City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More
Judy Points to Where the Blight Encircles Her American Chestnut Tree

Featured Article

Butterflies, Bees and Trees Need Champions to Thrive

Three Loudoun Residents Pitch In to Help Save the Planet

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Melinda Gipson, Monica Tressler

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

Monica Tressler, Monarch Maven

Visit Monica Tressler’s house in the Tavistock neighborhood in Leesburg in warmer months, and you’ll wonder where the family eats. The dining room table will be covered with pop-up, mesh butterfly tents hosting the eggs and caterpillars of the majestic Monarch. Monica and her sons bring eggs and caterpillars indoors to improve on their "in the wild" survival rate of around 5 percent.

Monarchs just naturally find Monica's Monarch Waystation, an official certification offered by Kansas University in Lawrence, Kansas which operates a nationwide registry of Monarch-friendly gardens. (See http://monarchwatch.org). Proper waystations require "a balance of host plants and nectar plants. The host plant is what the monarch lays their eggs on, so a native host would be the common milkweed, swamp milkweed or butterfly weed. The nectar plant could be a butterfly bush or cone flowers. And, if you build it they do come; they find it.”

In the summer, she and her sons check the garden daily looking for eggs or caterpillars, bringing in the whole stalk of a host plant when they find eggs. Then they keep the hatched caterpillars fed until they transform into the iconic orange and black insects. After a day to dry their wings, the butterflies are released back into the garden to enjoy the season until the last generation bred in warm weather fuels up to migrate back to Mexico.

She says she tends Monarchs to educate her boys and make them more environmentally conscious. But she’s also her own force of nature, encouraging anyone who will listen to learn more about the importance of butterflies as pollinators.

She’s already encouraged Oatlands’ board to approve the construction of a Monarch Waystation, and hopes to work with partners like the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Loudoun County Schools, and others to create a curriculum that would enable more school-age children to study their life cycle and environmental impact. (For more, see Facebook groups Loudoun Butterflies: Habitat & ConservationThe Monarch Butterfly Crusader, and Monarch Butterfly Garden.) 

Todd Soos, Beekeeper Trainer

April marks the beginning of beekeeping season. As honey bees get ready to forage for nectar, beekeepers help them store enough energy by feeding them sugar fondant to make it through the cold snaps. Colony size increases from late March to early April, then the process of pollinating and seeking food begins.

So, who expands the “colonies” of beekeepers?  By day, Todd Soos is an information systems security manager for Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. But on nights and weekends in the late winter and early spring he's at Patrick Henry College teaching novice beekeepers his craft for the Loudoun Beekeepers Association (http://loudounbee.org).

“When I was growing up, I had a neighbor who had bees and was very interested in it. One year I decided if I’m ever going to do this I’d better start. I came to this very class in 2008 and started my beekeeping venture then,” Todd says. “I like honeybees. My day job is in technology, and this helps bring me back to ground.”

Todd has 14 hives near Lovettsville, but also serves as an ambassador and bee advocate at local fairs and other community events where the association is represented. The organization educates about 60 new beekeeping families a year, and meets monthly to discuss the biology of bees, raising and managing honeybee colonies and even the legal aspects of beekeeping.

He likes teaching because, “You get new beekeepers, but even if a person doesn’t come to the class to become a beekeeper they're now a bee advocate.” Todd says the more people know about how bees work and by extension other pollinators, the more likely they may be to create habitat that helps bees benefit the food we eat, “versus creating acres of green grass and mowing it all the time.”

Judy Loose's American Chestnut

Judy Loose grew up outside of Herndon. While living in Connecticut, she and her husband perfected an environmentally safe deer repellant that kept their local deer population from destroying their trees and shrubs. Made from an extract from rotten eggs, the repellant keeps deer away without harming wildlife. Now back in Virginia, she runs NoVa’s Deer Shield, offering a service to help homeowners protect their trees from deer defoliation, beginning in March and ending with the first frost.

Clearly a tree-lover, Judy one day noticed distinctive blooms on a tree between her property and a neighbor’s. Suspecting it might be an American Chestnut tree – a rarity in the wild after a blight nearly wiped them out in the 1920’s – she first confirmed it with the American Chestnut Foundation (http://acf.org), then watched it become a significant pillar in a local effort to breed a tree that is more blight resistant. Offspring of Judy’s tree and one other have spawned a second generation plantings in Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve and Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce.

Jack Lamonica, a former head of both ACF nationally and the Virginia ACF chapter, says Judy’s tree is significant because the blight typically kills American Chestnuts before they mature and can reproduce. Virginia's hybrid pollination effort is spearheaded by ACF’s research facility in Meadowview. There they work to cross pollinate American trees with Chinese chestnuts that are blight and root-rot resistant. Hybrid trees will then be returned to the woods where they once supplied up to 80 percent of all food for native wildlife.

Ironically, the blight that came close to wiping out American Chestnut trees came from Chinese chestnut trees imported to help transform its American cousin into an orchard crop. “It’s said to be the worst manmade environmental disaster in the U.S. ever. They never recovered,” Jack said, but with time and tending, there’s hope for their return. 

  • Judy Points to Where the Blight Encircles Her American Chestnut Tree
  • Todd Demonstrates Beekeeping Equipment
  • Monica's Sons Tend Butterflies in Her Waystation
  • Monica, Monarch Maven
  • Giving Monarchs a Hand