Peak Color!

Peak Color!

Autumn color 2018 was late arriving to the Quarry Gardens, but some species—notably dogwood—were more brilliant than ever. Garden volunteer and Master Naturalist Victoria Dye brought her camera and keen eye along to join Rachel’s team on Friday. After the weeding, cutting, and seeding were done, she made this portfolio of photos.
Recent Visitors

Recent Visitors

In addition to the many individuals and families who visit for scheduled tours, we’ve hosted more than 40 groups this year.

Fifteen members of the  Madison Presbyterian Church Green Team visited the QGs in late September, and the two in the featured photo, above, made a souvenir selfie. Beyond beautifying their church, these garden and environmental  educators also maintain a meditation garden on Buford Road in Richmond.

On September 29. Will and Margaret Shaw collected seeds to propagate into plants for the Virginia Native Plant Society’s spring 2020 plant sale. Among the many seeds collected were those of three species of mountain mint, two of Asters, Carolina rose, Yellow false indigo, and Shrubby St. John’s wort.

Having recently completed a unit on geology, 17 of the 6th graders in Mrs. Sharon Cross’s class at  Central Virginia Christian School in Dillwyn came to check out rocks at the QGs in October. They completed an amazing number of sketches.

We’re honored to be the meeting home of The Blue Ridge Mycological Society, which held its first event at the QGs October 21. The group drank chaga (mushroom) tea and foraged briefly in natural areas near the Visitor Center. There wasn’t time to identify all of the great variety of specimens found, but documented findings will be shared with the Microflora Project, and many new species will be added to the QGs biota. They’ll be back November 11. If you would like to know more, contact Bernice through the QGs website.

Lorraine Momper brought a few of her plein air painting group to spend a chilly but brilliant October day. No shortage of vantage points.

Lorraine chose the overlook at the north wall of the south quarry. Julia Lesnichy chose a handy view of the road. The group will be back next week—when we hope the leaves will have turned.


Ready for Take-off

Ready for Take-off

Last weekend, a few days after a weeding party spotted Monarch butterfly caterpillars in the Visitor Center’s Demonstration Garden, four chrysalises showed up attached to bluestem grasses and boneset.

Between showers this afternoon, we checked on them. One had apparently flown, leaving behind a ragged shell. Two were slowly drying and trying their wings in the mist. One has yet to emerge, but through the case, we can see the faintest stripes, which means it won’t be long.

The pupa seems entirely too small to contain all that butterfly—as if the metamorphosis were not enough of a miracle. Note the very faint lines visible through this one.

Next, a newly hatched monarch just out and still drying its wings.

Thrilling to see them, and to know their plan. Unlike the season’s previous three generations, which live no more than six weeks, these butterflies will migrate—up to 3,000 miles—to warmer climates and live for six to eight months until time to come north again.

In an earlier stage, before pupation, they were caterpillars, like this one.

The caterpillar is a voracious eater capable of consuming an entire common milkweed leaf in less than five minutes. In the process they gain a poisonous defense against vertebrate predators such as frogs and birds.  (This one was in the house garden last year, but succumbed to a praying mantis, against whom its defenses were ineffective.)

Here is the scene, the garden at the side of the Visitor Center near the loop road, where the monarchs emerged.

It’s That Golden Time

It’s That Golden Time

Fourteen species of Goldenrod grow at The Quarry Gardens, and most of them are blooming right about now. The featured image pictures a fine show of Gray goldenrod along the road at the quarry overlook platform.

North America is the world’s center for goldenrods with about 100 native species. Not surprisingly for such a large family of similar plants, they can be difficult to distinguish. In a timely move, Devin Floyd and Drew Chaney, of the Center for Urban Habitats, have created a user-friendly key to identifying those at the Quarry Gardens. Their key clusters the 14 species into five groups based on the shapes of their flower heads, and then goes into the details of leaf shape, stem hairiness, etc., each ending with a positive identification of one of these:

Stiff goldenrod, Solidago rigida                                                Silverrod, Solidago bicolor

Downy goldenrod, Solidago puberula                                     Slender goldenrod, Solidago erecta

Showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa                                     Gray goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis

Pineywoods goldenrod, Solidago pinetorum                         Early goldenrod, Solidago juncea

Blue-stemmed goldenrod, Solidago caesia                         Zig-zag goldenrod, Solidago flexicaulis 

Sweet goldenrod, Solidago odora                                          Late goldenrod, Solidago gigantea

Tall goldenrod, Solidago altissima                                        Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensis

The key may be found printed at the QG’s Visitor Center, or here:  Key to the Goldenrods (Solidago) of Quarry Gardens Not being especially skilled (or patient) with dichotomous keys, we’re still mystified by several of these, but here are photos of some easy ones:

          Sweet goldenrod has leaves that smell like anise. It may be found in the meadow by the Visitor Center and the North Quarry waterside pollinator patch, among other places.

           Silverrod might fool you you didn’t know that there is one white-flowering species of goldenrod.  It may be found along the pine needle pathway to the overlook platform.

          Stiff goldenrod may be found in the Demonstration garden by the Visitor Center.

Devin found this Slender goldenrod along the road by the South Quarry.

     Pineywoods goldenrod volunteered—where else?—in the pinewoods along the path from the Visitor Center to the quarry overlook.

     Showy goldenrod frames a view of the prairie that now covers the site of the first (middle) quarry. It is also among the 69 species planted or seeded into that prairie.


A few facts about Goldenrods:

  • They are a food and nectar source for many insects.
  • Their pollen does not cause hay fever; the culprit is ragweed, which blooms at the same time. Goldenrod has been used medicinally to reduceallergy symptoms.
  • All  are members of the Aster family, short-day plants that bloom in late summer.
  • Thomas Edison, experimenting to extract the maximum amount of rubber from goldenrod, produced a 12-foot tall plant that was 12% rubber. The tires on the Model T Ford given to him by his friend Henry Ford were made of rubber from goldenrod.
  • The young leaves are edible, and the plant has had some uses in traditional medicine for kidney ailments.
  • The name Solidagomeans to make whole or heal.
  • Cluster galls are a species indicator as they are found only on Canada goldenrod.
Addendum, 9/16/18
In spite of Devin’s key, which I (Bernice) didn’t read carefully enough, I  misidentified two goldenrods in the previous blog. The one I called silverrod is actually boneset. Here are his photos of Silverrod, Solidago bicolor,
and Showy goldenrod, solidago speciosa.
Mea culpa.
Bird Walk Opportunity

Bird Walk Opportunity

Ezra and Theo Staengl know birds. They also know the Quarry Gardens, having walked here often and supplied images and text for the Visitor Center’s digital photo exhibit Birds of the Quarry Gardens. Here they are (at another site).


So far, our 40-acre site has yielded sightings of 75 species, including the Scarlet Tanager in the featured photo, and the Indigo Bunting, below.


On Thursday, September 13, Ezra will lead a two-hour walk to observe year-round and early fall migrating birds, starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Visitor Center. To join him, sign up online at The event is limited to 12 participants.


Ecosystem Modeling With Devin Floyd

Ecosystem Modeling With Devin Floyd

A beautiful day last Wednesday at the Quarry Gardens for a continuing education workshop on Ecosystem Modeling, sponsored by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) and led by Devin Floyd of the Center for Urban Habitats (CUH).

The 25 landscape professionals in attendance came mostly from Virginia but also from parts of Maryland. Representing various specialties related to landscape design and management, they spent much of the day working in multidisciplinary teams. The three people standing are helpers with online research (l to r) Carol Heiser, DGIF; Rachel Bush, CUH; Devin Floyd, CUH.


At the confluence of three Virginia ecoregions and a river, including areas both disturbed and undisturbed, the QGs site presents a wide spectrum of ecosystems. The day’s  theme—Using Natural plant Communities as Models for Landscape Design—took participants from the Visitor Center’s classroom outside to analyze a disturbed site back of the Quonset hut, to find indicator plants in old forest remnants near the parking area, and to see a newly established prairie thriving over a former dump site. In these settings, they were able to  observe and try the research methods of ecosystem discovery and modeling, and to see its benefits. Here are two photos of members of the group finding clues in rocks, soil, and plants in a recently disturbed area back of the Visitor Center:


A few even had energy left at the end of the day to walk the main trail and see the quarries! We were happy to host the day, and hope that the QGs might be the inspiration and location for many more such educational  events.