‘Intricate Relationships’ matter

The event

The RLEP-hosted presentation begins at 2 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 29) at the Theatre in Washington. Admission is free. Contact Rick or Kaye Kohler – RLEP’s president and executive director, respectively – at 540-675-1373 with any questions about the event.

The perpetual friction between “come-heres” and “from-heres” in Rappahannock County is not limited to humans.

Plants and animals that are “from here” – natives like bobwhite quail, falcons, blue stem grass and foxes – are locked in constant struggle with such invasive “come-heres” as coyotes, fescue, tree-of-heaven and an imported white-tailed deer population of hazardous proportions.

Birder, naturalist and longtime Rappahannock resident Bruce Jones says that without some help from the original invaders – us – our most precious “natives” may be snuffed out by foreign wildlife.

This Sunday (Jan. 29) at 2 p.m. at the Theatre in Washington, Jones will discuss the direct relationship between native plants that have existed here for centuries, and the butterflies, bees, birds and animals that grew up depending on them. His presentation, hosted by the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP), is called “The Intricate Relationships in Nature,” and his focus is on how native plants attract and promote native wildlife.

“Plants make it all happen,” Jones explains, looking out on the eight acres of native grasses, shrubs and flowers he and his wife, Susan, introduced to a large fenced-in portion of their Long Mountain Road property over the last 15 years. By eradicating invasive species of plants like European fescue and the Asian tree-of-heaven, or ailanthus – especially by restricting deer access with an eight-foot-high fence – and importing native plants, Susan and Bruce have established a buzzing sanctuary for native wildlife.

Even world-renowned master beekeeper Ann Harman, dubbed the “Queen of Bees of Virginia,” has caught the buzz. Jones says that Harman visited his pollinator garden twice the past two years to observe and photograph the myriad bee species that frequent his nectar-producing plants.

Besides bees, Jones says the reintroduced native plants also brought a plethora of native butterflies to his property, and that those insects in turn attract native birds and other species. For example, at the start of his ecological makeover on Long Mountain Road, Jones couldn’t find a single gray catbird (a somewhat common migratory bird) on the property; now Jones boasts the presence of 12 to 14 nesting pairs of the bird.

“Bruce is such a great resource for us,” RLEP president Rick Kohler said. “Our goal is to preserve the natural and rural character of Rappahannock, and he’s done it – is doing it – and can show us just how he did it. He is an expert on the local flora and fauna, and truly understands what it takes to transform the land to attract the creatures that are supposed to be here.”

A male eastern bluebird (left) flaunts his catch – a caterpillar – at Bruce Jones’ native plant mecca on Long Mountain Road. A caterpillar (middle) of the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly prepares to feed on an autumn leaf. A bumblebee (right) feasts on a nectar-rich passion flower in Jones’ pollinator garden, while not-coincidentally collecting pollen to be transferred to other flowers.Bruce Jones
An eastern male bluebird (left) flaunts his catch – a caterpillar – at Bruce Jones’ native plant mecca on Long Mountain Road. A caterpillar (middle) of the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly prepares to feed on an autumn leaf. A bumblebee (right) feasts on a nectar-rich passion flower in Jones’ pollinator garden, while not-coincidentally collecting pollen to be transferred to other flowers.

“It’s an intricate relationship, because they [plants, insects and animals] eat each other, but it’s in balance,” Jones said, noting that he hopes to persuade those who attend his presentation Sunday to set aside a small piece of land – even if it’s just 10 feet by 10 feet – and let it go. “But try to keep the invasives out. And in two years, you’re going to have butterflies, you’re going to have insects, you’re going to have birds sitting there. You’re going to have something there that wasn’t there before. And then watch it. Study it. I don’t mean study it on your hands and knees with a microscope, but watch what comes. Stick in a couple native plants that are nectar producing, and watch what comes to sit on it.”

Jones’ advice: “Learn about what’s supposed to be here, how things were before we came onto the scene. What’s native? What isn’t? And then work toward nourishing the natives and getting rid of the nonnatives.”

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