Saving the Native Plants of Crooked Branch Ravine Park

Reedy Creek and a small tributary, Crooked Branch, flow through Crooked Branch Ravine Park.  This small, passive park is home to many native trees, shrubs, and perennials that could be lost to advancing invasive plant species, particularly English ivy and privet.  Reedy Creek Coalition members are planning to have a workday once each month to remove invasive species.  Our efforts will focus on 1) removing ivy from trees and other plants that are significant sources of seed and 2) monitoring and removing small patches of non-native plants and seedlings from an area that is not yet severely impacted.

  • Please consider joining us on Sunday, March 5 from 1-3 p.m.
  • We will meet at the end of Northrop Street where there is a path into the park.
  • Bring gloves, pruners, and, if you have one, a small saw for cutting large ivy vines.

We intend to continue these efforts on a monthly basis and and hope that you will join us.

This lovely little evergreen is easily found in the park, but will not survive as English ivy spreads.  The plant blooms in late spring.  Please help save the native plants of Crooked Branch Ravine.

chimaphila-maculata-spotted-wintergreen-flower-with-ivy
Wintergreen, Chimaphila species

 

 

In Praise of American Hazelnut, Corylus americana

As you probably know, we Reedy Creekers take our native plants seriously.  Bill Shanabruch – watershed resident, RCC member, and native plant enthusiast – shares his thoughts on the American hazelnut.   

Corylus Americana (American hazelnut) has become one of my favorite plants over the last couple of years.  Perhaps it is because I see two of these remarkable shrubs/small trees every day when I look out our dining room window.  But I think it has more to do with the subtle and changing beauty of this plant as it goes through the seasons.  Recently, I was stunned at the remarkable change that occurred after one day of warm weather on February 7.  The male catkins which formed last September had suddenly doubled in length and started to turn from green to yellow.  This is a sure sign that the female flowers will open very soon.

February - Elongating male catkins
February – Elongating male catkins
Male catkins - close up
Male catkins – close up

What other native plant do you know that flowers in mid-February?  Ok – skunk cabbage for one; but there are not many.  It turns out that you almost need a magnifying glass to appreciate the little red female flowers produced by American hazelnut.  There is no big show of color because American hazelnut is not dependent on insects for pollination.  No need to attract bees or butterflies or beetles or hummingbirds.  American hazelnut uses the winter wind for pollination.  And that brings us back to those male catkins that are changing shape and color.  They are currently preparing to disperse pollen to the wind.  In another week or so, one will be able to gently tap a catkin and see a little puff of yellow pollen released.  That is the time to look closely for the tiny red flowers that will be open and waiting for the wind to perform its magic.

After another couple of weeks, the catkins will turn brown and eventually fall to the ground – mission accomplished.  Then it’s time for the leaves to appear.  The young leaves provide a welcome splash of red before they turn dark green.  In a mild winter, the ensuing spring may bring hordes of inch worms and other caterpillars that seem to love chomping hazelnut leaves.  In some springs, the hazelnuts become almost completely defoliated.  That’s good news to the birds that are feeding their nestlings with caterpillars.  And somehow, the hazelnuts just seem to shrug it off.  By early summer, they look as healthy as ever.  That’s one of the other reasons I love hazelnuts – they seem to be very forgiving and almost indestructible.  Sun, shade, drought, wet summer, clay soil, organic soil – nothing seems to matter very much.  The cockroach among Virginia’s native plants?

August - Developing hazelnuts
August – Developing hazelnuts
Developing hazelnuts - close up
Developing hazelnuts – close up
Nearly mature hazelnuts in early September.
Nearly mature hazelnuts in early September.

By midsummer, it becomes readily apparent that the February mission of the catkins and little red flowers was successful.  The first clusters of developing hazelnuts become apparent and the dog days of summer can be spent watching their progress.  By September, one can see a trace of the mature brown nut through the yellow cover encasing each hazelnut.  American hazelnuts are quite edible; but they are smaller than their European cousins that are grown commercially.  And good luck getting to them before the squirrels!!  By the middle of September, we see little piles of hazelnut shells all over their favorite perches in our backard – porch steps, bench, lawn chairs, anywhere off the ground with a better chance to see and avoid predators.

While one is watching the development of the hazelnuts, it is easy to miss the early formation of the male catkins hidden amidst the foliage.  By the time the hazelnuts are mature, the next generation of male catkins are already about one-inch long.  But they will remain hidden for another two months or so while the leaves turn color and become the focal point.  Eventually the leaves fall, and at last, the catkins are the star of the hazelnut show throughout the winter.

Fall color
Hazelnuts in early November. There are two plants showing a little genetic variation. The plant on the right always changes color about two weeks before the plant on the left.

 

 

Saving the Native Plants of Crooked Branch Ravine Park

Reedy Creek and a small tributary, Crooked Branch, flow through Crooked Branch Ravine Park.  This small, passive park is home to many native trees, shrubs, and perennials that could be lost to advancing invasive plant species, particularly English ivy and privet.  Reedy Creek Coalition members are planning to have a workday once each month to remove invasive species.  Our efforts will focus on 1) removing ivy from trees and other plants that are significant sources of seed and 2) monitoring and removing small patches of non-native plants and seedlings from an area that is not yet severely impacted.

  • Please consider joining us on Sunday, February 5 from 1-3 p.m.
  • We will meet at the end of Northrop Street where there is a path into the park.
  • Bring gloves, pruners, and, if you have one, a small saw for cutting large ivy vines.

This lovely little evergreen is easily found in the park, but will not survive as English ivy spreads.  The plant blooms in late spring.  Please help save the native plants of Crooked Branch Ravine.

chimaphila-maculata-spotted-wintergreen-flower-with-ivy
Wintergreen, Chimaphila species

 

 

Winter beauty at Reedy Creek

These strange ice formations were found along the banks of Reedy Creek after the single digit weather.  An explanation that fits the situation was found at www.mnn.com/earth-matters/climate-weather/stories/7-strange-ice-formations….

 When the temperature of the soil is above freezing, and the temperature of the air is below freezing, water flowing below the soil’s surface is drawn up through capillary action, and it freezes on contact with the air. More water is drawn up and freezes, and ice is formed in a needle-like column. While the process is simple enough, the resulting delicate “hair” growing up from the ground is something rather amazing to look at.

Take your time, be observant,  and you can always find something interested at Reedy Creek and Crooked Branch Ravine Park.

Photo credit: Joe Rupp
Photo credit: Joe Rupp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Native Plant of the Week: Great Blue Lobelia

Common Name: Great Blue Lobelia

Scientific Name: Lobelia siphilitica

 

General Description: Great blue lobelia is a close relative of cardinal flower and has many similar characteristics.  It is a clump-forming perennial that reaches 2-3 feet in height and has long, terminal flower spikes.  The stunning blue flowers appear in the latter half of summer to provide both color and nectar when many other flowers are spent.

Habitat: Great blue lobelia is commonly found in moist open woods, marshes, and along streams.  It is not fussy about sun; but it requires moist conditions and prefers rich soils.

Additional information: Great blue lobelia attracts a variety of insect pollinators as well as hummingbirds.  As with cardinal flower, it is best to plant great blue lobelia in part to full shade to minimize supplemental watering. This plant will spread slowly from the mother plant and can also provide “volunteer” seedlings; but it is not an aggressively spreading plant.  Great blue lobelia has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes – one of which led to its unsettling species name.

You are welcome to visit the Native Plant of the Week 

at 4020 Dunston Avenue.  

The featured plant is in the front yard and will be marked.

 

Native Plant of the Week

Common Name: Cardinal Flower

Scientific Name: Lobelia cardinalis

 

General Description: Clump-forming perennial that reaches 3-5 feet in height.  Stunning red flowers form along a terminal spike that is 8-12 inches long.  Dark green leaves provide the perfect backdrop to show off these beautiful flowers.

Habitat: Cardinal flower is commonly found near streams, ponds, and ditches because it absolutely requires moist to wet soil.  Cardinal flower can tolerate full shade to full sun.

Additional information: Cardinal flower is a magnet for hummingbirds.  The nectar in the long tubular flowers is not accessible to most pollinators; but readily available to hummingbirds which will visit the plants repeatedly every day the flowers are in bloom.  Cardinal flower can form dense colonies over time; but it is not an aggressive spreader.  In Richmond, it is best to plant cardinal flower in part to full shade to minimize supplemental watering. This is an ideal plant for that shady area with poor drainage or along a tree line.

You are welcome to visit the Native Plant of the Week 

at 4020 Dunston Avenue.  

The featured plant will be in the front yard 

and will be marked.

Native Plant of the Week: Beebalm

Common Name: Eastern Beebalm, Wild Bergamot, Horsemint

Photographer: Cressler, Alan
Photographer: Cressler, Alan

Scientific Name: Monarda fistulosa

General Description: Clump-forming perennial that reaches 2-3 feet in height.  Distinctive pink – purple flowers form at the top of square stems.  Green leaves often tinged with dark red or gray hues.

Habitat: Eastern beebalm grows best in full sun and well-drained, moist soils.  It is found naturally in meadows and thickets.

Additional information: Eastern beebalm is a member of the mint family and can spread quite aggressively by rhizomes. The beebalm in the picture were derived from just two plants that have been in the ground for 3 years.  For best results in Richmond with minimal maintenance, amend clay soils with organic matter for better drainage; add mulch to conserve water; and plant in an area with partial shade and room to grow.  Then sit back and enjoy the comings and goings of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.  This species of beebalm has a very wide geographic range that includes most of North America.  When purchasing seeds or plants, try to find a source that can confirm they were obtained from this vicinity so they will be adapted to the weather conditions of the Richmond area.

You are welcome to visit the Native Plant of the Week at 4020 Dunston Avenue.  The featured plant will be in the front yard and will be marked.

Photographer: Wasowski, Sally and Andy
Photographer: Wasowski, Sally and Andy

 

NATIVE PLANT OF THE WEEK: COMMON MILKWEED

Common Name: Common Milkweed   Scientific Name: Asclepias syriaca

General Description: Perennial plant that reaches 3-5 feet in height; erect stem with large oval leaves that provide contrasting form to many other native perennials.  Pink flower clusters give way to pods that burst open and release brown seeds attached to silken fibers that aid with wind dispersal.

Habitat: Common milkweed can adapt to a variety of soils from rocky to sandy to clay.  However, it requires nearly full sun to thrive and prefers moist, well-drained conditions.  Common milkweed is found in disturbed areas and can spread aggressively via underground shoots if competition is limited.

Additional information: Common milkweed is a very valuable plant for wildlife.  It is a host plant for monarch caterpillars and the flowers attract a wide variety of pollinators.  The tough fibrous stems were harvested by Native Americans to make rope and nets.  Although mildly toxic uncooked, common milkweed (like pokeweed) can be eaten as a vegetable if prepared and cooked properly.

MILKWEED SEED, PLANT OF THE MONTH
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center http://www.wildflower.org/explore.php


MILKWEED, BILLS YARD

 

You are welcome to visit the

Native Plant of the Week

at 4020 Dunston Avenue.

The featured plant will be in the front yard

and will be marked.  

 

COMMON MILKWEED
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center http://www.wildflower.org/explore.php

NATIVE PLANT OF THE WEEK: Indigo Bush

Common Name: Indigo Bush

Scientific Name: Amorpha fruticosa

indigo bush indigo bush flower

General Description: Woody shrub that reaches 6-10 feet in height and forms dense, long-lived clumps.  Relatively open branching with most of the foliage on the upper half of the plant.  Distinctive, deep purple flower spikes appear in May.  Anthers add specks of yellow-orange color when flowers are examined up-close.

Habitat: The native range of indigo bush includes most of the lower 48 states.  Indigo bush prefers moist soil and full sun and is often found along streams.  However, it can tolerate partial shade and dry, sandy soils.  This is a highly adaptable plant that will work well in sunny, dry areas with supplemental watering during the first year after planting.

Additional information: Indigo bush is a valuable wildlife plant.  Its flowers attract a variety of butterflies and bees and the leaves serve as food for several species of butterflies.  Indigo bush is a member of the bean family (legume) and it forms symbiotic relationships with bacteria that form root nodules and fix nitrogen.  (See roots of attached seedling.)  Indigo bush also produces a blue dye which led to its common name.

You are welcome to visit the

Native Plant of the Week

at 4020 Dunston Avenue.

The featured plant will be in the front yard

and will be marked.  

We have small plants available!  If interested e-mail billanddi@verizon.net

 A small donation to Reedy Creek Coalition will be appreciated. 

NATURE JOURNALING IN THE WATERSHED

Have you considered nature journaling but haven’t started yet?

Don’t really understand what it’s all about, but want to learn?

This meeting is for you!

Our speaker. Lynn Wilson, is a Riverine Master Naturalist who enjoys and teaches nature journaling in the Chickahominy watershed.  She emphasizes that it is not necessary to be an artist to enjoy and learn from nature journaling.

Please e-mail reedycreekcoalition@gmail.com to reserve your space.

Capture 2.PNG