Trees Virginia Annual Report  -  July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021

Academic Scholarships

During this reporting period, Trees Virginia awarded $7,500.00 in Undergraduate and Graduate scholarships.   

Community College scholarship recipient

Mackenzie Shull, Dabney Lancaster Community College, Associates Degree - Forest Management Technology

Undergraduate scholarship recipients

William Fowler - University of Lynchburg - Bachelors Degree in Environmental Science

Felicity Zimmerman - Eastern Mennonite University - Environmental Science

Grace Lumsden-Cook -  Virginia Commonwealth University, Environmental Studies Class of 2021

Graduate scholarship recipients

Merri Collins - George Mason University, PhD Student Urban Ecology and Conservation Lab

Angela Gaal - George Mason University, MS student in the School of Systems Biology

Trees Virginia Workshops - 2020-2021

Trees Virginia held virtual workshops to provide education on urban forestry and tree care to hundreds of professionals, volunteers, and other community members.

Roanoke Workshop Webinar Series (March 2021) 

Northern Virginia Urban Forestry Roundtable

  • "Brood X of the Periodical Cicada"

Southeast Virginia Urban Forestry Roundtable

• How To Kill a Tree (March, 2021)

Big Tree Interns

Trees Virginia continues to support the work of two interns for the Virginia Big Tree Program. 

The 2016 Virginia Big Tree Program Intern was Alexandria Cassell, a double major student in the Environmental Resources and Environmental Informatics programs at Virginia Tech.  Alexandria assisted the Big Tree Program coordinator in managing the Big Tree Register and recertifying trees throughout the state.  Alexandria worked with volunteers to recertify 136 trees on the current big tree list (all big trees need to be recertified every 10 years) and also managed the process of certifying 45 new tree nominations. 

David Formella (2017 Big Tree Intern) is a Natural Resources Conservation major in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech.  He is also a Marine option midshipman at VT, on track to commission into the United States Marine Corps as an officer in 2019.  As part of his Big Tree internship, he measured newly nominated trees and led efforts to re-measure the 195 big trees due for recertification. 

Tree Stewards

Trees Virginia supports Tree Stewards, volunteers providing education and tree care in their communities.  There are more than 475 Tree Steward volunteers in a dozen different groups across Virginia, and they have completed more than 13,000 hours of service to benefit urban forests.

There is currently a virtual two-day Tree Steward Symposium "Standing Tall, Growing Together" planned for June 24 and June 25, 2021. 

Municipal Forestry Institute Scholarships

Trees Virginia haso provided scholarships to professionals to attend the Society of Municipal Arborist’s Municipal Forestry Institute, covering the full cost of their registrations.  Past recipients include:

  • Steven Traylor, City of Norfolk
  • Nick Drunasky (of Fairfax County)
  • Alexander J. (A. J.) Elton (of Richmond)
  • Rachel Griesmar-Zakhar (of Fairfax)

Trees Virginia continues to:

  • fundraise for the Bonnie Appleton Memorial Fund and
  • provide funds to communities to plant Arbor Day Trees, reimbursing up to $100 for the cost of a tree.  

American Forests released this month its 2020 Champion Trees National Register. Established in 1940, the register curates the largest specimens of nearly 600 native and naturalized tree species found in the United States. Trees are scored and ranked using measurements of height, trunk girth, and crown spread. Specimens with scores differing less than 3% are crowned co-champions of a species.

The 2020 register recognizes 654 trees as national champions or co-champions. Nominations for champion trees are accepted from anyone in the general public and are vetted annually by state big tree coordinators affiliated with forestry agencies and universities.

Virginia led all states in 2020 with 102 registered trees (champions and co-champions), followed by Florida (92), Texas (75), and Arizona (57).

Virginia’s 67 species champions was second only to Florida, which had 77. Notable additions to the 2020 national register from Virginia include:

• Alleghany serviceberry, Smyth County, 194 points

• American elm, City of Chesapeake, 391 points

• Black cherry, City of Norfolk, 314 points

• Red hickory, Caroline County, 278 points

• Southern magnolia, Sussex County, 342 points

 Photos and stories of Virginia’s national and state champion big trees are curated in the Virginia Big Tree Register.

Since 1970, the Virginia Big Tree Program has promoted forest conservation and stewardship through collaboration of the Virginia Forestry Association, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Virginia Department of Forestry. The Virginia Big Tree Register is maintained by Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation with support from Trees Virginia. Big Tree nominations in Virginia are accepted year-round from the public using an online nomination form. Assistance with measuring and scoring big trees is available through a network of program volunteers.

Silos, those wonderfully, iconic, cylindrical structures that used to be a prevalent part of the farming landscape are disappearing more and more with each passing year. With advances in agriculture these beautiful structures that once reached skyward are becoming more of a rarity as one travels through the countryside. While we might all shed a tear of something that was once part of the fabric of American agriculture, there is no place for “silos” in the world of urban forestry or urban wood. Artificial silos can impede the progress of an organization and minimize the momentum of a movement. Over time, we are diminishing “silos” and their negative influences of being barriers to both communications and progress.

Thanks to great collaborative efforts between three program areas – Urban & Community Forestry, Forest Health and Urban Wood – the Virginia Department of Forestry provides a holistic approach to community tree care. From the time the tree is planted until the end of its biological life, tree management guidance is provided for trees to help ensure good growth, a healthy life, and the complete use of the tree and all of its parts throughout its lifetime. Communities are also embracing the concept of zero-net-waste from the management activities of their urban forest resources.  Examples of community no-waste systems include:

Leaves collected in the fall are used to make compost. The compost is then used for town tree and horticultural plantings

Tree prunings from yearly tree maintenance are chipped and used on trails or as mulch

Larger branch removals are utilized as firewood

Large tree trunks are directed into the urban wood market to be used for products such as tables, benches and flooring.

This multi-programmatic approach to the management of our urban forest resources is especially important in these times of invasive insect species such as the emerald ash borer and spotted lantern fly. Even if tree mortality is not imminent, insects such as these can tremendously increase the woody debris flows from urban forests for a number of years. Add to this scenario the plethora of unpredictable and often violent weather events due to climate change resulting in more woody materials coming from our urban areas due to natural events than ever before.

Helping municipalities by selecting the right tree species for plantings, providing them with the skill set to maintain a healthy urban forest, and a solid plan for the total utilization of their urban forest resources, is a model for the future best management of our municipal forests from the Virginia Dept. of Forestry.



Due to the increased population density in urban areas we are at a greater risk of a disruption of our daily life from extreme weather events. These extreme events can be defined as storms that are not normal wind events or precipitation events. Normal weather events are defined as weather events that occur two or three times per year. These events cause minor to moderate damage, such as broken defective tree limbs, overturned trash cans, and patio umbrellas. This type of damage can be usually easily repaired and cause little monetary damage.

However, with the recent increase in severe weather events more preparation is needed to reduce property damage and monetary loss due to tree damage. Urban trees offer numerous eco-services that provide monetary benefits. In order to maintain the eco-capitol (flow of benefits to the population) the trees need maintenance to reduce damage from severe weather events. Severe weather is defined as winds over 50 mph, rain over 1”/hour, .1/4” of ice accumulation. These weather situations can cause power outages, uprooted trees and failed parts of trees. In an urban area these failures can and do cause property damage, loss of income, and disrupt human normal activities. Some practical and cost effective practices can be applied to reduce the potential damage from nearby trees.

First step:  when the plant is still less than 25 ft. in height examine it for weak “V” crotch formation of major forks. Remove or subordinate (reduce in height) one of the limbs, check for girdling roots at the soil line or just below the line. Check to see if the tree may grow into power lines.  This stage of development is the most cost effective corrective action to correct structural imperfections of the tree. When done at this stage the wood is much lighter and easier to handle, and less live tissue is removed which is less of a shock to the tree. By removing potential growth problems at this stage the resulting growth will be more sturdy and less prone to breakage.

If the tree is over 30’ in height step back and look at the silhouette of the canopy. If the leaf distribution and density are continuous to the ends of the limbs the root system is healthy. Go to the trunk and check for “girdling roots” at the ground line. Examine the trunk for any dead areas with exposed wood. This indicates dead areas that may contain rot. Look up the trunk and check for weak “V” crotch formation of the major limbs, split / broken/ dead limbs.

Many of the structural imperfections can be mitigated by a certified arborist. Mature trees offer our urban environment numerous benefits that make our environment more livable by tangible and intangible. The safer we make them the longer they will benefit us. However, even defect free trees may fail if the force exceeds its structural strength. Always seek the advice of a certified arborist.





Big box stores and trees don’t typically go together in a positive light… but they could! 

Big companies such as Walmart, Lowes, Target and others could teach American’s how to mulch trees. 

As people, we tend to do what others do.  Even when there are compelling reasons to do something different, we tend to conform and how much more so when we are ignorant.  I have certainly been guilty of this more than once and probably more than I know.

I believe this social phenomenon is at the root of the problem with our epidemic of volcano mulching in Virginia and elsewhere. Business owners and homeowners alike mulch right up the trunk of a tree simply because they see that way of mulching far more than any other, if not exclusively.  

Did you know that 90% of all Americans live within 15 miles of a Walmart and that for every U.S. dollar spent, 8 cents of it is spent at Walmart. (source: 1012,  If these two things are true, Walmart alone is a significant influence on our society.  Add in the other big retail companies, and we’ve got something quite big don’t we?

Attention shoppers:  let’s turn big retail into a big positive for trees.

If we could get one or more of these big box companies (or even just local stores!) to insist that their grounds keepers properly mulch their trees, I predict the collapse of many a volcano mulch throughout this country.

How can we do this?  Have you ever dreamed of “taking on” the big box stores?  Not in a fight but rather to partner for positive change!  Consider this a call to Tree Stewards and tree lovers everywhere… let us organize and generate change!  We can do this!

 “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” 
― Edward Everett Hale

Spotted Lanternfly in Virginia

The first confirmed detection of spotted lanternfly in the United States, was near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2014. By the end of 2017, it had been confirmed in 13 Pennsylvania counties as well as a single county each in both Delaware and New York State. January of 2018, brought the first confirmed detection in Virginia. Frederick County was the unfortunate landing place of spotted lanternfly in this state.

Spotted lanternfly has been seen feeding on grapes, peaches, hops, apples, and on many forest trees in Pennsylvania. This insect does not chew leaves (as in the case of Japanese beetles) but is instead a phloem feeder (drinking the sugar rich fluids of the plant). The nymphs have a wide host range of at least 70 plant species. The adults are commonly found on tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima, as well as showing a fondness for grapes in late summer and fall. It has the potential to be a serious pest of agriculture and home landscapes. Nymphs are expected to be active mid-April in Virginia, with mature adults being present by at least the end of June. The insects produce large quantities of sugary secretions called honey dew. Black sooty mold may grow on this honey dew, which can cover branches, trunks, and man-made objects under the tree. Severe wilting may also be seen in heavily infested plantings. 


·         First stage nymph is wingless, black, and has whites spots on the body and legs

·         Last nymphal instar develops red patches over the body, while retaining the white spots

·         Adults are about 1 inch long and 0.5 in wide. Legs and head are black, with a yellow abdomen, crossed with broad black bands on the top and bottom.

·         Forewings are a light brown/grey with black spots, with wing tips having black rectangular blocks, outlined in grey

·         Hind wings are a scarlet red with black spots and tips, separated by white stripes

·         Egg masses are laid on any smooth surface (tree trunks, rocks, etc.) 1-1.5 inch long and 0.5-0.75 inch wide, gray/brown in color and covered with a grey, waxy coating

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has established a quarantine for Frederick County and the City of Winchester, more information can be found on their website: The importance and potential impact of this pest to agricultural crops and homeowner properties should not be underestimated.

Please contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension County Office to submit suspected samples or to obtain more information:

·         Day, E., D. Pfeiffer, T. Dellinger, and C. Bergh. Pest Alert: Spotted Lanternfly Lycorma delicatula. Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication ENTO-265NP. 2018.

·         Pfeiffer, D., E. Day, and P. Sisti. Spotted Lanternfly. Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication ENTO-264NP. 2018.

·         Spotted Lanternfly in Virginia website:



Besides staying solvent and viable, the bottom line for any utility is good service to its customers.  Some do it better than others, and here is an example of one that excels in a number of ways.  Rappahannock Electric Cooperative is a member-owned electric company that serves portions of 22 counties in Virginia.  The content for this summary is taken from an article that appears in T&D (Transmission and Distribution) World magazine titled "Customers, Contractors and Communication" by Forester Cindy Devlin Musick.  It is condensed here and used with permission.  This info was published as Tree City USA Bulletin 99 / National Arbor Day Foundation. 

Every decision at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) is based on what is best for the members.  REC has single-mindedness about a high level of member service and, not surprisingly, this mindset extends to the cooperative's vegetation management program.  REC manages some 8,000 miles of overhead rights-of-way, including about 200 miles of transmission lines. 

Here are three ways that REC's vegetation management program provides a particularly good example.  

Work With Contractors

REC uses multiple contractors.  This helps them hold each other accountable and keep prices reasonable.  Pruning is done on a five-year cycle and written specifications are used that address trimming distances and growth rates, herbicide treatment, and danger-tree removals.  The minimum distances required for pruning each tree are based on:  

  • Tree species (for example, a maple grows much faster than an oak) 
  • Type of overhead construction (wires and other equipment) 
  • High reliability zones (areas of a circuit from the station breaker to the first down-line operating device) 

REC's contractors are trained not only in proper pruning methods - ANSI A300 and safety requirements Z133 - but also regarding how much growth can be expected from various species.  Species and position relative to REC's facilities are the primary factors in determining the required clearance.  Contractors also learn to look at growth over the previous five years to determine whether more clearance is necessary. 

To encourage stability in the workforce, REC uses five-year contracts.  It also has a bonus program and a celebratory breakfast for contract employees who meet quarterly production goals.  In addition, there are incentives for safety and job attendance. 

Herbicides As A Tool

At REC, the use of herbicides is embraced to manage pollinator-and wildlife-friendly corridors, improve access, control invasive species, and prevent outages caused by trees and vines.  Specifically, herbicides are applied to stumps to prevent re-sprouting, thereby reducing the workload in the following cycle.  This also increases sunlight, which promotes native grasses and low-growing shrub habitat.  Following scheduled clearing in corridors, a low-volume foliar application of herbicide is used to catch tall-growing species before issue arise with power quality.  One of the many positive effects is the formation and maintenance of pollinator-and wildlife-friendly habitat. 

Contractors are instructed to avoid properties where members choose to opt out of the treatment and signs are placed accordingly.  Sometimes members change their minds after an explanation of the herbicides being applied and the desirable outcomes of their use.  They are usually unaware and pleasantly surprised when they learn of the potential benefits, including vistas for viewing wildlife, increased berry bushes and more birds.  

Customer Service

One of REC's core values is customer service.  The vegetation maintenance department recognizes the intrinsic values of treating others as they wish to be treated.  Every interaction with members is handled in this manner, and a variety of techniques are used to communicate, including phone calls, texts, emails, letters, door hangers, and social media. REC's website also is updated as needed to reflect current practices.  Members are notified by a postcard prior to the commencement of tree pruning and right-of-way work and by letter prior to herbicide application.

REC conducts phone surveys on its vegetation management efforts at the completion of each circuit.  Members are asked about the effectiveness of notification efforts and the care taken by the crew working on their properties.  Overall, the average rating of REC by members surveyed has been 8.7 out of 10 over the past five years.  Comments like this are often received:  "Working with REC has been great!" said Kyle Rhodes, land manager for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.  "The quality and communication that they have demonstrated is excellent.  From preparation to the cleanup, the work has been thorough and considerate of our site." 

REC's vegetation management department is involved in numerous community outreach events and utility forestry recognition activities.  For the 15 year, REC has been recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Line USA utility.  Last year, REC participated in the Foundation's Energy-Saving Trees program by providing its members with 180 trees that will sequester more than 700,000 pounds of carbon.  REC also participates in an Arbor Day celebration with a local school each year. 

The Bottom Line

REC's program has been successful largely because of thoughtful design and managers who understand the value of a well-funded, consistent program managed by professional foresters.  Stable costs, improved reliability, and high member satisfaction all demonstrate the program's success.   


Let me start by saying the choices on this list of tree’s is entirely my own. Tree lists are typically opinion over fact, and I readily admit this list is no different. However, after over 20 years as a landscape installer, designer, contractor, and certified arborist, I have managed to notice a few things about how and what trees are planted in the urban and suburban landscape, and would like to share a few real world things I have figured out.

This post (and similar ones to follow) will be an attempt to discuss some of the good, bad, and ugly tree choices and installation techniques I see being made by designers, landscape architects, installers, and property owners. I live and work in central Virginia (USDA Hardiness Zone 7a) so these posts will primarily discuss plants suited to this region. In today’s post I’d like to shed a little light on the real world situations common to today’s landscapes, and share a few trees I think can work great in them, but aren’t being utilized nearly enough.        

The biggest hurdle I see as a landscape professional is the utter denial of reality when planning and installing a modern day landscape. The backbone of the landscape industry is new construction, while at the same time; the most difficult environment for a young plant to thrive in is NEW CONSTRUCTION! Here is the real world chain of events for the vast majority of modern landscape jobs:


A new development is planned, a forest is bulldozed, heavy yellow machines scrape off and compact native soil horizons, unnatural grades are imposed, root zone protection of remaining trees is absent, buildings are erected, chemicals, trash and debris litter the site, bare soils are left open to further compact, and after all the other trades have beaten the site into submission, now it’s time to plant!

Plans have been drafted by designers and landscape architects that specify plants that should grow in that particular zone. In “boots on the ground” reality, hardly any attention was paid to how tolerant these plants would be in the wasteland that will become their new home. Can they grow in compacted soil? Under HEAVY irrigation (contractors loooove to let the water fly on their new sod!)? Will they grow if completely neglected, with no human inputs of water or fertilizer? And if they can manage to somehow gain a foothold in this harsh new environment,can they accomplish the goals we ask of them as designers?


Should our current building practices be reformed? Absolutely. As in life, we should all strive to do better. But until those days come, I think as professionals we can make better plant choices. Choices that can shoulder our goals of providing shade, structure, habitat, or beauty all while managing to survive in the manmade environments we ask them to grow. Now let me climb down from my soapbox, and give you some specific trees.

Chinese Pistache

Pistacia chinensis - Chinese Pistache

Native Habitat: Central and western China, Taiwan, Philippines.


Mature Size: 30-35’ high, 25-35’ wide.

Hardiness: Zones 6-9

Form/Shape: Oval-rounded. Upright, unorganized habit in youth, more uniform with age.

Bark: Grey-brown and furrowed. Exfoliates as it matures, and can be interesting.

Flower: On previous year's wood in April before leaves. Female has 8” panicles that are interesting, but not show stoppers.

Fruit: ¼” bright red fruit ripening to blue in a panicle cluster. Again, are interesting, but not the reason for using the plant. Birds gobble them up Oct-Nov.

Foliage: Now here’s the real reason to use this tree. Compound 10” leaves that are lustrous green in summer, absolute fireworks show of orange-red from mid-October into November.

Growth Rate: Medium fast. 1’-3’ a year depending on soil conditions.

Drought Tolerance: Very drought resistant once established.

Soil Requirements: Prefers moist, well-drained soils, but will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. I have observed it thriving in barren tree pits, as well as dry, narrow hell-strips.

Light Requirements: Full sun.

Diseases and Insects: None serious.

Maintenance: Some staking and pruning will be required in its youth to give it shape, and remove multiple leaders. Develops a full head as it matures with minimal input.

Uses: Under-utilized lawn, park, and street tree. Once established, it withstands life in the urban environment even in poor, droughty soils.

Sweetbay Magnolia

Magnolia virginiana - Sweetbay Magnolia

Native Habitat: Eastern United States


Mature Size: Typically 20-30’ Tall by 20-25’ wide. Can get larger.

Hardiness: Zones 5-9

Form/Shape: Multi-stemmed “tree shrub” in youth. Will eventually form multi-stemmed pyramidal tree in maturity.

Bark: Smooth; light grey. Not showy.

Flower: Creamy white, 2-3” flowers through summer months. While not as out right showy as southern magnolia, they are pretty and their lemony-esque scent is fantastic!!

Fruit: Ornamental “grenades” when the seeds ripen inside the fruit in late summer/ early fall.

Foliage: Alternate, simple, elliptical to oblong; small to medium sized leaves are dark green with silvery underside. Very handsome effect when the wind blows, exposing the undersides of the leaves. Semi-evergreen in warmer climates. Noted they retained their leaves in Richmond VA amid -5 temps during winter 2018.

Growth Rate: Moderate to fast.

Drought Tolerance: Decent once established, but definitely prefers moist, well drained soils. Unlike other magnolias, this does well in wet areas, and is a perfect choice for the often over watered suburban landscape.

Soil Requirements: Requires acidic soils.

Light Requirements: Full sun to part shade.

Diseases and Insects: Nothing very serious. Can get chlorotic in alkaline soils.

Maintenance: Typical pruning to improve structure.

Uses: Excellent small tree for its summer flowers, leaf display, wet soil adaptability, and for maintaining a patio sized presence. Great residential landscape, park, or street tree.

Katsura Tree

Cercidiphyllum japonicum - Katsura Tree

Native Habitat: China, Japan


Mature Size: 40-60’ tall by 20-30’ wide.

Hardiness: Zones 4-8

Form/Shape: Pyramidal in youth, variable in maturity; some maintaining pyramidal habit, some wide spreading.

Bark: Brown and slightly shaggy. Attractive.

Flower: March to April; not showy.

Fruit: Small papery bean-like pods. Not showy.

Foliage:Emerge a lovely red/purple, transitioning to bluish green in summer. Bright yellow with apricot hues in autumn. Generic name gives away that they’re shaped like Redbud leaves. Fall leaves can also be sweetly fragranced.

Growth Rate: Medium to fast once established.

Drought Tolerance: Not nearly as good as some others on this list, but it is a worthy enough tree that a little supplemental watering should not preclude it.

Soil Requirements: Prefers rich, well drained, but is adaptable.

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Diseases and Insects: None serious.

Maintenance: Will absolutely  need supplemental watering to establish, and during hot, dry periods.

Uses: Could be used as a street tree. Perfect for residential landscapes, parks, and even commercial sites. A fantastic shape and size for residential lots. 

Bald Cypress

Taxodium distichum - Bald Cypress

Native Habitat: Eastern and Southern United States through Northern Mexico


Mature Size:60-80’ tall by 25-30’ wide

Hardiness: Zones 5-10

Form/Shape: Upright, pyramidal, symmetrical when young; flat topped when very old.

Bark: Smooth; reddish brown fibers when young; matures to reddish brown to gray-brown with shallow fissures.

Flower: Forms in late winter. Brownish tan panicle of small male cones; greenish purple female cones composed of fleshy scales form a 1” ball.

Fruit: Obovoid, hard, greenish purple to brown cone; attracts birds and squirrels. I think they’re pretty darn cool looking.

Foliage: Alternate, simple, lanceolate, needle-like leaves. Pale green needles turn coppery red in Fall; leaves are like a soft evergreen needle, but tree is deciduous.

Growth Rate: Moderate to fast

Drought Tolerance: For a tree that is at home in a swamp, it is surprising drought tolerant once established.

Soil Requirements: Grows in all soil types, and grows well in areas where where constant flooding may kill other plants.

Light Requirements: Full sun

Diseases and Insects: Leaf blight, sapwood rot’ root knot nematodes, gypsy moth larvae feeding, and mites. Sounds like a lot of ailments, but I have mostly observed that this is one tough tree, and little affects it.  


Uses: Wet sites!! This tree is fantastic in soggy areas with poor drainage. Perfect tree for BMP’s. 

Black Gum

Nyssa sylvatica - Black Gum, Black Tupelo

Native Habitat: Michigan, Texas and Eastern U.S.


Mature Size: 65-75’ Tall by 25-35’ wide

Hardiness: Zones 4b-9

Form/Shape: Symmetrical canopy; oval to pyramidal

Bark: Smooth; gray when young; matures to grayish black with deep fissures, ridges, and plates.

Flower: Blooms small and white in spring. Hardly noticeable.

Fruit: Small, blue and ovoid. Attracts birds.

Foliage: Alternate, simple. Green in spring, with BRILLIANT, showy red to deep purple in fall.

Growth Rate: Slow to moderate.

Drought Tolerance: Great once established!

Soil Requirements: Prefers moist, well drained, but will tolerate a variety of soil types, and even intermittent flooding during the dormant season.

Light Requirements: Full sun to part shade.

Diseases and Insects: Branch cankers, leaf spot, leaf blotch, Fusarium, Hypoxylon, Nectria.

Maintenance: Minimal pruning required. If used in a street tree setting, lower limbs will need to be removed to allow for vehicular or pedestrian clearance. Fruit litter can be messy, so it may not be the best choice near a building entrance.

Uses: Street tree. Shade tree or specimen. Look awesome in fall when clustered in small groups. Larger parking lot islands, buffer strips and median plantings.



“Invasive plants are species intentionally or accidentally introduced by human activity into a region in which they did not evolve and cause harm to natural resources, economic activity or humans. Invasive plants proliferate and displace native plant species, reduce wildlife habitat and alter natural processes. They also impose serious costs on our economy, which depends on benefits provided by nature. Economists have estimated that all invasive species - plants, animals and diseases - cause $120 billion in losses each year” (Pimentel, et al., 2005). Examples of these costs include degradation of vast areas of western rangelands, clogging of important waterways and increased effort to maintaining open power line rights-of-way.

In 1970, when I entered the wonderful world of Arboriculture, I had no idea about the impact of invasives on our ecosystems and the effects they have on our everyday lives. At the time, the main invasive I had experience with was the Elm bark beetle, the vector for Dutch Elm disease which was mainly responsible for wiping out the American Elm tree. 

The other was the Cattail (Typha latifoilia). As children we thought nothing of their invasiveness but only how cool they looked growing in the swamps and being used by birds for landing props. We also used them for torches during camp outs. Cattails grow tall, up to 10 feet, shading out native plants while producing massive amounts of leaf litter which acts as a mulch, further smothering and choking out native plants. Although considered an invasive, Cattail actually was a very useful resource throughout history. The cotton from Cattail was used as filling for pillows, chair cushions and even life jackets. Native Americans used the cotton from Cattails to line their moccasins and papoose boards.

Wavyleaf Grass

The Commonwealth has many invasive species and according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, it costs about one billion annually for control efforts. This includes, but is not limited to cattails, kudzu, oriental bittersweet, and a relatively new one (Oplismenus undulatifolius) also known as Wavyleaf Grass, which can completely take over the understory areas of forests by growing dense carpets that choke out seedlings and other ground layer species. (Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation)


Another highly invasive plant in the Commonwealth, is Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata). Who would have thought that something so beautiful would be so destructive? Kudzu was brought to the US by the Japanese for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. It captured the interests of many American gardeners because of the wonderful smelling flowers and large leaves. Its use was encouraged for erosion control and fodder for cattle. Growing as much as a foot per day and up to 60 feet per year, it quickly encapsulates anything in its path. Forests can be decimated by the vigorous growth as the vines shade out the understory plants and even the trees themselves. As with many introduced invasive species, its natural predators did not come with it, which allowed it to thrive in its new environment.

After eighteen years of research, Dr. James H. Miller of the U.S. Forest Service in Auburn, Alabama has found that one herbicide actually makes Kudzu grow better and several have no effect. He recommends repeated applications of herbicide for at least four years, while some may require ten years of repeated applications. While herbicides do work, conclusive eradication can be achieved by the use of goats. They can keep the kudzu contained and eventually will deplete the food storage capability of the root system resulting in successful control.

Oriental Bittersweet

Others who choose to make lemonade out of lemons use the resource to their advantage. Kudzu vines can be used to make baskets, to jelly from the blossoms, paper from the leaf fiber, and many other food dishes from the leaves.  Over its history, people have gotten creative with the vine, but one thing is for sure; it has proven to be a love it or hate it plant.

An invasive that often appears in wreaths is Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), not to be confused with Native bittersweet (Celastrus scandens, L). Oriental has yellow capsules around red fruit while American has orange capsules around red fruit. Spread by disposal of ornamental wreaths and birds, it grows like kudzu, encapsulating, girdling and shading out native plants and understory trees. The growth habit of Oriental Bittersweet is massive with vines up to 60 feet that are capable of pulling down trees and plants. Oriental Bittersweet can be controlled with frequent mowing along with herbicide treatment.

Giant Salvinia

Although there are a number of other invasive plants that I could mention, a final species I would like to reference is Giant Salvinia (Salvinia molesta). Native to northern Argentina and southeastern Brazil, Giant Salvinia is a very vigorous aquatic plant commonly found in lakes and ponds. A single plant can multiply to cover 40 square miles of surface area in only three months – or the length of a typical Mid Atlantic summer - causing a total elimination of oxygen in the water which then kills off any life below the surface. It was discovered in a small pond in Shenandoah County Virginia in 2004 and was successfully eradicated, but bares mention so we remain vigilant in discovering a reoccurrence. To give you an idea of the enormous impact it can have on the environment and the fiscal budget, Louisiana spends nearly 9 million dollars a year spraying aquatic nuisance vegetation with three quarters of that used for Salvinia control. 

The first step in controlling an invasive species is awareness and vigilance in control methodology. If you encounter any of the plants mentioned above, and prior to attempting to eradicate the invasives on your own, you may first want to consider contacting your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.  


Kevin E Beal, Arborist/Landscape Supervisor Senior

Facilities Management, University of Virginia

Cell-434-531-7214;  Office-434-924-8904

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Ex-Officio seat Trees Virginia


Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (2017) Virginia Invasive Plants Early Detection Species.  

Pimentel, D., Zuniga, R., & Morrison, D. (2005). Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States. Ecological Economics, 52(3), 273 - 288. Retrieved from: 

Tree Stewards are trained community volunteers committed to promoting healthy urban and rural forests in Virginia.  Tree Stewards provide training classes, educational programs and project in their communities intended to increase public awareness of the value of trees while teaching about trees and tree care.  With classroom training and hands-on practice, Tree Stewards are equipped to identify trees, counsel on tree selection, demonstrate proper tree planting and follow-up care, and guide removal of invasive plants that threaten trees.  

The Trees Virginia Tree Steward Mini-Grant Program is intended to help Virginia's Tree Steward groups fulfill their urban forestry responsibilities to their communities.

Trees Virginia is pleased to announce 2021-2022 Tree Steward Mini-Grant awards have been made to local Tree Steward groups!

The six all volunteer Virginia Tree Steward groups below will receive funds (on reimbursement basis) for education and outreach materials, development of brochures, maintenance tools and safety equipment and other items.

Arlington/Alexandria Tree Stewards
Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards
Roanoke Tree Stewards
Hopewell Tree Stewards
Front Royal Warren County Tree Stewards

Congratulations to these Tree Steward groups!


In 2011, the City of Richmond and Capital Trees formed a public/private partnership and transformed a city gateway paved in  concrete  into an inviting green passageway that cools the urban core,  cleans the urban air, and reduces pollutants from the stormwater flowing into  the James River.

Capital Trees was born when four Richmond area garden clubs assembled a team in 2009 to study the environmental benefits of urban landscapes and identify areas in which the clubs could enhance Richmond’s urban environment. Noting the site’s barren landscape and steep slope toward the river, Capital Trees and city officials selected the 14th Street corridor as a pilot project for collaboration in 2010. The area is a center of local and state government, tourism and entertainment and serves as a primary route for pedestrians and vehicles.

14th Street During ProjectPhase I enhancements, from Main Street to Bank Street, were completed in the fall of 2011. Contractors hauled away tons of concrete from the median and the east and west passageways.  Dead and dying street trees were removed from inadequately sized tree wells. On the east side of the block, contractors installed bio-retention planters bound by root barrier walls to capture  stormwater runoff that previously flowed down the street and into the city’s combined sewer outfalls.  The tree planters now serve as detention and treatment facilities, removing phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment prior to release.   The west and median tree wells were expanded and Swamp White Oaks (Quercus bicolor) and Ginkgos  (Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry’) now line both sides of the street and the median,  forming a beautiful double allee. The bio-retention planters, filled with a mix of 85% sand, 10% soil and 5% leaf compost, are under-planted with native Blue Flag Iris (Iris versiclolor) and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). 

14th Street BeforeIn the recently completed second phase, from Bank Street north to Broad Street, London Plane Trees (Platanus x acerifolia) were planted in expanded tree wells with  structured soils along the west side. A continuous planting of Ginkgoes has replaced the monolithic concrete median, visually tying the two blocks together. Low-impact development  storm water facilities, similar to the Phase I planters, run along the eastern curb line. 

Pedestrian lighting, improved sidewalks and educational signage completed the transformation of upper 14th Street. In addition to the tremendous aesthetic impact the plantings have had, the storm water facilities are providing much needed reduction in phosphorous loads (25-35%) and peak flow runoff (50%) to Richmond’s combined sewer outfalls. 

The success of the 14th Street project fostered a successful partnership between the city and Capital Trees, and has led to additional collaborations, including the renovation of Great Shiplock Park and the recently completed Low Line Gardens along the James River And Kanawha Canal and the Virginia Capital Trail in Shockoe Bottom. Capital Trees is now an independent 501(c)3 organization, with continuing support from the garden clubs, but also representation by leaders in Richmond’s civic, environmental, corporate, and creative communities. Capital Trees continues to work with city officials, local environmental groups, and corporate and private donors to envision, fund and implement projects that enhance the aesthetic and environmental health of Richmond.

Did You Know:

  • Trees are some of the oldest living organisms on earth: some bristle-cone pines are thought to be more than 5000 years old.

  • Well-maintained trees and shrubs can increase property value by up to 14%.

  • A mature tree removes almost 70 times more pollution than a newly planted tree.

  • A birdhouse hung on a young tree branch, does not move up the tree as the tree grows.

  • Trees are the largest living organisms on earth: some coastal redwoods are more than 360 feet tall.

  • Most trees do not have a tap root.

  • One large tree can provide a supply of oxygen for two people.

  • In one day, one large tree can lift up to 100 gallons of water out of the ground and discharge it into the air.

  • Every state has an official State Tree. Virginia adopted the flowering dogwood Cornaceae Cornus floridaas the State Tree on February 24, 1956.  The dogwood is well distributed throughout the...

  • Most tree roots are in the top 12 inches of soil.

  • Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and save 20-50 percent in heating energy.

Contact Trees Virginia

(434) 295 6401

900 Natural Resources Drive, Ste 800
Charlottesville, VA 22903

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American Grove     Virginia Department of Forestry     Mid-Atlantic Chapter International Society of Arboriculture