Restoration Expands at Pony Pasture

On a clear, bright, and breezy Sunday afternoon five volunteers eased into the soil at Pony Pasture Rapids over fifty plants of species native to riparian areas in our region.  This is the second annual fall restoration planting in this area previously infested densely with invasive wintercreeper. Removal work is ongoing. 

We planted: Heuchera americana (Alumroot), Lobelia syphilitica (great blue lobelia), Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower), Amorpha fruticosa (indigo bush), Corylus Americana (hazelnut), Itea virginica (sweetspire), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Magnolia virgninica (sweetbay magnolia), Aruncus dioicus (goats beard), and  Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern).  We will be adding one more species, Packera aurea (golden ragwort), in another couple weeks when we’re prepared to clearly mark its presence to differentiate it from garlic mustard, an all too common invasive in this part of Pony Pasture with potentially lookalike leaves to the ragwort.

The November 19th planting was a project of the Riverine chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists.  All plants were sourced from our local native plant nurseries Garden Gate Landscape (Montpelier) and Reedy Creek Environmental (Richmond City).  Many thanks to Beth Farmer of Garden Gate and Bill Shanabruch of Reedy Creek!


Planting Time Has Arrived

Our work at Pony Pasture resumed the end of September and on November 19th members of the Riverine chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists will lead a planting project in an expanding restoration demonstration project near the parking area kiosk.   The plant list isn’t finalized yet, but we will be selecting shrub and herbaceous  species native to our region and suitable to riparian habitats.  For the past month and a half a small team of dedicated volunteers have alternated between tending to trees strangled by wintercreeper and English ivy vines along Pleasants Creek Trail and pulling wintercreeper ground cover in the restoration planting area; this means plucking out re-emergent wintercreeper in the area we planted one year ago and continuing to pull up the dense carpet of vines adjacent to it.  It’s vigorous work, but produces tangible results and reveals hidden treasures.  From under that mass of invasive vines we freed multiple spicebush shrubs, an American holly, and an ash sapling—-all native flora that can now thrive and support our native fauna.


“The Art of Invasion” coming July 15th!

Most of us who battle invasive plants don’t find them beautiful.  Sometimes it takes an artist’s vision to see the world in a new way.  On Saturday, July 15th from 1 – 4 o’clock The Plants of the James River Project will present The Art of Invasion, an exhibit of botanical art and a family-friendly opportunity to learn more about our  native plant communities and the impact of invasives on them, enjoy guided walks, and make leaf rubbings and paper (from invasive plants of course!)

Join us at the James River Park Headquarters building, Reedy Creek Canoe Access,
4001 Riverside Drive, Richmond, VA 23225.  For all the details:

Plants of the James River Project Flyer-1

Chapel Island Habitat Blitz!

James River Association is at the helm on Chapel Island, leading the invasive removal and habitat restoration work there the fourth Monday of every month. Capital Trees is now partnering with JRA on the monthly projects.

volunteers digging and planting
Amber Ellis of the James River Association at the center of a splendid habitat restoration effort on Chapel Island. Thank you Altria employees!

This past Friday (“Earth Day Eve”), JRA, Capital Trees, and the park system  worked together on a special event on Chapel Island and in Great Shiplock Park with 70 Altria employees who spent a morning removing invasives, planting a whopping 600 native plants (from Garden Gate), and doing additional maintenance work.

Come on out and join JRA and Capital Trees on Monday, April 24th or a fourth Monday coming soon!   Visit our global calendar and click on the day’s event for contact information.  The more volunteers, the more we can accomplish.

Cheers for our Volunteers!

The Task Force held several events to mark National Invasive Species Awareness Week that did just that: raising public awareness of the consequences to our park system of dense invasions of invasive herbaceous plants, vines, shrubs, and trees.  The perpetually green carpets and tree-topping masses of wintercreeper and English Ivy and the pale green early leaf-out of Amur Honeysuckle in the understory dramatically display the harm done by these invaders that out-compete diverse native plant species.

Tree Stewards on Belle Isle, James River Association on Chapel Island, and Riverine Va. Master Naturalists at Pony Pasture led volunteer efforts on several days following a Saturday kick-off event at Pony Pasture that featured guided walks and removal demonstrations, the most popular of which by far was by RVA Goats. In areas overrun by monosystems of invasives where risk to native plant communities is little to none, goats are an excellent first phase of invasive management. 

We focused our efforts on “Free A Tree” projects: severing vines at the base of trees and pulling up the deep roots immediately around them.

Trees overwhelmed by invasive vines are robbed of water and nutrients, struggle to photosynthesize as they should, and are weighed down by thick, hanging vines that can completely conceal a tree’s own branches.

We wrapped up our NISAW events last Friday at Pony Pasture where we got a surprise work crew:  St. Christopher’s and St. Catherine’s students from biology and environmental science classes whose enthusiastic efforts helped us cap the week with significant progress (and laughs at their hijinks: mature native grape vines always make great swings!).   We learned that their teachers, Dr. Austin Sutten and Mr. Billy McGuire, include education about invasive species in their curriculum and value the opportunity to match class instruction with hands-on field work.  The JRPS is an ideal 600 acre outdoor classroom for incorporating invasive/native plant ecology into the foundation of science education.

Many thanks to all the volunteers who helped out during NISAW and we hope to see you in the park again soon!



Faces of the Task Force: Richmond Tree Stewards

Today’s post written by Laura Greenleaf, Virginia Master Naturalist

Catherine Farmer and canine companion add perspective to ivy removal.

Before there was a Task Force, Richmond Tree Stewards had launched on Belle Isle what would become a feature project of the invasive management and habitat restoration initiative.   In 2014, just a year after completing the rigorous Tree Steward training program, Catherine Farmer proposed a Tree Walk on the popular downtown park destination. The exploratory process that fall of identifying and labeling trees led to a reckoning when fellow Steward Suzette Lyon pointed out that with autumn leaves on the ground, everything still green was invasive.

A Tree Walk clearly fell within the Stewards core mission, but what about invasive species removal?  The volunteer service organization recognized the clear threat invasive trees and other plants posed to the survival of diverse native tree species and green-lighted Farmer’s proposal with the understanding that getting results depended on targeted work, not tackling the entire island.   She led the first invasive removal event in January 2015, one month before Tree Stewards met with Riverine Virginia Master Naturalists to discuss forming the Invasive Task Force.

Richmond Tree Stewards president Louise Seals prepares to plant.

Corporate and nonprofit grants, lots of volunteers, and support from park system staff, the city’s Department of Urban Foailianthus_rockfacewrestry, and True Timber have made possible dramatic improvements along Belle Isle’s perimeter trail.  Richmond Tree Stewards lead projects every Thursday morning and Farmer typically is on the island several times a week.  Tree Stewards pioneered the crucial restoration phase of invasive management, planting regionally native understory trees and shrubs suitable to Belle Isle’s habitat such as Strawberry Bush, Eldeberry, and Button Bush to replace the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus), privet and other invasives that have become dominant.   When asked what motivates her to continue this work that never ends Catherine Farmer replied, “We see progress all over the island and that keeps us going . . . every tree I free from invasive vines or prune to encourage healthy growth rewards me. That’s the payback.”




80 new trees, shrubs, and grasses

80 new trees, shrubs, and grasses

On December 14th, the Riverine chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists, the James River Association, and the James River Park System collaborated on a restoration planting. A great group of community volunteers joined in the fun. 

“Many hands make light work” goes the old adage and enthusiastic volunteers proved  it when they quickly planted 80 native grasses, shrubs, and trees near the river at the Pony Pasture entrance.  We finished planting so early that we had time to continue removing the invasive Wintercreeper that previously engulfed this area.

So just how much wintercreeper came out of there? Approximately 2,500 pounds of leaves, vines, and roots (Thank you to JRPS Volunteer Coordinator Matt Mason for carting off all 46 bags and weighing the last big batch).

What species of native plants were planted? All plants selected naturally occur in our region (eastern Piedmont) and are well suited to riparian areas.

TREES                                                                                                               Chionanthus virginicus Fringe Tree                                                                         Magnolia virginiana  Sweetbay Magnolia

SHRUBS                                                                                                                 Callicarpa americana Beautyberry                                                                               Sambucus canadensis Elderberry                                                                                 Vaccinium corymobosum High Bush Blueberry                                                    Viburnum dentatum Southern Arrowwood                                                                Clethra alnifolia Sweetpepper Bush                                                                            Euonymous americanus Strawberry Bush or Hearts a’ Bustin’

 GRASSES                                                                                                        Chasmanthium latifolium River Oats or Inland Sea Oats                                        Elymus hystix Bottlebrush Grass

What are the sources of the native plants?  The trees came from Glen Allen Nursery while all shrubs and grasses got their start at  Garden Gate Landscape.

What comes next? Ongoing monitoring and invasive removal and hopefully a second planting of native ground cover plants in focus areas for early spring 2017.

Who’s this? Our Pony Pasture resident hawk (juvenile Red-Shouldered is consensus so far) who has kept a close watch on all the work and was present throughout the planting.

hawk close up
photo by volunteer Eileen DeCamp