Meet New Arlington County Natural Resources Specialist

Jennifer Soles Shares Alerts on Newly Discovered Invasive Plants

Jennifer Soles
Photo by Eden Brown/The Connection

By Extension Master Gardener Elaine L. Mills
Plant Photographs by Jennifer Soles

In March 2020, Jennifer Soles was appointed to the position of Natural Resources Specialist for Arlington County, although she says that “Invasive Plant Coordinator” would be a more descriptive job title.  She is eminently qualified for her new position as she previously served as a naturalist at the Gulf Branch Nature Center for 10 years and led monthly invasive removal events there.

Among the tasks Jen will be undertaking in her this position is a review of the county-wide herbicide use policy. She believes it is important to distinguish the use of these chemicals for ecological concerns as opposed to ornamental reasons, such as the maintenance of a golf course. For invasive plants that are difficult to control, it is imperative, she says, to consider all of the alternatives.

Phyllostachys aurea (golden or fishpole bamboo)
Photo by BambooJerry on Wikimedia

As a long-term goal, Jen would also like the county to consider passing an ordinance regarding control of invasive bamboo, such as Phyllostachys aurea (golden or fishpole bamboo). The state of Virginia has ruled that jurisdictions could potentially hold legally responsible residents who do not control the plant’s spread beyond the bounds of their individual properties, imposing fines as high as $200 over the course of a year.

A top item on Jen’s agenda is updating Arlington County’s list of “Non-Native Invasive Plants,” which has not been revised since 2015. She already has in mind the addition of five invasive plants, which, up until recently, had not been found in the county. While they are troublesome in North and South Carolina and have been detected in scattered locations in Maryland and Virginia, they are now being recognized locally by contractors engaged in invasive removal for Arlington based on their work throughout the broader region.

Jen designates the following plants, which are non-native escapees from gardens, as Early Detection/Rapid Response (EDRR) species that should be controlled quickly to limit their spread in natural areas.

Bushkiller (Cayratia japonica)

Bushkiller (Cayratia japonica) Photo © Jennifer Soles

Sometimes confused with our native Virginia Creeper, another five-leaflet vine, Bushkiller (Cayratia japonica), is an aggressive vine originally from Australia and Asia. It was first reported in the City of Chesapeake, Virginia in 1993, and in 2019 was found in a natural area bordering Alcova Heights in Arlington. See a video by Alonso Abugattas from his Capital Naturalist site:

Wavyleaf Basketgrass (Oplismenus undulatifolius)

Wavyleaf Basketgrass (Oplismenus undulatifolius)  Photo © Jennifer Soles

Wavyleaf Basketgrass (Oplismenus undulatifolius), an introduced subspecies of native basketgrass, has spread to cover thousands of acres of public and private land in Maryland and Virginia since its initial discovery in Patapsco Valley State Park in the 1990s. In 2016, a contractor with the county removed a single plant found in Donaldson Run Park. It is assumed that the sticky seeds may have entered Arlington from a neighboring jurisdiction, perhaps along the Potomac River. Tiny patches of it have now been spotted in four parks in Arlington, including Potomac Overlook, Ft. C. F. Smith, Zachary Taylor, and Bluemont.

Chameleon Plant (Houttuynia cordata)

Chameleon Plant, also known as Rainbow Plant or Fish Leaf (Houttuynia cordata), is still available in the horticulture trade and, despite concerns about its invasive tendency, is being used as a ground cover in a condominium community garden near Barcroft Park. It is now present in a 5’ x 15’ patch in Bluemont Junction Park and there are concerns about controlling it as it is difficult to kill chemically. Repeated treatments of a strong 5 percent solution are required. Because any fragment will root, soil three feet below the surface must be removed, making mechanical removal a non-starter for large patches.

Java Dropwort or Water Celery (Oenanthe javanica)

Java Dropwort Photo by Kenpei/Wikipedia

Java Dropwort, sometimes referred to as Water Celery, (Oenanthe javanica), an edible Asian herb plant in the carrot family that looks something like Sweet Cecily, has been found at Lucky Run near Four Mile Run and in a puddle by the trail at Fort C. F. Smith. This invasive, which frequents low lying areas and stream bank edges, is challenging to control as it can spread during storm events. Hand weeding can also result in small pieces floating downstream. Chemical treatment must be done with carefully selected herbicides and timing due to its proximity to water.

Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon)

The fifth species of concern is Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon), a Eurasian native in the mint family that is sometimes used as a substitute for English ivy. The county began working to remove the plant from ornamental plantings around the county in 2016 when its ranking was changed from “threat” to “invasive.” Recently, it has spread from a home landscape into adjacent Stratford Park. It may also be present in other parks that back up to yards where it is planted. Jen is least worried about this plant as the infestation is small enough that it can be eradicated and controlled, and it is less aggressive than some of the others.

This fall, Jen scheduled socially-distanced drop-by training sessions prior to work parties at the various Master Gardener demonstration gardens in order for Extension Master Gardeners to be introduced to these EDRR species. By working with Tree Stewards and Master Naturalists as well, Jen hopes that a significant number of people who are already trained to observe plants will be able to spot any infestations in natural reports and report them to her for rapid removal. While her focus is on detection of the plants in Arlington County, a number of them are also present in neighboring jurisdictions. Yellow Archangel and Java Dropwort are on the list of invasive plants in Alexandria, and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has identified Wavyleaf Basketgrass in both Alexandria and Fairfax County.

Become a Volunteer

invasive plantsJoin the Remove Invasive Plants (RiP) volunteer group in Arlington and support hands-on plants removal, education and surveys/mapping.

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