This summary of our chapter’s annual report was created by the state program office and captures some of the high level details of our chapter and the value of the volunteer work done by the chapter.
Journey Through Hallowed Ground Native Plant Trail Dedication Ceremony at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve
Date: Saturday, April 15, 2017
Time: 11 am
Join community members and volunteers to celebrate the dedication of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Living Legacy Project native tree planting at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve in Leesburg, VA. The Living Legacy Project commemorates the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Dedication will feature comments from local dignitaries, patriotic music, and time to tour the Living Legacy planting.
Ninety-five trees were planted at Banshee Reeks, through a partnership with Loudoun County and the Virginia Master Naturalist Program. All trees are native species and include white oak, sassafras, black gum, and Virginia’s state tree – flowering dogwood.
Through this program, one tree will be planted for each of the 620,000 soldiers who died during one of the most defining moments in American history. Upon completion, the Project will create the first 180-mile landscaped allée in the world, and the only one dedicated to memorializing the American Civil War.
For more information about the preserve, visit http://www.bansheereeksnp.org/.
Question– Is an American Chestnut tree growing on BRNP property?
Question– Does a wild (native survivor) American Chestnut tree exist in Loudoun County?
Answers at end of article.
Looking for a botanically-focused venture, this past June 2016, I volunteered for a week-long annual inoculation project at The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) Research Farm through the Roads Scholar Program. Having read numerous articles ranging from newspapers to journals, I arrived in Meadowview, Virginia, naïvely thinking I knew a lot about the plight of the American Chestnut. Not so much, it turned out.
After a brief introductory session, the volunteers were turned over to the Research Farm’s lead scientist, Dr. Laura Georgi. For the next five days Dr. Georgi lectured, instructed, tutored, demonstrated, illustrated—motivating us to learn about almost every aspect of the chestnut species. During the course of the week our learning environments ranged from a class setting to the research farm’s laboratory to the orchard fields. I gained direct knowledge by performing field work in the Meadowview orchards. I learned first-hand how to identify the various symptoms of the blight’s infections; developed a detailed understanding of the pathology of the fungus; and learned to differentiate taxonomically the hybridized tree generations produced in the backbreeding projects. In the Farm’s laboratory, Dr. Georgi provided a rudimentary introduction into the genetics of crossbreeding as practiced by TACF (intrabreeding), and a working level tour through the lab’s procedures and techniques in germinating nuts to grow approximately 5000 seedlings per year.
It is rather common knowledge in botany-centric worlds, that the accidental introduction of the fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), devastated the American Chestnut tree (Castanea dentata), the penultimate foundation species to grow in the eastern North American forests (1-1.5 billion trees). By the end of WWII, in slightly over 50 years, the great American Chestnut was reduced to a few standing survivors and even now these more immune exotic specimens continue to succumb to the blight. Less known is that although the fungus destroys the aboveground stems, it does not attack the root systems which are protected by the soils. This is a fortunate factor in an otherwise total ecological disaster, as the blight did not cause full extinction of C. dentata. The fungus does however cause the extirpation of the tree’s physiology out of the forest canopy, resulting in the chestnut being functionally extinct.
Recent research, designed around and based on the enhanced version of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program where sampling was compiled by states’ forestry evaluation groups, estimates roughly 431 million (error ±30.2 million) C. dentata stems (stem, sapling, or tree). This population equals less than 10% of pre-blight population in its historical range. Distributed across the 16 core-range states, 70.9 million live trees (>2.5 cm dbh) are estimated to exist. That the vast majority (84%) of the stems inventoried in the FIA are seedlings (< 2.5 cm dbh) illustrates the greatly diminished structure of the surviving stock.
Since the blight was discovered, various groups have attempted either to eradicate the fungus or to develop resistant trees; this latter option considered the most viable in terms of success. Hypovirulence control, inter/intra breeding, and genetic engineering are the three main approaches practiced by restoration efforts. Recently the breeding programs and the genetic engineering techniques are experiencing broader support and probability of success in chestnut tree restoration.
TACF is one of the larger national restoration organizations. See box below. The TACF pursues the traditional inter/intra-breeding approaches to developing an immune hybrid tree that is 95% American. The TACF Research Farm is located in Meadowview, with three large local orchards and another remote orchard at Matthews State Forest near Galax. These properties contain approximately 50,000 trees, sprouts, and seedlings planted as stock for their backbreeding program headquartered and operated in a Virginia Dept. of Forestry certified laboratory. With only four staffed positions, the Meadowview backbreeding programs are highly dependent upon volunteers and citizen scientists to perform hands-on tasks during the critical spring and fall months when the chestnut trees are in their annual growth stages.
Meanwhile back on the farm, er, in the orchards that is, with nine other Roads Scholars, we worked up to eight hours per day performing inoculations of over 2000 trees. Yes, we were intentional infecting trees with the fungus! Inoculations are performed on 3- to 5-year-old trees to determine each plant’s susceptibility to the fungus. Of the 2000 tree we treated with the fungus, the survival rate will probably be 5 or 6 trees. American chestnut tree immunity to the fungus is a very low percentage condition enabled by a genetic mutation from cross breeding.
After limited early success, much progress is being achieved in producing a blight resistant tree, especially in the past 10 years. Advances in breeding techniques and procedures have been greatly enhanced through the contributions of biochemical analysis and mapping of the chestnut genome by genetic engineers. Aided by these scientific disciplines, one can perceive within the chestnut groups a change of attitude from one of dogged determination working against an overwhelming foe to one of confidence based on intelligent information. Conservation literature is beginning to address the pragmatic environmental impacts of repopulation dynamics of the chestnut tree on the current forest biome.
After a brief—but intense— indoctrination into the Chestnut tree and its blight I cannot claim to be naïve any longer. But based on my experience in Meadowview, I must humbly admit that even more than before, my level of knowledge remains “Not so much—still.”
However, I more fully comprehend the scope of the task of the TACF and related organizations with their goal of forestland restoration. More importantly, I understand the vital importance of the role and the dedication of volunteers necessary to support the mission of restoring the mighty Chestnut tree.
Answer 1. Unreported; Highly improbable.
Answer 2. Yes, according to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, Plant Database
 Dalgleish,H.J.; Nelson,C.D.; Scrivani,J.A.; Jacobs,D.F. Consequences of Shifts in Abundance and Distribution of American Chestnut for Restoration of a Foundation Tree. Reprinted from Forests (ISSN 1999-4907) in Chestnut, The Journal of The American Chestnut Foundation, Issue 2, Vol. 30, Spring 2016.
 Bechtold,W.A.; Patterson,P.L. The Enhanced Forest Inventory and Analysis Program- National Sampling Design and Estimation Procedures; Gen. Tech. Rep. -80; Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station; Asheville, NC, USA, 2005; p.85.
The mission of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is to restore the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands to benefit our environment, our wildlife, and our society.
The American Chestnut Foundation has a Tree Locator project that encourages identification and verification of native or wild specimens of C. dentata. To assist and standardize the inventory efforts TACF maintains an online reporting site: acf.org/find_a_tree.php.
As Fall approaches, many of us will be thinking about ‘tidying up’ the yard ready for Winter – and for most, that will mean cutting down dead flowers, raking up fallen leaves and piling up bags of yard waste at the curb for pick up. Then, we can settle back into our warm homes to wait things out until Spring.
But spare a thought for the many critters that live in our yards. Mostly, we won’t see them, but they are there and they too need safe habitat to survive the winter. The insects and arachnids that overwinter successfully will the ones that provide food for hungry fledgling birds in the Spring. They will pollinate the early flowers, providing fruit and seeds later in the season and some will even assist in keeping other destructive insects under control.
Many butterfly and moth species over-winter as pupae in leaf litter. When the caterpillars emerge in Spring, they provide critically important food for birds feeding their young. Ladybugs and Lacewings like to nest in dry, sheltered crowns of native grasses and spiders hide at the base of old stems. Different species of bees use hollow plant stems, or small holes just below or on the ground’s surface.
Even species that are active in the winter months, such as birds, need food and shelter. Birds will greatly appreciate the seed heads of grasses and forbs, especially Coneflower. Standing stems and grasses will also provide safe spaces for small birds to escape ever-present predators such as hawks. Visiting Juncos and White-throated Sparrows love the brush piles in my yard!
Here are some suggestions:
- Let leaves lie where they fall (or just blow them off the lawn and onto beds). Natural leaf litter will provide shelter for many species and is a great natural mulch.
- Leave perennial stem and seed heads standing through the winter months. If you are not comfortable to leave it all, consider cutting down only a half or two thirds and leave just a section standing. Stems left standing can protect the plants themselves in severe weather by collecting insulating snow.
- If you do cut down some or even all of your perennials, think about leaving the cut stems in a loose stack on the ground, to form a small brush pile that can provide winter habitat.
- When planning your garden, include plants that actually look great in winter, such as coneflower, yarrow and native grasses – then enjoy the artistry on frosty mornings when the leaves and seed heads are accented with halos of ice.
Because many of the critters that will benefit from this approach are very small, it may be hard to see the changes that are taking place in your garden, but you will be making a difference and those changes will happen!
“I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.” (John Muir, 1896) 1
In this, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, it feels appropriate to quote one of its earliest advocates.2 And this quote feels particularly poignant as I’ve been ruminating on our collective human relationship with Nature, what it means to steward, and the emotional connection that drives us to do so.
In our Interpretation class, we were taught the process that takes us from Awareness through Understanding and Caring ultimately leading to Stewardship, and that, according to Freeman Tilden, “Any interpretation that does not somehow relate… to something within the personality or experience… will be sterile,” that is – in order to garner action and commitment, we need to reach beyond the intellectual to connect with people emotionally. Otherwise, the message is ineffective in soliciting active response.
I would submit that even the Education and Citizen Science pillars of the Naturalist program are in themselves forms of Stewardship (our third pillar), for whether we’re birders, beekeepers, goat-tenders, tree-huggers or inveterate counters of the creepy-crawlers, we’re in action because we care for various aspects of Nature. We have learned that that the warp and weft of Nature weaves an integrated whole that includes us as its participants and its stewards.
More and more, I’m looking at my own stewardship endeavors as finding ways to connect others with the personal experience of Nature. Getting children, family and friends outdoors to see how they can touch and are in return touched by their surroundings. Drawing parallels between the new and captivating perception with the old, known and familiar; and expressing those perceptions in terms of how they make us feel and memories they evoke. By sharing a personal story; others will listen and be inspired. It wasn’t until I realized that the Dutchman’s Breeches I was introduced to in Botany class reminded me of Dutch dolls I had as a child and walks in a nearby Nature Preserve with my mother back then, that I understood so clearly why those flowers instantly made me smile and want to plant my own next Spring. Stewardship might work through our words and our hands, but it comes from the heart. This Autumn, think about ways to share those connections, memories and experiences as ways of offering the gift of Stewardship – and the wonders of Nature — to others.
One of the places that we visit frequently is a private 370 acre park, called Horsepen Run. It’s part of the Countryside HOA, so to visit you need to be part of the HOA or a guest of a member of the HOA. It’s a wonderful property sitting on the Potomac River and abutting Algonkian Park. It’s full of a variety of different habitats, including meadows, wetlands (with vernal pools), and mature forest. There is a good variety of birds, butterflies, herps (Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy has held a couple herp walks there in the past), and mammals (including possible sightings of bobcats!).
As the name implies, Horsepen Run contains a watershed that runs into the Potomac. A little over a year ago, the HOA took advantage of a fantastic program to do a riparian buffer planting. Allison had attended a seminar like this one and presented the idea to the HOA. In the early spring, after some deliberation and meeting with the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District experts, a plan was put together. In the late spring of 2015, the HOA paid (and was fully reimbursed by the county through the stream buffer program) a landscaping company to come in and plant 156 trees:
- 19 Hackberry
- 24 Black Gum
- 24 River Birch
- 18 Sweet Bay Magnolia
- 12 American Hophornbeam
- 12 American Hornbeam
- 12 Redbud
- 12 Blackhaw Viburnum
- 13 Loblolly Pine
- 10 Eastern Red Cedar
The trees that were chosen are all native to our area and as such provide a lot of value in terms of wildlife. Allison added some labels (laminated to protect them from the weather) to some of the trees that described the tree species and what benefits it provides to wildlife.
As you may recall, that summer of 2015 was hot and pretty dry, so watering needed to be done to help the trees through their first year. A pump and a really long hose allowed us to pump the stream water to take care of the tree’s needs. The first summer we also had to add a little extra dirt to some of the trees, but the watering was the bulk of the first year care.
As the winter came, we worried when the big heavy snow came that the trees wouldn’t handle the weight, but they did fine. The program requires that a year later that more than 75% of the trees are still alive – we met that easily with more than 95% surviving the first year. The trees came with a warranty, so for the small number of trees that didn’t survive (some just didn’t ever really take to their new home), the vendor replaced them. So in the spring, we got a few new trees and added a few new species (Chestnut Oak, Pin Oak and Tulip Poplar) to our burgeoning forest.
As summer approached, some of the trees were out-growing their deer fencing and needed some weeding, so a few volunteers have replaced a couple dozen deer fences and weeded about a third of the trees so far. We hope to weed the rest in the next couple weeks. Fortunately, there has been good rain for the spring and early summer, so we haven’t had to manually water them yet this year. We’re hoping that by the end of the summer, we won’t have to do much more maintenance at all.
We’re very excited about the benefits to water quality and the benefits to local wildlife of converting what was once just a field of turf grass into a forest of beautiful native trees! It is likely that the program will be offered next year if you want to get some trees of your own and help out with water quality. You can visit the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District website for more information.