“Who can tell me what marcescence means?” asked Carrie Blair of the group gathered along the river trail at the White House Farm.
She pointed to a red oak leaning over the trail with brown leaves hanging on the twigs, even though it was early March. “It means the leaves don’t necessarily drop after the fall – some trees tend to hold onto their leaves through the winter.”
We continued along the trail next to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River as Ms. Blair described ways to identify trees by their bark, twig structure and overall shape. We stopped next to a particularly large cottonwood tree and learned about how the petiole is flattened making the leaves twist in the breeze like aspen leaves – trees to which the cottonwood is related.
Ms. Blair has been a tree scholar for more than 40 years and served as president of the Piedmont chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society. She has volunteered with the VNPS since 1993, is a Virginia Master Naturalist, Master Gardener, Tree Steward and a docent at the State Arboretum.
The group had walked through the riparian area where farm owner, Scott Plein, described the eight test plots which contain native warm season grasses and wildflowers, established through various controls such as burning, seeding at different times of the year and using different seed mixtures. The riparian buffer is part of the Virginia Working Landscapes program, sponsored by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Virginia Tech is also using the area for research in comparison with other native warm season grass plots in the area.
We continued along the trail next to the river, stopping to admire the striking white trunks and limbs of the sycamores along the river banks and the occasional spice bush with its pleasant smelling bark and flowers which appear in June.
It was easy to see how the row of osage orange, with their haphazard array of branches, had been used in the past as living fences to keep cattle contained.
We made our way to “The Grove” and through the riparian area to White House Natives nursery. Here, co-owners Matt Deivert and Scott Plein are growing over 9000 Virginia native trees representing over 85 species to be used in both commercial and residential landscaping in northern Virginia.
It was an enjoyable morning at the White House Farm and we were glad to share it with everyone who came to learn a little more about trees, the Foundation and the environment.