Archive for the 'Plants' Category



Thoughtful Thursday: Giant Kelp, the World’s Fastest-Growing Species

The fastest-growing species in the world actually makes its home in the ocean: giant kelp!

The Kelp Forest exhibit at our Baltimore venue

Forests of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) are spread out along the Pacific coast from Alaska to the Southern Channel Islands; Baja, California; South America; South Africa; and Australia. Tiered like terrestrial rain forests, expansive mazes of giant kelp provide food and shelter to some of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems.

Individual strands of kelp can grow up to 2 feet per day, ultimately reaching heights of 148 feet, according to NOAA. The tops of these strands fuse together to create floating canopy beds, making an ideal home for animals like seals, sea lions, sea otters, gulls, terns, snowy egrets, and great blue herons. Underwater, kelp forests provide a great array of habitats, from the holdfasts to the surface mats, supporting thousands of invertebrate species like shrimp, crab, and brittle stars.

Much like their above-ground cousins, these rain forests of the ocean are gravely threatened by climate change. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization of Australia reports that in some cases off the coast of Tasmania, giant kelp forests, similar to those off the coast of California, have shrunk more than 95%. The threats to these ecological communities are so severe, they’ve now been categorized as endangered.

The biggest threats to these forests? Warming sea surface temperatures, invasive species, and biodiversity loss due to runoff and sedimentation. Although these magnificent underwater forests grow at extremely fast rates, they are swiftly being taken down by human impacts on the environment.

There are a few easy things you can do to help protect this amazing species!

  • Make yourself aware of what chemicals you use in your everyday life. Check for dangerous and/or harmful ingredients and, whenever possible, do not use pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that can be harmful to the environment.
  • Plant a native garden and practice sustainable gardening techniques. Click here to find out more.
  • Get involved! And inspire others to follow your lead.
    Click here to find out more about the Thoughtful Choices you can practice at home.

How Does Our Garden Grow?

With the unusually mild winter, it appears that gardens, orchards, and fields along the East Coast are blossoming and producing earlier-than-usual crops. This includes the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Waterfront Park in front of the National Aquarium, Baltimore. Its greenery is particularly lush this year, and there are a lot of flowers and fruits for curious guests and foraging birds alike.

Bee Balm—Monarda didyma


Bee balm, or scarlet balm, is a shrub that grows on the edges or understory of forests throughout the eastern U.S. and Asia. Often used as an ornamental plant, its brilliant red chandelier-like bloom is a favorite for butterflies and hummingbirds. It also has strong medicinal properties and was relied on by Native Americans for its use as an antiseptic and a poultice for skin infections and wounds. They brewed its leaves and stems as a tea to treat mouth and throat infections, as well as gingivitis. Amazingly, bee balm is a proven natural source of the antiseptic thymol, an active ingredient in most commercial mouthwashes!

Pitcher Plants—Sarracenia purpurea


Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants often referred to as “flytraps.” The purple pitcher plant is native to Maryland and can be found in acidic bogs and marshes. Excellent for controlling pests such as flying insects, slugs, and snails, these plants use nectar and scent to lure their prey into their “pitcher death traps.”

The cylindrical “pitcher” has very smooth and slippery sides and fills with water. Insects attracted by the nectar walk into the slippery pitcher only to fall in and drown. The dead bugs are then liquefied and absorbed as food by special enzymes produced in the plant.

Pitcher plants are commonly used in herbal remedies for treating fevers and increasing fertility in women. An infusion of its roots was once used to treat smallpox.

Shadbush—Amelanchier arborea


The shadbush is laden with ripe berries, providing a much-needed source of food for both migrating and local birds.

The next time you find yourself walking in the Inner Harbor area, stop by and check out our fantastic assortment of native plants in the Waterfront Park!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Native Garden Planting at Pier 6 Pavilion

The National Aquarium, in partnership with Rams Head and the Pier 6 Concert Pavilion, recently converted an unused area of turf on the western slope of the pavilion into a native plant garden!

Before and after

This new garden will help filter runoff and provide food and habitat for local pollinators and birds, as well as educate concert-goers on how beautiful and carefree a bay-friendly garden can be. Kyle Muellhauser, owner of Rams Head and a big supporter of the National Aquarium, approached our Conservation team and asked if we would be interested in using the space for an educational display. As we discussed ideas, we focused on something that would be attractive to visitors and also could inspire them to look at their own yards in a new way.

By planting native plants at home, you are not only providing food and habitat for wildlife, you are also decreasing the amount of fertilizer, water, and time needed to create and maintain an attractive yard. We chose native, drought-tolerant plants that would add interest to the site and would need little long-term care. Included in the list of plants were black-eyed susans, Christmas ferns, tickseed, blazing stars, American holly, joe-pye weed, and bee balm.

Two staff horticulturists took the lead on the project and designed the garden. They used similar plants and ideas from our Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Waterfront Park, a much more extensive version of a Maryland native garden. By choosing species that are native to this area and are proven to thrive in downtown Baltimore, we can be assured that this new garden will continue to educate visitors for years to come. The next time you attend a concert at the Pier 6 Concert Pavilion, don’t forget to check out the garden to see what is in bloom and get inspired to create your own bay-friendly garden. Click here to get started with ideas!

The crew!

Animal Updates – March 30

Between our Baltimore and Washington, DC, venues, more than 17,500 animals representing 900 species call the National Aquarium home. There are constant changes, additions, and more going on behind the scenes that our guests may not notice during their visit. We want to share these fun updates with our community so we’re bringing them to you in our weekly Animal Update posts!

Check our WATERlog blog every Friday to find out what’s going on… here’s what’s new this week!

Reef Scorpionfish 
We’ve added three Reef Scorpionfish to our Caribbean Camouflage exhibit.

Most scorpion fishes live on or near the bottom. They lie in crevices, in caves and under overhangs. This type of scorpionfish can change its color to better match its surroundings. For example, if it’s near sand, it will camouflage to look like sand while if it’s near red rocks, it will change its coloration to match the rocks. Thus he can blend in with its surroundings and go unnoticed by its prey.

Spring Blooms 
Our Cochliostema odoratissimum is currently in bloom in our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit.

This large herbaceous plant is a tank-epiphyte, meaning the leaves form pockets at their bases to collect and store water. The leaves later absorb the water through small leaf hairs called trichromes. This characteristic gives this plant a very bromeliad-like appearance, making this species sometimes called false bromeliad; however, because this plant is rare in cultivation it has no scientifically recognized common name.

The leaves of the plant can grow in-excess of 1 meter in length and grow in a rosette, meaning its stem does not elongate and is comprised of overlapping leaf bases. The flowers erupt from clusters that form on the top of stalks, originating from the base of the leaf whorls. These clusters each produce a couple dozen flowers and must be hand pollinated in cultivation in order to produce fruit. The flowers have a deep blue to purple coloration and are highly fragrant.

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!

A busy season for field work!

Thanks to the generous help of 642 volunteers and students, the Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) was able to make a positive impact throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed in the spring and summer of 2011! Three large-scale wetland restoration events took us from Southern Maryland to the Eastern Shore, and each site offered unique surroundings and experiences.

In early May, we revisited Dominion Cove Point LNG to plant the low marsh area of a shoreline recently built with the beneficial use of dredged material. Super-high tides and deep mud couldn’t keep our dedicated volunteers away, as they worked to plant more than 42,000 grasses!

This project in Lusby, MD, was designed to reinforce the Bay shoreline and protect a nearby freshwater wetland – a delicate, rare habitat that was threatened by storm surge and salt-water intrusion.

Our next event took the Conservation Team to the shores of the Potomac River at Naval Support Facility Indian Head. The base is threatened by heavy erosion and the Navy is in the process of rebuilding and reinforcing the entire shoreline. The National Aquarium is helping to lend a hand…or hundreds!

Volunteers helped us plant a 5.7-acre section of shoreline with 700 native riparian trees and 13,689 wetland grasses. Even the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy stopped by to plant a few trees!

Last, but certainly not least, ACT! traveled to Maryland’s Eastern Shore to take part in the ongoing restoration of Poplar Island. This Chesapeake Bay island was once the site of several homes and hunting lodges, but over many decades it eroded away –
from more than 1,000 acres to fewer than 10.

The Maryland Port Administration saw the opportunity to rebuild this valuable habitat area. With the collaboration of many hard-working partners and the use of dredged material, it is nearly restored to its original 1,400-acre footprint. The National Aquarium has taken part in volunteer planting events on Poplar Island since 2005, and this past June we worked with community members and student groups to plant 35,000 high marsh grasses. Students also toured the island and released year-old diamondback terrapins as part of their Terrapins in the Classroom project!

We’d like to thank all of our volunteers for a busy and successful spring and look forward to our upcoming fall events! Please contact conserve@aqua.org if you are interested in volunteering with the Aquarium Conservation Team.


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