Author: Philippe Ourisson

Re-Think Pretty

By: Stacey Wildberger

“Beauty isn’t what a plant is, it’s what a plant does” –Benjamin Vogt

It’s that time of year again when the seed catalogues start arriving and gardeners start lusting after the newest plants on the glossy pages. As we image our lush, show-stopping gardens that will be the envy of our neighborhood take a minute and think “Who are we planting for?” Too many times our gardens are planted for aesthetics, to reflect our vision of pretty, or to appease the local HOA or our neighbors. It is time to re-think pretty and start to think what our landscapes and gardens should be doing for local ecosystems. As Benjamin Vogt says in his new book A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion “if we can’t recognize or discuss the deeper beauty of plants, then judging them by their attractiveness is as shallow and culturally indicating as valuing a person on their appearance or the kind of the car they drive”. We need to begin to look beyond the surface and into the deeper value our landscapes can provide.

What should we ask of our landscapes to do? Doug Tallamy says they should be able to do five things: support life, sequester carbon, clean and manage water, enrich the soil and support pollinators. How can we get our landscapes to support those five goals? Start by planting native plants. Native plants and insects have grown up together and evolved over hundreds of thousands of years together and developed relationships that cause them to depend on one another. Many insects have such specialized relationships that they can only survive by laying their eggs on one particular plant. These plants do not want to be eaten so they have developed chemical defenses that can be poisonous to most insects except maybe one or two that have co-evolved with the plant and have built up immunity to those chemicals. The insect depends on that one plant for its survival.  Many of you have heard of the decline of monarchs due to the loss of the milkweed plant but there are many other examples of the same specialization—the Maryland State butterfly, the Baltimore Checkerspot depends on Chelone Glabra the white turtlehead to lay their eggs, the Eastern and Black Swallowtail butterflies use many of the plants of the carrot family, the beautiful Zebra Swallowtail uses Paw-Paw while a group of butterflies in the Lycaenidae family (including the hairstreaks, coppers and blues) rely on the dogwoods, native azaleas, holly, and wild lupine.  The very definition of a native, as defined by Tallamy and Rick Darke is “a plant that has evolved in a given place over a period of time sufficient to develop complex and essential relationships with the physical environment and other organisms in a given ecological community.”

We don’t lose beauty in the garden or our landscapes by using native plants. In fact we are increasing beauty in the form of nectar- and pollen-gathering insects as they forage for food and pollinate our fruits and vegetables, by insect gathering birds rearing their young. These life-sustaining native plants are creating ecosystems and contributing to the food web in a way that sustains life.

Native plants are also a major factor in cleaning and managing water. Their deep root systems soak up rainwater to reduce the amount of runoff. They also act as soil anchors and filters by collecting runoff, absorbing water and decreasing flooding. Native plants often require less water because they are more drought tolerant then non-natives.

When I first started gardening in 2012 I didn’t think about what each plant was contributing, and I especially did not know about the relationships between the plants and animals. I certainly did not know the difference between a native and a non-native plant.

As I began gardening I also began feeding the backyard birds with bags of expensive seed, so I began to research what plants I should plant to attract birds with nuts and berries. The more I read the more I came to understand the relationship between the plants I was growing and the animals I wanted to attract. I began to see that the birds needed more than seeds and berries to eat. They need fat, soft bodied caterpillars to rear their young because 97% of terrestrial birds raise their brood on insects-mostly caterpillars. If you want chickadees to raise their family in your yard you will need to have 6000-9000 caterpillars within 50 meters of their nest because that is how many the babies will consume from the time they hatch until the time they fledge! Not all plants are created equal when it comes to making caterpillars.

This is where the relationship between plants and animals comes into play. The Oak tree can support 534 species of caterpillars, Black Cherry 456 species and Willows 455. It’s not just the woody trees but there are also many herbaceous plants that can act as a nursery for the caterpillars. Some of the best plants that support butterflies are Goldenrod (115), Asters (112), and Sunflowers (native Helianthus 73) and Joe-Pye Weed (42).

Some of our most important native plants suffer from a marketing nightmare. Many were given the name “weed” by the early settlers whose farming technique was to plow everything down to plant crops and anything they didn’t plant was deemed a weed-Milkweed, Joe-Pye Weed, Sneezeweed, Jewelweed, Butterfly weed and Poke weed. These plants are not weeds but rather essential species to our local ecosystems. Often native plants are thought of as not being able to be used in a formal setting but Europeans have been importing our native plants to use in their formal gardens for centuries.

There is always a native plant for every scenario. We just have to re-think our conventional gardening methods and remember who we are gardening for. We just need to open our eyes to the beauty that is around us in the life sustaining form of native plants. We need to re-think pretty.

Recommended reading: A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion by: Benjamin Vogt and Bringing Nature Home by: DougTallamy

Oyster farming here on the Bay

The current plan for the Lake Claire Beach restoration by Biohabitats includes the installation of reef balls to help break the power of the waves, and hopefully stop the erosion and loss of sand at our beach.

In this video from the Virginia Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, note the oyster farmer talking about the oysters cleaning the water, increasing submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) on his farm and attracting minnows and other life among their floating cages – those are the same ecological benefits the oyster reef balls will provide our beach at Lake Claire.

 

 

Marylanders and their cages of oysters

In a cooperative effort with support from DNR, the Oyster Recovery Partnership, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and teaming up with the Magothy River Association, Cape Conservation Corps members host a local “chapter” of Marylanders Grow Oysters for the South Shore of the Magothy River. Each year, we have over 100 of our neighbors hosting cages full of baby oysters on their piers. Oyster cages are also hosted at the Cape St. Claire slips piers and Fairwinds Marina. Combined, growers take care of more than four hundred cages. Each cage contains from 250 to 500 spat, or baby oysters which everybody plants on a sanctuary reef in the Magothy River in the early summer, then collect their share of the next generation of oyster babies in early September.

Restoration is in the hands of locals with the grassroots Marylanders Grow Oysters program

by Caitlyn Johnstone

If you ask someone to name the most iconic critter in the state of Maryland, they will likely answer with the blue crab. With its brilliant claws, beautiful color and savory taste, the crab is a titan of tourism that adorns everything from t-shirts to keychains. However, right behind the blue crab is a bivalve that could rival it for the crown: the oyster.

An oyster is a mollusk, a creature with two rough shells that enclose a soft body. A versatile delicacy in the culinary world, the oyster can be fried, frittered, grilled, seared, eaten raw and even taken as a shot with spirits. The oyster defines regions, taking on the taste of the waters in which it lives to have a nuance of flavor all its own. As one would take a tour of vineyards, the Chesapeake offers unique boat trips to oyster locales and even an oyster trail. Viewed commercially or culturally, oysters are one of the most important catches in the region.

In addition to its place of honor in a seafood feast, the humble oyster also packs a punch as a formidable foe to pollution. By pumping water over its gills, an oyster traps particles of food as well as unwanted nutrients or suspended sediments from the water. One adult oyster has the capacity to filter 50 gallons of water per day, helping to naturally clean our brackish waterways.

Despite their importance across industries, oysters have declined due to habitat loss, over-harvesting and deadly diseases. With such an iconic species in peril, the state of Maryland is working to restore their populations. One way they do this is through a grassroots effort called Marylanders Grow Oysters, in which people from every background pitch together to nurture baby oysters to adulthood.

The concept is simple: in a state where much of the shoreline is privately owned, waterfront property owners are given cages, spat and the training to grow millions of young oysters right off their own pier. After being protected by people during their vulnerable first year of life, the oysters are planted in local sanctuaries to enrich the ecosystem and the oyster population.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, in conjunction with the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), began the program in 2008 in the Tred Avon River. Marylanders Grow Oysters is now active in 30 Maryland waterways.  To hear program director Chris Judy tell it, it had no reason not to grow. “Everyone,” he states, “likes to have a good time,” and the community-driven venture is good for the bay. “It’s free, it’s fun and it’s oysters!” enthuses Judy. “Who doesn’t like those three things?”

Marylanders wholeheartedly agreed with Judy from the start, and liked the concept of hands-on learning. The Talbot County government partnered with Marylanders Grow Oysters to reach waterfront owners through a mailer, and since then participation has spread by word of mouth. “The Department [of Natural Resources] launched it, but it is only successful because of a massive team effort,” states Judy emphatically, going on to describe the enthusiasm and involvement from all over the Maryland population.

For the first six years of Marylanders Grow Oysters, inmates crafted the cages through a Maryland Correctional Enterprises program. Though they may look simple, there are certain aspects of the cages that have to be done just so. “They did a perfect job, excellent job,” says Judy with pride. “Working with the prison system was great, meeting the men …and the cages were spot on.” As he explains, many of the inmates involved in the project had grown up on the eastern shore and therefore felt the personal connection to the effort and a sense of pride in contributing to something of value.

Manning a cage provides a personal glimpse into the world beneath the waves for those involved in baby oyster care. The enthusiasm of a grower – whether five years of age or seventy – that first interaction is Judy’s favorite part of the program. “It doesn’t matter the age span,” smiles Judy, the happiness evident in his voice, “There’s an incredible enthusiasm when they [the growers] pull up a cage with the oysters and there’s shrimp, fish, eels, seahorses or little mud crabs scurrying about. You see someone who has never seen the basic oyster reef community see it for the first time, and it’s on their pier and in their hand. That’s rewarding.”

Tending the oyster cages offers an opportunity for a deeper understanding of Bay ecology. “Up til now they may have only seen blue crabs,” explains Judy, as he describes one particular grower’s happiness at the appearance of many pencil-eraser sized mud crabs on the mesh of her cage. “There’s that education that there are other crabs out there. Something as simple as a mud crab becomes exciting.”

Oyster cages right off the pier become micro reefs of an interconnected system, and that diverse network is mirrored in the people who care for the oysters in that crucial first year. In addition to the growers and departments, the hatchery at UMCES Horn Point Laboratory produces the spat for the program. Several watermen across local waterways are closely involved, pitching in with their boats and equipment to help neighbors when the nine months are up and it is time for oysters to be transported to their local sanctuary. Thousands of schoolchildren across the tributaries take up the call to tend the cages, which require shaking several times a week to ensure silt does not stress the young oysters.

No matter the part that someone plays in bringing up this iconic species, Judy emphasizes that community is what makes the program come alive. Marylanders Grow Oysters plans to cement the oyster as a top species in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries for years to come, and people is how they plan to do it. “From grandkids to grandparents to the ORP to the hatchery,” says Judy, “it’s everyone that matters.”

CCC is Looking for Habitat Heroes

By: Stacey Wildberger

Cape Conservation Corps wants to recognize good stewards of the land by highlighting your conservation

efforts.  What are you doing in your yards and gardens to provide habitat, shelter, and water essential for our wild friends? We want to know what steps you have taken to make your landscape wildlife friendly.  What nature-friendly landscaping are you using to be a good steward of your property?  We believe even the smallest changes can make a big difference and have a positive impact on the environment. If we decrease our own footprint we can begin to transform the natural world and build positive connections.

Please take a few minutes to let us know what changes you have made in your own gardens and landscapes to create healthy natural spaces for wildlife, promote clean waterways and be a good steward of your land and you could become our next Habitat Hero. We will spotlight you on our website and Facebook page as a Habitat Hero, and place a sign in your yard.

 

Please send an email to admin@capeconservationcorps.org to nominate yourself or a neighbor and tell us what they (or you!) are doing in their landscape that makes them a true Habitat Hero! If possible please include a photo or 2 showing your wildlife friendly space.

  • Have you planted bird, butterfly, and other pollinator friendly native plants for food, cover, shelter, and host plants?
  • Reduced your water usage by using native plants?
  • Reduced the amount of lawn –adding more native groundcovers/herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees?
  • Reduced or eliminated the use of chemicals in your yard for healthier, sustainable landscapes?
  • Controlled or removed invasives from your property—English ivy, pachysandra, nandina, barberry, honeysuckle?
  • Left the leaves for over wintering insects and winter food source for birds and small mammals, left plants standing until late spring?
  • Added a water feature to your yard to attract frogs, toads, dragonflies, and birds?
  • The possibilities are endless—please share what are you are doing to be a good steward.

Your yards do not to have to be 100% native or completely converted to a nature-friendly landscaping. We are looking for people who are making changes to a more sustainable, healthy habitat for wildlife to flourish. Each quarter we will select a habitat to feature on our website, and Facebook page.

Native Maryland Orchids

By: Stacey Wildberger

When we hear the term orchid we typically think of exotics growing far off in the tropics and hard to reach places but we actually have as many as 48 native Maryland species of Orchids.  They range from the coastal plains to the piedmont area all the way to the mountain regions in Western Maryland.  Unlike the tropical orchids that typically dangle from trees as they grow, our Maryland Orchids are terrestrial.  They can be found growing in meadows, wetlands, and woodlands across the state. They can be quite showy to tiny and inconspicuous and easily overlooked.

All orchids have the same basic parts petals, sepals, and the column.  There are 3 petals and 3 corresponding sepals; however 1 of the 3 lips is vastly different from the other 2.  Known as the lip or pouch it is the most showy and distinct of the 3 petals.  The lip attracts the pollinator in and directs them to the pollen that will transfer onto the pollinator’s body and spread to the next plant it visits

The Cape St Claire Garden recently hosted Dr. Gary van Velsir as their guest speaker on Maryland Native Orchids.  The stunning slide show showed the many orchids that can be found in Maryland as well as some rare, endangered, or extirpated.  There are many reasons for the loss of an orchid species including loss of habitat.  Where once a wild population of orchids existed in Glen Burnie at the turn of the 19th century now sits apartments, and building the Capital Beltway wiped out another population.  Other threats to native orchids are spread of disease, over collection of a population, pests and decline in the health of the soil.  Disturbance of the soil can result in a disruption the symbiotic relationship between the orchids and their soil fungi. This relationship is crucial to their survival through the production of nutrients.  Because of the showy nature of many of the orchids they are easily found and poached by unscrupulous collectors.  Another factor contributing to their decline is pests and pest management—including spraying to control gypsy moths that can wipe out populations of beneficial insects that pollinate the orchids.  All of these factors have contributed to the serious decline of our Maryland orchids.  An example is the yellow lady’s slipper Cypripedium parviflorum that was once widely found has all but disappeared in Frederick County due to poaching.

The news is not all bad on these declining populations.  There are still some success stories, like a newly found population that was thought to be extirpated is newly discovered.  Such was the case of the nodding pogonia Triphora trianthophoros that had not been seen in over 50 years but was recently found to at Great Falls in Montgomery County, as well as a significant population discovered on Queen Anne’s County. The yellow fringed orchids Platanthera ciliaris are making a comeback at a managed site in Frederick County despite the less than suitable habitat. These and other stories give us hope that the loss of these Maryland beauties is not irreversible.  You could be the one to find a rare or endangered species –sometimes it is just being aware of the surroundings.  The Maryland Biodiversity would love for you to report any findings of orchid to them for tracking—you may discover a long ago lost orchid!

nodding pogonia © NC Orchid/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA 2.0

There are lots of things we can do to help preserve the remaining orchids as well as rejuvenate the failing populations by protecting the areas- forests and wetlands in particular where they grow, –refrain from collecting, picking and digging them up.  Please report rare, threatened and endangered populations so the site can be protected.  By joining or forming local groups you can help to preserve large tracts of orchid habitat.  We as citizens have a responsibility to protect the wild areas near us!

yellow fringed orchids © Jhapeman at English Wikipedia

 

 

Unrelated to orchids, but important this time of year is to help keep our waterways clean by clearing the leaves and other debris that is blocking the storm drains.  By keeping the storm water drains clear of trash, leaves, mulch and other debris it will allow the drains to work more efficiently and keep this junk out of our streams, rivers, and even the bay.  Please be a good neighbor and steward of the waterways and clear those storm drains!

Scroll to top