Category Archives: Lawn & Garden

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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Scientists determine key factors of honeybee decline

Though a contributing factor, farmer-applied pesticides are not the primary cause of honeybee colony loss in Virginia, according to Virginia Tech scientists Richard Fell and Carlyle Brewster.bees

The scientists recently took wax, pollen, and bee samples from more than 110 hives across the state and have analyzed about half of them for pesticide residues.

“We did not find excessive amounts of agricultural pesticides in the hives, but we did find a significant amount of beekeeper-applied miticide,” said Fell, professor emeritus of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Intended to kill the invasive, parasitic varroa mite, miticides can also be damaging to bees. Fell urged beekeepers to sample their colonies to determine mite infestation levels before treating. If treatment is necessary, beekeepers should use a miticide that does not cause residue problems, such as formic acid.

As more information emerges on the spread of the Zika virus, Fell also encouraged the public to be mindful that mosquito pesticides are toxic to honeybees and should only be applied when absolutely necessary.

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Exploring genetics to combat malaria and Zika

The Zika virus has quickly become a major health threat, and researchers at Virginia Tech are looking for ways to curtail its spread.

Fralin Life Science Institute’s Vector-Borne Disease Research Group team members, from left: Zhijian “Jake” Tu, professor of biochemistry; Brantley Hall, biochemistry graduate student; Atashi Sharma, entomology graduate student; and Igor Sharakhov, associate professor of entomology

Fralin Life Science Institute’s Vector-Borne Disease Research Group team members, from left: Zhijian “Jake” Tu, professor of biochemistry; Brantley Hall, biochemistry graduate student; Atashi Sharma, entomology graduate student; and Igor Sharakhov, associate professor of entomology

The virus, which is primarily spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito, has been passed on to a growing number of Americans since early 2016, and the World Health Organization has declared it a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Biochemist Zhijian “Jake”  Tu is one of several Virginia Tech researchers zeroing in on the Zika virus. Tu is studying genes that turn biting female mosquitoes into males, and he is exploring genetic strategies to stop the transmission of the Zika virus by reducing the number of female mosquitoes. Male mosquitoes do not bite and are harmless to humans, while female mosquitoes bite humans to get the blood they need for egg production.

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Horticulture program in Virginia Beach reaches over 6,200 students

In Virginia Beach, raising awareness in public schools about the importance of environmental sustainability is a city goal. With nearly 68,000 school-age children in Virginia Beach Public Schools and only one horticulture class offered in Virginia Beach Public Schools and one college Horticulture program regionally, it’s impossible to provide sustainable horticulture education to every student.

Virginia Beach Cooperative Extension sought to fill some of that gap, through five events that succeeded in reaching over 6,200 students.

First and second graders in public schools throughout Virginia Beach participated in Ready, Set, Grow, which taught the importance of plants and how they grow.

Junior Master Gardener Camp taught environmental awareness to underserved youth through Parks and Recreation’s Rehabilitation Program.

Farm Days, sponsored by the Virginia Dare Soil and Water Conservation District, taught students about beneficial insects and habitat preservation.

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Danville juvenile detainees sow a better future with newfound horticulture skills

At the W. W. Moore Juvenile Detention facility in Danville, detained youths are being offered the chance at a green thumb, sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension. It’s an opportunity that, for some, can change the course of their future.

Jane Clardy, a former teacher and founder of the facility’s 10-week horticulture program, ran into a former detainee and student, who landed a recurring construction job but had hopes of a future in landscaping.

“He told me he always shows his horticulture certificate when he applies and is interviewed,” Clardy said of the encounter. “He told me his goal is to one day be his own boss and have a landscaping company. I smiled for two straight hours after seeing him.”

The program focuses on basic knowledge related to how plants grow, effective plant care strategies, and the importance of proper plant management practices. Holding these basic skills helps make the youth more attractive to an employer in plant nurseries, lawn care companies, and various grounds maintenance careers.

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