“The Holly and the Ivy” revisited

Like it or not, the season of holiday music has arrived. From radio stations to mall loudspeakers, we’re urged to deck the halls, gather around the Christmas tree, and roast chestnuts (no easy feat, considering that most American chestnuts were wiped out by the great chestnut blight of the early 1900s). While I rarely hear my favorite carol, “The Holly and the Ivy,” on the radio, its plant-based title provides a timely lesson in native vs. non-native species.

The carol undoubtedly refers to English holly, but it is with native American holly, or Ilex opaca, that most of us deck our halls. Much beloved during the holiday season for its glossy evergreen leaves and shiny red berrries, American holly is also appreciated by local wildlife. Deer and squirrel enjoy the fruit, as do at least eighteen species of birds, including cedar waxwing, wild turkey, bobwhite, and American goldfinch.


ilex opaca

Ilex opaca


The ivy that so many of us are familiar with in our gardens, on our trees, and even climbing up our walls is English ivy, or Hedera helix. As its common name suggests, English ivy was brought to our country by European settlers and is not native to the Americas. English ivy is an invasive non-native species, rapidly overtaking trees, borders, and hedges if not kept in check. Although some native birds eat the berries, the fruit of Hedera helix is preferred primarily by European starlings and has little value to native North American animals.

Holly and ivy aside, native animals are sure to enjoy the treats hung from the branches of the Arboretum’s wildlife tree, which will be on display at the Visitor’s Center from December 5 through the end of the month.


2013 wildlife tree

The Arboretum’s 2013 Wildlife Tree


Catch a glimpse of the squirrels, jays, sparrows, and chickadees that feed from this tree when you attend the Arboretum’s Holiday Wreath Sale this Saturday, December 6.


_ASR8350 Wreath display board with Mary Jo


Or sign up to attend the December 13 Candlelit Caroling Celebration, where I will be on hand to join in singing my favorite holiday song.


Candlelit Caroling

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

To a degree

The arrival of cold weather is heralded with a single, much-repeated phrase in my household. Here’s how it works:

Child #1: “I’m cold.”
Me: “Put on a sweater.”

Child #2: “I can’t feel my feet.”
Me: “Put on a sweater.”

Child #3: “There are icicles growing out of my nose.”
Me: “Put on a sweater.”

While my family’s dedication to energy conservation may be extreme, there’s something to be said for experiencing seasonal temperature variation, as opposed to living in thermostat-controlled denial. As a society, we’re a little mixed up. Enter any mall in July for a blast of frosty, air-conditioned chill. That same mall in December will be as toasty as Florida during a heat wave.

If we all lowered the thermostat by a few degrees in the winter and raised it in the summer, imagine the conservation inroads we could be making. Less use of fossil fuels would lead to less greenhouse gas emission, which in turn would help reduce global climate change. Sound too easy? Maybe that’s because it is.

Put on a sweater, people.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

Reality check

Most teachers are quick to assure their students that there’s no such thing as a dumb question. This assertion has been sorely tested in my eight years as an outdoor educator at Adkins Arboretum. I’ve been asked some real winners, including “Are there crocodiles in this wetland?” “Will we see bears in the woods?” and “Where is the nearest Walmart?”

Of these many questions, the most unusual occurred just the other morning, while I was leading a group of kindergarteners along the Arboretum’s woodland paths. It was a glorious fall day, and I was enjoying the feel of the warm sun on my face when a small child looked up at me and asked skeptically, “Is this real?”

Photo credit: Leah M. Reynolds

Photo credit: Leah M. Reynolds

Wow. How to start unpacking that question. Several possibilities came to mind: that I was in the company of a very young existentialist. Or that theme parks must be achieving a new level of special effects. Or, most frightening of all, that this kid was suffering from an extreme case of nature deprivation.

While the question may have been loaded, the answer was a simple one. Yes, this absolutely gorgeous gilded day with its cerulean sky and sweet leafy undertones was most certainly real, and weren’t we lucky to be part of it?

The boy, reassured by my answer, stuck an acorn in his pocket and ran ahead to join his friends. I took a deep breath of fall air, suddenly thankful that my own childhood had taken place in an era when spending time outside was the rule, not the exception.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

Through the window

The view from my bedroom window overlooks a canopy of trees. It’s one I know well, facing as it does the chair in which I rock my baby. Just as David Haskell in The Forest Unseen found endless fascination in his one-square-meter patch of forest, the window and its ever-changing rectangle of sky and branches never cease to engage me. Today, the dogwood’s leaves are reddish-purple against a backdrop of heavy clouds. Tomorrow, it might be a gaggle of geese or a squirrel’s nest that catches my eye.


If there is one area—or mandela, in Haskell’s terminology–of the Arboretum that best reflects the shifting seasons, for me it would be the floodplain at the entrance to the woodland paths. In February, skunk cabbage’s peculiar purple blooms emerge through the frozen ground, later uncurling into the enormous “elephant ears” I collected as a child. The Blockston Branch swells in spring rain and then dwindles in dry summer. Now, with fall’s arrival, its waters are barely visible beneath a cloak of leaves.

Revisiting a familiar spot in nature grounds us. We are reminded that where there is change there is also continuity. This reminder speaks to me daily as I sit in the rocking chair, poised between the window and the windows of my daughter’s blue eyes.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

Ten years of great books

The evening of Wednesday, April 28, 2004 marked the first meeting of the Adkins Arboretum Book Club. Heidi Fellon, Sylvan Kaufman, Michelle Lawrence, and I determined the initial process for conducting the book club, and selected the first books to be read. We met three times in 2004 for book discussions, with a final meeting in November to select the books for 2005. Since then, the book club has met monthly with August breaks. Our mission: Members of the book club deepen their understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the Chesapeake Bay region’s native landscapes, including indigenous flora and wildlife, by selecting and discussing relevant literature of the region, the country, and the world.

Book club members have traveled the world examining both natural and cultural history. We climbed tall redwoods with Richard Preston in The Wild Trees. We followed John Bartram in Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners, and had a novel view of America’s early presidents in Wulf’s The Founding Gardeners. We stood alongside and cheered as Dyana Furmansky’s Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy bought Hawk Mountain to preserve it as a sanctuary. Candice Millard led us down the River of Doubt with Theodore Roosevelt. We ventured into the forest and learned of fascinating interactions with Joan Maloof’s Teaching the Trees. Jon Young taught us ancient bird language in What the Robin Knows.

_ASR1860 Book club meeting

Along with what we learn from the books, we learn from each other. As we discuss each title, we share the personal experiences remembered in the reading. We have had some spirited debates and sometimes agreement about the worth of the book. Ten years have flown by, and we all are looking forward to the next ten years of exploring nature and people through reading and discussion.

_ASR1868 Selected books  for book club

To celebrate our tenth anniversary, Book Club members selected favorite books to share in a basket for the silent auction at Magic in the Meadow on September 27.


All Arboretum members are welcome to join the book club, either by attending meetings or following along with email updates. The book club schedule, readings and how to join are posted here.

Some of our favorite books (year book club read in parentheses)

1491, Charles C. Mann (2009)
Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy (2008)
Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, Marta McDowell (2014)
The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan (2004)
The Brother Gardeners, Andrea Wulf (2010)
Changes in the Land, William Cronon (2011)
The Diversity of Life, Edward O. Wilson
The Dirty Life, Kristin Kimball (2011)
The Forest Unseen, David George Haskell (2013)
Founding Gardeners, Andrea Wulf (2011)
Gathering Moss, Robin Wall Kimmerer (2008)
Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv (2006)
The Meadow, James Galvin (2009)
Mosey and Bozey, Judith Slaughter (author, book club member)
My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell
Naturalist, E.O. Wilson (2009)
Nature Wars, Jim Sterba (2015 schedule)
River of Doubt, Candice Millard (2011)
Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy, Dyana Furmansky (2010)
Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold (2004; 2009)
Silent Spring, Rachel Carson (2005)
Teaching the Trees, Joan Maloof (2007)
There’s a Hair in My Dirt, Gary Larson (2007)
Weeds, Richard Mabey (2011)
What the Robin Knows, Jon Young (2013)
The Wild Trees, Richard Preston (2009)
Winter World, Bernd Heinrich (2007)

by Carol Jelich
Arboretum Librarian and Maryland Master Naturalist