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 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!

Fall Chores To-Do List

By: Stacey Wildberger

  1.  Leave the leaves
  2. Stalks left standing
  3. Wait for Winter –interest

It’s as simple as that.  By leaving the leaves, not cutting down the perennial stems and waiting for winter I am promoting healthy ecosystem! Besides the fact that I am tired from gardening all summer there are so many wonderful activities to do on a crisp autumn day—bike rides, kid’s soccer games, long hikes in nature, and apple picking!!

  1. Leave the leaves for the insects, frogs, spiders, and many other hibernating critters that are overwintering in your leaves and even the top layer of soil. When you rake, blow, and bag away all those leaves from your gardens you are destroying next year’s beneficial bugs, butterflies, moths, even amphibians like frogs, toads, salamanders.  These creatures are hibernating and need your help by leaving the leaves in place.  Many bees spend the winter as an egg or larvae under those leaves, while certain butterflies such as the morning cloak, the question mark and the comma overwinter as adults under the leaves as well.  Other butterflies overwinter as chrysalis waiting to emerge in the warmth of spring.  The birds benefit from this buffet of bugs that hibernate in your landscape because 96% of terrestrial birds feed insects to their young.  It also helps to have the predatory or beneficial bugs such as lacewings, assassin bugs and ground beetles in your yard in early spring so they can get an early start controlling the pests in your yard.
  2. Stalks left standing offers many of the same benefits as leaving the leaves. There are also many beneficial bugs that will overwinter in the plant stalks of your perennials.  By chopping them down you may kill swallowtail butterflies or destroy a mantis egg case.  Leaving the stalks of perennials standing can also protect them in the dead cold of winter by gathering snow to insulate the roots and add moisture to the soil.
  3. And finally wait for winter (interest)-author, gardener, blogger Benjamin Vogt tells us “…that a winter garden is a feast for the senses”. Vogt says winter is the beginning of the garden season, when life is thriving, decay- a natural process -is happening, and we should be celebrating the negative spaces in the winter landscape. There is so much beauty in the winter landscape –known as winter interest. If you have left the stalks standing you can enjoy how the snow gathers on the many beautiful seed heads from the umbels of Tall boneset, the thin spikes of Liatris to ornamental pods of Penstemon and Baptisia.  You can observe berries on a bare branch, ice reflecting off the blades of native sedges, the goldfinches balancing on the Echinacea looking for the last of the seeds.

Allow yourself to walk the garden or your landscape in the dead of winter and take in account all the beauty around you. Learn to appreciate brown as a color, the resiliency of this landscape, and enjoy the new found beauty of a winter landscape.

This hands-off approach to fall clean-up will support a biodiverse, ecologically friendly landscape that supports many types of wildlife in your own backyard while freeing up your time to appreciate the nature in our own hometown habitats.

If you would like to read more about Benjamin Vogt’s garden ethics he just released a book called “A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future” or check out his website for for blogs, articles, or his online courses (including one on Winter Interest)  at

Top Overlooked Understory Trees to Consider

 By: Stacey Wildberger

There are many plant layers to successful ecosystems-from the ground cover, herbaceous plants, shrubs, understory up to the tall canopy layer.  Each level plays a vital role in the health of the ecosystem and biodiversity in the landscape, but the understory is an often overlooked layer in our home landscapes.  We often plant lush gardens filled with flowering plants, a few ground cover plants, some shrubs and of course we all know Cape has plenty of canopy trees shading us!

The understory level is typically trees ranging in height form 15-49’.  These understory trees play a vital role in creating a balanced ecosystem by providing food and shelter for much of our wildlife, including birds and small mammals.  There are many native understory trees that have high wildlife value as well as providing beauty to your landscape throughout the seasons.  There are the beautiful purple flowers in early spring from the Eastern Red Bud, the  vibrant yellows of the Spicebush and Paw-paw trees and the eye-catching fall display of yellows, reds, copper and deep purples.

Fall is the best to time to plant, particularly these understory trees as they will have all winter to set strong roots without worrying about the heat and drought they face in the summer.

Here is a list 10 understory trees that will enhance your landscape and benefit wildlife.

Cercis Canadensis –Eastern Redbud  nothing says spring like the glorious purple blooms of the Redbud blooming along the roadways, parks and neighborhood streets.  These early blooming trees offer an early source of nectar for foraging insects and bees. The leaves, seeds and blooms are utilized by songbirds, pollinators and mammals.  Redbuds tolerate part-shade to shade, making an ideal specimen tree for many Cape yards.



Amelanchier CanadensisEastern serviceberry  this wonderful tree provides 3 seasons of interest starting in early spring with beautiful white flowers of high value to many of our native bees, followed by berries that feed robins, catbirds, chickadees and cardinals. In the fall leaf color is spectacular.  This moisture-loving tree can be planted in sun to shade conditions.

Chionanthus virginicus -White Fringe tree  this 15-30’ tree is known for its nodding clusters of fragrant white blooms.  One of the last trees to leaf out in the spring, it often appears dead until the leaves and flowers emerge.  The flowers are pure white, wispy and cloud-like. The blue plum-like berries are attractive to birds and mammals and the flowers are attractive to many pollinators.


Asimina triloba -Pawpaw  this multi-stemmed tree grows 10-40’ high with large tropical-like leaves that turn a beautiful yellow-green in the fall.  The small banana-tasting fruit makes a delicious jam if you can harvest it before the opossums, squirrels, raccoons and birds eat them!  The Pawpaw is also the only host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly.



Corylus Americana -American hazelnut  a beautiful 6-12’ tall thicket forming shrub that provides interest to your landscape across the seasons.  There are showy yellowish-brown catkins in late winter-early spring, and fall colors varying from bright yellow to deep-wine red.  This part-shade to shade-loving shrub will do well in dry to moist areas.  The nuts are enjoyed by birds and squirrels.

Prunus Americana -American Plum  a thicket-forming small tree with a spreading crown, showy white flowers and red plums.  This small tree grows to 35’ with white flowers that come out before the leaves in spring, followed by shiny bright red fruit in later summer.   The plums are not typically eaten by wildlife but the tree offers valuable nesting cover and is a host plant to many butterflies.

Prunus virginianaChokecherry  dense clusters of small white flowers followed by red to dark purple berries characterizes this small 20-30’ tree.  The chokecherry can tolerate dry and moist soil along with shade to part shade to sun.  The blooms offer a showy ornamental look in spring and early summer while the tree itself offers erosion control.  The blue-black cherries are an important food source for wildlife and it is a host plant to many species of moths and butterflies, including the hairstreak, sphinx moth and silk moth.

Sassafras albidum -Sassafras  an aromatic 35-50’ deciduous tree that features horizontal branching that  can grow from shade to sun in moist woodlands and along roadsides and tolerates infertile soil.  The sassafras’  attractive foliage and ornamental blooms along with brilliant fall color makes this an attractive addition to your landscape.  It is also an important host plant for several butterflies and moths, including the spicebush swallowtail, pale swallowtail and tiger swallowtail butterflies as well as the promethean silk moth.

Juniperus virginiana -Eastern Red Cedar  the most widely distributed eastern conifer across 37 states is extremely resistant to drought, heat and cold, and grows 30 to 40’ tall.  This beautiful tree offers many benefits for wildlife: the berries are a staple to many birds and mammals, including the cedar waxwing named for this tree, and provides excellent nesting material and cover.  Eastern Red Cedar performs well in dry areas from sun to shade.




Malus coronariaSweet crabapple  typically grows 20-30’ tall with beautiful white flowers tinged rose and an inconspicuous yellow-green fruit.  It can be found growing in part shade with moist soils on woodland edges and stream banks.  The thickets provide suitable habitat for nesting, shelter and food for large and small birds.  The crabapple is of special value to native bees, honey bees and is an important host plant for the red spotted purple butterfly.

For more information about Cape Conservation Corps:

visit   OR  join our group on Facebook: Cape Conservation Corps

Scroll to top