Green Flag
Newsletter of the Foundation of the State Arboretum                                                                           Winter 2013
Staff, Faculty  
Honor FOSA Volunteers
Two volunteers are sharing the distinction of being named FOSA's top volunteers for 2013.

Linda Conrad and Keith Pratt each tallied exactly 207.75 hours of volunteer service in the past year. As a result of this mathematical coincidence, Keith and Linda were both honored at the FOSA volunteer recognition dinner Sept. 12. Linda volunteers in Our Shop, and Keith helps in the Shop as well as with mailings.

Volunteers recorded a total of 4,771 hours of service to the Arboretum during the last fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013. 

Eighteen volunteers recorded more than 50 hours, four were over 100 hours, three were over 200 hours, one was over 300 hours and one volunteer tallied over 600 hours of service. FOSA Board members and the prior year's top volunteer are not eligible for the top volunteer award.

Service hours are based on numbers recorded by volunteers, so only those volunteers who keep track of their hours are included in the tally. These numbers are important for grant applications and to show community involvement and support for Blandy and the Arboretum and its programs.
2014 Marks FOSA
30th Anniversary
The Foundation of the State Arboretum celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2014.

The Friends of Blandy was formed in 1984 to provide volunteer expertise and financial support to Blandy Experimental Farm. Two years later the Friends led the successful effort to designate Blandy as the State Arboretum of Virginia. The Friends of Blandy became the Friends of the State Arboretum and in 1997 the organization changed its name to the Foundation of the State Arboretum.

To mark the anniversary, FOSA will display a special logo during 2014 and will also host a special celebration. Stay tuned for more information as events unfold.

Chris Schmidt
New Assistant Joins Staff
Christine Schmidt has joined the Blandy staff as an arboretum assistant.

For the past seven years she worked as assistant retail manager for Fort Valley Nursery in Woodstock. Before that Chris was in plant care and sales for Country Gardens in Toms Brook.

She also held positions at the Winchester Agriculture Experiment Station and the Virginia Truck and Ornamentals Research Station in Virginia Beach, and taught plant identification at Tidewater Community College in Chesapeake.

Chris holds a masters degree in plant pathology from Virginia Tech, and earned her bachelor's degree in biology from St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. She lives in Strasburg.

Welcome, Chris!

This seed catalog inspired gardeners in 1897. Source: USDA
FOSA Seed Exchange
Returns  Jan. 25
Gardeners will gather in the library Jan. 25 for the fourth annual FOSA seed exchange.

This free event offers an opportunity for gardeners to exchange seeds, roots, and cuttings and to discover new additions for their gardens. The event is sponsored by Our Shop and will include plenty of fun and fellowship. 

The seed exchange runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Blandy library. No invasive species are allowed. Check the arboretum's list of invasive species on the web site, Gardeners are encouraged to bring native plants.

Call Donna Downing for more information, 540-667-3778.

Photo: Tim Farmer
The calls of Northern Bobwhites are common in the spring at Blandy. A March 18 program will feature Sounds of Spring.
Public Programs
Continue Into Spring

By Steve Carroll

Director of Public Programs

Offerings of public programs are less frequent during winter, but watch for emails and Facebook postings for news about upcoming events at Blandy.


Insight Meditation Instructor Shell Fischer will lead an eight-week series of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction workshops on Monday evenings beginning January 27 in the Blandy library. For more information and to register, go to


Watch for our first winter full moon walk. If the weather cooperates, we will offer a guided winter walk across Blandy's frozen landscape in January or February. We might just have to end that walk with a mug of hot cocoa!


Spring public programs begin March 18 with a multimedia presentation by Wil Hershberger on the Sounds of Spring. Wil's program, co-sponsored by the Shenandoah Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists, will feature spectacular images and professional recordings of birds, insects, and frogs, and is perfect for the whole family. For those who wish, we will end the program with a walk down to Lake Georgette to listen for signs of spring!


The following week, on March 25, Shenandoah Herb Society member Phoebe Reeve will share her knowledge of the historical and modern uses of herbs in a program titled, "Introduction to Herbalism." Weather permitting, we will end with a short tour of Blandy's herb garden. Phoebe's program is co-sponsored by the Winchester Parks and Recreation Department.


We close out March with a free Saturday morning workshop on Sustainable Landscaping (March 29, 10 a.m.-Noon). This workshop, co-sponsored by the Piedmont Environmental Council, will feature short presentations on sustainable lawn and garden practices, use of native plants, ways to protect soil and water, and more. Watch for details.


Blandy already entices cold-weather visitors who come to walk, exercise their dogs, or photograph nature in winter. Now there are even more reasons to visit Blandy!

Give a FOSA Membership
This Holiday Season
A membership in the Foundation of the State Arboretum is a great gift idea and the perfect way to show your support for the Arboretum.

Individual FOSA membership starts at $35, or just $25 for seniors over age 65. A family membership is $50 ($40 senior) and your business can become a member for $50.

FOSA members enjoy 10 percent off in Our Shop, as well as discounts to FOSA programs and reciprocal benefits at other arboreta and public gardens.

Join online right now, or visit our membership page to learn more. And Happy Holidays!
Young Naturalists make
Young Naturalists make "yellow snow" during last year's program. 
Kids Can Become Young Naturalists
FOSA Program Gets Kids Outside in Winter
By Steve Carroll
Director of Public Programs
As the calendar turns the page to 2014, FOSA's Young Naturalist series is ready to go. We begin on January 11 with a program on EcoArt, featuring guest artist Kate Samworth. Ms. Samworth will lead kids in a series of activities using natural and recycled products. We will create outdoor sculptures, look for natural patterns in the landscape, incorporate natural objects into art, and more.
The Adams Companies
The Young Naturalist program is sponsored by The Adams Companies.


On January 25, we investigate the natural world in "Cold-weather Carnivores." We will search for tracks and other signs of winter predators, practice predators' hunting techniques, search for "food," and other activities.

In "Frozen Feathers" on February 8, Blandy Director Dave Carr will lead the group as we look for and observe winter birds. We will participate in Project Feeder Watch, a citizen science project, by submitting the results of our observations to a national database.

New this season (on February 22) is "Blandy Winter Olympics." This program will feature activities, games, and movements inspired by some of Blandy's wild inhabitants. Can you move more quietly than an owl?

We end our series with "Signs of Spring," during which we will use all our senses to search for emerging insects, budding plants, calling birds, and other signs of the new season. Join us March 8 for this always-surprising program.

Kids must be registered ahead of time for these programs. Children in grades 1-3 attend from 9-11:30 a.m.; those in grades 4-6 attend from 12:30-3 p.m. Cost is $22 per session ($17 for FOSA members). Families registering for four or more spaces pay only $20 per session ($15 FOSA members). Details are available at Parents can register their children online at, by calling 540-837-1758 Ext. 224, or by printing and sending in the registration form on the back of the brochure. Join FOSA now and save!
Charlotte Miller Honored 
On National Philanthropy Day

Past FOSA President Remains an Active Volunteer

By Martha Bjelland

Director, Foundation of the State Arboretum 

Our very own distinguished volunteer Charlotte Miller was honored at a National Philanthropy Day (NPD) luncheon on November 15, 2013, held at the George Washington Hotel in Winchester. Charlotte was nominated by FOSA Director Martha Bjelland, who described Charlotte as "Resourceful:  Charlotte Miller's strategic fundraising acumen has been an invaluable asset to FOSA over a 20 year span.  Charlotte never seems to take her volunteer fundraising hat off, and has made a positive contribution in every aspect of FOSA's fundraising cycle, from executing great events to major gifts, and most importantly donor stewardship."


Charlotte Miller, center, is a past president of FOSA and is an active volunteer.
Charlotte was one of 25 distinguished volunteers celebrated for their selfless support of causes dear to their hearts, representing a host of tri-state area nonprofits. The luncheon was hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Virginia Tri-State Chapter, and attended by over 150 people, including a table of Charlotte's FOSA friends.


Over 1.5 million people celebrated NPD around the world, honoring so many in our world that give of themselves to make the world a better place. Thanks to them and again to Charlotte!

Habitat Attracts Owls to Blandy
At Least Seven Species Documented Here

By Dave Carr

Director, Blandy Experimental Farm

As we head into the holiday season, I freely admit that my mind begins to become preoccupied with birds.  Because of the Christmas Bird Counts and the chance to take a little time off from work, I probably do more birding in December than at any other time of the year.  This December, one particular group of birds has been obsessing me more than others, so I thought I'd use my winter Arbor Vitae article to talk a little about Blandy owls.


I know I'm not alone in my fascination with owls.  A "non-birding" wife of a good birding friend of mine once told me that there are only three kinds of birds: little brown birds, big brown birds, and owls.  Their nocturnal habits create an aura of mystery around them, and when people have the rare opportunity to actually see an owl, even the most casual observer knows that he is seeing something special.


2013 Young Naturalist program
Photo: Tim Farmer
Eastern Screech Owl

Since I arrived at Blandy in 1997, seven different species of owls have been recorded on the property.  The most common of these is the Eastern Screech Owl.  These owls are year-round residents in our area, and I would guess that Blandy supports anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen breeding pairs in a given year.  These small owls typically spend the day time sleeping in tree holes, and are more often heard than seen when they emerge in the evening.  They produce a spooky, whistled whinny or a long soft trill that could make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up if you didn't know what it was.  Back in May of this year, a Screech Owl likely chased a moth into the upper breezeway of the Quarters and ended up sleeping away the next day on the transit ledge above one of the dorm rooms in the Quarters.


Two large owls, the Great Horned and the Barred, are fairly common year round residents in our area, but I have encountered the former at Blandy much more often than the latter.  Both of these owls have genuine hoots.  I tend to hear the soft, pulsed notes of the Great Horned Owl most often just after sunset or just before sunrise, and they seem to become more vocal at this time of year.  The raucous "who-cooks-for you?" of a Barred Owl will certainly get your attention on an otherwise peaceful night.  I have found a couple of Great Horned Owl nests at Blandy over the years.  They don't actually build their own nests, but rather take over crow or hawk nests.  When you're as fearsome as a Great Horned Owl, you can do that.  Populations of both of these species may have been impacted by the recent introduction of West Nile Virus (WNV) into North America.  For example, in the late summer of 2002 and 2003, as the disease was just spreading through Virginia, the Wildlife Center of Virginia saw a five-fold spike in the number of Great Horned Owls relative to what they typically had seen in their clinic over the previous 10 years.  Of the 22 Great Horned Owls tested, 73% were positive for WNV infection.


The fourth year-round resident of our area is the Barn Owl.  This species is found on every continent on earth except Antarctica.  As its name implies, it has taken to nesting in barns and silos, but it certainly earns its keep.  A breeding pair of these stealthy predators might take over 1000 rodents a year.  I encounter this species at Blandy almost every year, and they have frequently bred in some of our outbuildings.  A Barn Owl scream in the middle of the night will make the uninitiated's blood run cold.


In recent years, three other species of owls have visited Blandy from the north during the winter months.  Of these, Short-eared Owls are the most regularly seen.  Unlike most of our other owls, Short-eareds often become active during the day, especially at dusk.  I've seen them cruising low over open fields on Blandy's south side as they hunt from the wing, sometimes giving a very un-owl-like bark.  These are owls of tundra, prairie, and marshes far to the north or west of here, but they are regular winter visitors to the Commonwealth.

Long eared owl
Photo: Judy Masi
Long-eared owl


The Long-eared Owl is a close cousin of the Short-eared.  I've seen only one at Blandy, but he stayed around for about a month.  He roosted in some of our arbor vitae and would usually try to make himself invisible by hugging tightly against the trunk.  He got mad at my wife once, and spread his wings and puffed up into a huge ball to scare her off.  I've heard their mournful hoots only on their breeding grounds in the boreal forests of the northern U.S. and Canada.


The tiny, irresistibly cute Northern Saw-whet Owl has eluded me at Blandy, but Tim Farmer brought me a photo of one that one of hiis friends found here in 2003.  I'm sure this secretive species visits Blandy just about every year, however.  Saw-whets commonly spend the day tucked against the trunk of a dense red cedar.  I found a few roosting in holly trees when I was a graduate student.  They tend to be silent on their wintering grounds, but in their boreal forest breeding grounds they produce a cheerful toot.


A couple of long-time local birders have told me that Blandy hosted a Snowy Owl back in the 1970s.  These large, spectacular birds make occasional flights into Virginia.  Hedwig of the Harry Potter books made the Snowy Owl a celebrity of sorts.  They breed on the arctic tundra, but periodic food shortages can cause Snowies to wander far and wide.  This winter seems to be one of those years.  Snowy Owls have been reported from coastal locations from Hatteras to Maine, where they have been found in broad daylight sitting among the dunes, in marshes, on fence posts, and even on a tractor or two. At least six Snowy Owls have been seen in Virginia thus far this year, with three as close to Blandy as Gore, Dulles Airport, and the Manassas Airport.  Airports may seem like an odd place for an owl, but maybe not one accustomed to the wide open tundra.  I am waiting impatiently for one to show up here. 

Peetwood Pavilion Expands PreK-12 Education Programs
Glass Doors Allow in Light but Keep the Weather Outside
With the overhead doors closed, students can work in the Peetwood Pavilion without worries about the weather.
By Candace Lutzow-Felling and Emily Ford
Director of Education and 
Lead School Program Presenter
"Did you put these doors in for us?!"  exclaims a returning teacher. Another asserts, "These doors are great. When we came here before, the wind would blow the students' work all over the place." A student declares, "Wow! This place sure looks different. It's much better!" Blandy Education staff have heard similar comments many times since renovations to Peetwood Pavilion for Environmental Education were completed in March 2012.
Retractable doors, windows on the east end, more effective ceiling fans, and a concrete patio area have greatly improved students' and teachers' experience during field investigations, permitted more frequent use of the space, and given us the flexibility to expand our education program offerings. This project was made possible by generous gifts from the H.O. Peet, Monford D. & Lucy L. Custer, and Helen Clay Frick Foundations, as well as the James R. Wilkins Charitable Trust, all FOSA Board members, and numerous community supporters. 
"It's a real classroom now, not just a pavilion," sums up the opinions of many teachers, students, and Blandy environmental educators. One cool, windy day a teacher commented, "It is wonderful that the doors are [now] shut. The wind blowing through the building, chilling the students, and rustling the papers and materials was always so distracting to my students." Teachers, who avoided registering for programs during these unpredictable weather times , are more comfortable visiting with students on cooler, rainy days.  
With the overhead doors open, students can learn in an outdoor classroom environment.

With the ability to close the retractable doors, more classes are scheduled at Peetwood on dates typically avoided by teachers due to the risk of cold, rainy weather. An added benefit is reduced use of the library by Education programs (we would move classes from Peetwood into the Quarters library during inclement weather), which allows other groups to use this popular Quarters room.
Due to increased usability of Peetwood as a classroom space, we have been able to expand and develop full-day field research immersion programs. This fall over 50 Sherando High School Algebra, Functions, and Data Analysis students learned how integral mathematics is for field ecology research as they studied plant diversity in the succession field plots. Because of the success of this pilot, teachers plan to expand this program into a two-week unit and increasing participation to 300 students.

Since 2006, small classes of 11th and 12th grade biology research students from Loudoun County's Academy of Science have conducted biodiversity investigations studying the impact of succession plot age on plant and arthropod diversity. In 2012, they requested including freshman and sophomore students, increasing participation from 12-24 to 60-65. Expansion of these investigations would have been impossible prior to the renovation.

Peetwood improvements have positively impacted programs for younger students, allowing more flexible use. With the ability to close the doors, both the classroom and the concrete patio are used as teaching spaces. For example, we incorporated scientific drawing into our Snake Savvy program using sidewalk chalk on the cement patio.

Due to the Peetwood renovation, visiting teachers and students experience improved comfort and usability during programs, the education team has more flexibility teaching in this classroom space, and we have begun to increase the use of Peetwood, creating new and innovative programs.

Witch Hazel: Going It Alone on a Spectacular Journey

Stubborn Shrub Blooms After the Garden Has Shut Down for Winter

By T'ai Roulston


The common witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is a remarkable shrub. While it has a vibrant cultural history as a preferred divining stick to find water and lost children, and as an herbal remedy said to relieve acne and varicose veins, it is also remarkable ecologically. First, it blooms in late fall after all other plants have bloomed and most have dropped their leaves and shut down for the year. It is not a subtle bloom: the whole plant is ablaze with flowers, their petals exerted like the legs of yellow spiders. When a hard frost has killed your garden and convinced you to swap the screen door for glass, there it is - a shrub that missed the memo on winter. You would think a plant composed entirely of divining sticks would know better.

Photo: Tim Farmer


Who is this show for? By late fall, most of the insects are gone, last year's pollinators are already dead and next year's newly hidden in dirt, debris and crevices. I wondered this as I watched the arboretum shrub bloom this year and saw scant insects on it. The small amount of research on this plant shows just how odd this strategy seems to be. In 2002, Greg Anderson and James Hill of the University of Connecticut published a study in which they followed 20,000 flowers over several years and found that only 1 in 200 ever made a seed. It wasn't for lack of pollinators, however, as the plant attracts a broad assortment of visitors (mainly flies) and adding pollen by hand (a common way of testing if lack of pollinators causes a lack of seeds) doesn't change seed production. So what's the problem?


It may have to do with the plant's reproductive system itself. The seeds of most plant species are fertilized a few hours after they are pollinated. Pollen lands on the stigma (pollination) and the pollen sends a tube down through the ovary and fertilizes an ovule, producing a seed. But in witch hazel, this process takes months, not hours. The pollen tube growing into the ovary doesn't reach an ovule until spring, after a long winter of freezing and thawing. Most of the fruits just fall off the plant by late fall, with a few survivors making it to spring. And those that do make it won't mature their seeds until August, with those fruits only producing two seeds each. Those few successful seeds, however, make a rather spectacular journey. As the fruits dry out at the end of the summer, the seeds are forcibly ejected from the fruit, traveling about 15 feet through the air. If they land in the right spot and grow, they will be a good distance from mom and hopefully not shaded by her during the first years of growth.


So next time you see a common witch hazel in full flower, as defiant as a teenager in shorts at a frosty bus stop, appreciate the year's last display and wish it luck. Why it blooms then? I don't know. Ask a teenager.