Virginia Master Naturalist chapter publishes guide to the state’s poisonous plants

pokeweek

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is one of the poisonous plants highlighted in the new guidebook. Photo by Brenda Clements Jones, Old Rag Chapter, Virginia Master Naturalists.

Just in time for the summer months when more people venture into the outdoors — and come into contact with poison ivy and other plants that are best avoided — there is a new reference guide to some of Virginia’s poisonous plants.

The Socrates Project: Poisonous Plants in Virginia is a collaborative effort between the Virginia Master Naturalist Program and Virginia Cooperative Extension.

“This project is the first of its kind in a couple of ways. It’s the first publication of its kind focused on poisonous plants in Virginia, and it was a totally volunteer-driven effort,” said Michelle Prysby, statewide coordinator of the Virginia Master Naturalist Program and Extension associate for Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

The core group of volunteers who produced the guide was led by Alfred Goossens of the Old Rag Master Naturalists chapter, which serves Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Madison, Orange, and Rappahannock counties. He saw the need for the project owing to the high incidence of contacts with poisonous plants, many of which land people in emergency rooms, a fact he confirmed with the director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center.

Recent reports that the noxious giant hogweed had been spotted in Clarke County, Virginia, which was confirmed by Virginia Tech researchers, has raised additional interest in poisonous plants. Goossens had already planned to include giant hogweed in the publication, as he was familiar with it having grown up in Holland.

Once Goossens enlisted the support of his chapter members, the project took about two years to complete. Volunteers settled on the format, wrote the data sheets for the individual plants, and contributed photographs. There was also a peer-review process to ensure the accuracy of the material.

In addition to Prysby’s support, Senior Extension Agent Adam Downing wrote one of the data sheets and leveraged his connections to help with the publication. “This project will benefit many Virginians by informing them of the realistic hazards with our key poisonous plants,” he said. “We don’t want to cause alarm, but do want people to be able to enjoy the outdoors by being better informed of a few plants to notice and treat appropriately.”

In order to ensure that people remain aware of which plants to watch for, Goossens is also working with Master Naturalist chapters across the state on a second edition of the guide that will include additional poisonous species.

“Now it’s a Virginia project. It changed from just the Piedmont to all of Virginia because people all over the state need this info,” Goossens said.

“The Socrates Project: Poisonous Plants in Virginia,” publication number CNRE-13NP, is available as a downloadable pdf file at the Virginia Cooperative Extension website (ext.vt.edu). For more information on the project, contact the team at socratesormn@gmail.com.

– Written by Krista Timney

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Virginia Tech scientists who identified dangerous Giant Hogweed in Clarke County hopeful that it will be contained

Corey Childs and Giant Hogweed

Corey Childs, an Extension agent housed in Warren County in the northern Shenandoah Valley, visited the Clarke County site Monday to collect Giant Hogweed samples for the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech researchers who helped identify the dangerous Giant Hogweed plants in Clarke County, Virginia, want residents to stay on the lookout for the plant with toxic sap that can cause severe burns — but also stressed that the weeds are believed to have been planted intentionally decades ago and haven’t spread in the years since.

“It’s a dangerous plant but I’m not overly concerned about it. This seems to be an isolated incident,” said Virginia Tech’s Michael Flessner, an assistant professor and extension weed science specialist.

Giant Hogweed is a Tier 1 Noxious Weed in Virginia and should be reported to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Prior to last week it had not been confirmed in the state. Flessner worked with Jordan Metzgar, curator of the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech, and Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Mark Sutphin to identify the plant last week.

Property owners who think they spot Giant Hogweed should not panic, Metzgar said. He stressed that Giant Hogweed, with its white, umbrella-shaped-flower clusters, looks very similar in appearance to cow parsnip, a plant that’s widespread and native to Virginia. Giant Hogweed can grow to be up to 14 feet tall while cow parsnip is generally shorter.

Cow parsnip can also cause a mild skin rash but isn’t nearly as dangerous as Giant Hogweed.

Anyone who suspects they have found Giant Hogweed should take photos, check online to compare the plant to photos, and then contact a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

No one should mow or use a weed trimmer to remove either Giant Hogweed or cow parsnip without wearing proper covering and safety gear, Flessner said.

Giant Hogweed is found in a number of other states, primarily to the north of Virginia.

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Red salamander named official salamander of Virginia, thanks to 4-H group

red salamander

Did you know Virginia has more than 40 emblems that represent the state’s cultural heritage and natural resources, including the beloved northern cardinal, big-eared bat, tiger swallowtail butterfly, and nelsonite, the official rock of Virginia.

Recently, another state emblem was signed into law – the red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber). The species is now Virginia’s official state salamander. The striking crimson amphibian was selected because of its beautiful coloration, widespread distribution throughout the commonwealth, and its ability to raise awareness about the conservation of a species whose reclusive habits make it difficult for many people to appreciate them.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, sponsored the bill at the urging of young conservationists affiliated with Salamander Savers, an ecological-minded 4-H group in the city whose members range in age from 8 to 18. The youth, who also received support from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Herpetological Society, and many naturalists and teachers, have been working for two years to raise awareness about salamanders.

“I am excited to introduce these bright young activists to the civic process,” Filler-Corn told WHSV.com news. “It is my hope that this is just the beginning of their engagement with government and that they will continue their advocacy for years to come.”

4-H is the youth development education program of Virginia Cooperative Extension. Through 4-H, young people are encouraged to participate in a variety of activities that emphasize 4-H’s “learning by doing” philosophy of youth development. Administered through the state’s land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, 4-H is the first experience many young people have with higher education.

The Salamander Savers experienced many challenges along the way. Last year, the 4-H’ers visited the capitol in Richmond more than seven times to meet with legislators. Each trip took about six hours. The students even drew pictures of the salamander on cards, delivering them to lawmakers as part of their lobbying effort.

The bill passed 96-1 in the House of Delegates and 39-1 by the Senate.

This 4-H group was founded in response to the dredge of a Fairfax lake in 2015. Three children were inspired to save the salamanders from the surrounding lake, appealing to local government officials for help. The 4-H members attended meetings, advocated in front of adults, and fought to save the lake’s vernal pools.

“When our lake was dredged, my kids asked me questions that I wasn’t able to answer. As a home-schooling mother, I was determined to try to find answers to their questions,” said Anna Kim, the 4-H club’s adult leader, and mother of Jonah Kim, 14, the club’s president.

In addition, Kim said that her son wanted to give a voice to the animals who could not speak for themselves.

“We chose the red salamander because it lives throughout Virginia,” said the younger Kim. “We thought it was easily recognizable and would be interesting to people who have never seen a salamander.”

The amphibian is a member of the Plethodontidae family, a group of lungless salamanders that breathe through their skin. Because of their unique respiration, their environment needs to be free of toxins or they will absorb the pollutants through their skin. By bringing attention to the red salamander, Salamander Savers members hope to raise awareness about the 56 species that reside in Virginia.

—  Written by Amy Painter

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Delbert O’Meara inducted to Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Hall of Fame

Alan Grant, Delbert O'Meara, and Dixie Watts Dalton

Delbert O’Meara (center) was inducted to the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Hall of Fame at the annual college alumni awards ceremony. He is pictured with Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Dixie Watts Dalton, president of the college’s alumni organization.

Delbert O’Meara, of Walters, Virginia, a 1962 graduate of animal science and a 1967 graduate of agricultural education, was inducted to the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Hall of Fame on April 20, 2018, at the annual college alumni awards ceremony.

O’Meara was born a year before the beginning of World War II and was raised on a farm in Loudoun County. As a youngster, he was an active 4-H member. Throughout his formative years, he enjoyed working with livestock. This led him to become the Sears and Roebuck Pig Chair and a state 4-H poultry winner. O’Meara also helped to establish the Prince William County Fair, the Fredericksburg County Fair, and the State Fair of Virginia. It was through these accomplishments that his early leadership skills were recognized, and he earned a trip to attend the National 4-H Congress in Chicago.

The young man’s 4-H experiences helped him develop numerous programs that are vital aspects of youth development today. These include the State 4-H Fair, the creation of 4-H centers across the commonwealth, and the State 4-H Horse Project. In addition, he was instrumental in establishing partnerships with the Virginia land-use taxation program and agricultural commodity groups, which serve as the backbone of Virginia’s agriculture. Following his youthful passion for 4-H livestock judging teams, O’Meara has served as a member of the National 4-H Livestock Contest for more than 50 years, and continues to attend the event to this day.

This alumnus has not only shown himself to be dedicated to the youth of the state and to 4-H, but also to his fellow and future Extension agents. He began his career in Extension in 1962 with the Nansemond County Office and went on to work in the Southeast District Office in a variety of positions until his early retirement in 1991. Throughout his career in Extension, O’Meara has been a mentor, working with both the Virginia and National County Agents Association on many programs for staff development. In conjunction with his work as a mentor in Virginia, he helped provide professional development for staff and new agents, starting the Agricultural and Extension Agent Leadership Fund. Delbert also brought Virginia Cooperative Extension to the national stage when he helped to plan and host the National Extension Meeting in Virginia in 1976.

In addition to his contributions of time and effort, O’Meara has made a number of philanthropic gifts to Virginia Tech and is a Distinguished Benefactor in Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim Society.  

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Virginia Tech professor and 4-H youth team up to establish Community and 4-H Center in Senegal

4-H Senegal members help bring food to the new center in Santamba.

4-H Senegal members help bring food to the new center in Santamba.

After years of fundraising and collaboration, the Samuel and Eleanor Morris Community and 4-H Center has been established in Santamba, Senegal, an inland village in the southern region, just above the Gambia.

The center, designed to benefit the entire community, will become a place for youth and adults to develop leadership skills and move forward together.

The center was made possible through the work and financial support of many, including the Morris family, the Virginia 4-H program, the USAID Education and Research in Agriculture (ERA) project management team, and Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences professor Ozzie Abaye, whose participation was instrumental. For Abaye, her work with the Santamba community was inspired by her parents and mentors, Samuel and Eleanor Morris, for whom the center was named.

“They dedicated their lives to public service and emphasized education as the tool for successful individual development and community-building,” said Abaye, explaining why her parents were a perfect fit for the naming of the center.

The center, which will serve around 300 people, is designed as a venue for a variety of social and business activities, providing a meeting room and a food preparation space. It will meet the needs of the Santamba community and will be led by a community-elected management team.

The center will also be key to the continued development of 4-H Senegal as a safe space for youth to gather and learn. 4-H Senegal was established to motivate young people to understand agriculture, to be involved in family farms, and to join in with their communities. The program was officially launched two years ago and now has a home in the center.

Katlyn Smith, a Virginia Tech student interested in youth development, saw the potential for a 4-H program early on. Smith traveled to Senegal with Abaye.

“I feel that 4-H is really going to help bring the community together, and I know the youth are going to be so appreciative to have something like 4-H to participate in,” Smith said following her trip to Senegal.

While there, she worked with children, playing games, gardening, and leading community service projects. This work was central to the early stages of 4-H Senegal.

When efforts on the Senegal project began, the center captured the hearts of Virginia 4-H’ers. The 4-H youth selected “Cents for Senegal” as their 2016 State 4-H Congress charity campaign – an effort that would become the group’s highest grossing youth campaign, more than doubling the initial goal. This was largely because of the personal connections many 4-H’ers made with Bineta Guisse, the Senegalese 4-H coordinator and outreach officer who visited Virginia during last year’s 4-H Congress.

Guisse’s visit was so impactful that one 4-H’er was inspired to donate all proceeds from the sale of her 4-H lamb project. Elizabeth Koranek from Madison County donated $2,331 after learning about the Senegalese woman’s hopes for the center.

Virginia 4-H’ers showed their dedication to their peers in Senegal while demonstrating the impact young people can make. The Virginia 4-H funds were used to pour cement, paint the center, and plant trees.

The Samuel and Eleanor Morris Community and 4-H Center is advancing the efforts of USAID/ERA, Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Virginia 4-H. For the village of Santamba, the center will be a home for education and community.

— Written by Caroline Sutphin

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