Learn, play, and explore!

April showers bring May showers! Don’t let the spring rain keep you inside—follow along as we share countless local opportunities to get out and enjoy all that the Eastern Shore (and beyond) has to offer.

It’s not too late to design and plant your garden! But first, maybe you need a little longwoodinspiration or motivation? Longwood Gardens is offering a guided behind-the-scenes tour of their production greenhouse! Longwood Gardens invites you on May 12 for a 45-minute tour of the greenhouse where horticulturists research, study, propagate, and grow many of the plants that end up on public display. Or perhaps you want to take a class? The Mt. Cuba Center is offering a class on Growing Native Orchids on May 12 with instructor Bill Mathis and a walk with Phil Oyerly, current president of the Native Orchid Conference. You will learn the cultural practices for growing orchids, and you will even have the opportunity to pot some transplants that you can take home.

The critters are out and about, and what better way to visit them than by kayak! The kayakChesapeake Bay Environmental Center is hosting guided kayak tours on May 12 and May 22 of Marshy Creek, where you may encounter wading birds, waterfowls, migratory raptors, otters, muskrat, turtles, jellyfish, and water snakes!

If you find yourself in Chestertown on May 5, make sure to come to a showing of the film Chasing Ice. The Chestertown Environmental Committee shows a free environmental film every first Thursday to engage the community and open discussion about the environment. Or, if all of the April pollinator events piqued your interest, join the Upper Eastern Shore Beekeeping Association at their monthly meeting on May 11, where Master Beekeeper Dean Burroughs will speak about beekeeping on the Eastern Shore.

Mark your calendars for a full first weekend of May. On May 6, make sure to celebrate nurseryNational Public Gardens Day! Adkins Arboretum will offer free admission on May 6. The Native Plant Nursery also opens for the season on May 6, and will be open from 10 to 4 on Fridays and Saturdays. Longwood Gardens is offering a behind-the-scenes tour with their horticultural staff. National Public Gardens Day celebrates public gardens’ role in providing beauty and respite for more than 70 million people annually, while also promoting environmental stewardship and awareness.

Celebrate all the moms this Mother’s Day weekend! On May 7, the Town of Galena has their annual Dogwood Festival with a parade, crafts, exhibits, amusement park, magic, pacastorytelling, a 5K race, and plenty of Eastern Shore food. The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy has their SHORE TALK on Songbird Banding at the Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory (pre-registration required). The Queen Anne’s County Master Gardeners are hosting a plant sale at the Queen Anne’s County Extension Office in Centreville, and volunteers at Historic Annapolis are hosting a plant sale at the William Paca Garden in Annapolis on the 7th and 8th.

May 14 and 15 will be a great weekend for new experiences and adventure! Start your Saturday at Unity Nursery in Church Hill for a talk about container gardening, and learn how to create a lovely container planting for your home. From there, explore and take on a new adventure at the Challenge Course at Tuckahoe State Park. The Tuckahoe Family Fun Day (pre-registration required) features a rock wall, tube net, zip line, giant swing, and pamper pole! Once you’ve climbed to the top and zipped to the bottom, visit the Phillips fishmobileWharf Environmental Center Bay Day which features touch tanks with turtles, crabs, fish, and seahorses, crafts, kayaking, music, food, and educational exhibits. To finish off your day on the Shore, check out the Talbot County House & Garden Tour!  This tour takes you through several magnificent garden properties throughout Talbot County. Then, on Sunday, May 15, visit the Corsica Riverfest, which features the grand opening of the Corsica River Water Trail at Centreville Wharf as well as kayaking, river activities, and exhibits.

Stay tuned for more regional events for the second half of May and be sure to visit the Adkins Arboretum website for a complete schedule of upcoming events at the Arboretum!

by Kathy Thornton
Adkins Arboretum volunteer and Maryland Master Naturalist-in-Training



I didn’t know what a riparian buffer zone was until I became an environmental educator, but those green ribbons of life surrounding streams and waterways were already written on my soul. They are the favored scenery of my childhood, recalling lazy summer afternoons spent with a best friend dangling our feet into cool ripples where minnows nibbled our toes. Skunk cabbage leaves—or elephants’ ears, as we called them then—brushed cool against our thorn-scratched legs, and may apples served as fairy food, their sharp smell released with a thumb nail.


Some of us are blessed to work in a field that allows us to pursue our passions. The pathway I followed from childhood to adulthood twisted and turned yet still led inexorably to the verdant waterways I have always loved. Spring is my favored streamside season, when the banks swell with growing things, and the rich smell of the forest floor rises with each footstep. Virginia bluebell, golden ragwort, and spring beauties dot the landscape, soon to be followed by that even rarer beauty, the pink ladyslipper.


Every childhood should have a stream running through it. Revisit yours along the Arboretum’s Blockston Branch, and be sure to bring a young friend along.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

photos by Kellen McCluskey

On Becoming a Maryland Master Naturalist

naturalist blog logoChapter Seven—Reptiles & Amphibians—The Crawling Things!

Midway through the 10-month classroom portion of the Maryland Master Naturalist training program, we arrived to the classroom at Adkins Arboretum to find Dr. Scott Smith, a wildlife diversity biologist, but a de facto herpetologist (snake dude), surrounded by all manner of containers, bowls, and cages.

Dr. Smith started his talk with a refrain I am hearing again and again—with such a diversity of geography and geology, the state of Maryland has a wide diversity of habitats, and thus a wide diversity of “herps” (reptiles and amphibians). Herps, from the Greek word herpeton, meaning “crawling animal,” is a short-cut nickname for creatures that are ectothermic—they get their body heat from their environment. We spent some time discussing and considering the impact of this basic physiological fact.

Scott Smith MMN 201603

Another early lesson in the class has cleared up for me a confusion I’ve always had—amphibian or reptile? Well, another Greek word contributed to clarity: amphi, meaning “both” and referring to the fact that amphibians live a double life. They are born of water but live primarily on the land. Think frogs, toads, salamanders (whose tadpoles have branching gills to support their early, aquatic days). Amphibians are a good indicator of frogboth forest quality and water quality, so my pleasure at seeing frogs happily using the backyard goldfish pond may be underscored by knowing that I am providing some habitat as well (the local blue heron also seems rather pleased with the situation).

We next spent a few minutes reviewing the importance of SKIN. As in humans, skin is a large organ (as organs go) and another good way to tell amphibians from reptiles. Amphibian skin is scale-less, tends to have lots of mucus, and their toes do not include claws. Reptiles have scales (including a turtle’s shell, whose pieces are called scutes, another new vocabulary word) and their toes, when present, do have claws. The mucus on an amphibian plays at least four roles: escape, toxicity, antibiotic, and respiration.

Before we plunged into identification of specific species, Scott reviewed some ecological issues and introduced us to the idea of species richness maps. There are 69 species of herps on the Eastern Shore, for example. A few more vocabulary words were added to the growing pile: Caudata (salamanders), Anura (frogs), Squamata (lizards and snakes), fossorial (living underground), and hydroperiod (the length of time a vernal pool holds water).

While Maryland has good laws to support wetland area buffers (to help protect the critters), the creatures themselves use “life zones” and are not aware that they will be protected only within certain human-set boundaries. Terrestrial habitats, mostly hardwood forests, are the most important for herps. We reviewed six threats to herps (habitat loss, environmental pollution, disease & parasites, unsustainable use, global climate change, and invasive species), and Scott referred us to Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation for more information on how to get educated and involved.

Next, we got to take a look at all the creatures that were sharing the classroom with usSalamander 2 MMN 201603—with tips and ideas as a sort of crash-course in identification. Salamanders came first—known as “walking tails,” they typically have a neck, and you can count their costal grooves (between the front and rear legs). Scott forgot to tell us how to politely ask the salamander to roll over and show us its costal grooves, but we pressed on.

Frogs versus toads came next—frogs have relatively long legs and smooth skin; toads have shorter legs and warty skin.

Turtles brought two more vocabulary words: carapace (top shell) and plastron (bottom shell) and a brief mention that the amount of the bottom shell varies depending on use—for example, snapping turtles don’t need as much protection because they have other means of defense.

On to lizards, with a note that lizards came before snakes, evolutionarily. Snakes can have keeled or smooth scales, and you can tell the difference even from a cast-off snake skin (which is actually inside-out when you find it). Once again, identifying a venomous from a non-venomous snake involves checking out the subcaudal (under the tail) scales—“excuse me, Ms. Snake, would you please show me your subcaudal scales so I can classify you?”  We met Scott’s corn snake, Carl, who was a little less colorful than usual because he (Carl, not Scott) was getting ready to molt (ecdysis).

Lizard from Beatrix Potter MMNAt this point, Scott detoured a bit to encourage us to start keeping a field notebook—he showed us a couple of his—and reminded us to include details, details, details, such as date, weather, exact location, habitat, and even photo and GPS (latitude/longitude) coordinates. I was reminded of my love of Beatrix Potter’s writing and drawing and her lifelong habit of keeping a field journal.

Back to identification strategies, and we learned about (and looked at) a spotted salamander, a red-spotted newt, an eastern red-backed salamander, a four-toed salamander (only the rear foot has 4 toes), an eastern spadefoot, Fowler’s toad versus American toad (count the spots on the warts to differentiate), New Jersey chorus frog, northern spring peeper, Cope’s Grey versus Northern Grey tree frogs, wood frog, southern leopard frog, pickerel grog, northern green frog, bullfrog, eastern fence lizard, skink, northern watersnake, garter snake, ribbon snake, black racer snake, rat snake, and copperhead snake. In addition to looking at these animals, we also listened to many of their vocalizations. Whew!

Herps Lab 5 MMN 201603After our lunch break, we came back into the classroom to find four stations set up, each with 5 or 6 questions on cards, propped in front of a creature or some part thereof. We broke into four groups (I was the secretary for the Lizards) and spent 10 minutes at each table, trying to identify what we were seeing—we had our notes and some field guides to help us, plus the excellent “four brains are better than one” approach. After each group had a chance to work at each table, we compared notes and scored our efforts. Scott had thrown in a couple of very tough examples, but the idea of this “quiz” helped us to really approach the process of identification as much as actually getting an answer.

I found myself glad, once again, that our class only meets once a month because there is so much material to incorporate into my thinking; I am exploiting the opportunity to go home, review my notes, try to identify the creatures I find in the backyard, do some online readings, etc. Even in 10 full days of training, there is a LOT of information to cover. We were so pleased to spend the day with Scott Smith and all his herps!

by Beth Lawton
Maryland Master Naturalist-in-Training

Photos courtesy of Beth Lawton; lizard drawing by Beatrix Potter.


More April events!

We hope you enjoyed the beginning of April and all the events our region has to offer. But wait, there’s more! Earth Day is just around the corner, and with it come lots of great events on the Eastern Shore.
heronblogThe Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center is continuing its Environmentally Speaking Lecture Series on April 20 at 7 p.m. Executive Director Judy Wink will speak about the three common herons of the Eastern Shore.

The Center for Environment & Society at Washington College will kick off Earth Day celebrations on Friday, April 22 with the showing of More than Honey and a mead tasting by Charm City Meadworks on the Chester Riverfront. If you are excited about the prospect of making your own mead from your own honeybees, attend a talk by Master Beekeeper Capt. David Smith on April 25 at 4:30 p.m. at Washington College. Smith will speak about honeybee colony management on the Eastern Shore. Call Jamie Frees at 410-810-7162 for more information.

Better start marking your calendar now, because Earth Day weekend is packed with fantastic events! Eastern Shore Land Conservancy will host a Spring Bird Walk on April 23 at 8 a.m. in Talbot County. Land Protection Specialist Jared Parks will lead a walk along forested riparian buffers and open fields, the perfect habitat for spotting spring migratory birds. Afterward, swing by the Community Plant Swap at Pickering Creek Audubon Center. Bring your extra seeds or divided plants, or just come check out Pickering Creek.


Chestertown Earth Day Festival

Also on April 23, stroll through Chestertown’s 6th Annual Earth Day Festival and enjoy the art, music, farmer’s market, and much more! While you’re in Chestertown, stop by Unity Nursery in Church Hill for a talk on Woodland Gardening by Lyle Almond. Learn how to create a balanced garden that is beautiful and natural.

Who’s ready to start their garden?! The Mt. Cuba Center is giving a class on April 28 on trillium“Terrific Trilliums”! Learn about the trillium’s life cycle, and find out how to care for them in your own garden. Don’t miss the 27th Annual Geranium and Spring Flower Sale in St. Michaels on April 29 and 30! Beautiful potted geraniums in all colors, large hanging baskets, and assorted bedding plants will be available rain or shine! And, of course, don’t miss the Arboretum’s Nursery Opening Day for members (both current and those who join that day) on Saturday, April 30.


Native Plant Nursery Opening Day for members – Saturday, April 30!

Welcome the warm weather and the end of April with a Paddle into Spring on April 30 with the Sassafras Environmental Education Center at Turner’s Creek. Call Jaime Belanger at 410-348-5214 for more information!

We can’t wait to see what events May has in store! Don’t forget to check out Adkins Arboretum’s event schedule!

by Kathy Thornton
Arboretum volunteer

Gardening for butterflies


The Xerces Society just released a new book, Gardening for Butterflies: How you can attract and protect beautiful, beneficial insects. Did you know that tropical milkweed planted in the garden can encourage Monarchs to lay eggs outside of their regular breeding season, possibly disrupting their migratory cycle? Planting native milkweed is always the best option for Monarchs.

by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services & Volunteer Coordinator