2019 Nature Camp Scholarships


2019 Joint Application

2019 Joint Application


Don’t Miss the Annual Meeting & Conference!

There’s still time to register for the this weekend’s Annual Meeting & Conference October 5-7 at the College of William and Mary School of Education. Go to vnps.org and click Register.  The weather should be great for all the walks and field trips planned such as Blackwater Ecological Preserve in Zuni -where you can see plants not found anywhere else in the state-  or a canoe paddle around Lake Matoaka, and so many more. Enjoy speakers, a dinner and raffle while you meet other members from around the state! Don’t miss it!

Wild Quinine

Wildflower of the Month – September 2018

John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society


Wild Quinine is a prairie plant, growing to 4 feet tall and producing long-lasting white flowers. A sturdy, fleshy taproot provides support and moisture, so the plant is drought tolerant. It can thrive in full sun on poor soil, even clay, but prefers moist meadows and open woods.

Tiny disk flowers are surrounded by even smaller ray flowers, loosely branched in a flat-topped cluster, somewhat resembling the flowers of cauliflower that are separated. This is one of those asters that produce inconspicuous or no ray flowers, like dandelions and ironweed. Wild Quinine has a long blooming period, from late spring through summer, and the blossoms make nice indoor flower arrangements. Seedheads are charcoal-gray, adding winter interest to the garden.


Landscape designer C. Colston Burrell recommends growing these plants in moist, rich soil in full sun or light shade. He says, “Use it as a specimen or as a filler in the middle of the border with rose mallow and coneflowers, or in a meadow with asters, goldenrods and ornamental grasses. This tough plant deserves a place in every garden, formal or wild.”

Leaves are largest at the base, with a rough, sandpapery feel and coarsely toothed edges. Deer don’t like the bitter-tasting, aromatic leaves, but bees, wasps, flies and beetles are frequent visitors for the nectar and pollen.

A native perennial, Wild Quinine grows in all regions of Virginia with the exception of the far southwest.  The plant grows naturally in prairies and dry woods from Virginia to Minnesota and south to Georgia and Arkansas.

The flowering tops were once used for “intermittent fevers” like malaria, hence the name Wild Quinine. The root was used as a diuretic for kidney and bladder problems and gonorrhea.  One study suggests Wild Quinine may stimulate the immune system.  It is a common addition to extracts of Purple Coneflower (E. purpurea), historically and in modern times.

For more information about native plants visit www.vnps.org.

By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Photo: Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) taken by Helen Hamilton

Purple Passionflower

Wildflower of the Month – August 2018

John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society

by Helen Hamilton

Purple Passionflower

Passiflora incarnata

Unbelievably, this tropical-looking flower is native to Virginia, and is common here in the southern Coastal Plain. Intricate, 3-inch lavender flowers have a fringe of wavy, hair-like segments, banded with purple and on top the 5 sepals and petals.  Three styles extend from the ovary in the center of the flower, a unique arrangement allowing only the largest bees to accomplish pollination. Leaves are toothed along the edges and 3-lobed.

Purple Passionflower is a host plant for the Variegated Fritillary butterfly.  Emerging early in the spring, female butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of this plant, and may produce as many as 3 broods through the year.  Caterpillars can be seen feeding on the leaves throughout the summer and into the fall. Yellow Passionflower (P. lutea), also native to Virginia, is not quite as showy, with smaller yellow flowers and a small black berry as fruit.

Growing in fields, pine woods and fencerows widely across Virginia, the plant occurs in southeastern U.S. and Bermuda and west to Oklahoma and Texas.  Any soil will do, rich is preferred.  Full sun produces more flowers, and the drainage can be moist to dry.   The plant has deep roots and will colonize to form groundcover.  In a controlled garden or flower bed, this viny plant should be located in a container, sunk into the ground.

Dedicated to share knowledge and record newly discovered species and created hybrids, Passiflora Society International has a website, annual meetings, and biannual newsletters.  There are over 500 species of the genus Passiflora, mostly vines, shrubs and trees of tropical America.   Native to South America and sold often in local nurseries, the leaves of non-native Blue Passionflower (P. caerulea) have 5 lobes, not 3. Many other cultivars and tropical species are available online and in the nursery trade.

The Passionflowers were discovered by a Roman Catholic friar in Mexico in the early 1600’s.   Symbolism to the Christian passion abounds.   The combined sepals and petals could represent 10 apostles (omitting Peter who denied, and Judas who betrayed), the five anthers = the five wounds, the column of the ovary = the cross, the stamens = the hammers, the three stigmas = the three nails.

 However, American Indians already used the plant in folk medicine and as an aphrodisiac, attaching a different meaning to the plant’s name.  Chemists have found drugs in Passionflower used to combat insomnia and anxiety.  A writer in southern Appalachia advises:  “After you have lived with someone for many years the little things they do start to bother you.  So you take some passionflower leaves and make you a tea.  Pretty soon you start to relax and the little things don’t bother you so much and you get along fine.” Passionflower tea and liquid extracts are widely available.

Another name, Maypop, comes from the hollow yellow fruits that pop when crushed.

The fruit is greenish-yellow, edible and makes a very good jelly.  In 1612 Captain John

Smith reported that in Virginia the Indians planted a wild fruit like a lemon, which begins to ripen in September.  It is the official state wildflower of Tennessee.


For more information about native plants visit www.vnps.org.

By Helen Hamilton, past-president of the John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Photo: Passionflower Vine (Passiflora incarnata) taken by Helen Hamilton


Wildflower Spot: Blue Mistflower

Photo taken by Helen Hamilton in the Williamsburg Botanical Garden July 2006

Photo taken by Helen Hamilton in the Williamsburg Botanical Garden July 2006

This native perennial is topped with masses of soft, fluffy violet-blue flowers. It’s a member of the Aster family, but there are no rays on the flowers. Each flowerhead has as many as 50 little florets, each with 5 tiny lobes and a long style that gives the flowers a fuzzy appearance. Other asters like black-eyed susans, dandelions, and sunflowers have both ray and disk flowers.

Mistflower grows 3-4 feet tall, and spreads by creeping roots. It can take over an entire border, but the roots are shallow and easy to pull out. The plant grows best in full sun to light shade, in moist conditions – it does not handle drought well but requires little attention. With a long blooming season – July through October, this perennial feeds insects well into fall. The leaves and stems die back during winter, but emerge again in early summer.

Blue Mistflower grows wild in woods edges, stream banks, ditches, meadows, and fields, in nearly every county in Virginia. It is also known as Wild Ageratum because the flowers resemble those of the shorter (6-12”) annual Dwarf Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum,) sold in garden centers as bedding plants.

Blue Mistflower is usually covered with butterflies and skippers sipping nectar and bees collecting pollen. The leaves grow opposite on the stems with soft toothed edges, 3” x 2”. Deer usually don’t bother this plant because the leaves have a bitter taste.

Other species with similar characteristics – flat-topped clusters of disk flowerheads – are closely related and include joe-pye-weeds, flat-topped goldenrods and bonesets. All are butterfly magnets.

For more information about native plants visit www.vnps.org.

By Helen Hamilton John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Photo: Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) taken by Helen Hamilton in the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, July 2006.

July 2018 Wildflower of the Month: Elderberry

By Helen Hamilton
John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society


Sambucus canadensis

This is a large, sprawling shrub growing 5-12 feet tall, one of the first to leaf out in the spring. Elderberry can be a showy ornamental for the garden, producing attractive flowers and berries all season long. It will tolerate a wide range of soils, but prefers moist, organic soils in full sun to part shade. The yellow compound leaves turn golden in the fall, if planted in full sun.

This native shrub can spread aggressively by root suckers, forming thickets, so it is best massed in naturalized areas or in shrub borders, roadside plantings, or as a screen, particularly in wet or low areas. Heavy pruning periodically will help control its growth. Elderberry is found in all counties of Virginia and is native throughout eastern U.S. and south to Mexico.
Large, flat-topped clusters of fragrant, star-shaped white flowers appear in June through July and are followed by clusters of reddish-purple to black, berry-like fruits (drupes) in late summer to fall. The flowers furnish nectar and pollen to insects in the spring and in the fall over 43 species of birds enjoy the fruits. This is a highly desirable plant for wildlife, and it is moderately resistant to damage by deer.
In West Virginia, concentrated fruit syrup is made as a wintertime remedy for colds and flu; studies have shown its effectiveness for treatment of colds and flu. While the bark, root, leaves and unripe berries are toxic, the fruits are edible when cooked, and may be used to make preserves, jellies, pies and wine. The flowers, not toxic, can be eaten in pancakes and fritters, and elderberry juice is a nice cold drink.
For more information about native plants visit www.vnps.org.

By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Photo: Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) taken by Helen Hamilton

Crossvine – June 2018 Wildflower of the Month

Crossvine Bignonia capreolata Wildflower of the Month June 2018

Bignonia capreolata
Photo by Helen Hamilton


By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

 Blooming profusely in coastal Virginia from late April through June, with red and yellow bell-shaped flowers, crossvine is a stunning addition to the home garden.  The funnel-shaped flowers varying from orange to red outside and trimmed with yellow, and glossy green leaves mark crossvine as a plant of unusual beauty.    Its native habitat is moist woods and the flowers can be seen from local roadways at the edge of woodlands.  Walking the Jamestown Loop Road in May and June, the blossoms appear at your feet with no apparent source nearby.  That’s because the vine has climbed to the top of the tallest trees to catch sunlight.

While it will reach a height of 50 feet, in the home garden it will grow on a trellis, fence or porch, rewarding the homeowner with cascades of flowers at eye level. Without a structure to climb upon, crossvine will spread across the ground.  Because the leaves remain on the vine over the winter, this species is a nice alternative groundcover to nonnative periwinkle and ivy.  It has appendages on the ends of its tendrils that cling to surfaces, so that it can climb a brick wall or wood arbor without support wires.

Its stems are small, and this woody vine grows fast once it has become established, spreading throughout the area from root suckers. The orange-flowered trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is in the same family and blooms after crossvine, in late summer through fall.

Flowering occurs as the daffodils fade; the bright reds and yellows complement the wild blue phlox and azaleas.  Brown seed pods appear in late fall; the paired leaves are semi-evergreen, turning bronze or copper in the fall and remaining on the vine through the winter.

Crossvine likes swampy forests, rock outcrops and limy river banks, growing in sun or part shade, in acid to alkaline soils.  Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds love the flowers.  The cut stem shows a cross pattern, which is the source for the common name.

It is deer resistant, and there are no serious disease or insect problems associated with crossvine.  This plant is a native alternative to invasive nonnative English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, and the Asian wisterias.

For more information about native plants visit www.vnps.org.

By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Photo: Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) taken by Helen Hamilton



Sassafras – May 2018 Wildflower of the Month

Sassafras edited

SASSAFRAS (Sassafras albidum)

By Helen Hamilton

This tree is unique for its three distinctive leaf shapes: entire, mitten-shaped, and three-lobed, all on the same tree. In mid-April little bunches of yellow-green flower clusters are scattered profusely over the tree, drooping as the leaves emerge.  The green twigs, bark and leaves carry aromatic oils – spicy-fragrant when crushed or rubbed.   Round fruits appear in mid-summer, turning dark blue on scarlet stalks; the leaves have outstanding color in the fall.

Sassafras is a moderately fast growing, small to medium-sized tree, valued for fragrant spring flowers, horizontal branching pattern, and striking fall color. It requires little care and can be a single specimen tree or planted in masses.

Found on virtually all soil types, Sassafras is native to every county in Virginia, its range extending from southern Maine to Michigan and Missouri, and south to Florida and east Texas.  It is a pioneer species on abandoned fields, along fence rows, and on dry ridges and upper slopes, especially following fire, often forming thickets from underground runners of parent trees, but grows best in open woods on moist, well-drained, sandy loam soils.

The bark, twigs, and leaves of sassafras are important foods for wildlife in some areas. Deer and rabbits browse the twigs in the winter and the leaves and succulent growth during spring and summer. Fruits are eaten by songbirds.

The durable coarse lumber was once used for barrels, buckets, posts, and fuel.  The greenish twigs and leafstalks have a pleasant, spicy, slightly gummy taste.   Aromatic oils in the roots and bark of sassafras have been used in many medicinal and cosmetic products.  Explorers and colonists thought the aromatic root bark was a panacea, or cure-all, for diseases and shipped quantities to Europe. Sassafras roots provided the original flavoring for root beer, and were used until 1960, when certain compounds in the roots were found to be carcinogenic.  Root beer is now flavored artificially.

Sassafras apparently is the American Indian name used by the Spanish and French settlers in Florida in the middle of the 16th century. This is the northernmost New World representative of the laurel family, an important source of tropical timbers.

Wild Ginger – May 2018 Wildflower of the Month


By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

The gingers growing in the woods in our area are not related to the ginger root sold in stores. Garden ginger (Zingiber officinale) is native to Southeast Asia, China, India and New Guinea and is grown worldwide for uses as food and medicine. Information is available online about how to grow your own ginger plant in the home garden, using the knobby roots from the grocery.

Two species of ginger are found in our local woodlands, one is deciduous, the other evergreen. The kidney-shaped leaves of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) are deciduous.   They are soft to the touch, densely short-hairy, evenly green, and grow in pairs.  Since it spreads via long rhizomes, Wild Ginger sometimes grows in dense stands.   The heart-shaped leaves of Heartleaf Ginger (Hexastylis virginica), in contrast, are leathery, lustrous, and evergreen.  Each plant produces only one leaf each year, rather than a pair of leaves.  They are often mottled with silvery veining and can develop a purple tinge in winter.  They grow as single leaves, rather than in pairs.

The rootstocks and sometimes the leaves (depending on rainfall) of both species have a ginger-like aroma and a hot spicy taste.  The flowers of both are “little brown jugs”, growing beneath the leaves and hugging the ground (often hidden beneath leaf litter).  They are pollinated by gnats, beetles, and the flies of March and April.

Wild Ginger is widely distributed in the eastern and central U.S., but Heartleaf Ginger is restricted to the southeastern states, ranging from Virginia and North Carolina westward to eastern parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.  Both gingers are widely distributed throughout Virginia, but they grow in markedly different soil types.  Wild Ginger thrives in nutrient-rich soils, such as those found in calcareous ravines in the Coastal Plain; Heartleaf Ginger typically grows in acidic soils of moist to dry upland woods.

You can test the identity of a wild ginger by probing just below the ground with a finger and scratching the rhizome. A ginger-like smell on your finger will be proof. Native Americans and early settlers used the rhizome to flavor foods much as real ginger is used. There are numerous accounts of Native Americans using wild ginger to protect those who ate spoiled meat or food that might be poisoned.  The plant has been shown to have certain antimicrobial properties, supporting early reports of its medicinal properties in the treatment of digestive disorders, to produce abortion, to reduce fever and for coughs and sore throats.

The genus “Hexastylis” is named from the Greek “hex” for six and “stylus” for style, referring to six distinct styles in a flower (in contrast to a single style with six lobes in Asarum.)  For many years taxonomists have differed on whether the various species of evergreen gingers should be recognized as a separate genus (Hexastylis) or treated as species of the genus Asarum. That dispute continues today.  Some recent data lends support to their separation into two genera, and both names appear in the Flora of Virginia 

To grow gingers in the home garden, provide a good, humus-rich soil in full or dappled shade.  Propagation is by division in the spring, root-cuttings, and seed.  Gingers are great ground covers under shrubbery or along woodland pathways, and they can withstand dry conditions.


Photos: Heartleaf Ginger (Hexastylis virginica) taken by Helen Hamilton