Field Notes: The Beauty of March

by VDOF Area Forester Richard Reuse

March and April are the most beautiful months in Virginia. Relative humidity is low, the spring ephemeral wildflowers are blooming and the bugs aren’t out yet….except for the ticks. Here are some of the things I’ve seen this month.

These are trout lilies. It’s very unusual to find them in eastern Virginia.


Oh deer…there’s a fungus among us.

A nice loblolly pine stand that was thinned a few years ago.


Running Cedar


Running Cedar and Christmas Fern


Cedar bark stripped by a squirrel for its nest in a neighboring tree.




Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? March 23, 2018

by Area Forester Lisa Deaton

Wildlife and Clearcuts, Part-One

Cutover tracts of timber can look bleak during winter, but this leaf-less time of the year presents a great chance to see signs of wildlife.  It is also easy to encounter wildlife in clearcuts because many species take advantage of the change in habitat.  The Young Forest Project provides much more information on growing wildlife habitat and the benefits of young forests.

Some  species of songbirds seem to favor 6-8 foot tall trees for nest locations.  These nests contain both natural and man-made nesting material.

When we walk through clearcuts with the planting crew in March, sometimes we see American woodcocks, also called timberdoodles.  They have a unique “peent” call and are easily identified by their fat little tummies when they fly.  The photo below is a nest of woodcock eggs.

woodcock nest

We came across the wild turkey nest below last June in a very fresh clearcut.  One of the 11 eggs fell out of the nest when the turkey flew away, but she likely rolled it back into the nest when she returned.

turkey nest - Copy

Eggshells from another turkey nest are still evident almost a year after hatching in another clearcut.

turkey egg shells cropped - Copy

We also often see rabbits, fauns, quail, and snakes while walking through cutovers.  Quail, turkey, and woodcocks tend to flush, or fly away at the very last moment with a bit of wing-flapping and sudden bird calls, which usually makes me jump in surprise.

This last photo is not a clearcut, but a partially cut hardwood forest near a field edge.  There is a whip-poor-will in the center of the photo sitting on 2 eggs.  Last June, we heard the whip-poor-wills calling during a wildfire night exercise, and then saw the eggs with our headlamps.  When we returned the next day, the whip-poor-will was sitting on her eggs after many bulldozers had driven by during the night.

whip poor wilcloseupl

Field Notes: Field Day at Zuni Pine Barrens

by VDOF Longleaf Pine/SPB Coordinator Jim Schroering

Several VDOF staff participated in a field tour of the Zuni Pine Barrens in Isle of Wight County earlier this month. The Zuni Pine Barrens is a cooperative conservation project made up of the Blackwater Ecological Preserve (Old Dominion University) and the Antioch Pines Natural Area Preserve (Department of Conservation and Recreation).

ODU Professor of Botany and Zuni Pines Preserve Manager Dr. Lytton Musselman and Dr. Cecil Frost, retired plant ecologist, director of rare species at the NC Natural Heritage Program and private consultant for fire ecology, were instrumental in establishing the Zuni Pine Barrens over 40 years ago.

Dr. Musselman (left) and Dr. Frost (right)

They, along with graduate students from ODU and staff from DCR’s Natural Heritage Program, led tours and discussions about rare and endangered species found on the property, current prescribed fire regimes and efforts to document and re-establish native longleaf pine on the preserve. More than 45 individuals participated in the field day.

Highlights of the tour included finding a rare archaeological site known as a ‘tarkel.”

Dr. Musselman discusses the tarkel

Participants also looked at a crude site used to extract naval stores (pitch, turpentine, tar) from the burning of longleaf in covered pits, and a longleaf pine stump estimated to be over 350 years old.


Field Notes: A Sure Sign of Spring!

by VDOF Senior Area Forester Scott Bachman

It is not quite spring, but the signs of spring are abundant at the New Kent Forestry Center.  The photo below shows one of the first signs of spring.


The loblolly pine trees appear to have grown paper bags on their tips!  These contractors are placing bags on the trees to protect the soon-to-be receptive pine flowers (Strobli) from wind-blown pollen.  That brings up an obvious question, why?

These trees are destined to be used for control pollination seed production.  Control pollinated trees are some of the most highly desired tree seedlings that the VDOF produces.  They are desirable because the parentage of the seedlings is known.  These trees are like fine race horses, a flower from a fast growing tree is crossed with pollen from another fast growing tree.  The bags are essential to this process.

“In nature, loblolly pine trees typically are pollinated at random with the possibility of self-pollination, though rare, because of the way pollen and flowers are disposed on the tree,” explains VDOF Tree Improvement Forester, Onesphore Bitoki.


“In general most of the flowers are in the top part of the tree crown while most of the pollen is at the bottom of the tree crown on the same tree.”

Loblolly pine trees in the forest are pollinated by the wind. Another sure sign of spring is finding your car covered in a fine yellow/green dust — loblolly pollen!  The tree improvement staff can use this to their advantage.  They can cover the flowers in a seed orchard tree with a bag and then inject pollen into the bag from a known fast-growing tree.  The resulting seed produced in the cone will have the high quality genetics of the two parent trees.

The covering of the branch tips is just the first step on a long process.  After the pollen season is over, the bags are removed from the tree and the cones marked.  Not all cones on a tree are “bagged” so each tip that was control pollinated must be tracked for 18 months before it is picked.  Pollinated cones will grow and develop seeds over the next two summers.  These high value cones, as well as our other orchard trees, are also managed to control insects that would like to eat the growing seed in the cones.

When the cones are finally mature they are harvested in Fall, typically in October, using high lifts or bucket trucks making sure the marked cones are kept separate from wind pollinated cones. Each cone is hand-picked and placed into marked containers identifying their “parents.”  This “name” will stay with each cone as it is dried and the seed removed, prepared for planting, planted, harvested at the nursery, packaged and ultimately sold to a landowner.  Like a fine race horse, this new fast growing pine stand can trace a pedigree back to these paper bags in the New Kent Forestry Center.

Field Notes: How do Trees Grow in the Nursery?

by Area Forester Manij Upadhyay

I went to Garland Gray Forestry Center, Courtland Virginia to learn about pine seedling production last week. Our nurseries have been growing quality seedlings based on research and experience for 100 years. The day that I arrived at the nursery people were lifting seedlings from the bed with the help of a machine called a lifter.

Full bed belt lifter

Do you know how seedlings are grown in nurseries?

Selection of the best seed is the most important part of nursery production.  Seeds are collected from fast-growing, straight and disease-resistant trees. In southeast Virginia, the best time for seed sowing is spring. Regular watering and application of fertilizer is required for growth and development of the seedlings. In addition, treatment techniques to protect seedlings from various insects, diseases and weeds are used.

During the production of seedlings, shoot and root pruning practices are used. These techniques help to increase crop uniformity, control height, and prepare the seedlings for shipping.

Most bare root seedlings are taken out from the seedbed in the winter. Seedling lifters and transporters are used for lifting and transporting the plants from the field to the grading building.

Seedling transporter

During packing, seedlings are graded separately based on size and quality.  Packed seedlings are then stored in cool temperatures. Stored seedlings go dormant for shipping. Fully dormant seedlings survive better during shipment, and after planting than non-dormant seedling.

Landowners can expect excellent survival rates on our seedlings. Our young trees can be expected to grow fast and have good form for timber production.

Loblolly pine seedling beds

Field Notes: The Wind in the Willows, Oaks, Pines …

 VDOF Urban Forest Conservationist Jim McGlone

March 2018 came in like a lion, roaring with sustained winds of 25 to 30 miles an hour.  Predictably, trees fell on power lines causing fires that VDOF personnel worked hard to put out.  Media reports highlighted the mayhem falling trees caused; but there was another big story that didn’t make headlines: while thousands of trees fell, hundreds of millions of trees did not fall.

Wood is strong and flexible; that is why humans have been building with it for millennia. Trees have not only evolved to withstand strong wind, the wind actually makes them stronger.  Just as lifting weights can cause human muscles to grow, swaying in the wind causes wood to grow.  The alternating compression and tension on cells when a tree sways causes those cells to grow more wood.  This results in the taper at the base of a tree.

Most of the trees that fell during the early March 2018 windstorm did so because they were already dead or dying.  Most people can recognize a dead tree, at least during the growing season.  However, they may not recognize a dying tree.  The pictures show a tree that failed during in the windstorm.  Last year it had leaves on it, but when it blew over it revealed that its root system was rotten.

Kidwell Farmhouse fallen tree 2018

Can you see the root rot in the standing tree?  Look closely at the crown and notice the thinning of the leaves on the edges. To a trained eye, this is a sign of root problems.

Upright Kidwell Farmhouse tree

This is why trees, like pets and people, need to see their health care professionals regularly.  Certified arborists are tree health care professionals.

The real story of the March 2-4, 2018 windstorm is not that trees fell and caused mayhem.  It is that strong healthy trees withstood the wind.  And trees grow strong and healthy when they are properly cared for by professionals.  To find a certified arborist near you visit

Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? March 6, 2018

Big Trees and Little Trees

by Area Forester Lisa Deaton


oak and house

Lately we have been recertifying trees for the Virginia Big Tree Register.  Trees on this register are checked every ten years to see if they are still alive, and if so, remeasured.  The swamp chestnut oak above is located in Mathews County.  It is 6.5 feet in diameter and 96 feet tall

We have also recently encountered a number of big trees that are not on the register yet.

Wezensky poplar

The yellow-poplar above (also called tulip poplar and tulip tree) is in the middle of a 40 year old pine forest, but within view of the owner’s house.

The same landowner has a tree that he and his granddaughter have named the Rest Stop Tree (below).

Rest Stop Tree

It is a yellow-poplar that fell over sideways early in its life, and the side branches started growing upwards.  The tree serves as a favorite rest stop during family walks.  Trees that are special for any reason can be nominated to the Remarkable Trees of Virginia Project.

Meanwhile, it is reforestation time, and very hardworking crews have arrived in Virginia to plant loblolly and shortleaf pine seedlings in cutovers.

planting crew

These men have traveled from Guatemala and Mexico to work in the southeastern U.S. for planting season.  Each man plants about 3,700 trees per day. lob-seedling.jpg

VDOF Responds to Hundreds of Wind-Related Fires

Spring wildfire season, which began February 15, is in full swing and the high winds that raged across Virginia since Thursday only made conditions more dangerous. Governor Northam declared a State of Emergency Friday afternoon as a result of extreme weather conditions which resulted in hundreds of wildfires throughout the Commonwealth.

Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) firefighters have responded to fires in the counties of Albemarle, Amherst, Amelia, Appomattox, Bedford, Botetourt, Buckingham, Campbell, Caroline, Charles City, Charlotte, Chesterfield, Clark, Culpeper, Cumberland, Essex, Fauquier, Floyd, Fluvanna, Frederick, Gloucester, Greene, Greensville, Halifax, Hanover, Henry, James City, King & Queen, King William, Louisa, Lunenburg, Madison, Mecklenburg, Nelson, New Kent, Nottoway, Orange, Rappahannock, Rockingham, Pittsylvania, Powhatan, Pulaski, Shenandoah, Spotsylvania, Stafford,  Warren, Westmorland and Wythe.

Wildfire in Henry County. Photo courtesy of Kevin Keith


Since Friday, the VDOF has responded to 127 fires covering approximately 690 acres across the state. The largest fire covered more than 302 acres. VDOF firefighters have protected at least 78 homes with an estimated total value of more than $12 million dollars.

“This high-risk season is made even more serious by the extreme weather conditions we’ve seen these past few days,” said John Miller, VDOF director of fire and emergency response. “It’s important for people to be more aware of this elevated fire risk and to take more precautions than they otherwise might.”

Most wildfires in Virginia are the result of debris burning. So it is extremely important for people to abide by the 4 p.m. burning law which went into effect Feb. 15. The law prohibits open burning between the hours of midnight and 4 p.m. each day.  Burning is permitted between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight, but officials at the VDOF urge people to avoid burning outdoors altogether while these extreme conditions persist


Tree on powerline
A tree on a power line in Henry Co. Photo courtesy of Kevin Keith


“Wildfires are very dangerous,” said Fred Turck, VDOF fire prevention manager. “Under such windy conditions, a wildfire can grow very quickly and be unpredictable.  Even a small wildfire can destroy natural resources, homes and other buildings, and wildfires put Virginians and their firefighters in danger.  If you are careful with anything that could start a wildfire, you are doing your part to prevent a wildfire.”

A Fire Weather Warning, issued by the National Weather Service, remains in effect for most of Central and Eastern Virginia today. If you spot a fire, please call 911.

(Photo at top taken in Powhatan County, courtesy of Taylor Goodman, Powhatan County firefighter)