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Planting for Pollinators

©Lisel Jane Ashlock  at www.liseljaneashlock.com

Stacey’s blogs have given us many ideas on helping pollinators in our own backyards.   Here is a wonderful article published by The Nature Conservancy on this topic, this time with a national and international flavor.  Also, enjoy all the wonderful drawings by Lisel Jane Ashlock.

https://www.nature.org/en-us/magazine/magazine-articles/planting-for-pollinators/

Can we be Nature’s Best Hope?

By: Stacey Wildberger

Wouldn’t you love to step out into your yard and be in the largest National Park in the U.S.? To be part of the solution to diminishing ecosystems and loss of habitat?  According to Doug Tallamy, author and entomologist at the University of Delaware if we convert just 1/2 of the turf lawns covering our country we could create the largest National park in the U.S. We would have the largest National Park- bigger than the combined parks of the Everglades, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Teton, Canyonlands, Mount Rainer, North Cascades, Badlands, Olympic, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Denali, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks!  He would call it Homegrown National Park.  Over 40 million acres of turf grass cover the United States (roughly the size of New England), our small state of Maryland alone has 1.1 million acres. (Tallamy, 2020). In his new book, Nature’s Best Hope, Tallamy tells how and why we should be removing the turf and planting native plants- shrubs, trees, herbaceous perennials, ground covers. The plants that our native fauna has co-evolved with for hundreds of thousands of years. 

The numbers say it all- insects pollinate over 87% of all plants and 90% of all flowering plants, 97% of terrestrial birds rely on caterpillars and insects to feed their babies. Native plants are vital to sustain caterpillars with specific species being far superior (Tallamy & Shropshire 2009).  The Quercus (oak), Prunus (cherry) and Salix (willow) can host hundreds of species of caterpillars while introduced species such as Cladrastis (yellowwood) and Empetrum (crowberry) have almost no record of hosting caterpillars.

We can start small removing the turf.  I don’t think it is realistic to go out and rip up half of your lawn all at once.  You can implement gradual changes, small steps. I would suggest carving out a small “island” garden in the middle of a big patch of grass you have or setting up a small shade garden under an oak tree.  By adding some shade tolerant plants and allowing at least some of the oak leaves a place to linger you will be creating the perfect habitat for overwintering insects.  Since the oak tree, as superior host plant that can support 534 species of caterpillars, it is important to let their leaves lie.  The soil beneath the tree can become somewhat compacted over time so that a caterpillar looking for loose soil to borrow into will have to travel a great distance to find an ideal spot. Or the caterpillars looking for leaf litter to spin their cocoon in will find no leaves if you have raked them all away and hauled them from your property. After munching through the oak leaves as a caterpillar many of them drop to the ground to pupate.  They need the cover of the oak leaves and native plants in order to be protected.  The leaves will break down overtime creating a richer, loose soil that the caterpillars and other insects will find much more useful.  I would plant Heuchera Americana Alumroot in mass for a stunning display, or Tiarella cordifolia foamflower mixed with Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas fern for some evergreen coverage.  If you decide to carve out an island garden in a sunny spot of your yard you could use Penstemon digitalis beardtongue, Echinacea purpurea coneflowers, Asclepias tuberosa butterfly weed (milkweed), Eupatorium dubium “little Joe” Joe-Pye weed, Solidago sp. goldenrod and Aster laevis smooth aster.  This combo would offer continuous blooms from early spring right through fall.  It is important to always have something in bloom for the pollinators.  The late season asters and goldenrod will be an excellent source of energy for fall migrators such as the monarch.  As we know the monarch requires milkweed as a host plant but it also needs a nectar source in the fall to begin the migration with lots of energy.  

While I do recommend the use of mostly (ideally all) native plants I understand that is not the possible in most cases.  What I am advocating is for you to start educating yourselves on the importance of native plants and begin to select natives when you are starting a new garden or replacing plants in an existing garden.  Look for a native that will work in your conditions.  Learn and understand how that native plant will contribute to biodiversity and enhance the ecosystem.  What is its importance in the food web?  I am not asking you to rid your yard of all non-natives but consider getting rid of the ones that can be become invasive such a butterfly bush, nandina, barberry, non-native wisteria, English ivy and vinca.

Instead of shopping for your plants at big box stores look for local native plant sales and nurseries.  It may be a little more effort to get to them but they are well worth it.  I recommend Chesapeake Natives in Upper Marlboro.  They will have their first open house of the season on March 30th. Check out their website for additional dates or to schedule an appointment to visit them.  They also have a list of their available plants so you can pre-plan your trip! They only sell Chesapeake Bay Watershed provenance Local-Ecotype-Native* (LEN) Plants. http://chesapeakenatives.org/plant-sales/

Another great place to find native plants is Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely, just off 404 on the Eastern Shore.  They have their open house on April 24th-26th and thereafter will sell during the hours that the Visitor’s Center is open.  Check out their website here https://adkins.donorshops.com/shop-for-plants.

And finally since fall is the best time to plant you can Save the Date for Cape Conservation Corps Fall Plant Fest and Native Plant Sale on September 19th.  We will have many experts on hand from Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Watershed Stewards Academy, Author and native plant and wildlife expert Nancy Lawson, as well as Cape St Claire resident and native landscape designer Chris Pax.  Check out Chris’ website https://www.annapolisnativelandscape.com/ to sign up for her newsletters, online classes, and to see how she help you with your small scale garden designs at affordable prices.  Or come check Chris out in person.  CCC will host Chris Pax as our next guest speaker on April 17th at the Cape St Claire clubhouse Starting at 7 pm – doors open at 6:30pm.  Light refreshments served, BYO adult beverages.

Chris will talking about “Healthy Connections: Wildlife Corridors and Our Health” What are the benefits to spending just 120 minutes per week in nature? What does a wildlife corridor look like? How can we collaborate to make an impact? Easy design to make it easier to enjoy nature in our own backyard (the connection back to Doug Tallamy’s idea of the Homegrown National Park).

My last recommendation to keep learning more about creating your own backyard connection to nature is to read Doug Tallamy’s new book “Nature’s Best Hope”.  I promise it will change the way you think about your yard and your responsibility to those with no voice!

Spotlight on Native Plants

By: Stacey Wildberger

If you follow Cape Conservation Corps on Facebook you will recognize these plants. I have been highlighting a different type of native plant each week based on feedback from a survey I conducted.  The most popular requests were for host plants for butterflies, “any native” perennial, shrubs and ferns.  This month’s article features those plants that I have spotlighted on FB posts.  Native plants are important to our ecosystem. They have coevolved with our native fauna and the two depend on one other to survive. As a matter fact our human lives depend upon the native flora and fauna interactions. Using natives plants in our backyards and wild spaces promotes biodiversity and supports food webs for every living thing.

Aquilegia Canadensis Wild Columbine

Our first spotlight on native plants is both a perennial plant and beneficial to pollinators and birds, it is an early spring bloomer that will provide nectar for the first to arrive hummingbirds. Wild Columbine is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade and can tolerate a wide range of soils as long as drainage is good. It prefers rich, moist soils in light to moderate shade. It will self-seed and naturalize to form large colonies in optimum growing conditions. You can deadhead spent blooms to encourage continual blooms; keeping the soil uniformly moist after bloom will provide attractive foliage appearance. The bloom is a drooping, bell-like, 1-2″, red and yellow flowers (red sepals, yellow-limbed petals, 5 distinctive red spurs and a mass of bushy yellow stamens). The plant is about 2-3’ in height with a 1-1.5’ spread. It will work well as a border or in open shade gardens and naturalized areas. Mine makes an attractive edging along a dappled shaded area under the pines and along a garden wall coming down the steps. In addition to attracting hummingbirds it attracts many species of pollinators – in particular long tongued ones that can get into the tubular bloom. I highly recommend adding this beauty to your garden for early spring color that lasts into the summer and is an excellent nectar source for pollinators.

Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas fern

One of the things I love about this fern is not only is well suited for the dry to medium shaded areas of our Cape yards it is mostly evergreen throughout the year. This 1-2’ fern provides some winter interest to your landscape. It is a low maintenance fern that works well in shade gardens, along a garden wall and planted in clumps on a slope; it will help control erosion. Its fountain like clumping growth won’t spread out and naturalize but the clumps will spread and get wider/larger over time. I have it planted in a medium moisture area in a shaded woodland area and have enjoyed seeing the beautiful lance-shaped, evergreen fronds throughout the winter. This is a fern that will work well in your yard too!

Antennaria plantaginifolia Plantain leaf pussytoes

The next spotlight plant is Antennaria plantaginifolia: a groundcover and a host plant! The American painted lady butterfly lays her egg on the plantain shaped leaves because it is one of only a few plants that the larvae (caterpillar) can eat. Plant pussytoes and you will be rewarded with this American beauty

This clumping/ mound forming groundcover is best grown in lean, gritty to rocky, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. It will do well in fertile, humusy soils, particularly if drainage is poor. The flowers are crowded into terminal clusters on a rising 10” stem from the basal rosette that forms a thick mat of the plantain leaves. The name pussytoes comes from the fact that the bloom resembles the pads or toes of a cat’s foot.

The soft fuzzy foliage makes a wonderful addition to your garden. It is useful as a small area ground cover in rock gardens, rocky slopes, open woodland areas, prairie areas or other lean, rocky areas in the landscape. I love it along the edge of the garden and encourage it to spread into the garden to act as a “green mulch”

I highly encourage the use of this as a ground cover with the added benefit of attracting the American Painted Lady to your yard. By using native plants we are enhancing our ecosystem and increasing biodiversity. There are several other varieties of the pussytoes for other conditions and with different foliage. All will act as a beautiful ground cover and host plant. Add some to your garden this spring!

Hamamelis virginiana Witch-hazel

Our next spotlight native plant features a beautiful shrub that will offer color and beauty straight through fall and into winter. Hamamelis virginiana Witch-hazel is not only a welcome sight with fragrant blooms it also offers fruit to nourish our feathered backyard friends. The golden yellow fringed flower appears in fall and remains even after the leaves have dropped and is stunning to look at. Pollination occurs from late fall foraging small flies and bees.

This multi trunk shrub with spreading branches will form an irregular shaped open crown and will perform best in moist areas and can handle many soil situations as long as it doesn’t become too dry. Plant in full sun to part shade, it will reach between 15-20’ in height and spread.

This is one I do not have. Yet. It’s on my bucket list as soon as I figure out where to put it. Its native place is in woodland areas, forest margins and along stream banks but if your property doesn’t meet those requirements it can be a lovely shrub border or as hedge/screen border along a property line.

Consider Hamamelis virginiana Witch-hazel for your native landscape to increase biodiversity, provide late season interest, as a host for many moth species and provide food for the birds naturally!

Got Host Plants? Get Butterflies!

By: Stacey Wildberger

Every year as I add more native plants I am hoping to increase the diversity in the types of insects, pollinators, and in particular butterflies I see in my backyard. As we know by now if you want butterflies you need caterpillars and if you want caterpillars you must have the proper habitat and host plant to attract the adult (butterflies) to lay eggs. Most caterpillars can only eat 1 or 2 types of plants to survive. The most common example of the host plant-caterpillar-butterfly relationship is of course the Monarch but there are many other types of these specialized relationships. This year I was able to attract several new-to-my-yard species of butterflies. I am convinced it was because I have laid the groundwork necessary to provide the proper habitat for them. There are five species that I saw this year and I will tell you what I did to attract them.


The first new-to-me species of butterfly I saw in my yard this past summer was the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, a black-white zebra like striped butterfly with long, almost triangular wings. These butterflies grow between 2-4’ and prefer moist wooded areas where the Asimina triloba paw-paws grow because the paw-paw is the only host plant of the Zebra Swallowtail, they lay a single egg on the underside of a paw-paw leaf. The adults nectar on a variety of native plants but prefer shorter, flatter flowers due to their short proboscis. Cercis Canadensis Eastern Redbud flowers, Asclepias sp. milkweed, phlox and Eutrochium sp. Joe-Pye weed are great examples of preferred nectar sources for these beauties. You will notice them flying low to the ground, in an erratic way or groups of males gathered on moist sandy soil to obtain salt and other nutrients. Guess what I have growing in my yard? If you guessed Asimina triloba paw-paws (their host plant), redbud, milkweed, phlox and Joe-Pye weed you will know why I saw this amazing creature in my yard!

Zebra Swallowtail


This next one might have scratching your head –the caterpillar looks like a cartoon character, if you are familiar with Pokémon you may confuse him for one of them! They resemble small snakes because they have large eye spots, giving them the appearance they have a “face”. The Spicebush Swallowtail lays their eggs on the Lindera benzoin spicebush and Sassafras. I have planted several Spicebush (a small understory tree) over the last few years and sassafras has volunteered in my yard and many Cape yards. This past summer was the first time I was honored with a Spicebush swallowtail laying her eggs on my plant. Once they hatch they spend their days wrapped in the leaf- look for a curled up leaf and inside will be the caterpillar, they come out at night to munch on the leaves. The butterfly is beautiful black bodied creature with shiny blue or green wings. They generally stay low to the ground and prefer woodland areas. Their choice of nectar plants include milkweed- and I have lots of that to keep them well fed!

Spicebush caterpilar in rolled leaf


When I read that backyard wildlife habitat expert, blogger and author Nancy Lawson had the Question Mark butterfly in her yard because she grew their host plant, false nettles, I headed down to my favorite native plant nursery, Chesapeake Natives and bought a flat (15) Boehmeria cylindrica false nettle and promptly planted them—within a month I saw my first of two Question Mark butterflies for the season. They also will use Celtis occidentalis hackberry, Humulus lupulus hops and red elms as a host. They have a remarkable shape, a hooked forewing, they are a red-orange with black spots, short mostly black hindwing and light brown underside. There is a distinct “question mark” on the ventral side. They will nectar on a wide range of native plants so offer a variety and they will be happy!

Question Mark

Another beauty that graced my modest ecosystem was the wide-spread Red Admiral (it can be found in all three North American countries (no walls impede their journey). Their size and distinct color patterns make them easy to identify; a bright red band splashes the upper side of a black forewing with white spots near the wing tips makes these a real standout! This is another butterfly that uses nettles and false nettles as their host plant as well as asters. They like to drink sap from the trees, rotting fruit and bird droppings! They will also nectar on native milkweed, clover, and asters. Look for black caterpillars with white-light yellow speckles with black, branched spikes near the rear as well as seven yellow bands to identify if you have the larval form of the Red Admiral butterfly. I grow several varieties of milkweed, and asters as well as the false nettle (host plant) that I added that allowed me to attract this popular butterfly.

Red Admiral


The final new-to-me butterfly was the Red-Banded Hairstreak. This tiny butterfly could easily be missed nectaring amongst your Pycnanthemum sp. mountain mint, Solidago goldenrods, Rudbeckia hirta black eyed-susans, and goldenrod. Where I discovered my beautifully banded with a red sash across the wings was on my Rudbekia laciniata cut leaf coneflower. For these beauties even more important than the nectar plants is the habitat you provide so they can lay their eggs successfully. Their host plant is actually what many people rake up and cart to the landfills—leaf litter! Litter has such a negative connotation, I actually prefer the term leaf mulch. I am always reminding you to leave the leaves and this is a perfect example of a species that is using and benefiting from the leaves you keep on your property. Their preferred fallen leave to use are that of the Rhus sp. Sumac (not poisonous). They will always use Morella cerifera wax myrtle and Quercus sp. Oak. It is important to note that they will overwinter sheltered in the leaf litter as a 4th instar caterpillar, emerging in the spring as the diminutive butterfly they were destined to become. No leaf litter from your sumacs, oaks and wax myrtles and you will not be graced by these butterfly. Leave the leaves!!

Red-banded Hairstreak


Once I began to increase the diversity of native plants in my yard and began paying attention to the host plants required for a specific butterfly or habitat requirements I began to see the variety of species increase significantly in my backyard. Species I had never seen before were beginning to make my garden their home! I recommend looking for the butterflies you wish to attract and adding their host plants and favorite nectar sources to your garden and wait for them to arrive.
Please email me at president@capeconservationcorps.org if you want help to finding the host plants you need to attract the butterflies you want!

Big Shout and Thank You! Christmas Tree Pick-Up

Many of you participated in helping Beverly Triton Beach with their shoreline erosion project by donating your Christmas Trees to them.  I want to thank each of you for participating and a BIG thank you to Matthew Toronto, owner of hauling business Matthew Hauling for volunteering his time to pick up and transport over 60 trees to Beverly Triton Beach with the help of several volunteers.  Please show your apperception for his time and effort by calling Matt for your hauling needs!  He can be reached @ 443.838.4352.  Matt lives right here in Cape St Claire so you would be supporting a local business that graciously donated his time and resources.  We would love to repeat this again but could use many more volunteers with pickup trucks and trailers.  Stay tuned for more on this next Christmas season!

Practical Ways to Reduce Storm Water Runoff

By: Stacey Wildberger

As residents of Cape St Claire we are privileged to live in a community with water access to our beautiful Magothy River and easy access to the Chesapeake Bay.  I also feel fortunate that so many of our residents are conscious stewards of their land and the community open spaces.  By being a good steward we are contributing to the health of our waterways.  The volunteers of Cape Conservation Corps’ mission is to “ignite community pride in our native landscape through projects that promote stewardship, create healthy natural spaces and champion swimmable, fishable waterways”.  We do this through a variety of restoration projects by removing invasive plants and replacing them with native plants, as well as projects to eliminate destructive storm water runoff and erosion from our properties.  I talk about the importance of using natives, replacing invasive or exotic plants and leaving your yard “messy” to create habitat.  There are many other ways we can help keep our waterways clean and safe for wildlife and our recreational pleasure. Let’s take a look at several things we can do in our yards and community to promote the health of our waterways

The fall leaves are beautiful to the eye and an important part of creating habitat and adding nutrients to your lawn and garden but they can cause issues in our waterways.  They can become a pollutant by causing an increase in nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment levels in the Magothy and the Bay, promoting algae growth and leading to dead zones killing aquatic life.  CCC recently partnered with Town Manager, Ryan Anderson on his Capstone Project to become a Watershed Steward.  His mission was to clear leaf litter from several of the main roads of Cape St Claire.  The project covered 1.6 miles of streets in CSC, in which volunteers removed leaves and debris from roadside curbs, storm water drains and storm water conveyance systems.  Ryan’s hope is that it will inspire all residents to clean out the drains and storm water areas in front of their own homes to have a larger impact.  Another important reminder about those storm water drains is that they do not lead to a waste water treatment plant but run directly to our water ways so please do not dump anything into the storm drains.  Motor oil, batteries, paint, herbicides, insecticides, swimming pool chemicals and other household hazardous materials should be taken to the landfill for proper disposal.

Pet waste is also a contributor to storm water pollution. Picking up after your pets also leads to cleaner waterways: rainwater washes feces into the local waterway leading to an unbalanced nutrient load, and also parasites and bacteria, leading to unhealthy water. Cleaning up after our pets is as simple as bringing a baggie on walks or patrolling the yard every couple of days—especially if you know a rain storm is nearby. 

You can also help reduce storm water runoff from your property by disconnecting your downspouts and redirecting them.  Most of our downspouts (mine included) drain into the ground or across paved surfaces.  By disconnecting and redirecting to them to the lawn, a garden or a rain barrel you can reduce the volume of runoff and decrease erosion as well as keep pollutants that may have collected on those paved surfaces from being carried into the drains and ultimately to the water. For directions on how to disconnect and redirect your down spouts visit http://www.stormwater.allianceforthebay.org/take-action/installations/downspout-disconnect

Speaking of rain barrels they can be another great way to divert storm water and retain it on your property.  A rain barrel captures the rain during a storm and stores it to be reused or released during dry periods.  You can redirect to water gardens to water your plants, particularly during times of drought like we experienced at the end of this summer.  Unfortunately, it seems that when it rains, it pours, and that our rain barrels fill up and keep overflowing.  One of our members came up with the idea to pump the rain barrels dry when a new rain is in the forecast.  Using a submersible electric pump (1-1.5 hp), the water in the rain barrel can be spread over a large part of the yard, allowing it to seep into the ground without causing run-off.  (It can also be used to water the yard during a dry spell.)  Yes, it is more work… but it accomplishes the same thing as having the overflow directed to a rain garden when one will not fit in your yard. Find tips on installing and maintaining your rain barrel here: http://www.stormwater.allianceforthebay.org/take-action/installations/rain-barrels

Our in home vehicle care can also have an impact on polluting the local waterways.  Remember to use drip pans to prevent spills from used fluids.  Clean up any spills with a rag and dispose them properly, recycle batteries, and do not clean car parts in a household sink.  Those chemicals go directly to our drinking water by way of a wastewater treatment facility. Keeping your tires properly inflated saves gas and reduces emissions!

With winter coming and hopefully a good snowfall or two we will be out there shoveling snow and many of us use salt and sand to help us with clean up and traction.  Just remember to use them in moderation because the salt and sand make their way down into storm drains.  Excess sand can clog the storm water drains and salt can kill plants, ruin the soil and is toxic to our aquatic creatures.  Old fashioned shoveling is best but if you use chemicals, use them smartly and safely. 

The most interesting form of reducing storm water runoff is a Green Roof.  A Green Roof is a system of plants, typically succulents, on your roof designed to collect and absorb rain water before it hits the ground. There are several benefits that a green roof can offer.  It cuts heating and cooling cost by reducing heat and cooling loss and energy use, reduces storm water runoff, filters out heavy metals and creates habitat.  It is typically used in commercial buildings. I have not seen any green roofs in Cape St Claire (except for a few houses in desperate need of a new roof) but I would love to hear from anyone that has done one.  Maybe on a shed or garage?  Even a bird house?

Of course my favorite way to reduce runoff and help promote clean water is with plants.  Since I usually talk about the benefits in using native plants in your landscapes and to restore natural areas I will leave with you with a few quick reminders: conservation landscaping, planting trees, adding a native meadow, and installing a rain garden are all important components of clean water ways! For more ideas on reducing storm water runoff please visit Alliance for the Bay’s website at http://www.stormwater.allianceforthebay.org/take-action

Serene Ravine Spreading wood chips on the path November 2019
Harvest Bash 2019
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