volunteers. Erik taught high school science for 15 years, then worked as an educational program developer for 24 years. He developed a program with Costa Rica based on songbird migration as well as an international teacher exchange program that led groups to several countries, including Russia, Australia and Japan. For 5 years he helped National Geographic improve geography education in NJ schools; for 30 years, he’s used a portable planetarium to teach the night sky to people of all ages in the US, Canada, Russia and Japan.

Kris was an elementary school teacher for 14 years, then spent 12 years as a Reading Recovery teacher, teaching struggling students how to read. Working with the Monarch Teacher Network, the Mollenhauers have taught monarch butterfly workshops across the US and Canada for the past 20 years and guided groups to the winter monarch colonies in Mexico and California. They’ve also developed many educational projects together, including the East Coast Vulture Festival, the Mad Hatter’s Tree Party, the Gloucester County Bird Quest and, most recently, the Gloucester County Firefly Festival.

Project Drawdown’s 100 solutions to reverse global warming

What if we took out more greenhouse gases than we put into the atmosphere? This hypothetical scenario, known as drawdown, is our only hope of averting climate disaster, says strategist Chad Frischmann of Project Drawdown.

In a compelling TED Talk about climate change, he shares solutions that exist today: conventional tactics like the use of renewable energy and better land management as well as some lesser-known approaches, like changes to food production, better family planning, and the education of girls.

Listen for ideas about how we can reverse global warming and create a world where regeneration, not destruction, is the rule. His talk was presented at “We the Future,” a special event in partnership with the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation.

For the full list of solutions, click here.

For material on managing refrigerants, click here.

For Katherine Wilkinson’s TED Talk on empowering women and girls an their role in addressing climate change, click here.

Conduct a food waste audit for the benefit of your budget and the planet

According to End+Stems’ Alison Mountford, it’s hard to measure household food waste at the scale of the individual home. She reports that 40% of all food produced is wasted and that 67% of the we waste at home is edible. In other words, the average family of 4 is throwing out upwards of $2100 worth of food annually. However, few people can say how much they themselves are wasting, why they wasted it, or which foods are most commonly going to waste.

Because it’s easy to overlook what goes in the trash, she recommends a food audit similar to a food journal. For 1 week, you and your family/housemates keep track of all edible items that throw out. Afterwards, you have a starting point to make simple changes to your household norms and routine.

Here’s the plan and the advice in full, including a free worksheet and access to a Canva template so that you can see what you’re finding.

Ends+Stems is laying the groundwork to conduct the first study to measure how much less food you waste when you plan meals and shop from a tailored grocery list.  

Consider writing to Ends+Stems at with the subject line “Food Waste Audit” to be part of an inaugural study to truly change how we act for the planet.

What we can be Optimistic about in 2020

Article by Matt Bright, Conservation Manager for Earth Sangha,

As the Earth Sangha’s resident optimist, it can sometimes be difficult to keep my usual cheery disposition. A new study came out in France (Wintermantel et al. 2019) showing that even after an EU-wide moratorium in 2013 and an outright ban in 2018, agricultural fields still have levels of neonicotinoids that can be fatal to bees. Research continues to pile up showing declines in birds and insects in North America and beyond. UN reports on climate change sound more dire. Amidst all this depressing news, I was contacted by the Piedmont Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society and they asked me if I could give a talk, but that they wanted it to be optimistic – to focus on what is possible rather than what is broken.
I haven’t yet decided what exactly I will talk about during my January 26th talk, but the challenge and the recent holidays have forced me to reflect broadly on what we’re all doing right, and how we can all collectively keep making progress. This isn’t meant to be Pollyannaish. There is much to be distraught about it. But, with hard work there are issues we can address and begin to create some real change. Here’s what I came up with:

Our understanding of native plants role in ecosystems continues to increase. Scientific literacy about plant ecology is the best tool we have for engaging more people and making the case for conservation and restoration work here and abroad. Thanks to the efforts of scientists like Doug Tallamy, Karin Burghardt, Desiree Narango, and countless others, we now have a much clearer understanding about the interaction between native plant communities and the wildlife they support, and the damage invasive species can do to our natural areas. In summary, native plants support a wider variety and quantity of insect life; these insects support a greater variety of bird life; the flowers attract more insect pollinators and nourish these better than non-natives; and the fruits tend to be better suited to supporting native wildlife too. The more we can put native plants back into areas where they belong, the better off we will all be.

Thanks to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Natural Communities of Virginia, we now have an excellent data set detailing how native plants assemble themselves in the wild. We know that native plants do not occur willy-nilly at random, but in predictable plant communities, and we can use the information, along with historical data and reference sites, to guide restoration.

We now have data on how cultivars of native species function ecologically compared to wild type stock. Annie White’s data show that most cultivars see significantly lower visitation than wild type flowers, and new research on cultivar by Andrea Kramer in Ecological Restoration found that “nearly 25% of cultivars had floral or leaf traits that differed from wild plants in ways that may compromise their ability to support pollinators and other wildlife” and that “only 3% of cultivars received high suitability scores for use in large, undisturbed sites near remnant populations [of native plants].”

All of this research helps us to be more prepared to address future conservation and restoration challenges and informs our work. Even if the conclusions they come to aren’t emotionally gratifying to hear, they point a path forward. In this case, the conclusion is clear: careful restoration of degraded areas with local ecotype stock, replanted into reasonable facsimiles of natural or successional plant communities is a low-risk, high-reward method to improve ecological function. Which brings me to my next point.

We know that we can make a difference. A study looking at fragmentary habitat (Damschen et al., 2019) found that species diversity increased 14% over 18 years in corridors where restoration reconnected disparate parcels compared to ones that remained isolated. This sort of patchwork of parks, natural areas, and undeveloped land separated by swaths of built up areas is mirrored in our own region. By working to improve the ecological value of lands on both public and private areas we can begin the work of reconnecting these fragments into larger corridors.
This work is already happening thanks to homeowners and landscape designers using native plants. Including native plants into landscape designs for larger developments, green roofs, and roadsides will be part of the solution. Advocating and educating people about the advantages of using native plants and how to begin with them is happening right now thanks to Plant NoVA Natives, Audubon at Home and other groups. And of course, our own Wild Plant Nursery supplies homeowners as well as landscape designers, and restoration projects with local ecotype native plants grown without pesticides.

It looks like we will have set yet another record for distributing more plants from our nursery with a whopping 49,734 plants distributed. These plants are hopefully by now all in the ground and will be contributing towards reconnecting some of these fragmented areas and creating better habitat.

We are working with a community of thoughtful engaged professionals and volunteers. This year, our plants reached 29 schools and over 40 parks across Northern Virginia. Inspired by how well our efforts to restore rare plant species (Pycnanthemum torreyi and Solidago rigida) to wild areas with Fairfax County Park Authority went this year, we’re already looking other sites where we will conduct volunteer restoration plantings using our own plants, in areas where larger scale restoration seeding has already taken place. We think this can be a good model that allows land managers to tackle large areas economically with seed sowing, while protecting local genetics and adding appropriate diversity to sites through replanting with local ecotype stock. Keep an eye out this spring when we’ll need a hand with planting!

Across the region, thoughtful restoration work is taking place. City of Alexandria targeted a steep mowed slope in Montgomery Park where we replanted dry meadow species. This planting not only helped to establish a diverse meadow where there was only lawn before, but removed a difficult and potentially dangerous bit of mowing along a steep slope. Fairfax County, Falls Church City and Arlington County have also completed a number of restoration events this year, in part with our stock.

And, of course, many volunteers work tirelessly to see these projects through, to advocate for better policies, educate and engage people who would otherwise not be aware of local environmental issues, and help to inform our own understanding of natural areas by volunteering their expertise with citizen science projects or leading their own restoration projects.

We would’ve never been in the position we’re in today, to support so much great work, if it wasn’t for all the support of our colleagues, our donors, and our volunteers.

And for all that, I am very grateful.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center on Your Own, Story Map a Winner!

Article by Fiona Davies, Volunteer Manager, Hidden Oaks Nature Center

Hidden Oaks Nature Center was recently awarded 3rd place in a county-wide Geographic Information Systems (GIS) competition. GIS refers to electronic maps with information attached to them. The award recognized the story map that site staff and county employees created for the 50th anniversary of the Center. A story map is an online site that tells a story using maps, pictures, and words.

Hidden Oaks actually has two story maps. The first, created for the anniversary, “Imagine the Next 50 Years,” is an evolution of the park, the building exhibits, and the surrounding areas. The second, “Habitats and Havens: Tour the Old Oak Trail” is a walking informational tour of the Old Oak Trail. The web applications are available on the Park Authority website.

“Imagine the next 50 Years” encourages viewers to consider how they can impact Hidden Oaks over the coming 50 years through learning about the last 50. The project served a twofold purpose – both communicating how the Nature Center has served the community at large and promoting the 50th anniversary event. Commercial aerial imagery supports the “Running Out of Room” section, while a photo taken from a helicopter shows the baseball fields after they were constructed. The “Expansion Through the Decades” section contains embedded web maps that users can expand to see how the park has changed from 1976 to 2019. Each section concludes with a reflection on how the next 50 years may evolve, while the app closes with a reminder that everyone can make a positive impact in their community.
“Habitats and Havens” makes a great tool for someone who lives far away or is confined to their home for some reason. For example, for grandparents so they can see and learn about the trail their grandkids walk on and ask them about it.

Both are useful to bring the past to life for young visitors who like Hidden Oaks and are interested in knowing what it used to look like. They also brings awareness to the historical and current importance of the nature center and the green space surrounding it and will hopefully spark interest in conservation and being mindful of the planet.

Story maps, technology advances nature. Do you have a story map in your future?

Watch the Green Grow!

Share the good work you do on your property to benefit our natural areas. Use the Watch the Green Grow mapping application to record environmentally friendly practices in your yard. Upload pictures to show your progress. Each positive report triggers a green spot on a county map. The green areas grow with each beneficial action. The map provides a powerful picture of environmental stewardship in our community. Tell your neighbors or HOA about Watch the Green Grow. WTGG is an FCPA program that focuses on outreach to HOAs and community associations. Contact for more information.