A Walk Through Living History at Highland

On December 6, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards completed this year’s series of tree walks with a tour of the grounds of James Monroe’s Highland. Sharon Hiner, who is both a Tree Steward and an interpreter at Monroe’s Albemarle County home, blended the historical with the botanical as she led participants around the property.

Along the route, she pointed out ways to identify some of the stunning specimens on the site, from a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) – rare in our area – to one of the estate’s signature white ashes (Fraxinus americana). Highland was known as Ash Lawn through much of its post-Monroe era.  In this winter walk, Sharon concentrated on the structure of the trees, as well as bark, buds, nuts, and cones for identification clues.

Other highlights of the walk included a three-centuries-old white oak (Quercus alba) that was already a mature tree when Monroe purchased Highland in 1793, as well as an eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) that also dates back to the Monroe era. The tour concluded with the opportunity to identify a “mystery tree.”

Sharon will reprise the 90-minute Highland walk in April and November 2020.  Other walks scheduled for 2020 will be held at McIntire Park, Pen Park, and Darden Towe Park. The tree walks are free and open to the public, but they are limited to 25 participants and registration is required. Please visit our classes and walks webpage to learn more.

A Rough Week for Invasive Plants

Wielding loppers and pruning saws, Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards mounted two aggressive campaigns against invasive species this past week. Undaunted by windy conditions on November 16, a hardy band of CATS members joined forces with students from U.Va.’s Madison House to clear out oriental bittersweet, porcelain berry, honeysuckle and other invaders at Jackson-Via Elementary School. Tree Stewards Elise Burroughs and Camille Wilson organized the effort to free up cherry trees and native sumac and to make room for planting more native species. CATS will work with the city and school authorities to explore further ways to improve Jackson-Via’s extensive grounds, which include a lovely wooded trail.

On November 20, the morning chill gave way to sunshine as another CATS contingent took aim at English ivy, oriental bittersweet and other vines attacking trees along the Schenks Greenway, the park that runs between McIntire Road and Schenks Branch north of the Albemarle County Office Building. Toine Wyckoff led the CATS volunteers as they followed up on our previous work to remove invasives from white pines, river birches, American hollies and other trees along the creek.

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Enhancing the Tree Canopy in Belmont

For the second year in a row, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards paired with the Charlottesville Tree Commission to plant trees on private property around the Belmont area. With a generous grant from the Ballyshannon Fund, we acquired 23 trees for the project. On the chilly morning of November 9, five teams of CATS members and Tree Steward trainees, joined by seven members of the Tree Commission, planted the trees at various locations around the neighborhood and advised homeowners on how to maintain them.

The principal objective of these projects is to increase Charlottesville’s tree canopy, which is measured every five years by aerial photography and is on the decline. The city’s tree canopy dropped from 50 percent in 2004 to 45 percent in 2014, and we expect to see a further decrease when the next aerial survey is completed in 2020. Planting trees in the yards of homes and on other private property is critical to reversing this trend. CATS urges people in the community to help us identify other Charlottesville neighborhoods that suffer from a sparse canopy and that could benefit from the environmental and economic advantages of having more trees.

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