Join Friends of Forest Hill Park this coming Saturday….


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.



Reedy Creek Coalition will be participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a project of Cornell Lab or Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.  This project began in 1998 and was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

  • We will begin the count on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 8:30 a.m. at the end of Northrop Street where the path leads into Crooked Branch Ravine Park.
  • You are welcome to join us.  Binoculars are needed, but expertise is not!  We welcome anyone with an interest in the outdoors.
  • Dress for walking in the woods.  We will probably venture off the path.
  • It is difficult to predict how long we will count, but you may leave at anytime.  No need to stay until we are done.


Improving water quality and habitat in our local streams and beyond is actually quite simple: reduce the amount of water that leaves your property when it rains. This addresses the problem at the source rather than creating a problem and then trying to fix it.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Reedy Creek Coalition are here to provide assistance to  property owners in our watershed. We will help you evaluate your property  for its’ impact to the watershed and offer tips on reducing storm water.  Those who participate may qualify for a cost share program through the Alliance, helping cover the cost of installing rain barrels, conservation landscaping, etc.  Our assessment also evaluates your property for “wildlife friendliness” and to what extent your landscape practices help restore natural ecosystems.

If you are interested in an assessment please complete this pre-assessment questionnaire.

You will be contacted by a Reedy Creek Coalition member or staff of the Alliance to schedule you assessment.

Reedy Creek after a summer storm.

Reedy Creek after a summer storm.  This water came from upstream streets, parking lots, driveways, rooftops, and yards.  Take steps to reduce your contribution.


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.


Wintergreen, Chimaphila species



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













Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Reedy Creek Coalition are preparing for the RiverWise assessment program for homeowners in our neighborhood.  We need others to join us in the effort and hope that you may be interested in attending a training session on Saturday, January 21.  We already have some answers to questions you may have….

Why do an assessment?

The purpose is to evaluate individual properties for impact on the watershed and to offer tips on reducing stormwater and pollution runoff.  We also evaluate your property for how “wildlife friendly” it is and to what extent your landscape practices can help restore natural ecosystems that contribute to a healthy watershed.

Who is the training session for?

Training is for those who want to learn how to do assessments for others in the neighborhood.  Each assessment requires visiting homeowners who have applied for the assessment and usually takes 1 hour or a little more to complete.  This can be done as your time allows.

Are there any special requirements?

The only requirement is the desire to improve our watershed! The training will cover what you need to know.  Also, you don’t have to do this alone; you can start by going with someone who is experienced.

How do I sign up?

Here is the link to register: https://form.jotform.com/63614285622153

The training session is Saturday, January 21 from 9 am – 3 pm at Westover Baptist Church.  Details will be provided to those who register.

We will gladly answer other questions you may have and hope that you will join us!