The Poison Plants

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


The forest at Wintergreen has entered the green “jungle” phase of the year where each plant is packed tightly together fighting for dominance. Once we hit this phase, differentiating between one green plant and another is quite difficult at a quick glance as you hike down the trails. Some plants such as poison ivy deliver consequences if you fail to identify it. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will cover the basics in identifying poison ivy, oak and sumac and how to treat yourself in the field if you make contact.

 

Poison Ivy

 

There are three species of poisonous plants to be attentive to as you walk the woods in Virginia. The primary plant you need to learn is poison ivy. As the old saying goes, “leaves of three, let it be”, poison ivy has a leaf with three leaflets which can be ovate or irregularly toothed. It usually appears vinelike with obvious hairs on the mature vines but can be in bush form. It will fruit in greenish white clusters in late summer persisting into winter.

 

Poison Oak

 

Poison oak is the other plant that shares similarities with poison ivy. It has a leaf with three leaflets but the leaves are shaped similar to a white oak instead of the ovate or toothed leaf of poison ivy. Another significant difference between the species is that poison oak is erect and bush-like, usually 2-4 feet tall. It has greenish white fruit clusters similar to poison ivy but fruits in the spring as opposed to late summer.

 

Poison Sumac

 

Poison sumac differs greatly from the other poison species located in Virginia. It is a small woody shrub up to 15 feet. The leaves are compound with 7-13 ovate leaflets. The fruit is small white drupes that hang in clusters and emerge in late summer. The bark is smooth splotchy gray bark with horizontal lenticels. Broken or cut stems will ooze a dark colored sap.

The distribution of these species across the state also aids in identification. Far and away the most common of the three at Wintergreen will be poison ivy. It is found at all elevations, aspects and soil types. Poison oak can be found at Wintergreen but is rare and not in our upper elevations. Poison sumac is very rare in the state of Virginia and mostly documented in the swamps on the coastal portions of the state. There are no documented observances of poison sumac at Wintergreen.

Poison from these three plants come from oily sap called urushiol. The reaction to this toxin is a form of contact dermatitis. Sensitivity to this irritant can fluctuate over time, but everyone will have some reaction varying from very mild to red, itchy rash that requires medical care. This reaction comes from direct contact. Oils spread via clothing, tools, etc. or from inhalation when poison ivy is accidentally burned. Rashes may take longer to occur in particular areas of the body such as feet, which feature thick skin or wrists, which have a thinner layer of skin.

 

Jewelweed

 

Treatment of the rashes are easy and well documented when you have the luxury of medical professionals, previous experience or internet searches, but it is sometimes imperative to treat the contact site in the field. Nature has provided some natural remedies. Jewelweed is the best natural deterrent readily available. Jewelweed can be found at most moist shady areas of Wintergreen. Crush the stalk into a wet paste and apply to the contact areas. Allow the applied jewelweed to sit on the skin for a couple minutes. Another readily found remedy is the common invasive plantain. Turning this leaf into a paste-like substance and applied to the skin can deter the affects of the urushiol. Another more mechanical method I use is finding a nearby water source and scouring the contact site with small river rocks and debris. This scouring tends to remove all oils from the skin and prevent any sort of rash. 

Fear not the poison plants of Wintergreen but know how to identify plants in our green “jungle”. Quick mitigation of potential contact with these plants can certainly save you weeks of itchy painful rashes.

Snakes With Similarities

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


As I watched a 3-foot black ratsnake slither across my back porch and through the branches of a nearby rhododendron, I am reminded that snake season is definitely upon us. Calls are coming in more frequently and sightings are on the rise, so now is the time to learn to tell the difference between snakes that look similar. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will examine the differences between the snakes that homeowners at Wintergreen find difficult to differentiate.

 

 

The most common snake you will see throughout the Wintergreen environment is the eastern ratsnake, otherwise known as the black ratsnake. This is the most commonly seen snake in Virginia as well as the largest snake in the commonwealth reaching lengths of 80 inches. The eastern ratsnake has a very similar look-a-like in the northern black racer. Identification of the two species starts at a distance. While both adults are predominantly black, the ratsnake tends to be a bit glossier while the racer will be a bit more matte. The head shape is also different enough that you can notice from a safe difference. The ratsnake will quickly narrow by the neck but the jaws will flare a bit wider than the rest of the head. The racer will have a head similar in width to the rest of the body. There are a couple more clues that may require a bit of close-up examination. The scales of the ratsnake have ridges giving it a textured, rough feel. The racer has smooth scales. Another technique to differentiate these species is their underbelly color. The eastern ratsnake underbelly starts white near the jaw and turns to a white and black checkered pattern. The northern racer has a cream-colored underbelly the entire length of their underside.

 

 

Another pair of snakes that cause quite a bit of confusion are the common garter snake and eastern ribbon snake. The first impression you need when deciding between a garter snake and a ribbon snake is the thickness of the body. Both snakes average 18-26” in length but the garter snake is noticeably thicker than the slender ribbon snake. When analyzing the body of the snake in question, consider the length of the tail as well. The ribbon snake has a tail that is over 1/3 its body length while the garter snakes’ tail is considerably shorter. Next, analyze the head. The ribbon snake has a head roughly the width of the body while the garter snake has a head bigger than its body width. Another aspect of the head helps in identification as well. The ribbon snake will have a white spot in front of their eye while the garter snake will not. Both species have yellow stripes down the body but differ slightly. The ribbon snake will have a cleaner pattern without markings between stripes like the garter snake can have.

The eastern copperhead has a host of species that can cause confusion in the identification process. The best way to identify copperheads are the dark-colored hourglass crossbands that are present from birth. A second surefire way to determine if you are in the presence of a venomous snake is the vertical pupil. All venomous snakes in Virginia have vertical pupils and are a quick giveaway. The name copperhead is an apt tool to use in identification as well. The head tends to be a coppery-brown with a body that is tan to brown with darker chestnut crossbands.

 

 

The snake most commonly confused with copperheads is the juvenile black ratsnake. A juvenile black ratsnake looks very dissimilar to the black adult version. It begins life with a pattern of gray or brown blotches on a gray background. The main difference between a copperhead and juvenile black ratsnake is that the blotches on the ratsnake do not extend to the sides while the vast majority of the copperhead hourglass crossbands do connect.

Another common Wintergreen snake that gets confused with the copperhead is the northern watersnake. Both species of snakes can be found in similar environments chasing amphibians while the watersnake will be frequently found in the actual water. The primary difference can be found in the shape of the patterns. Copperheads have an hourglass that is wide on the sides and narrow along the spine of the snake. The northern watersnake is going to have a pattern that is widest along the spine and narrow along the sides.

Almost everyone has a strong opinion of snakes one way or another. For those that fall in the “hate” camp, knowing how to identify the snake species frequently found at Wintergreen is the key to being a bit more comfortable around our slithering friends. The next time you come across a species you are unsure of, take a few minutes to correctly identify it.

A Weed or a Wonder

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Much to the chagrin of my wife and my neighbors, I believe in biodiversity even down to the backyard vegetation. My lawn consists of a bit of grass, much clover and an abundance of dandelion. Dandelions are the bane of so many grass enthusiasts, but I contend they are misunderstood components of our landscapes. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will explore the complexity and uniqueness that is the hated dandelion.

Allow me to begin this defense of the dandelion by acknowledging this species is a non-native. My personal stance on non-native plants consists of two categories. The species that displace our native species (stilt grass, garlic mustard) and those that fill niches created by the disturbance of man-made landscapes such as yards. Dandelions fit into the later category. It needs full sun and generally only becomes widespread in disturbed sites featuring a host of non-native species such as yards.

 

 

My soft spot for the dandelion is based around its status as a super food. I am a big fan of plants that can serve multiple purposes and dandelion offers both a splash of yellow flowers and nutrients galore. Dandelions rank as one of the most nutritionally dense greens you can eat. It blows kale and spinach out of the water from a nutritional standpoint and yet it grows freely in most lawns around the world. One cup of dandelion greens contains twice as much iron as spinach. It is super rich in vitamin A, B2, C and K.

The way to eat greens is simple. The first option is to harvest the leaves and eat them raw in a mixed salad. Be sure to harvest young leaves and mix with other greens due to bitterness. The second way is to harvest greens and sauté them with olive oil and garlic. When sauteed, the greens lose their bitterness. These sautéed greens can be combined nicely with pasta.

The flowers and roots are also edible and wonderfully nutritious. Flowers can be harvested and used as salad toppings or in fritter form. Make your favorite flour-based batter and cook in hot oil. Add a bit of honey and you have a nutritious snack. The roots of dandelion are the most labor-intensive portion to harvest but offer a great health benefit. The main use of dandelion roots is in tea or coffee. Harvest the root system and clean thoroughly. Chop the roots and dry in a dehydrator or the oven. Then roast in the oven until brown. Put roots and water in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes, strain and serve. Add honey to decrease the bitterness. Dandelion root extract has been used to fight certain types of cancer.

 

 

Dandelions have been a traditional medicinal plant for a variety of people groups. Chinese used the plant to treat stomach and breast issues as well as appendicitis. In Europe, it has been used for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea. Modern scientific studies have focused on its ability to normalize blood sugar and fight inflammation.

Please be thoughtful before harvesting any plant. First, make sure when you pick a dandelion or any other edible plant that it is not in an area treated with herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers. Also, make sure to avoid picking dandelions along roadsides. Be sure you wash off any thing you pick as a precaution.

To many it is sacrilege to be fond of a non-native plant. To others it is an abomination to not have a perfect, monocultured front lawn. To me, dandelions are an afterthought that can do marvelous things for our health all the while providing wonderful color to our landscape. I encourage you to pick up the nearest dandelion puff ball and spread the seeds of this wonder plant.

A Native Nuisance

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Wintergreen is laden with non-native species producing havoc to our ecosystem. With so many intrusions from distant lands, it is surprising when we find our landscape nuisances to be native to our eastern forests. The native eastern tent caterpillar is currently intruding upon our landscape and forest trees in an unsightly manner. This Nine Minute Naturalist will delve into the biology and methods of dealing with this native nuisance, the eastern tent caterpillar.

 

 

The eastern tent caterpillar is best identified by the creamy white stripe running down the center of the back bordered by yellowish-brown stripes on either side of the stripe. The back is also covered with yellow-brown hairs and has an alternating pattern of blue and black spots along each side. The adult moth has a reddish-brown stout body with two pale stripes on each front wing. They can be identified from a distance by their distinct nest. Their white silken nest is built into the crotch of branches and can be seen from quite the distance. It will gradually increase in size until it measures a foot in length. The caterpillars use this as home base, venturing forth as the day warms to feed on foliage. They will return to home base by nightfall. They are relatively picky about which trees they will nest in and feed on. The primary candidates that host the eastern tent caterpillars are black cherry, apple, hawthorn, chokecherry, pear, plum and most other fruit trees in our region.

 

 

The life history of the eastern tent caterpillar dictates how we approach control. Adults lay eggs in ring-like circles that encircle small twigs. The egg masses look varnished and are under an inch long. Eggs will hatch about the time the host leaves begin to open in the spring. The feeding and nest making begin at once starting small and enlarging as the caterpillar grows. In 4-6 weeks, they reach maturity, measuring about 2-2.5 inches. At this time, we will find the caterpillars wandering in search of a place to build their whitish-colored cocoon. They will place them on tree trunks, buildings and fences. The adult moths emerge in late June/early July. Each adult will lay one egg mass containing several hundred eggs around the stem of a twig concluding their life cycle for the year.

Although defoliation and webbing are unsightly, eastern tent caterpillars rarely kill a tree, although heavy infestations will cause a lack of growth and increased stress for that year. Being native to an ecosystem usually indicates a coexistence with a host. Native caterpillars such as eastern tent caterpillars and fall webworm may cause stress but rarely cause death in the host species they depend on for next year’s lifecycle. The other bonus when dealing with native species is they have native predators accustomed to feeding on the caterpillars, thus acting as a population control mechanism. Birds are the primary predator for these caterpillars. Species such as robin, blue jays and cardinals, as well as 50 other bird species, serve as primary control agents.

The best human intervention is mechanical control. Scrapping egg masses on low branches before spring will quickly rid the tree of hundreds of potential defoliators. Once hatched, destroying the nests will open them up to death by predators or cold weather. Nests should be destroyed in early morning hours when all the caterpillars are present. Branches can also be pruned off but that also can decrease growth and cause stress. The last option should be chemical application. There are numerous chemical insecticides that are effective against the caterpillars. Chemical control is most effective when the caterpillars and nests are little. Application of residual insecticides is most effective during the day when they are actively feeding. If using chemicals on a fruit bearing tree, make sure the chemical is specifically marked for fruit trees. Once the caterpillar is wandering from the nest looking to pupate, chemical application is ineffective.

While our instinct is to eliminate anything bothering our landscape trees, native species are participating in an ecosystem dependent on their existence. The Wintergreen environment is accustomed to the presence of tent caterpillars and rarely needs the assistance of man to deal with that particular pest. Use prudence and a measured response when dealing with this native species.

An Ode to the Orchid

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Spring has sprung and is cruising to peak wildflower season. Wintergreen is blessed with unique, beautiful plants that make the spring season a spectacle for outdoor enthusiasts. The orchid family certainly takes center stage throughout our spring and summer bloom season. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will cover what makes orchids so unique and the unique orchids that call Wintergreen home.

Orchids are one of the largest plant families in the world. While a great majority call the tropics their home, North America is home to over 200 species of orchids, with Virginia being home to over 30 species of orchids. Fifty-percent of North American orchids are either threatened or endangered. Certain species of orchid have a lifespan over 100 years!

Orchids come in all shapes and sizes from less than one inch to over 8 feet in height. While their flowers are all unique, they do share interesting characteristics, one being bilateral symmetry. That means all orchid flowers can be separated into two equal parts. Another common feature of orchid life is their relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. Each orchid life stage is dependent at some level on a specific fungus. Orchids can live on the ground (terrestrial), attached to other plants (epiphytic … sometimes parasitic) or under the ground. Orchids can be monopodial which means they grow vertically from one stem or sympodial which means they grow horizontally via rhizomes.

Another interesting aspect to the orchid life cycle is the plant dependence on particular pollinators. Due to the specialization of pollination, a lack of a particular insect means a lack of dependent orchids. The Nature Foundation is in the process of setting up a collaboration to study pollinators of particular orchids found along our forest floor via camera trapping technology. Our Wintergreen forest offers the opportunity to study many varieties of the orchid family.

 

Yellow lady’s slipper

 

The most iconic example of the orchid family at Wintergreen is the lady slipper. The pink and yellow lady’s slippers are found in a variety of habitats throughout the Wintergreen forest. These large showy wildflowers bloom from May to June. The pink lady’s slipper appears magenta to whitish-pink. The yellow lady’s slipper will be a bit more uniform in color but can range from pale to bright yellow. To look for the pink’s lady slipper, spend time hiking along the Old Appalachian Trail or the Pedlars Edge Access Trail. To get a glimpse of the yellow lady’s slipper in bloom, venture along the White Oak Trail or Hemlock Springs Trail.

 

Downy rattlesnake plantain

 

A common orchid at Wintergreen that is spread throughout our forest floor is the downy rattlesnake plantain. It is an evergreen plant with broad rounded leaves similar to its namesake the broadleaf plantain. It can be identified by the broad central stripe down the middle of each leaf. In mid-summer, a flower stalk emerges consisting of tiny, delicate orchid flowers. Hike with a judicious eye anywhere at Wintergreen and this orchid can be found.

 

Purple fringe orchid

 

Wintergreen is also home to an uncommon, threatened orchid, the large purple fringed orchid. It is ranked by the Virginia Natural Heritage as an S2 plant, meaning it is imperiled in the state. This orchid is a primary reason the Crawford’s Knob Natural Area Preserve now exists. Natural Heritage, along with The Nature Foundation, holds a very restrictive easement at Wintergreen with the intention of preserving the existence of this species in Virginia. This showy orchid blooms with an inflorescence of bright purple flowers in mid-June. It is primarily a wetland species and thrives amongst the high elevation basic seepage swamp on Crawford’s Knob.

The forest floor has awakened and the time has come to get out and find Wintergreen’s most beloved flower family. Mid-May will be the peak time to find lady’s slippers but don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled throughout our summer bloom cycle to see other wonderful Wintergreen orchids.

Nature Scavenger Hunt

Presenting our Nature Scavenger Hunt! Take this opportunity to learn about the nature around you and what The Nature Foundation does. We’re excited to have you play along, adults and children alike. We will drop two clues a week for four weeks. You have a chance to win a prize for each clue and there’s a grand prize if you complete the entire scavenger hunt.
You’ll need to like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram or be signed up for our emails to get the clues. Send your answers to specialevents@tnfw.org or post them in the comments on Facebook and Instagram.
At Wintergreen, we’re surrounded by nature everywhere we look. We have spectacular views, rock formations, and stunning wildflowers just starting to bloom. Let’s go outside and see what we can find. HINT – some clues can be found on the trails The Nature Foundation maintains!

 

 

Scavenger Hunt Clue #1

 

Our first clue drop. Take a picture of a Wintergreen trailhead. This could be a picture of your favorite trail, a trail you’ve seen but haven’t gotten a chance to do yet or a trail you’ve always wondered about. Do you have any questions about one of these trails? Did you know The Nature Foundation maintains more than 30 miles of hiking trails at Wintergreen? Email your answer to specialevents@tnfw.org or post them on Facebook.

 

 

Scavenger Hunt Clue #2

 

Our second clue drop. Send us a picture, drawing, poem or just a sentence of one thing you’ve seen while hiking one of Wintergreen’s trails. We take our searching seriously around here; Liz Fravel searched high and low for one her favorites. Let us know if you need help identifying something you saw. We’d love to help you learn all about the nature that surrounds us here at Wintergreen. Email your answer to specialevents@tnfw.orgor post them on Facebook. Share this post with your neighbors and friends so they can play too.

 

 

Scavenger Hunt Clue #3

 

Our third clue drop. This next clue we’re going all in bloom. This time of year is spectacular at Wintergreen. The valley has been in bloom for several weeks and the mountain is starting to pop everywhere you look. Submit a picture, name, or sketch of a wildflower blooming at Wintergreen currently. Are you seeing natives blooming but not sure what you’re looking at? Consider attending this year’s Spring Wildflower Symposium to learn more about our natural community (follow this link for details). Email your answer to specialevents@tnfw.org or post them on Facebook. Share this post with your neighbors and friends so they can play too.

 

 

Scavenger Hunt Clue #4

 

Our fourth clue drop. We’re moving your eyes up a bit for this next clue. Wintergreen is quite known for its geology; people come from far and wide to study our spot in the Blue Ridge. Your task is to find a rock face taller than you. Can you do it? Send a picture to specialevents@tnfw.org or comment on this post with your selfie. Remember, you don’t have to do all the clues to enter to win. We will have prizes per clue and a grand prize for anyone who completes all the clues. We’ve had some great entries already; keep them coming!

 

 

Scavenger Hunt Clue #5

 

Our fifth clue drop. Let’s talk wildlife. Draw, take a picture or write a poem about any animal (family members and pets not included) who share Wintergreen with us. Bragging rights for most creative entry. Send your entry to specialevents@tnfw.org or comment on this post with your selfie. Remember, you don’t have to do all the clues to enter to win. We will have prizes per clue and a grand prize for anyone who completes all the clues. We’ve had some great entries already; keep them coming!

 

 

Scavenger Hunt Clue #6

 

Our sixth clue drop. This is our easiest clue of the Scavenger Hunt. We want to see you enjoying Wintergreen’s nature. This might be you sitting on your deck watching the sunset, exploring a trail or shoes off wading in the streams. Let’s see you get outside! Send your entry to specialevents@tnfw.org or comment on this post with your selfie. Remember, you don’t have to do all the clues to enter to win. We will have prizes per clue and a grand prize for anyone who completes all the clues. We’ve had some great entries already; keep them coming!

 

 

Scavenger Hunt Clue #7

 

Our seventh clue drop. Watching spring creep up the mountain is always a rite of passage for Wintergreen owners and guests. You can watch as the trees begin getting leaves in the valley first and eventually the entire mountain is a wash of green. You can also tell the elevation of a Wintergreen location by its canopy. This clue is all about looking up. Send us a photograph, drawing, watercolor or just a sentence on your favorite trees at Wintergreen; bonus points if you can name them! Send your entry to specialevents@tnfw.org or comment on this post with your selfie. Remember, you don’t have to do all the clues to enter to win. We will have prizes per clue and a grand prize for anyone who completes all the clues. We’ve had some great entries already; keep them coming!

Bad Yet Beautiful

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


It really is hard to dislike that which is beautiful. The exquisite trillium, the eye-popping bluebird and the stunning brook trout all hold a special place in my mind due to their beauty. A new invasive has made in-roads into Virginia over the past couple years that is certainly beautiful but will not hold that special place in my mind. The spotted lanternfly is quite gorgeous but is bad news for so many. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will go into depth on the newest invasive force our environment will face.

 

Spotted lanternfly

 

The spotted lanternfly is a plant hopper insect native to China, Bangladesh and Vietnam. It was first found in the U.S. in Berks County, Pennsylvania. It was discovered in 2014 but is believed to have arrived via egg masses attached to a stone shipment in 2012. Despite a quick quarantine for the surrounding area, the invasive bug has spread to New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Maryland and of course Virginia. They are not dynamic flyers but are adapt at hitchhiking their way around the east coast. Each egg mass is about one inch long, mud colored and can hold 30-50 eggs. They can stick to almost any solid surface and are the reason for the spread of this invasive. This pest found its way into Clarke County Virginia in 2018. The first spotted lanternfly was found in a train depot, having hitchhiked from the northeast. We went from 1 square mile of infestation in 2018 to 60 square miles in 2020.

 

Spotted lanternfly egg mass

 

The attractiveness of this pest makes it quite easy to identify. The adults are approximately 1 inch long and ½ inch wide at rest. The forewing is gray with black spots of varying sizes and the hind wings have patches of red and black with a white band. The abdomen is yellow with black bands. The early stages (1-3 instar) are black with white spots. The last immature stage is characterized by the development of red patches in addition to the black color with white spots. They are quite visually striking but you won’t be seduced by their beauty for long.

 

Spotted lanternfly: early stages

 

The spotted lanternfly is a serious threat to farmers. It shows a strong preference for grapevines, fruit trees such as peach, apple and cherry and hops. They also show an affinity for maple, birch, black walnut and willow. This pest uses its piercing-sucking mouthpart to feed on the sap from over 70 different species. As it feeds, it extracts honeydew which attracts bees, wasps and other insects as well as promotes the growth of sooty mold, which covers the plant, the forest floor, furniture, cars or anything else below the feeding insects. There is a unique link between the insect and another non-native, tree of heaven. Both species are native to China and have been reunited in the United States. Tree of heaven is the preferred host of spotted lanternfly and is commonly found near all the primary travel corridors.

The impact of this new invasive to the Wintergreen environment will be different from our last invasive, the emerald ash borer. Emerald ash borer is hardly seen but brings quick death to just ash trees. The spotted lanternfly attacks a wide variety of species but doesn’t tend to kill a tree outright. This species tends to be a stressor that can certainly bring about weakening for healthy trees and death for failing trees. The biggest impact we will have if this insect establishes at Wintergreen is from a nuisance level. These pests reproduce in volume and become a disgusting annoyance at the landowner level. Reports from Pennsylvania indicate the sudden increase in volume of bugs is very detrimental to enjoying your outdoor living space. Cars, patios and plants quickly get covered in honeydew and sooty mold making them loathsome to homeowners.

It may be a while before Wintergreen becomes home to the spotted lanternfly but there are couple things you can do. First, be diligent to know what to look for and alert me of any potential sightings (forestmanage@tnfw.org). The other precaution would be to remove their favorite host tree of heaven. If you have any on your property, it is a good idea to make them disappear over the next couple years. Eliminating one non-native so you don’t encourage another non-native is a win/win for our environment.

Spring Melodies

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


The noises of nature rise precipitously as we enter the spring season. At Wintergreen, our rise in acoustics can be largely attributed to our frog population. Our woods, streams and ponds are loaded with these noisy amphibians that give such character to the Wintergreen woods in spring. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will delve into the species responsible for the cacophony of calls we hear during our spring rebirth.  

The sound of some animals is synonymous with a season. The spring peeper is just that animal. They declare the end of winter with a shrill high pitch note that can reach 100 decibels. Once joined by hundreds of their friends, this sound makes the idea of a “peaceful” woodland obsolete. They are among the first animals to call and breed each spring. They tend to be found in moist woodland areas adjacent to wetlands. At Wintergreen, a great place to listen to this onslaught of noise is along the golf course and the numerous ponds adjacent to woodlands. These small woodland ponds are ideal breeding habitat for spring peepers and tend to be loaded with them from March to June. Here is a link to their distinctive sounds.

 

Spring peeper

 

Another common frog that will provide ample auditory evidence of their presence is the gray treefrog. The gray treefrog begins its calling in April at Wintergreen. The distinctive short fluty trill call is memorable and can be heard starting at dusk and continuing for a few hours each evening. This boreal species seeks habitat containing trees and a water source. They remain near the forest floor when young but ascend to the canopy with age. Eggs are laid in the water. Gray treefrogs can change their skin color based on time of day and surrounding temperature. The skin becomes lighter at night and darker during the day. Here is a link to their lovely call.

The pickerel frog is not quite as common as the spring peeper or gray tree frog but the unique call makes it an easy one to pinpoint in the midst of many other sounds. The garbled, throaty song of the pickerel frog starts in April and lasts until early June. They are usually found in Wintergreen’s cool, clean streams but will lay their eggs in any temporary pond. They can be identified by their chocolate brown spots in two rows between the folds in their back. They have a look-a-like, the leopard frog, that will have irregular brown spots. Careful if you choose to pick one up as they produce a toxic skin secretion that is irritating to humans. Here is a link to their throaty call.

 

Pickerel frog

 

The American bullfrog is common at Wintergreen, especially at our lower elevations. They emit a deep bellow that sounds like “jug-a-rum”. This amphibian is almost exclusively aquatic and can be found at any of our ponds at Wintergreen. They are extremely territorial and use their call to announce their presence to rivals and for mates. They are the largest frogs in North America, growing up to 8 inches and 1.5 pounds. Here is a call you may find familiar.

The spring is the time to familiarize yourself with the calls of these amphibians that make Wintergreen home. We have entered the season where your peace and quiet will not exist and instead replaced with a mismatch of melodies that make our environment unique. The time is now to find your favorite location to learn about Wintergreen frogs.

The Cougar Conundrum

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


The wilds of Wintergreen are home to an assortment of rarely seen wildlife. Species such as mink, spotted skunk, and flying squirrel are rarely spotted by hikers, hunters or any other outdoor recreationist, but we can verify their habitation of the land through camera traps and live traps. So how can so many people have “encountered” a mountain lion (also known as cougar, puma, panther) when no hard evidence exists for their making Wintergreen and our surrounding mountains their home? This issue of the Nine Minute Naturalist will tackle the much-debated topic of cougars in the Blue Ridge.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (previously the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries) maintains the stance that a wild population of eastern cougar does not exist in Virginia. This stance is in direct contrast to loads of phone calls, emails and social media posts about sightings of the elusive mountain lion. At Wintergreen, we average 2-5 reports a year of claims of mountain lion with the majority coming from mountain top guests and residents. The problem lies with the lack of hard evidence. None of the reports to the DWR have been substantiated by photo, carcass or track.

This is also the problem I encounter when determining if a population exists at Wintergreen. The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen has had the honor of being a part of a couple camera trapping surveys since 2013. The first was the eMammal wildlife species survey that deployed over 20 cameras at various locations around the property for many months. The second was with Virginia Tech studying spotted skunks using baited camera locations to study populations at Wintergreen every winter for 4 years. These two photo caches alone constitute well over 50 GB of wildlife photos from the past 8 years. Not one photo contained any animal that may be considered a cougar. In fact, Bill McShea, the professor overseeing the eMammal project, stated that at more than 2,200 locations not one camera captured an image of a mountain lion.

 

 

This eMammal project also illuminated human failings. The eMammal project was not created just to find wildlife but also to study how good “citizen scientists” are at identifying what they are seeing in still digital form. My natural conclusion before starting the project was identification was the easy part. I was proven wrong. On average, the project achieved an 82% accuracy at identifying photos of animals in a still digital photograph (Wintergreen “guinea pigs” scored closer to 75%). That means given all the time in the world and all the identification resources available, we were wrong on our identification 18% of the time. Photos can be tricky to analyze and thus come under scrutiny. If our identification of still imagery is hard to trust, that begs the question how trustworthy is a sighting we saw for less than 5 seconds?

The second data set I possess that leads to being skeptical of sightings by golfers on the Devils Knob golf course or by drivers cruising down Wintergreen Drive is my years supervising hunting on our open space at Wintergreen. Hunting as a management tool provides data such as what is harvested and what is seen in our backcountry. Not one survey in the past decade came back with a recorded puma sighting. If hunters sitting silently in scent proof clothing with scopes and binoculars have never seen a cougar moving through 4000 acres of open space, it seems unlikely to me that a mountain lion is hanging out on a crowded golf course. The other key is the use of hunting dogs by bear hunters. When chased by dogs in legal hunts in western states, cougars usually climb trees making easy targets by cameras, which everyone carries these days in the shape of phones. Not one hunter has reported or photographed a treed mountain lion at Wintergreen or in the entire state. It is conceivable that hunters sitting quietly would miss the stealthy cougar, but it seems much less likely the keen noses of a pack of hound dogs would miss the scent of this apex predator.

My last resource that leads me to doubt the presence of cougars is myself. Having spent 15 years covering hundreds of miles per year of Blue Ridge forest, I have had zero sightings, come across zero questionable carcasses, seen zero tracks, and found zero scat that might be attributed to an eastern cougar roaming the woods at Wintergreen. When I am not present in the woods, I make sure to have trail cameras distributed over the landscape to ensure I see what is moving through our forest. I currently have four cameras in obscure locations hoping to get the shot of whatever may come past.

Now to the scientific reasoning of a possible mountain lion encounter. Cougars have a giant home range of up to 370 square miles. They have also been known to make staggering treks. A cougar was killed by a car in Connecticut in 2011. The genetic study of the animal led scientists to believe it came from South Dakota which meant it travelled 1500 miles. That is amazing and opens the door to Virginia being the home for juvenile males pushed out of other males’ range. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency confirmed reports in 2015 of sightings in western Tennessee. It is believed that one of the confirmed photos was of a female mountain lion. That is the key to having a population – the presence of mates. A breeding population moves very slowly due to the natural hindrance of having cubs. The young cougars stay with mom for 1-2 years and slows down all migration to the east. Mountain lions are definitely coming to Virginia. It is the timeline that is in dispute.

I am skeptical of each sighting of mountain lion when no physical evidence is present. When identifying animals, you must first rule out the common before considering the rare. There will be a day when the rare appears, but until evidence clearly points to the apex predator of North America at our doorsteps, I will declare Wintergreen a mountain lion free zone.

The Early Invaders

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Late winter at Wintergreen is a time of anticipation, looking forward to the wave of plants about to erupt from the soil. It just so happens that the first vegetation to begin their growth towards the sun are a couple nasty invasive plants, garlic mustard and coltsfoot. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will go into depth on the unique life cycle of two non-native plants that call Wintergreen home.

 

Garlic mustard

 

Garlic mustard is the bane of the Wintergreen forest, covering acres of our deepest forest where few invasive plants can compete. This plant comes to us from Europe, brought over due to its value in cooking and in seed form as hitchhikers. This plant is a biennial (it has a two-year life cycle) giving it a competition advantage. Garlic mustard reproduces only via seed, which can be viable in the soil bank for up to 10 years. Seeds germinate in early spring and form rosettes, a low growing clump of dark purple to green scalloped shaped leaves. Rosettes survive the first-year over-winter in a green (chlorophyll rich) form, which enables it to grow and habitat space well before most native species can emerge. Second year leaves are more triangular and begin to grow in early spring up to 3-4 inches per week. Flowering will occur in second year plants from late April to June. Plants grow up to 4 feet in height and produce 400-7000 seeds per plant. A dense stand of garlic mustard will produce up to 12,000 seeds per yard that will be dispersed via wind or attached to animals and humans. To add to their advantages, researchers have found chemicals are released that inhibit growth of plants in their immediate area. Once established, garlic mustard is near impossible to eliminate. On a site-by-site basis, garlic mustard can be controlled by mechanical removal or chemical application. Applying chemicals such as Roundup needs to be done with extreme caution at the height of plant growth to ensure you are not spraying desirable native plants.

While garlic mustard is quite the pain in the Wintergreen landscape, it is quite the useful edible plant. The greens are laden with vitamins A, C, E and some of the B vitamins. It also contains potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, copper, iron, manganese as well as omega-3 fatty acids. The flowers, leaves, roots and seeds are all edible but become bitter as they age. It is bad for the environment but quite good for the heart!

 

Coltsfoot flower

 

Coltsfoot is another introduced species from Europe. It is unique in that its flower appears before the leaves are formed, usually in March and April. The small 1-inch flowers are on tall stalks with reddish scales. The flowers are a bright yellow color and stand out in the drab backdrop of late winter. They appear similar to dandelion flowers from a distance. By May the flowers give way to white seed heads that look like fluffy cotton balls. When the leaves finally appear, you will understand the common name coltsfoot. They grow up to six inches across in the shape of a colt’s foot print. Unlike garlic mustard which can grow in the dense shade of our forest floor, coltsfoot will be found along our roadways or any other full sun environment. They are particularly fond of any disturbed site. The sides of the road at Wintergreen provide the perfect home for this invasive plant. Once established, coltsfoot is hard to remove. Hand pulling is effective in wet soil conditions so that you can get the whole root. Any piece of root left can grow into a new plant. Herbicide application is most effective. Application of Roundup needs to be done in a careful manner if the infestation is amongst plants you desire to keep.

Coltsfoot is also beloved as a medicinal plant. The plant contains mucilage, bitter glycosides and tannins which are thought to give the plant anti-inflammatory properties and act as a cough treatment. The flowers can be eaten in salad or combined with honey and added to tea to calm a cough. Although the leaves are bitter, they have been used in salads or as an aromatic tea. Another name it goes by is coughwort due to its implied medicinal qualities.

Despite my dislike for these two early emerging plants, it is good to see green life peaking out through the forest leaf litter. Once you take a second to be excited over green plants returning to our landscape, sharpen your identification skills. Now is the time to be able to identify and eliminate these undesirable plants before they can establish themselves alongside those plants we love.