Nearly 500 native plants will be planted on a 2,200 sq ft patch along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail by the Bluemont Park parking lot on June 20 at 10 a.m. thanks to a partnership with Arlington County, Dominion Energy, NOVA Parks and community volunteers. The space is currently just turf grass and weeds, but in honor of National Pollinator Week (beginning June 19) the space will be transformed into a meadow for Arlington’s pollinators and passersby to enjoy. Pollinators, such as bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles and hummingbirds, are key to our food supply. In fact, one out of every three bites of food we enjoy is due to the direct actions of an animal pollinator. Three-quarters of all plants depend on animal pollinators in order to reproduce. The Arlington patch will include only native plants because studies show that native plants are four or more times more attractive to native pollinators and wildlife than exotic plants.
This time of year, many people notice how abundant goldenrods are in our open areas. Since this coincides with many people getting hay fever allergies, they wrongfully blame the goldenrods they notice, rather than the ragweed and other real culprits that they don’t. Showy flowers such as goldenrods have larger and heavier pollen that is transferred by pollinators such as insects. Wind pollinated plants do not need showy flowers since they need not attract any pollinators, but need to produce an abundance of lightweight pollen in the hopes some of it is carried onto another flower. Those plants, especially ragweeds, are what cause the issues this time of year.
Goldenrods are an important and abundant Fall flower. Many animals depend on them. We have close to 50 species in Virginia alone, so they’re adapted to many growing conditions, but most favor open sunny locations. Due to their adaptability and showiness, many goldenrods are garden staples, both here and in other countries. In some parts of the world however, due to their adaptability, North American goldenrods have the potential to become invasive. They have some allelopathic traits, exuding chemicals that inhibit the growth of certain plants (such as maples) that also help them compete.
The Genus name “Solidago” translates to “making whole” and points to worldwide use of this plant group for many medical and other uses. In North America, famed ethnobotanist Daniel Moerman listed too many uses by native peoples to cover here. Thomas Edison was a big believer in goldenrod use. He experimented and succeeded in making rubber from certain Solidagos. He even bred his own type that grew to twelve feet tall to maximize the rubber compounds. Henry Ford even gave him a Model T with tires made from his goldenrod rubber.
Of course, it is wildlife that have the most uses for goldenrods. In addition to feeding on the many insects that use Solidagos (see below), birds such as goldfinches, juncos, pine siskins, trukey, indigo buntings, and various sparrows all feed on the seeds. Despite the chemicals in them that made them such sought after medicinal plants, mammals such as rabbits, voles, mice, beaver, muskrat, groundhogs and deer (although others consider it deer resistant) all make use of it.
As you can see, goldenrods are extremely valuable plants and deserve to be included in our gardens and landscapes, not simply because of their beauty and adaptability, but for the wonderful wildlife value they have.
Wild Crabapple, purple passion flower, and state-rare frosted hawthorns are just a few of the plants sprouting in Arlington County’s Native Plant Nursery. These little seedlings have been propagated and tended by County staff and volunteers since last fall, or in the case of the frosted hawthorn, since spring of 2015! Some seeds, particularly for woody species like trees and shrubs may take up to 2 or 3 years to even germinate. That’s what makes it so exciting that we now have multiple species of oak as well as native paw paw (both may take up to two years to germinate) coming up from last year’s fall planting!
More expected, but no less welcome, are some of the shrub and herbaceous species that we collected the seed for and propagated last fall. Species coming up right now in the nursery include swamp rose and possumhaw viburnum. We also have a large amount of newly sprouted plants like butterfly weed, common milkweed, false indigo bush, wild blue lettuce, goldenrod, Joe-Pye weed and goldenrod. We also have grasses such as purple top, sugarcane plumegrass and Virginia wild rye.
We are very pleased with the number of plants coming up, but even more promising is that the nursery itself will be expanding this spring! We are planning on doubling the size of the area dedicated to the nursery and installing three more propagation beds. Once again, we will be relying on volunteers to help with the construction and other activities to prepare the beds. Another exciting development for the nursery is that the Parks and Natural Resources Division welcomed a new staff member, Scott Graham, as our first-ever Natural Resource Technician. Among other stewardship field activities, Scott will be responsible for the day to day maintenance of the nursery, including watering and weeding the new seedlings. These new plants are destined for planting in some of the County’s habitat restoration sites throughout the County. For more information about the efforts at Arlington County’s Native Plant Nursery and how to get involved, please contact the Natural Resource Management Unit at 703-228-1862.