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Black Tupelo, Allegheny Chinkapin, Sassafrass.
They all sound pretty exotic, but these native Virginians populate forested areas throughout the middle peninsula.
On a sunny Saturday in September, members of the public, of VMN’s Historic Rivers Chapter, and of the John Clayton Chapter of the Native Plant Society gathered around the edges of the parking lot at Wellspring United Methodist Church to get to know some of our tree neighbors a little better.
The reader may protest: native plants in a parking lot? Well, it may not be the most bucolic-sounding locale, but anyone driving along this part of Longhill Road can’t help but be dazzled by the dense forested areas that border it. The church parking lot provides perfect access to the trees along the forest edges, and therefore offered an ideal spot to stop and get up close and personal with a few of our native Virginia woodland species.
Leading the group was William and Mary professor Dr. Stewart Ware (Emeritus, biology), who taught attendees, this transplant to Virginia among them, how to spot (by my count) 22 different tree species. By the end of the walk, we had crushed the leaves of the sweetgum to smell its distinctive scent, tasted the leaves of the sourwood, and could identify with ease sassafrass, white oaks, loblolly pines, and Virginia pines, among others. And now I know that even that pesky, thorny “weed” persistently cropping up along my fence line has a pretty exotic name for itself as well, Devil’s Walking Stick, and has been in Virginia far longer than I have.
Submitted by Anita Angelone, Virginia Master Naturalist, Historic Rivers Chapter
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