Nurture Natives: 4-Hers Take a Stand to Protect Maryland’s Ecosystems, Economy, and Agriculture

This is a guest post by Esther Bonney, a student in Charles County, Maryland, and a member of the University of Maryland Extension 4-H Program.

Invasive plants are detrimental to Maryland’s well-being, and their damaging effects are becoming more evident each year as we witness declines in crop productivity, reductions in pollinators critical to maintaining stable ecosystems, and widespread displacement of native habitats. Between 2008 and 2013, wild bees declined by 23 percent across the U.S.—a serious concern to farmers and consumers alike. Through educational programs, guides, and native giveaways, Nurture Natives is taking a stand against invasive species to protect native plants and pollinators, restore natural habitats, and support farmers. Nurture Natives is led by University of Maryland 4-Hers Esther Bonney and Samantha Rutherford and Extension 4-H Educator Amy Lang and UME Charles County Master Gardener Marlene Smith. 

people line up for native trees at Maryland Day
Visitors line up for native trees at Maryland Day, stretching down the courtyard and around the sidewalk, sometimes longer than the line for free ice cream!

In March 2022, our team was selected to attend the National 4-H Youth Summit on Agriscience. There, we developed our project, Nurture Natives, to address a prevalent agricultural issue in our community: invasive plant species. Invasive plants choke out native species and are a major cause of crop loss and food insecurity. Invasive trees such as the Tree of Heaven rapidly overtake farmlands and attract invasive pests such as the Spotted Lanternfly, which is a serious threat to grape crops. In the U.S. alone, invasive species cause $40 billion worth of production losses to crops and forests per year. 

Nurture Natives is dedicated to increasing biodiversity through the planting of native trees and the eradication of invasive plants. In the past year, Nurture Natives has been featured on the National 4-H and University of Maryland Extension websites, won a Lead to Change Grant, and was selected by the National 4-H Council as one of two projects nationwide to receive the highly-competitive Scale for Success Award. Nurture Natives was also recently featured in the Southern Maryland Independent: Nurturing natives and the next generation of environmental scientists

Our team began our work by educating and raising awareness about invasive species in our community of Charles County. We hosted educational programs at schools and camps and, in October 2022, partnered with eight local organizations to host the first annual Nurture Natives Giveaway. We hosted games, crafts, presentations, and a honey-tasting to showcase the importance of native species and pollinators. In just two hours, we distributed 150 native trees and shrubs and reached over 70 families. 

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Post Oaks in the Big City

Post oak
This post oak thrives despite being squeezed between a parking lot and a sidewalk. November 2013. Takoma Park, MD.

If you live in one of Maryland’s older towns, you probably have a lot of heritage trees – native trees inherited from the forests and fields that existed before your town was built out. It’s part of what gives old towns so much character. In my home town, Takoma Park, one of the heritage trees I admire the most is the post oak (Quercus stellata).

Post oaks inspire me. I see beauty in their shiny, cruciform leaves and their tiny, striped acorns. I also admire the species’ capacity to cope with adversity.  Many of the post oaks in Takoma Park are confined to little hell strips, those narrow grassy areas between slabs of asphalt or concrete. There they must cope with soil compaction, deicing salts, copious quantities of dog urine, and the urban heat island, to name a few.

Post oaks are one of the most common trees at Soldier’s Delight Natural Area, where the serpentinite bedrock gives rise to a soil so laden with heavy metals that it’s too toxic for most plants to grow in. Perhaps tolerance of metals helps the post oak perform well at urban sites,  even sites near train tracks and in industrial parks. Continue reading

What Tree is This?

Five trees
Can you identify these trees? The answers are at the end of this post.

How well do you know your trees? Can you identify the trees in the images above? Do you know where to start and what to look for?

When we get tree identification questions at the Home & Garden Information Center, we look not only at the leaves or needles but also the leaf arrangement along the branches, the size and shape of the tree, the bark, buds, and fruits too.

If you want to get better at tree identification, like most anything, it helps to have a good foundation and to practice. If you are interested in getting better at tree identification, you may be interested in the upcoming events we are sponsoring.

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