Common Plant Family Identification Workshop, June 16th

Image: The Clifton Institute

Thursday, June 16, 2022
6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Where: The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
Cost: Free
Registration is required!

If you’re learning to identify plants, learning the common families can really help narrow down your options when you’re faced with an unfamiliar specimen. If you already know a few plants, learning their families can provide a useful framework to help organize all the species rattling around in your brain. Whatever level you’re at, learning to identify the plant families around you is a really fun way to get to know the natural world. In this program, Managing Director Eleanor Harris will give a brief talk on the ways to identify the most common plant families in Virginia. Then she will lead a short walk in the fields to practice your plant family identification skills.

Click here for registration and additional information.

The Southeast’s Diverse Flora: Discoveries, Conservation & Identification with Alan Weakley webinar, April 8th

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) ; photo by Margaret Chatham

Thursday, April 8, 2021
7:30 – 9 pm
Register here.

Alan Weakley is a plant taxonomist, community ecologist, and conservationist specializing in the Southeastern United States. He holds a B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Ph.D. from Duke University. He has worked as botanist and ecologist for the N.C. Natural Heritage Program, and as regional and chief ecologist for The Nature Conservancy and NatureServe. He is currently Director of the University of North Carolina Herbarium, a department of the N.C. Botanical Garden, and teaches as adjunct faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill and at the Highlands Biological Station.

Dr. Weakly is author of the Flora of the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, and co-author (with Chris Ludwig and Johnny Townsend) of the Flora of Virginia, which has received five awards, including the Thomas Jefferson Award for Conservation.

Hosted by Virginia Native Plant Society, Potowmack Chapter.

Botany and Bloom Workshop Series, Apr. 27 and Jul. 27 and Nov. 23, 2019

27 April and 27 July 2019

10:00 am – 02:00 pm

Location: Sky Meadows State Park, Edmonds Lane 11012, Delaplane, Virginia

Explore the rich natural diversity of Sky Meadows State Park with this three-part series. Each workshop includes a lecture in the Carriage Barn, followed by a 3-mile field hike for hands-on application. Receive a colored print-out of the lecture. Each workshop is $15/adult, $5/child (12 and under), payable the day of the workshop. Workshop fee includes parking. Bring water and lunch to eat along the trail, dress in layers, and wear sturdy shoes.

Spring Ephemerals – Saturday, April 27, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Summer Blooms – Saturday, July 27, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Winter Tree Identification – Saturday, November 23, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For complete workshop descriptions, and to sign up for the series, go to:

When is a jewel not a gem?

Jerry Nissley

When is a jewel not a gem? When it’s a weed—at least that’s what I thought at first. Alas, the common jewelweed.

So what, then? Jewelweed is a common widespread plant that occurs in most moist, semi-shady areas throughout northern and eastern North America. Some people may call it an invasive native plant. So why take the time to write about it? Well, here’s what happened to me one day this summer, which may be an all too familiar occurrence for you as well. 

Photo 1, by Jerry Nissley

Friends and family know I recently completed the VMN program and frequently send me pictures of plants or animals to identify. Does that happen to you too? But no worries—I love the challenge. So one day a friend sends a single, iPhone picture depicting a lovely specimen she found of what she thinks is a yellow lady slipper. “Please confirm?” she asks. 

I know only enough to know it does not look like one of the three lady slippers known to grow in Northern Virginia. So I send the picture to Martha Garcia, a fellow VMN who happened to present her wonderful FMN final class project on Lady Slippers, from which I learned that Lady Slippers are orchids. Martha did not believe it to be a lady slipper, but the picture looked enough like an orchid that she was interested in additional photos. 

“Yay,” I say—an opportunity for “field work”! I grab my SLR and tripod to hunt down the suspect at the obscure Kirk Park in Alexandria. Of course, I am looking for something of magnificent splendor tucked beside a log but nothing like that do I find.  Eventually my eyes refocus with a wider aperture and catch glimpse of little orange dots on a bushy vine by the side of the path (see Photo 1).  The flowers are not even an inch across, they are tiny, and they are on a bush. Alas, my chance at fame and fortune melted away with the summer heat after realizing I was not about to discover a new orchid. Ha, of course not—why would I even think that?

Photo 2, by Jerry Nissley

However, upon returning home (and to reality), I reviewed the photos, looked up information, and discovered the plant to be a jewelweed, a.k.a. touch-me-not or orange balsam. It soothes poison ivy rash, the seeds explode into the air when touched, hummingbirds are the primary pollinator, it has the face of an orchid (sort of), and the leaves shimmer under water—what is not to like?  I found the so-what factor, and why I came to consider it a hidden gem after all follows.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

It often forms dense, pure stands in floodplain forests and around the forested edges of marshes and bogs. Jewelweed also colonizes disturbed habitats such as ditches and road cuts. It can be an aggressive competitor in its favored habitats, and is one of the few native North American plants that has been shown to compete successfully against garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a non-native invasive weed that threatens many eastern North American forests.

 Jewelweed is an herbaceous plant that grows 3 to 5 feet tall and blooms from late spring to early fall. The flowers are orange (sometimes blood orange or rarely yellow) with a three-lobed corolla; one of the calyx lobes is colored similarly to the corolla and forms a hooked conical spur at the back of the flower (see Photo 2). Plants may also produce non-showy cleistogamous flowers, which do not require cross-pollination. The principal advantage of cleistogamy (closed flowers) is that it requires fewer plant resources to produce seeds than chasmogamy (open flowers), because development of petals, nectar and large amounts of pollen is not required. This efficiency makes cleistogamy particularly useful for seed production on unfavorable sites or in adverse conditions. Impatiens capensis has been observed to produce only cleistogamous flowers after being severely damaged by grazing. 

Photo 3, by Jerry Nissley

The round stems are smooth and succulent, semi-ranslucent, with swollen or darkened nodes on some plants. The leaves are alternate and simple and have teeth on the margins. The seed pods have five valves which coil back rapidly to eject the seeds in a process called explosive dehiscence. This reaction is where the name ‘touch-me-not’ comes from; in mature seed pods, dehiscence can easily be triggered with a light touch. The leaves appear to be silver-blue or ‘jeweled’ when held underwater or in morning dew (see Photo 3), which is possibly where the jewelweed name comes from. 

 Nectar spurs are tubular elongations of petals and sepals of certain flowers that usually contain nectar (see Photo 4). Flowers of Impatiens capensis have these nectar spurs. Nectar spurs are thought to have played a role in plant-pollinator coevolution. Curvature angles of nectar spurs of Impatiens capensis are variable. Research shows this angle varies from 0 degrees to 270 degrees. The angle of the nectar spur is very important in the pollination of the flower and in determining

the most efficient pollinator. Hummingbirds are major pollinators. They remove more pollen per visit from flowers with curved nectar spurs than with perpendicular nectar spurs. Ruby-Throated hummingbirds are not the only pollinators of Impatiens capensis. The flowers attract long-tongued bees, including bumblebees and honeybees. Swallowtail butterflies are occasional visitors. Sometimes bumblebees will steal nectar by chewing holes near the spur of the flower. Various smaller insects (e.g., Syrphid flies and ants) will visit the same holes to steal nectar. The caterpillars of several moths feed on the foliage, including Euchlaena obtusaria (Obtuse Euchlaena), Spilosoma latipennis (Pink-Legged Tiger Moth), Trichodezia albovittata (White-Striped Black), and Xanthorhoe lacustrata (Toothed Brown Carpet). Seeds are eaten by birds and mice and White-Tailed Deer browse on the foliage. Photo 5 shows an ant taking a morning sip of nectar.

Figure 4. Photo by Jerry Nissley

Figure 5. Photo by Jerry Nissley

Along with other species of jewelweed, the juice of the leaves and stems is a traditional Native
Peoples remedy for skin rashes, including poison ivy. The effectiveness of its use to prevent the development of a rash after short-term exposure to poison ivy has been supported by peer-reviewed study and is likely due to the plant containing saponins. These studies also found that some individuals have sensitivity to jewelweed which can cause a more severe rash. To treat a rash, gather some of the whole jewelweed plant and macerate well until it becomes wet in your hands. Apply the wet plant matter to the rash area directly. Leave on and repeat applications as needed. Jewelweed helps counterbalance the oils in poison ivy. It has also been used as an agent to promote blood flow, for post-childbirth, joint pain, bruises and swelling, and athlete’s foot. 

As an aside, most saponins, which readily dissolve in water, are poisonous to fish. Therefore, in ethnobotany, they are primarily known for their use by indigenous people in obtaining aquatic food sources. Cultures throughout the world have used fish-killing plants, mostly those containing saponins, for fishing. Although now prohibited by law, fish-poison plants are still widely used by indigenous tribes in Guyana. Many of California’s Native People tribes traditionally used soaproot, (genus Chlorogalum) and/or the root of various yucca species, which contain saponin, as a fish poison. They would pulverize the roots, mixing in water to create foam and then add the suds to a stream. This would kill, or incapacitate, the fish, which could be gathered easily from the surface of the water.

Jewelweed makes a lovely addition to native plant gardens that are located in moist, partially shaded areas. Not only are the flowers aesthetically pleasing, so are the hummingbirds, bumblebees, and butterflies that are attracted to the flowers. Jewelweed can be used to fill in empty spaces in the garden that might otherwise be taken over by non-native weeds. Jewelweed can be propagated easily by direct sowing of fresh seed in early fall. Once established, a patch of jewelweed will maintain itself through annual seed production.

So there you have it. Once again, something that may have gone unnoticed because of its diminutive size or under-appreciated because it’s “just another woodland weed,” indeed turns out to be a resource for native insects, animals, and humans. But who would have known? I had to become aware, get out there, take a look, and do my homework to understand the intricacies of everything jewelweed. At the risk of sounding corny, moments like this are my reward for getting involved with the VMN program. I may have never taken the time to discover the importance of this tiny jewel of the forest. So maybe it was a new discovery after all, if perhaps only for me. How many more ‘new discoveries’ are out there?


How Plants Move: A Talk by Charles Smith

Thursday, January 10, 2019

7:30 – 9:00 pm

Green Spring Gardens

4603 Green Spring Road

Alexandria, VA 22312

VNPS programs are free and open to the public.

No reservations are necessary for lectures

Please join us for a talk by Charles Smith, to kick off our lecture series again this year.  Charles explores the ways plants disperse across land and water and discusses reproductive strategies, niche exploitation, plant community composition and what the future may look like considering the fragmented condition of our landscape and climate change.

Charles is a native of Arlington, VA, and a naturalist and ecologist with 25 years of experience working primarily in natural resource management, including the Fairfax County Park Authority and five years with Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.   He is currently branch chief of Fairfax County Stormwater Planning Division, focusing on stream and natural area restoration.  Charles is a US Army veteran; board member of Virginia Native Plant Society, Prince William Wildflower Society and Prince William Conservation Alliance; and member of Friends of the Potomac River Refuges.  He is a popular VNPS speaker and has served as an instructor for three chapters of the Virginia Master Naturalists.

Earth Sangha offering paid internships for 2019

Earth Sangha is looking to fill five paid, part-time, DC-area internships: 

2 growing-season internships at our nursery
2 summer internships at the Marie Butler Leven Preserve

1 office internship near George Mason University’s main campus

All internships will pay $15 per hour.
For details contact Matt Bright at 

Saving the Earth one person at a time: Volunteer to staff a table for Plant NOVA Natives

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Please sign up here to talk about the value of planting native plants with visitors to the Mount Vernon District Environment Expo: Saving the Earth One Person at a Time.

November 10, 2018
7:15 – 11:15 am

Post this lovely flyer where people might see it: enviroexpoposter-flyer-final

Mark Your Ballot: Goldenrods or Asters?

0.jpgWhile humans are bustling about on election campaigns, the rest of the world’s citizens are frenetically preparing for winter. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators seek out the last of the flowering plants. In the Mid-Atlantic area, goldenrods and asters provide that critical food source (just as red maples fill that need at the other end of the growing season, when bees start to emerge in the spring before anything else is blooming.)

If you pause for a minute in front of blooming goldenrods and asters, you will be astonished at the number of bees foraging for nectar and pollen, including many of the hundreds of species of native bees and the non-native honeybees. If the sun is shining and the temperature is high enough, you will also be treated to the sight of butterflies and skippers flitting from flower to flower. Look very closely at the goldenrod flowers and you will find a whole world of tiny beetles and other creatures hiding between the blossoms.


There are many species of goldenrods and asters, all very easy to grow. They come in different sizes, and asters come in different colors. Some self-seed exuberantly, some are more contained. You can find out the details by consulting the Plant NOVA Natives online search app. Late autumn is not too late to plant, as the roots will continue to grow even as the tops die back.

Cast your ballot on our Bloom Time Table page by clicking here to choose your favorite. Or vote instead on the Plant NOVA Natives Facebook page. Polls close at 7 pm on November 6, of course! We know who the insects are voting for: there is nothing elective for them about native plants, upon which they are completely dependent. To help you choose, check out the “campaign ads” on this short video.

Marion Lobstein presents the Flora of Virginia App

Photo: Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Sunday, November 11, 2018
1 – 4 PM

Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road
Alexandria, VA 22312

Everything wonderful from the print version of Flora of Virginia can now fit in your pocket and make you feel like a pro in the woods. The app, for Android and iOS devices, features an easy-to-use Graphic Key, in addition to the traditional dichotomous keys. Species descriptions include photographs, and many include a botanical illustration.

Marion Blois Lobstein is Professor Emeritus of NVCC, where she taught botany, general biology, microbiology, and other courses over her thirty-seven-year teaching career.  For many years she conducted tours and taught classes for the Smithsonian Resident Associates Program.  Her academic degrees Include a BSEd (Biology) from W. Carolina Univ., MAT from UNC-Chapel Hill, and MS in Biology from George Mason Univ.  She is co-author of Finding Wildflowers in the Washington-Baltimore Area.  Marion serves on the Board of Directors of the Foundation of the Flora of Virginia Project and is a former Board Member of the Foundation of the State Arboretum. Marion is a founding and active member of the Virginia Native Plant Society.

Virginia Native Plant Society  programs are free and open to the public. Prior to the talk, VPNS will conduct the business of their annual meeting, voting for chapter officers and approving the 2019 budget.



Write articles for FCPA ResOURces newsletter (yes, for credit)

If you enjoy writing about the natural world, and want to educate and inspire visitors to Fairfax County parks, consider becoming a volunteer journalist. In this capacity, you’ll choose a recreation center or park site and learn as much as you can about it. When you’re ready and the deadlines are within reach, you will write articles for the ResOURces newsletter. (And earn service hours–good deal in the wintertime, especially). Code EO12

Interested? Contact Tammy Schwab