by Laura Beatty of the Virginia Native Plant Society
The March meeting was held at the McLean Community Center, attendance approximately 20.
We first heard from Caroline Hayes from the Plant NOVA Natives campaign. The group has published a regional guide to native plants for northern Virginia. The mission of the group is to educate the public about the value and beauty of natives and at the same time to educate and encourage the nursery business and local growers to plant and promote native plants. For more information go to the website at www.plantnovanatives.org.
Speaker Laura Beatty began her career as a Virginia gardener who became interested in native plants after attending a Lahr Symposium years ago. She has lectured at the George Washington University on plants native to the northern Virginia and Potomac gorge region.
Washington, D.C. sits astride the Potomac gorge, one of the most diverse communities of Piedmont native plants on the entire east coast. Area habitats include wetlands and eastern deciduous forest. Of the 156 species of trees 60 percent are pollinated by the wind, a more primitive reproductive method than by insects. Pollinating insects see in UV and thus see different colors than what we see—often more bold, directing them to the pollinatable center of a flower. Beetles were the original pollinators.
Ms. Beatty presented a series of slides that started with spring natives and went through summer and fall bloomers. Along with each photo of flowers, trees, or shrubs she discussed the insects and birds that are fed by the plants. A flowering sequence sheet of native plants of Northern Virginia was handed out and is attached at the end of this article.
Some of the ephemerals we can see locally in the spring are Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, dogtooth lily, and spring beauties. The list of pollinators that Laura discussed included butterflies, bees, wasps, beetles (up to 30,000 species), and flies (flower flies). Bloodroot is one of the first to emerge to attract flies and digger bees. Seventy percent of native bees live in the ground, 30 percent live in cavities such as wood. For that reason we should leave dead wood on the ground. Bluebells appear in mid-April. Golden ragwort makes a good groundcover. Amelanchier and redbuds are edible. Coral honeysuckle generally blooms around April 15 at the same time hummingbirds appear. Pinxterbloom azaleas are good for moths in the evening because the plants reflect moonlight. Aquilegia (Columbine) loves rock gardens, Corylis americana, American hazelnut, has tiny blossoms. Many plants have a redundant growth system; that is, excess foliage is built in, so that 30 percent of the leaves can be eaten without harming the plant. Flower constancy (planting a number of the same species of plant) is important for bumblebees.
In Baptisia australis the pollen has the opposite electrical charge from the hairs on the legs of bees so the pollen attracts to the insect for easy pollination. Fringetree females are extremely fragrant which attracts nighttime pollinators. Wild bleeding hearts bloom all summer. Zizzia aurea blooms on May 1 and looks like a yellow version of Queen Anne’s lace. Native persimmons with male and female flowers should be eaten only after several frosts. Mapleleaf viburnum attracts small carpenter bees. Itea virginiana is good for covering banks and is liked by several kinds of bees. Tulip poplars are in the magnolia family, good for swallowtail butterflies, and produce seeds loved by cardinals. Elderberry is also good for swallowtails. Butterfly weed is the favorite of butterflies although they also love New York ironweed. Common milkweed is too aggressive for gardens; use swamp milkweed instead. Leave these standing in the winter—the pollinators are living in the stems.
In June Monarda fistulosa (wild Bergamot), Heliopsis helianthoides (Ox-eye sunflower) and Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s root) come up together and look good together. Rudbeckia fulgida (orange coneflower) along with Vernonia (New York ironweed) appears in July. August brings buttonbush beloved of butterflies and bumblebees. Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) blooms in August or September along with Blue Lobelia and Black-eyed Susans. Ms. Beatty explained that all plants have natural toxins and the insects must evolve with the plant in order to be able to eat it, which is why native plants are so crucial to our ecology.
In the fall, early goldenrods extend the reproductive season for many insects. Boltonia is a September bloom along with Yellow crownbeard (Verbesina occidentalis) is prolific, a haven for bumblebees at 6 feet tall. Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana, bees sleep on it), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae angliae), and Bluestem goldenrod (Solidago acesia) round out the display. The native witchhazel (Hamamelis virginicus) closes out the season in October with its yellow leaves and blooms.
Ms. Beatty described rock garden construction conducive to native plant growth. To construct one dig out all soil in the designated area, add large rocks, and fill in between with layers of sand and some compost and plant between rocks. The improved drainage helps the natives thrive.
Insects were also covered, specifically, bees, yellow jackets and wasps. It is a useful exercise to watch bees. Sweat bees, the littlest ones, travel no more than 200 yards from their birth areas. There are solitary bees with an insignificant sting who live in the ground and swarm only briefly when reproducing. Of the two large bees, the carpenter bee is larger than the bumblebee and has a “shiny hiney”. Yellow jackets have a role in the garden but these ground-dwellers are the ones that bother people. Wasps are community bugs and build large papery nests. They are good pollinators. To learn more check out the Xerxes Society devoted to the study of insects.
Ms. Beatty also refers us to the www.audubonva.org website.
Respectfully submitted, Susanna Membrino, Co-Secretary LDG
Flowering Sequence of Select Native Plants in Northern Virginia provided by Laura Beatty
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