Field Notes: Finding Green in the Winter Woods

By Ellen Powell, Conservation Educator


Central Virginia’s hardwood forests in winter are a study in neutrals; everything is some shade of brown or gray. But look closely at the forest floor, and you’ll see accents of green that hint at spring to come.

Low-sprawling Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) displays its fronds all winter. The plant is so-named not only for its holiday greenery, but for its leaflets, shaped like tiny Christmas stockings.

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides).
Crane-fly orchid (Tipularia discolor) has an interesting life cycle. In the fall, each plant grows a single leaf, green on top and purple underneath. The leaf disappears by early summer. A few months later, the flower stalk emerges. The tiny blooms resemble crane-flies, or their familiar cousins – mosquitoes!

Crane-fly orchid (Tipularia discolor).
Running cedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum) often carpets large areas of the forest floor. It isn’t a cedar at all, but a type of club moss. These primitive plants reproduce by spores instead of seeds.

Running cedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum).
Look for all three of these species brightening the leaf litter in a woodland near you!


In Virginia, you know spring is just around the corner when you begin to see blooms on cherry, magnolia, pear, redbud and dogwood trees.

These same signs of spring can serve as a reminder that it’s a good time to assess the plants growing on your property and make a plan to get rid of the invasive species.

Non-native invasive plants usually have rapid reproductive rates, lack natural control agents and out-compete native species — that is, they can completely take over a landscape!

There are numerous invasive plant species in Virginia, ranging from grasses and vines, to shrubs and trees. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Natural, Heritage Division maintains a list of plant species that pose a threat to the Commonwealth’s forests, native grasslands, wetlands or waterways.

Four significant species that are common throughout the southeastern U.S. are tree-of-heaven, Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese privet and Callery (or Bradford) pear. You can read more about each species on these factsheets.

tree of heavenhoneysuckle
bradford pear

Removing invasive plants often requires substantial effort and patience, but the reward is a natural area composed of diverse native plants. If you are successful in eradicating invasive plants on your property, congratulations! But what’s next? The work does not stop there. Now it’s time to replace the invasive species with native alternatives. Without planned replacement, those pesky invasive plants may just creep back onto your property.

Check out the AlterNATIVES factsheet for native alternatives that will keep your yard beautiful and the planet healthy!


These factsheets were created by the Southern Group of State Foresters, Forest Health Committee.

Field Notes: Teamwork on the Fan Mountain Fire

On March 9, a wildfire was reported in southern Albemarle County — VDOF and local partner agency Albemarle Fire Rescue responded to the scene. By March 11, suppression efforts had contained 75% of the fire but more than 320 acres had burned. The crews continued suppression operations into the early evening and performed mop-up and spot checks in the following days. As of March 12, the fire was 100% contained.

During operations on March 11, VDOF’s Director of Human Resources Hector Rivera visited the Command Post for the fire and reported back.

“Fred Turck [VDOF fire program staff] escorted me to the Command Post where an incident brief was provided. I could feel the motivation and could immediately asses that logistic operations supporting our professional firefighters has ensured reconstitution operations don’t miss a beat, thus keeping our mission on task,” said Hector.

When responding to wildfires, VDOF firefighters follow an Incident Command Structure in which each person has a distinct role. Response crews can vary in size – for Fan Mountain fire, roughly 30 full- and part-time firefighters worked the fire.

Following the briefing at the Command Post, another VDOF employee escorted Hector to the site of burnout operations. Hector said, “Once on site, I was genuinely amazed about the work our full-time and part-time firefighters were doing in unison, and the expertise displayed by part-time support in this fire – demonstrating we are ‘One VDOF Wildland Firefighting Corps.’

“Upon arriving at the burnout site, I was greeted by one of our part-timers, who gave me an on-the-job-training lecture for managing the drip-torch — I suited up and managed to light up part of the line. Later, in a span of minutes, a hotspot jumped the line, and the team immediately acted to contain the fire.”

Hector took photos of the crew working, including the dozer and engine assets at work. “I diligently stayed out of the way to observe the professionals do their job. It was neat to see our strong women, such as [VDOF employee] Sarah Parmelee, leading from the front.”

Teamwork is important in nearly every work situation, but it is especially critical when it’s a matter of protecting life, property and land. “My time on site reminded me of how important it is for us to never forget the work our teammates do to protect our land and its people. Today, was yet another example of why we are blessed to serve in VDOF and with such an outstanding group of professionals. Great job, and stay alert!” said Hector.

Field Notes: Protecting the Northern Source Longleaf

By Senior Area Forester Scott Bachman

The official start of spring may be only weeks away, but forester Scott Bachman doesn’t want to breeze past the (briefly) snowy landscape of southeastern Virginia. The scene highlights a unique landscape feature that VDOF is working to protect – the northern seed source of longleaf pine.

Several weeks ago, the southeastern counties and cities of Virginia received their first and only snow of this winter (so far!)  As you might expect, the few inches of wet snow created a spectacular landscape that was so different from our typical winter landscapes of earth tones and greens.  It was remarkable to see the contrast of bright white against our pine-hardwood forests.  A young longleaf pine stand provided a particularly unique vista.



Longleaf on Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation property in Isle of Wight, called the Antioch Pines of the Blackwater Pine Barrens.

Once a representative tree of the Deep South, longleaf pine is now a diminished species in Virginia. The City of Suffolk contains the last larger acreage of native longleaf pine in the Commonwealth.  The seed source from this stand is being protected and harvested of seed producing cones by the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Heritage program.

Why is this important? The trees of our native longleaf seed source exhibit characteristics that are somewhat different than trees from farther south.  VDOF research staff has tested local seed source trees against other sources and can verify this difference.

Are our “northern source” trees better able to withstand a blanket of snow?  I don’t know that we can yet answer this with certainty, but the genetics are certainly worth protecting.



Agricultural-Forestral Districts in Louisa County

In Louisa County, Virginia, Agricultural-Forestral Districts (AFD) have recently played a crucial role in discussions about the conservation of working farms and forests. The county has demonstrated commitment to preserving the rural character, heritage and economic viability of the community; land conservation is a critical piece of the puzzle.

During a recent routine water quality inspection in Louisa County, VDOF forest specialist Dave Stone had an unexpected encounter with a landowner that was worth sharing; their chance meeting resulted in fruitful conversation about AFDs and land conservation in the county. It reminded Dave about the value of investing efforts in your community and highlighted how his role with VDOF has afforded him an opportunity to build trust with and better serve his community, both as a neighbor and a professional.

About Agricultural-Forestral Districts

In 1977, the Commonwealth of Virginia passed the Agricultural and Forestral Districts Act to support the conservation and improvement of working forests and farms throughout the state.  Localities have the authority to form Agricultural-Forestral Districts (AFD) which essentially puts a “pause” on development in the designated zones in their rural communities. For the established period of time, the AFD protects farmland and working forests, supports healthy waterways and contiguous wildlife habitat, and preserves rural character in the county.

In return for this commitment by landowners to the conservation of working lands, the Commonwealth and the locality offer certain incentives, including guaranteed land use taxation and certain protections from eminent domain.

It’s critical to note that entering a parcel into an AFD is entirely voluntary for landowners. Neighboring landowners in a given area may work together and decide to enter their land collectively into an AFD; however, not all landowners within a zone need to participate for a district to be approved by the local Board of Supervisors. (Find more details here about the process of creating an AFD in your Virginia county.)

A Story of Rural Preservation in Louisa County


In the past year, Louisa County reassembled its AFD committee and tacked on an additional assignment by establishing a Rural Preservation Committee. Separate from the review of applications for AFD zoning, the committee is responsible for identifying ways to support and expand rural preservation within the county.

Dave Stone has spent more than two decades living and working in Louisa County. Last March, Dave was appointed the Vice Chair of the Agricultural-Forestral and Rural Preservation Committee and is encouraged by the residents’ response to the initiative and the county’s support. The county adopted Dave’s suggestions to waive the AFD application fee for two years to encourage participation and to erect AFD signs to raise awareness for the program and acknowledge landowner participation.

In January 2020, the committee hosted a dinner in conjunction with the Farm Bureau for land use participants and other interested landowners in the county to re-introduce residents to the AFD designation. The dinner was a great success – more than 90 landowners attended, with approximately 200 more on a waiting list for the next event!


During the dinner, Dave had a realization. “I knew nearly every landowner in the room because of my work and community involvement in Louisa County, and I was excited to see such tremendous turn out and potential support for forestland conservation.” Dave and the other committee members understand that the process of seeking designation may be time consuming or seem overwhelming, but clearly, the interest exists within the community. At the dinner, David offered support to any landowners who may need assistance in navigating the AFD process.

A Chance Encounter

Although the committee had an opportunity to meet with a great number of property owners at the dinner in mid-January, it was an encounter with an individual landowner that was most notable to Dave.

“One evening on my way home I stopped at a logging job site to perform a routine water quality inspection for VDOF, expecting the inspection to be relatively quick. On my way up the access road to the site, I ran into the farm owner and we struck up a conversation that lasted until well after it was dark.”

During the conversation, the farmer mentioned that he had heard about the AFD dinner recently hosted by the county and was curious about the program. At this point, Dave took off his proverbial “VDOF hat” to convey his perspective as the Vice Chair of the Louisa County Agricultural-Forestral and Rural Preservation Committee. After a long discussion, the landowner was convinced of the program’s value and decided to work with his neighbors to pursue districting.

“My job affords me the opportunity to really help people using my skills and knowledge as a forester. This chance encounter reminded me how valuable it is to support programs in which you truly believe, and how rewarding it can be to work with your community to preserve its character and economic viability,” Dave recalls.

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