Newsletter of the Foundation of the State Arboretum                          Winter 2018
Photo: Tim Farmer
One for the Record Books
2018: Blandy's Wettest Year Ever
By David Carr
Director, Blandy Experimental Farm
By November's end, Blandy had received a record 63 inches of precipitation in 2018, the highest amount since record keeping began here in 1984. Average annual precipitation for Blandy is 37 inches. With the exception of October, monthly rainfall records were set or challenged each month from May through November. The water table at Blandy, monitored by a USGS well since 1987, set an all-time high back in September. For a longer-term perspective, nearby Washington, D.C. will probably break its all-time record of 61.3 inches later this month, a mark that has stood since 1889. No matter how you look at it, 2018 has been an exceptionally wet year for our region.
Photo: Dave Carr
Great Egret
The record rains have created lakes and streams throughout Blandy. The only way to walk from the northern half of the Arboretum to its southern half without getting your feet wet is to stay on the roads or the Native Plant Trail. The unusually expansive and persistent wetlands have attracted a number of birds that we do not often see at Blandy, and even with a return to normality this winter, we can expect that to keep up through the spring of 2019.
In addition to water-loving species that we commonly see at Blandy - Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, and Belted Kingfishers - more notable species have been spending time here. Several Great Egrets dropped by in late summer and into the fall and could be seen hunting for fish and frogs in Lake Arnold and elsewhere (yes, there are suddenly lots of fish in the Blandy waters, but that's a story for another day!). The biggest surprise of the season was a Tricolored Heron that Judy Masi and I discovered at Lake Arnold on the 2nd of August. In the U.S., this species is usually restricted to the southern Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, but it stuck around Blandy for about three weeks. This was the first official record for Clarke County and one of only a handful for the entire Shenandoah Valley.
Photo: Dave Carr
Wood Duck Drake
Some of the visiting water birds have been much less conspicuous than the spectacular herons and egrets. At least two Marsh Wrens have been skulking around in the cattails in the Rattlesnake Spring area this fall. These tiny birds are common in mid-Atlantic coastal marshes, but even there they are heard more often than seen. Their appearance at Blandy represented the first record for this species here, and I know of only one other record for Clarke County over the past 20 years. Rusty Blackbirds pass through Blandy annually on their migrations, but this species has been especially numerous this fall, usually mixed into flocks of our more familiar Red-winged Blackbirds. "Rusties" are denizens of swampy, brushy habitats like Rattlesnake Spring. Their populations have been declining faster than almost any other North American songbird, so it has been gratifying to see so many here this year.
Local Canada Geese, Mallards, and Wood Ducks spent the summer on our ponds, and in October, migrating waterfowl began dropping by. These included Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflehead, Hooded Mergansers, and Ruddy Ducks. I think we can expect more this winter as long as the water stays open, and I am sure Blandy will be a popular stop in spring as these birds begin migrating back north.
A Familiar New Face
Robin Couch Cardillo is New FOSA Director
Please join us in welcoming Robin Couch Cardillo as the new Director of the Foundation of the State Arboretum.

"Robin is the fifth FOSA Director, and each has brought a new approach to increase the Arboretum's ability to perform our mission," said Blandy Director David Carr. "We are excited about Robin's extensive experience in our local communities and feel that she will do an excellent job helping us expand our reach to new audiences and broaden our base of support."

Robin Couch Cardillo
Robin comes to us with years of experience working with non-profit organizations, most recently as Director of Development for Special Love Inc. in Winchester, which is dedicated to helping children with cancer. Since 2002, she has also served as managing partner for Wildebeest Media, coordinating development and marketing campaigns for nonprofits including the Clarke County Conservation Easement Authority, Virginia Association of Free Clinics, Shenandoah University's History and Tourism Center, Every Orphan's Hope, and the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association.
Prior to Special Love, Robin was Marketing and Communications Specialist for Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury in Winchester, where she was instrumental in increasing occupancy and fundraising. She also worked as a Business Development Associate for the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission and Director of Public Relations for Power/Warner Communications Group in Winchester.
Robin holds a BA (magna cum laude) in English/Creative Writing from Virginia Wesleyan College and earned certification from the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber Community Leadership Program. She is Immediate Past President of the Tri-State Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and serves on the Hospitality Committee for the Virginia Fundraising Institute.
Robin lives in nearby White Post and has been coming to Blandy for years.
Lake Georgette
One of the Arboretum's Living Classrooms
By Emily Ford
Lead Environmental Educator
Staff, volunteers, and visitors often see Blandy educators traipsing past the Quarters towardLake Georgette with a passel of eager, exuberant students. Some days it is a class of second graders armed with binoculars and bird guides; other days sixth grade students in rain boots carry buckets, bins, and nets towards the wetland. What exactly are we studying there? It depends on the program and the students.

Blandy educators use both indoor and outdoor teaching spaces for our numerous environmental education programs. O ur primary i ndoor  spaces are the Parkfield Learning Center (PLC) and Peetwood Pavilion. Outdoors, we rely on a variety of natural settings throughout the Arboretum -- from the Pollination Garden to the Native Plant Trail to the Chestnut Grove --  to meet the educational needs of students . Lake Georgette is one of our living classrooms, rich with resources and outdoor learning opportunities, a great asset for our education programs.

Lake Georgette is an ephemeral pond (a unique, isolated wetland habitat that fills with water in spring and summer, typically drying up in late summer) that serves as an important breeding ground for wood frogs, salamanders, and numerous arthropods. Since these areas usually become dry at some point in the year, ephemeral ponds lack fish. Without a voracious predator, a vernal pool's food web contains many distinctive organisms with unique life cycles and interesting predator-prey interactions.

Lake Georgette is an ideal outdoor education setting for several reasons. It is:
  • Adjacent to a large, open, mowed grassy field that is excellent for large group discussions
  • Conducive to individualized, small group work
  • Close to the Quarters for restroom, water fountain, or other building-related needs
  • In close proximity to other commonly used activity locations (such as PLC, Pollination Garden, Native Plant Trail).
Third grade soil scientists compare soil plugs.
In the "Scoop on Soils" program, upper elementary students conduct a comparative analysis of soil layers from Lake Georgette's wetland habitat and the drier conifer area just north of the wetland. Students connect the soil investigation to their prior learning at school, adding the tactile and concrete experience of determining soil types to their understanding of soil and soil systems. In this unique teaching space, they also consider life needs of vastly different plants: the native prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) hugging the rocky outcrops, the black willow (Salix nigra) sending out adventitious roots to help anchor them in the wetland soil, and the cattails (Typha spp.) steeping their stems in standing water.

Sixth graders test water chemistry.
Researching watershed health at Lake Georgette is a natural fit for the middle school-focused "Watershed Investigations" program. Inquiring children perform water chemistry tests, determine macroinvertebrate diversity, and conduct site analysis. Students deepen their understanding of how the dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity, and pH levels affect the critters found in the water. Students also test for possible pollutants such as nitrate and phosphate. By analyzing the land use impacts on habitats, they study how the site is used by humans and other organisms and consider ecological interactions. This analysis gives context to their water chemistry results as students evaluate the impacts of runoff on wetlands.

Second graders spot birds.

On cool days, the smooth rocks at the wetland offer a warm spot for young ornithologists in the "It's for the Birds" program to sit, listen for bird songs/calls, and watch bird behavior in and around the water. With a focus on bird adaptations, the emphasis is on noting beak shapes (what food does the bird eat?), flight patterns (What habitats does the bird maneuver in best?), and bird calls (What do the different calls or songs communicate to other birds?). The shrubs, conifers, and meadows provide a variety of cover for birds, which create easy opportunities for young learners to search for birds.

Next time you visit your state Arboretum, stroll down to Lake Georgette, look and listen carefully, and see what you discover.
Swap Seeds, Books, and Advice
FOSA, Master Gardeners Team Up for Seed Exchange Jan. 26

Gardeners will again gather in the library for our annual seed exchange Saturday, Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This is a free event.

Participants are encouraged to bring seeds, plants, roots, or cuttings to exchange with other gardeners. Native plants are especially encouraged, and no plants or seeds on the Arboretum's list of invasive plants are allowed.

The event, which is sponsored by FOSA and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners, will also feature a book and magazine swap. Master gardeners will be on hand to help with gardening questions.

For more information call Elaine Specht at 540-459-9657 or visit

Happy Holidays!
Give the Gift of  FOSA Membership

Searching for a last-minute gift? A membership in the Foundation of the State Arboretum is a great gift and the perfect way to show your support for the Arboretum.

Individual FOSA membership starts at $42 or just $30 for seniors over age 65. A family membership is $60 ($48 senior) and your business or nonprofit organization can become a member for $60. 

FOSA members enjoy discounts to FOSA programs and reciprocal benefits at other arboreta and public gardens. 

Give a gift membership online anytime; we'll email a printable card you can give or send. Or call 540-837-1758 Ext 224 for assistance, M-F, 1-5 pm.  Happy Holidays!

Photo: Tim Farmer
Betty Clark
Volunteer of the Year
Betty Clark Finds Many Ways to Help
Congratulations to Betty Clark, FOSA's Volunteer of the Year! Betty has been a volunteer since 2016. She has spent most of her time in Our Shop. Literally! She volunteered and worked in the shop every weekend last summer and fall. Betty was instrumental in keeping the shop open during 2017. She has also helped with mailings but the most outstanding gift she has given Blandy is her flexibility to "do whatever we need." It is not unusual for Betty to stop by the office to ask what she can do for us. She is a gift to Blandy and we all love working with her. She is definitely a great addition to our Blandy Family. 
Congratulations Betty!
Help Wanted!
Can You Walk and Talk at the Same Time?

By Steve Carroll
Director of Public Programs
Do you love walking Blandy's trails? Would you like to share what you know with visitors and tour groups? If so, why not join us this spring and become an arboretum docent?

Beginning Thursday, March 28, Blandy staff will guide you through topics typically covered during tours, including Blandy history, arboretum organization, collections and gardens, natural history, and more. Most tours include questions about our gardens and trees, so those wishing to lead or co-lead tours should be willing to learn about the amazing plants in our collections. Of course, knowledge of history, wildlife, geology, ecology, and related areas are pluses.

Training sessions will be 2-4 p.m. on five consecutive Thursdays (March 28, April 4, April 11, April 18, and April 25). Additional time can be scheduled for those who wish.

In addition to arboretum tours and walks that are open to the public, we also receive dozens of tour requests each year from garden clubs; horticulture and nature centers; service, church, and scout groups; and others. We accommodate as many requests as possible, but we need help!

Please consider joining us in our efforts to share Blandy's landscape and beauty with as many people as possible.

If interested in participating, or if you'd like more information, please contact Steve Carroll at 540-837-1758 Ext. 287 or
2019 Programs Aimed
at Learners of All Ages
By Steve Carroll
Director of Public Programs
We kick off the year by bringing the universe into Blandy's library! Join us for a return of the Discovery Museum's pop-up planetarium in an exploration of planets, stars, constellations, and more. Other winter family programs will explore Life in the Cold and EcoArt. More information is here.

Spring programs will cover a lot of ground-in fact, a March 12 program on alternative ground covers will address how to do  exactly   that! Other new programs will explore Virginia's coyotes, Native Americans' use of plants, a photographic interpretation of spring wildflowers, and the relationship between nature and poetry.

Returning favorites include workshops on wildflower identification, management of invasive plants, arboretum tours, guided walking meditation, and our annual trip to view the trilliums and other wildflowers at Thompson Wildlife Management Area.

Have a look at upcoming programs and register now.
Photographer Offers Unique 
Program and Outd oor Exhibit

Jackie Bailey Labovitz takes breathtakingly beautiful photos of wildflowers using natural light in native settings. (To see for yourself, check out her website.) In a special program at Blandy, Jackie will begin in the library by 
Rue Anemone
by Jackie Bailey Labovitz
introducing us to Virginia's spring ephemeral wildflowers and to her photos and techniques. We will then walk out to the woodland Native Plant Trail, where prints of Jackie's photos will be installed alongside specimens of spring  wildflowers in their woodland habitat.

Please join us for this unusual appreciation of Virginia's spring wildflowers. Select photos will be available for purchase. Space for this program is limited and registration is required; register early to ensure your spot.

Financial support for this program was kindly provided by Botanical Artists for Education and the Environment.

Got a Little Love for a Deadly Nightshade?
This Plant Has Few Fans but Bumble Bees Rely on It

By T'ai Roulston
Few plants are despised as much as our most common nightshade -- horsenettle,
Solanum carolinense. You probably know the plant. If you walk farm fields, pastures or dry meadows, you'll see it, a spreading perennial with prickly leaves atop pricklier stems. It grabs your ankles like a playful cat as it tears your pant legs, socks and skin, scratching its name in a red and beaded script. Gardeners get punctured through their gloves while trying to pluck it out. They cut the tops but lose the war when the underground stems re-sprout. 

Ranchers hate it because it poisons cattle, but the cattle usually eat around it, giving it room to spread still further. Farmers hate it because it resists the most common herbicides: kill the fields for planting and it comes right back. Humans that eat it? If you get past the spines and ingest the leaves, you get the bidirectional discomforts of vomiting and diarrhea. Eat the fruits and you get circulatory and respiratory problems, and potentially death. 

Who would champion such a plant? It is listed as a noxious weed in seven states, including ones where it is native. Even Ernst Conservation Seed, the most common seed source for the establishment of native field vegetation, skips it. But surely the flowers merit some favor. They range from white to purple, and are long-lived and abundant, stretching out along the stems poised for pollinators. Yet, they produce no nectar and attract no honey bees. Beekeepers find them an annoying weed around the bee yard.

And yet, the plant has its devotees. While the flowers attract no honey bees, they do attract other types of bees. The flowers produce abundant pollen contained within long anthers that never open, except by a small pore on the top. The only efficient way for bees to collect it is to grasp the anthers and vibrate them, causing pollen to stream out the end and dust the bee. This process of vibrating flowers to collect pollen is known as sonication or buzz pollination, named for the short  buzz the bee makes when vibrating the flower.  The bee then cleans itself off, packing the pollen onto its hind legs. 

Of 112 types of pollen collected, horsenettle was the predominant one
Sweat bees and bumble bees are champions at this activity and routinely grab such anthers and shake the pollen out, pollinating as they go along. This past summer, Dave Carr and I, along with undergraduate researchers Sophia Rosenberg of UVa, Leonardo Alphonso of Florida International University, and four technicians surveyed bumble bees throughout the summer at five sites within an hour's drive of Blandy. Every other week we caught bumble bees all day and removed their pollen loads. In the lab we looked at the pollen under the microscope to identify the plant species that it was collected from. 

In total, we identified 112 different types of pollen but the predominant one, at all five sites, was horsenettle. Multiple bumble bee species collected it, and it comprised between 19  and 38 percent of all pollen analyzed across the different sites. Thus, it appears to be a major part of bumble bee diets, and given concerns about declining bee species, especially several species of bumble bee, this much-maligned plant could turn out to be an important food source for bee conservation.

Horse nettle supports many other insects, and some mammals and birds as well. Former Blandy researcher and now Roanoke College faculty member Dr. Michael Wise recorded over 31 insect species regularly feeding on horsenettle, many of them specialist feeders that consume only horsenettle and its closest relatives. He also recorded regular feeding on it by the meadow vole ( Microtus pennsylvanicus ). While the fruits are quite toxic to humans and livestock, many other animals consume it regularly, including skunks, raccoons, and birds as diverse as Turkeys, Northern Bobwhite, Wood Ducks and various sparrows.

So you might not like horsenettle, but you can't get rid of it anyway.  Don't fight it -- you'll leave bloody and defeated. Just steer clear of it and watch the bumble bees flit through the spines unharmed and, alighting on a flower, go "buzz" and send the pollen flying.
Year-End Tax Move Could Benefit You and the Foundation of the State Aboretum (FOSA)
By Steve Bauserman
FOSA President
As we come to the end of the year, here is an income tax tip you might take advantage of to help yourself and FOSA at the same time.

If you are over 70 ½ and have a traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA), you are required to take an annual, Required Minimum Distribution (RMD). Normally, this distribution is totally taxable. If you make charitable contributions, the new standard deduction might negate their tax value. Now you can combine these two seemingly unrelated items to your advantage as well as to organizations such as FOSA.

You accomplish this by taking a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD). You direct your retirement plan custodian to disperse all or part of your RMD directly to a designated charity or charities, up to an annual maximum of $100,000. Whatever you direct to the charity is not taxable but the QCD is totally deductible, even if you take the standard deduction. This lowers both your adjusted gross income and taxable income, resulting in a lower overall tax liability. If you plan to take the new, higher standard deduction in 2018 and you haven't taken your RMD, consider performing a QCD. If you have taken the RMD, then look ahead to next year and get prepared. By all means, confer with your tax preparer before you initiate this strategy. Do not try this on your own.

As always, I cannot thank you enough for your continued support of FOSA at Blandy. Without your financial and volunteer efforts, our mission would not be achievable. May each of you have a joyous holiday season and a fantastic 2019.