Tuesday, March 30, 2010
We picked Carderock for a walk on the early side of spring wildflower season because the Potomac runs pretty much west-east there. At Carderock, the banks along the river face south -- giving them some extra sun exposure and warmth. Flowers come up noticeably earlier there.
Even within the Billy Goat C trail, there were noticeable differences -- the section to the east of where we parked was further along than the section to the west. In contrast, if you went over to Scott's Run, directly across the Potomac, the north-facing banks there won't have some of these flowers for a week or two yet.
Here's what we saw:
Golden ragwort (just starting)
Wild blue phlox (just starting)
Sending up leaves
Wild ramps/leeks (see our post on the flowers)
Early meadow rue
Trout lily (we saw some blooming after the walk!)
Pawpaw (see our post on the fruit)
And some invasive species
Garlic mustard is coming up
Lesser celandine is starting to flower
Bush honeysuckle is leafing out, before most native shrubs
It was an added treat for us to meet some Natural Capital readers! Carly and Art took lots more pictures, which you can see here. You can sign up for one of our upcoming walks here.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
A friend of ours used to work at a cool wilderness education center up in New York called Hawk Circle. And the folks from Hawk Circle will be in Rock Creek Park for a family wilderness skills workshop on Saturday, April 3rd, from 12-5 pm. Ricardo will lead children, teens and adults in several activities useful in the wild, such as coal burning wood containers, making natural fiber ropes and string, hunting skills, outdoor cooking and more. The cost is $10 per child, or $30 for the whole family, and all ages are welcome; children under 7 must be accompanied by an adult. For more info: (607) 264-3910, or emailing HawkCircleOffice@gmail.com.
Catoctin: The Center Hiking Club is going to Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, MD on Saturday (April 3). It's hilly up there -- the trip leader promises nice views from Chimney Rock and the Thurmont Vista Overlook on a 6 to 7 mile hike. Carpool leaves from Twinbrook Metro at 10:15. Leaders: Ellen A. (703-998-8617) and Marcia S. (MKswan9013@aol
High Knob: The Northern Virginia Hiking Club is going to Gambrill State Park on Sunday (April 4). It's a hike up about 1500 feet to the top of High Knob, with a total of 8 miles. Meet at Carderock Recreation Area at 8 AM. Contact the leader, Dean Simmons 410-531-3230(H) about carpool options.
Check out our calendar or browse our park reviews for more ideas. We'll see you out there!
Friday, March 26, 2010
But beyond the ephemeral, catch-it-while-you-can nature of these flowers, why do we like them so much? I'm not sure I can put my finger on it. There's just something beautifully simple about the pure white blooms. The flowers can be about 2 inches wide, with at least 7 petals per flower (and up to 12 petals).
And why the gory name for such a lovely plant? If you were to dig up up a bloodroot plant, you would see that the root is red. In fact, when it is cut, the root oozes red juice that's just about the color of blood. It's downright creepy looking.
But please, just take our word for it -- don't go digging. These lovely flowers are struggling to maintain a foothold against invasive species that crowd them out. Then, once they make it through the gauntlet of English ivy, garlic mustard, and lesser celandine, they've got to evade the overpopulated deer, who are happy to make bloodroot part of their early spring salad mix.
You can use those eye-catching leaves to help you find bloodroot seedpods in the summer. They're notable because the seeds include a gooey coating whose entire purpose is to attract ants. Once the seeds fall to the ground, ants will carry them to their nests, eat the coating, and dispose of the seeds intact. William Cullina writes of watching ants carry away an entire seedpod worth of seeds in half an hour.
Native Americans had many medicinal uses for bloodroot root, and they also used it as a red paint and dye. It is still sometimes sought as a medicinal herb, especially as a treatment for skin cancer, but is generally considered toxic -- and sometimes causes a skin reaction similar to poison ivy. Another reason not to dig it up!
In your yard: Bloodroot would love a spot that will stay shady, cool, and moist (but not wet) in the summer. They're a little tricky to start on your own from seed (the seeds must stay moist), but some native plant nurseries sell them. Check out the native plant sale at the National Arboretum on Saturday!
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
This is not the canal of Great Falls and Georgetown. The sides have caved in, the plants have taken over -- it's basically a series of ponds rather than a recognizable canal. But the towpath remains, and the Potomac on the other side of it. On the other side of the canal are fields and woods that are managed mainly for attracting wildlife for hunters. And all around, the flowers.
In addition to the spring, McKee-Beshers is also fun to visit in summer: some of the wildlife-attracting fields are planted with sunflowers, which should be blooming around mid-July.
Hiking and biking: Your main option is to go out and back on the canal, in either direction. Hunting Quarter Road is also lightly used outside hunting season and offers some different scenery (see park map). It's good to be aware of hunting seasons -- wild turkey season starts on April 17.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
That walk will be done by noon, so you should have time to head over to the National Arboretum for their native plant sale with nurseries from around the region. (Many of the plants in our yard originated at this annual event!) It's free, from 9:30 to 2:00. It's a great excuse to take a walk at the Arboretum and pick up a few plants to take home.
The sale is in conjunction with the Lahr Native Plant Symposium. The program includes William Cullina (author of our favorite books on native plants), nationally-known landscape designer Darrel Morrison, a tour of Fern Valley, a session on biodiversity in your backyard, and more. Registration is required and costs $89.
As always, this is just a fraction of the events on our calendar. Check it out for a group activity or get ideas for something to do on your own. We'll see you out there!
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Along one side of our yard, our neighbor has a forsythia hedge whose cheery yellow flowers are a magnificent joy in spring. But you won't find forsythia in the woods (at least, not yet): it's from China. Instead, we look every year for the less showy but equally cheery flowers of the spicebush as they emerge to light up the understory of our local forests. On our hike yesterday, they looked like they were ready to burst open any day now.
For us, spicebush is a way to mark the passing of the seasons. We wrote about spicebush last September, when the bright red berries were marking the beginning of fall. Now is the time to look for the flowers that create those berries: they're a harbinger of spring (and much more reliable than groundhogs).
witch hazel, whose wispy yellow flowers otherwise can seem quite similar -- except that they bloom over the winter.)
Between the early spring flowers and the vibrant red berries, we're mystified as to why spicebush isn't a more common plant in yards and other ornamental plantings. It also has high wildlife value -- it serves as a host plant for beautiful spicebush swallowtails and promethea moths, while the berries feed birds and other critters.
The spicy twigs and berries of spicebush (think allspice) also have been used by humans for teas and flavorings for centuries (maybe millenia). They aren't attractive to deer, though -- which likely explains why spicebush remains common in our local woods even as the out-of-balance deer population is stripping out most of the rest of the understory.
If the deer are going to leave us just one shrub, we'll take spicebush, and with pleasure. It's a great way to greet the spring.
Rock Creek Park, in the section east of Boundary Bridge. But you'll probably see some spicebush in just about any woods in the DC metro area.
In your yard: Spicebush needs shade, but a few hours of sun will encourage them to flower more and set more fruit. They can also suffer if they get too dry, especially as they're getting established -- they'll do best with reasonably moist soil.
Have a favorite spicebush spot? Questions we can answer? Leave us a comment below!
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
For several years, we've been leading walks in the DC area with a heavy emphasis on plant identification and wild edibles.* Sign up for a walk, learn to identify lots of plants (and hopefully some fungi), and find out that some of them are actually pretty tasty to eat! We've got four scheduled for spring and early summer:
April 24, 2010 -- Spring Wild Edibles Walk, Scott's Run in McClean,VA. Last year we found a good amount of morel mushrooms at Scott's Run. Hopefully nature will display them again! In addition to morels, we will see wild ramps (a.k.a. wild leeks), nettles, and other edible plants and spring wildflowers. Hiking 3-4 miles over unpaved and hilly steep trails. Fee: $20. Register here (via Matt's Habitats).
May 22, 2010 -- Mountain Laurel Walk, Northwest Branch, Montgomery County. A stunning hillside of mountain laurels in full bloom overlooking the Northwest Branch is our destination (providing mother nature cooperates). On the way, we'll exercise our identification skills as we explore plants growing from riverine habitats up to dryer upland habitat. We'll walk a total of 1-2 miles with a steep hill or two and a stream crossing. FREE. Register here (via the Maryland Native Plant Society).
*Gathering of edibles will only take place in places where it is permitted, and sampling of native species will only occur where abundant populations exist. We want to keep doing this for many years!
Sunday, March 14, 2010
UPDATE: There has been a lot of flooding along the Potomac due to our rainy weekend. Check in with trip leaders to make sure these hikes are still on. Or check our calendar for some other options that aren't along a river or creek!
Roosevelt Island to the Chain Bridge & Back - A 9 mile route with folks from the Sierra Club following the Potomac Heritage Trail out, and the C&O Towpath back, stopping for lunch at Clyde's in Georgetown and then back to Roosevelt Island.
Potomac Heritage Trail - Also on Sunday, also leaving from Roosevelt Island, but with the Center Hiking Club, and about 45 minutes after the Sierra Club folks. This will be an 11-12 mile hike stopping for lunch at one of DC's Civil War forts.
See our full calendar for full details and RSVP info, or for the many, many great sounding trips and classes this week. And don't forget about the Environmental Film Festival!
Like the photo in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.
Friday, March 12, 2010
We actually start looking for spring beauties in January. Not the flowers, but the little leaves. They're skinny like a little blade of grass, but more succulent -- spring beauties are actually related to purslane. (And like purslane, the leaves are edible.)
By mid-March, the spring beauties are blooming. The flowers are small (maybe 3/4" wide) and low to the ground -- the entire plant usually doesn't grow any taller than 4 to 6 inches. At any other time of year, they'd be easy to overlook. In early spring, though, they're a major part of the show before other things start blooming.
The flowers have 5 petals that can be white or light pink. If you look closely, you'll see they're candy-striped with thin pink lines pointing to the center of the flower. And just in case that doesn't tip off the pollinators well enough, the center opening of the flower is highlighted with little yellow spots.
Watch for how the flowers react to the weather. On a sunny day, they'll open wide. But with clouds, the petals fold back up and wait for better weather. It's another thing we love about these plants.
We've tried a few fairy spuds from our yard -- but I think I prefer to see the flowers.
In your yard: We love the spring beauties we've planted in a shady spot in our backyard. They're a great reminder to get out into the woods and see what else is coming up.
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Spring is coming, I promise. But this week folks were still posting pictures of late winter.
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Tuesday, March 9, 2010
The DC Environmental Film Festival is a twelve-day extravaganza showing films that are generally unavailable in commercial theaters. They can be challenging, funny, educational, whimsical -- and often stunningly beautiful. This year there will be 155 films in just two weeks, spread across 56 venues: embassies, theaters, museums and more. Many are free, and many will be attended by the filmmakers.
The festivities kick off with a launch party on Wednesday, March 10 (that's tomorrow). For a $20 cover there's hors d'ouvres, an open bar with eco-friendly vodka, and a silent auction with some pretty cool stuff.
There are a few films on the schedule that have some local interest:
THE GREEN HOUSE: DESIGN IT. BUILD IT. LIVE IT. (USA, 2010, 90 min., World Premiere) "This illuminating documentary chronicles the building of the first carbon-neutral house and the designing of the first green show house in the Washington, D.C. area. The building of the house in McLean, Virginia was captured from start to finish, from the monumental groundbreaking to the exquisitely furnished show home decorated by eco-conscious designers." 3/17/10 7:00 pm, E Street Cinema. Tickets, $10, available ONLY at E Street Cinema Box office beginning March 8.
THE MEANINGFUL WATERSHED EDUCATION EXPERIENCE (USA, 2006, 10 min.) and WHEN LEARNING COMES NATURALLY (USA, 2009, 30 min.) A 10 min film on environmental education programs on the Anacostia, paired with a longer film on innovative outdoor-education programs that "help children understand and experience the wonders and joys of nature." Followed by a panel discussion. 3/19/10 12:00 pm, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. FREE.
WHO KILLED CRASSOSTREA VIRGINICA: THE FALL AND RISE OF CHESAPEAKE BAY OYSTERS (USA, 2010, 58 min.) "The decline of the Chesapeake Bay oyster fishery devastated the economy of traditional tidewater communities in Maryland and Virginia. And the destruction of the oyster reef system with its immense water-filtering power also altered the ecology of the entire ecosystem." Discussion with filmmaker Michael Fincham and oyster biologist Ken Paynter and skipjack captain Ed Farley, both featured in the film, follows screening. 3/21/10 1:30 pm, Carnegie Institution for Science. FREE.
COAL COUNTRY (USA, 2009, 40 min.) "Most Americans are shocked to learn that nearly half of the electricity used in the United States today is produced by coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Coal Country reveals the truth about modern coal mining. The story is told by people directly involved, both working miners and activists, who are battling the coal companies in Appalachia. Tensions are high...as families and communities are deeply split over mountaintop removal mining." 3/23/10 7:30 pm, St. Columba's Episcopal Church. FREE, with suggested donation of $5.
"RIVER OF HOPE": WELCOME TO OUR CITY, MR. PRESIDENT (USA, 2009, 25 min.) and NOT A DISTANT BEAST (USA, 2009, 10 min.) River of Hope "spotlights the positive transformation of formerly committed youth participating in D.C.’s Civic Justice Corps....seeking to reclaim their lives and the Anacostia River.” Not a Distant Beast follows "Carl Cole, a lifelong Washington, D.C. resident, [who] formed a deep relationship with the city’s most polluted natural resource, the Anacostia River, which led him to become a water sportman and an activist and steward of the river." 3/27/10 2:30 pm, Carnegie Institution for Science. FREE.
Beyond that, there are beautiful-looking nature documentaries from all over the world, a Finnish epic drama, animation for kids, stories of destruction, stories of redemption...and a fantastic-looking series on food and agriculture issues, including a movie about Nora Pouillon of DC's Restaurant Nora, and FRESH!, which includes segments on Joel Salatin, who markets meat and eggs in the DC area. Check out the catalog. What films are you looking forward to?
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Sunday, March 7, 2010
This is last week's Calendar post! For upcoming events see our picks for this weekend, or the upcoming hikes we're leading!
There are two different Sierra Club hikes on Sunday afternoon (3/14) exploring areas threatened by two different road projects.
The Sierra Club of Maryland is also working hard to protect Mattawoman Creek, a beautiful tributary of the Potomac River 20 miles south of DC in Charles County. It's an important area for birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, but is threatened by runoff and development from the Charles County Cross County Connector. Come check out the area with a 3 mile hike in Smallwood State Park. The hike description says, "[this] is the last best remnant of what Chesapeake Bay rivers were like when the Bay teemed with life. Come enjoy its tranquil beauty, and help save this last refuge. Hike meandering trails through hardwood forest, passing natural and historical points of interest with viewing opportunities for upland and water species of birds and critters."
See our full calendar to RSVP and get directions -- or to check out the many other great activities going on this week. We'll see you out there!
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Friday, March 5, 2010
Sapsuckers make a series of round holes in a tree's bark, usually lined up in efficient little rows. They then lap up the sap that comes out -- sometimes returning to holes over and over as the sap continues to ooze.
In addition to their their distinctive holes, sapsuckers are a distinctive-looking bird. Like other woodpeckers, they've got mottled black and whitish feathers on their back and wings. Both males and females have a red spot on the top of their head; males also have a red throat. The belly has just a hint of yellow that you won't be able to detect without exactly the right light -- the picture above may be the yellowest I've ever seen.
But sapsuckers don't subsist entirely on sugar -- good thing, because the sap doesn't flow all year. The sapsucker may also make rectangular holes that allow them to get to the tree's phloem, which they eat. And, like other woodpeckers, they eat a lot of insects. Even when the sap is running, many insects either get uncovered by drilling into the tree, or are themselves attracted to the sap.
But no other woodpecker in our area makes such systematic holes in the trees. If you see a tidy little row, it was probably a sapsucker.
In your yard: Don't worry, sapsuckers generally do not cause serious damage to trees -- the wounds they make are pretty shallow. Sapsuckers come to the large oak tree in our backyard all the time, and it's going strong.
We read of one photographer who attracted sapsuckers to his yard by drilling holes in an upright log and filling them with corn syrup. Cheating? You decide. It must have been quite a sugar rush for the birds!
Have you seen sapsuckers lately? Let us know.
Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
You may have noticed that we use a lot of pictures from folks who have shared photos on Flickr under a Creative Commons license. We're going to try an experiment: looking for local nature-themed photos that have been posted recently, and publishing a few of our favorites on (at least some) Wednesdays. Like? Dislike? Want to help curate? Leave us a comment below.
Can you name these three locations?
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Here's what we heard from you, and what we're doing about it:
- Your favorite posts are the "look for" series and posts about local places to go. We'll keep lots of those coming.
- The calendar is used heavily by some of you, but some of you aren't really interested in group activities. We'll keep that part of the website going for now. But in keeping with our local focus, we are going to simplify by listing only trips that are close to the DC area -- "close" being a subjective term that may vary from month to month. We've also added a copy of the calendar as a permanent fixture in the right hand column of the blog. (Bear with us while we figure out how to make it match our color scheme!). Even if you don't want to go out in a group just to go hiking, there are often workshops and lectures mixed in that you might find interesting.
- Links are less interesting to many of you. We'll stop putting them into stand-alone posts. But we can't help it: there's a lot of cool stuff out there, and we like to share. So we'll keep posting things we find interesting via Twitter. If you have no interest in joining the "Twitterverse," you can find the links we've shared most recently in a feed in our right-hand column. Check them out when you feel like surfing.
- You like the photos, and wish there were more. Stay tuned for an experiment on that tomorrow.
- We didn't think to ask about this, but we've been working on our layout and design. If you're reading us by RSS or email, stop by and check out the new look! Let us know what you think.