Green Flag  
Newsletter of the Foundation of the State Arboretum                                                 Winter 2012

Rob Humphrey  

Rob Humphrey Named Volunteer of the Year

Congratulations to Rob Humphrey, FOSA's Volunteer of the Year! Rob has been a volunteer for three years and this is his second time as Volunteer of the Year, which is not surprising when you consider all that he does for FOSA.


Rob began volunteering in the perennial gardens on Wednesdays and has expanded his involvement to working on the Native Plant Trail on Thursdays and the Bridle Trail whenever needed.


He is also a member of the set up and take down crew for ArborFest and Garden Fair and helps out on the mailing committee as well. Rob is always available to help anyone who needs an extra pair of hands, such as cutting greens for the Holiday Workshops, hanging a mirror for the shop or refinishing a small table for the VIP room.


He makes himself available to help anyone with anything needed like lifting heavy things, setting up for most events and helping put things away.

The Foundation and Blandy are very fortunate to have Rob. He loves and supports the Arboretum in so many ways and we truly appreciate him.

Save the Date!

For the 4th year in a row, FOSA is highlighting its fundraising efforts by having a Spring Cocktail Party to raise the much needed funds for the programs at Blandy and the State Arboretum.


This year Mr. and Mrs. Richard DeBergh will be generously hosting the event at their home in Winchester.


Please mark your calendar now and join us on April 6, 2013.


Bill Spinrad

Bill Spinrad

Joins Staff

Blandy is fortunate to have Bill Spinrad as a new Weekend Visitor Services Aide. Bill joined the staff in October; he will be here on Saturdays to greet visitors, answer questions, and help them enjoy their time at Blandy. Bill joins Kaycee Lichliter, who is here on Sundays; he steps in for Brenda Ford, who retired in July after nearly 10 years.


Bill brings a career's worth of experience to this position. He has a B.A. in Geology and graduate credit in Recreation Resources Management. he has worked as a Park Ranger and Cartographer in parks and offices across the U.S. Bill recently retired from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, where he served most recently as a Land Resources Officer at the C&O Canal National Historical Park.


Evidence so far indicates that Bill is interested in just about everything that goes on here, including birding, photography, and plant identification. Be sure to look for Bill on your Saturday visits, and welcome him into the Blandy family. 


Mother Nature reads
Storytime at ArborFest
Mother Nature (Moe Hall) reads "The Lorax" at ArborFest. Click here for an ArborFest slide show.

 Grants Help

Native Grasses 

Landowners with at least 10 acres in Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, or Page counties are eligible for grants up to $100 per acre to restore native warm season grasses on their properties.


The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal has grants available from the National Forest Foundation. The institute prefers the land be within three miles of a George Washington National Forest boundary line. The grant money may be used to help pay for seeds, herbicide, technical help and the use of the institute's no-till drill, according to information from the institute.


Native warm-season grasses include both little and big bluestem, Indian grass, broomsedge, switch grass, sideoats grama, and others. Virginia Working Landscapes' website explains some of the benefits of growing native warm-season grasses. Applications are due by Jan. 28; to receive an application email


Millie Koehler at staff and volunteer work day Dec. 13.

Weed Warrior

Volunteer Millie Koehler helps pull invasives at the staff and volunteer work day Dec. 13. The next scheduled work days are Jan. 17 and Jan. 31. 



Seed Exchange

Set for Jan. 26

The Arboretum's third annual seed exchange is set for Saturday, Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., in the library.


A large committee of seed collectors will be busy extracting seeds from pods of all sorts in order for participants to have plenty for everyone. Michael Neese will be on hand once more to offer advice about community gardens and composting.


This is a free event offering lots of fun and fellowship. Also, door prizes will be awarded each hour. The event is sponsored by Our Shop under the Arch at the State Arboretum of Virginia.


Call Donna Downing (540-667-3778) or Pam DeBergh (540-667-9016) for additional information. Bring seeds, roots, plants or "whatever" from your garden to share with others, please. Please, no invasive species.



Maggio, McCagg

Hold Art Show

Two artists from Millwood will team up to present a show of original paintings in February.


Tia Maggio and Winslow McCagg "Reunion" will be on display from February 2-28 in the dining room. An opening reception Sunday, Feb. 3, will provide an opportunity to meet the artists and enjoy light refreshments.

2012 Holiday Workshops
Click the photo for a Holiday Workshops slide show.
Deck the Halls 
Holiday Workshops 
Are a FOSA Tradition


The FOSA Holiday Workshops are a great way to kick off the holiday season.  For the second year in a row, all the wreath making classes were full. In fact, the workshops had a waiting list so organizers are considering adding another class next year.  Assistant Curators Kim Strader and Carrie Whitacre offered their holiday craft class, this year making a traditional corn husk angel.


Special thanks to everyone on staff who made the Holiday Workshops possible and the Holiday Workshops sponsor, Virginia Boxwood Company, which supplied fresh American and English boxwood for this event

Young Naturalist Program  

A Feast for the Senses

Young Naturalists
Virginia Master Naturalist Linda Bender shows wild onions to three of the Young Naturalists during last year's program called "Winter Feast." The group made pizza that day using some of the wild edibles collected at Blandy.


By Steve Carroll
Director of Public Programs 

With winter fast approaching, it's easy to turn our thoughts to warm fires and good books. But one group of area children, dedicated volunteers, and warmly-dressed staff will instead spend winter Saturdays exploring Blandy's grounds.


This year's Young Naturalist series includes five programs linked by the theme, "Exploring Winter Using All Our Senses." Each program highlights a different sense, such as vision and touch, which we will use to explore our surroundings, better understand Blandy's plants and animals, and appreciate how humans relate to their environment.


As in years past, the Young Naturalist program will benefit from financial support provided by The Adams Companies, and from the volunteer help of Virginia Master Naturalists.


Check out the Young Naturalist program brochure for program details, costs, and registration, or call 540-837-1758 Ext. 224.

Flora of Virginia Arrives on Bookshelves
By T'ai Roulston
The new Flora of Virginia is due out this December and will be on the shelves of universities, libraries, public gardens, garden clubs, and the nerdiest people you know. I will be elbowing my way to the front of that line, so watch out!   

The Flora is a technical identification guide to the plants native to or now

Flora of Virginia

growing wild in Virginia and replaces the Flora Virginica, which came out in 1762 when men wore waistcoats and breeches topped off with white powdered wigs as they lined up to get it. The plants of Virginia have changed as much as everything else, with some plants disappearing as habitats changed and many new plants appearing as garden escapes and hitchhikers on international shipments.


The new Flora is 1,500 pages long with 1,400 illustrations scattered over 3,200 plant taxa that can be identified with dichotomous keys, a hand lens, a glossary, and a lot of patience. It costs $79, or 2.5 cents per species (a bargain if you've ever tried keying one out in the Flora of the Carolinas).


If you get the Flora in winter, you can key out the flowers one species at Flora of Virginia logoa time for a while (witch hazel, winter aconite, red maple, spring beauty) before the onslaught truly begins and every mason jar in your house sits on a window sill with an unknown species dropping petals on your floor and your new book, so prized, so full of information, soon soiled with plant parts and spilled coffee, its pages dog-eared, its spine accordioned from use as an impromptu plant press. A pristine flora is an unused flora.


The Flora project took 11 years to complete, a technical marathon by authors Alan Weakley, Chris Ludwig, and John Townsend, and an organizational and fund-raising marathon by the Foundation of the Flora of Virginia Project, and a whole lot of supporters, including the Foundation of the State Arboretum and the Virginia Native Plant Society. This will be the plant identification resource of Virginia for a long time, so if you didn't get it for the botanist in your life at Christmas, consider Valentine's Day.


FOSA is the official sponsor of the plant family Fagaceae (the beeches, oaks, and chestnuts) in the Flora. It is an excellent match for us, as the Arboretum collection includes 371 trees in that family, comprising four species of chestnut, two beeches, and 31 oaks (including half the species covered in the new Flora, and most of the native species). So if you find yourself mystified by the oaks, as all sane people are, you'll be able to come to the Arboretum, Flora in hand, and learn what to look for. The Fagaceae is also an incredibly important family ecologically, with all three groups providing abundant food for wildlife and the oaks often being the largest trees of the forest. So come to the Arboretum with your Flora and hand lens, and prepare to stay awhile.


For information on ordering your copy, visit


Andrea Wulf
Andrea Wulf

Andrea Wulf

Author Examines

Gardening's Influence

On Four Presidents   


By Steve Carroll

Director of Public Programs

On Sunday afternoon, November 11, Andrea Wulf entertained an audience of 45 with a lively, illustrated talk based on her book, Founding Gardeners. This was a fitting program to end our 2012 public program series, given Thomas Jefferson's prominent role in the book and presentation.


"Founding Gardeners" examines the influence of gardening and farming on the lives and politics of our first four presidents. It weaves a creative, fascinating story as it links these four men and their relationships with the land. Ms. Wulf, who is an award-winning writer and historian, was on a short U.S. book tour, and her talk at Blandy was her last before returning to England the following morning.


This program was co-sponsored by the Foundation of the State Arboretum and the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter XXIII. The talk was followed by a book signing and a tea. Look for future programs by Ms. Wulf, as she has already asked about returning!


Unusual Birds Visit Blandy
Northern Seed Crop Failure Forces Birds South

By Dave Carr

Director, Blandy Experimental Farm

The Arboretum, fields, forests, and ephemeral wetlands of Blandy always provide for fun birding. The changing seasons regularly bring new species to add to a core group of year-round residents, resulting in the kind of variety and surprises that make birders get out of bed ridiculously early in the morning. Every now and then, Blandy gets a visit from something especially out of the ordinary, and in November several exceptional birds drew birders to Blandy from all over the area. One of the interesting things about these species is how tied they are to particular types of trees.

Loggerhead Shrike
Loggerhead Shrike
Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service


In early November Linda Chittum reported a Loggerhead Shrike in one of the large succession fields at Blandy. Loggerhead Shrike populations have been declining sharply in the eastern United States due to habitat loss and degradation, and it is regarded as a Threatened species in the state of Virginia.  Shrikes are handsome gray and black songbirds, and although no larger than a robin, these formidable predators take prey as large as mice and sparrows. The shrike has earned the nickname "butcher bird" for its habit of impaling and storing its prey on the thorns of trees or, in a pinch, a barbed wire fence.  Many of the honey locust and Osage orange trees at Blandy are now decorated with the shrike's victims, which hang like gruesome ornaments throughout its territory. These displays have given the shrike a reputation as a gratuitous killer, but some ornithologists have hypothesized that male shrikes build their larder to impress females with their hunting prowess.  Certainly the birders who have come to search for the Blandy shrike have been as impressed with these adornments as with this rare bird itself.


The next group of rare birds began appearing at Blandy in mid November when James Fox photographed a small group of White-winged Crossbills. Shortly after this initial sighting, Red Crossbills and Common Redpolls were reported. These are refugees from the north country, denizens of the boreal forest forced to wander south because of failed cone crops throughout much of Canada. The Arboretum's extensive conifer collection provides many of the comforts of home to these nomadic birds, and birders have flocked to Blandy for this rare opportunity.


Both White-winged and Red Crossbills are colorful finches, about the size of bluebirds. They are "holarctic," occupying the taiga of North America, Europe, and Asia, rarely venturing as far south as Virginia.  Crossbills are unrivaled in North America for their degree of specialization on a single group of trees. As their name implies, their hooked upper and lower beaks cross, giving them a unique look. Their crossed bill acts as a powerful and precise tool that functions to separate the scales on cones, allowing their spiny tongue to expertly extract the seeds hidden inside. The birds have been seen plying their trade in the Arboretum's hemlocks, Norway spruce, larch, and several species of pines.


The tight ecological relationship between Red Crossbills and conifers is giving biologists new insights to the evolution of new species. Although taxonomists currently recognize only a single species of "Red Crossbill" in North America, at least nine different types have been recognized based on their call notes. Each of these types has a slightly different bill and tongue morphology that seems to be optimally adapted to handle the cone of a particular species of conifer. Over the past 20 years biologists studying these birds have been building one of the strongest examples of bird-plant co-evolution and ecological specialization driving diversification.


Whether you come to Blandy for the birds or the trees, I think the world seems all the more exciting when you contemplate how connected they both can be. Even if you're not a birder, keep an alert ear for the chatter in the tree tops and a sharp eye for an impaled grasshopper on a thorn.  And if you are a birder, who (like me) has been frustrated in your attempts to glimpse one of these rare birds this winter, take some time to appreciate the magnificent trees that have provided these birds with a home away from home.