Archive for the 'Plants' Category

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 if you are interested in volunteering with the Aquarium Conservation Team.

Full cycle recycling

When it came time to re-mulch the waterfront park, our horticulturists did their due diligence in choosing a mulch product that not only fit the needs of the park, but was also in line with the Aquarium’s sustainability efforts.

As it turns out, the mulch that best fit our needs comes from the same company that we use for our composting needs. Recycled Green Industries is a commercial composting facility in Woodbine, Maryland, that provides compost and topsoil for landscaping needs.

Each year, more than 30,000 pounds of organic waste from the Aquarium’s café kitchens, animal prep kitchens, and visitor and staff dining areas is sent to the Recycled Green farm for composting.

Last week, 3 cubic yards of composted mulch was delivered and incorporated into the park. What was once Aquarium waste earlier this year may very well be what’s helping to keep our plants and trees alive today. It’s great to see our recycling efforts come full circle!

Over 50,000 trees & grasses planted in 2010!

As we welcome the start of the New Year, the Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) would also like to take a moment to reflect back on a successful end to 2010. The National Public Lands Day event at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine on September 25 was a great wrap-up for our 2010 Field Days. Led by our experienced ACT! members, 189 volunteers spent their Saturday morning removing 20,000 pieces of debris from the Inner Harbor. Since 1998, Aquarium volunteers have collected more than 12 million pieces of debris from this small wetland!

In October, we spent a week at Naval Support Facility Indian Head in Charles County, Maryland. With the help of 50 volunteers, we restored nearly a mile of riparian buffer along the Potomac River. We were very pleased to work with not only local community members, but also AmeriCorps volunteers from the Maryland Conservation Corps, and quite a few volunteers and staff from the National Aquarium Institute. It’s a good thing we had so much dedicated help, because the event involved planting 1,850 trees – and we’re not talking seedlings! The shoreline is now home to a healthy mix of sweet bay magnolia, river birch, black willow, sycamore, and several other riparian species. We will be returning to Indian Head to plant marsh grasses along the lower intertidal area of the rebuilt shoreline in the spring. Sign up to receive e-mail from our Conservation team about upcoming events.

Volunteers help restore sand dunes at Virginia Beach

In early November, we switched gears and traveled to Virginia Beach to continue our work restoring the dunes at area naval bases. This trip involved planting 7,000 native dune grasses at JEB Little Creek and 20,000 grasses at NASO Dam Neck. Over the course of four days, we had the help of nearly 150 volunteers – they included dedicated ACT! members, base personnel, local school groups, community members, and partners from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.

In total, ACT! planted 50,030 grasses and trees in 2010. Of course, we could not have done it without the help of 731 wonderful volunteers! Many thanks to all of you who spent time with us restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and we hope to see you in 2011.

When given a chance, life flourishes

If visitors to the harbor could see below the surface of the water, they would see an abundance of aquatic life, from blue-fish and blue crabs to dozens of other species. They survive there despite the extremely poor water quality, which can often lead to fish kills and algae blooms.

Three months ago today we introduced an innovative approach to upgrade that water quality: manmade floating wetlands. Just three months into the project, we have seen that our wetland is becoming a complete, thriving ecosystem, with all the components you would expect to see in a marsh! This single wetland is telling us that when given a chance, life flourishes.

Our wetland is part of a pilot project that includes two other floating islands in the harbor, installed and managed by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, a group that includes the Aquarium and Baltimore City. The goal? To prove that these wetlands have a positive effect on harbor habitat.

For the next two years, we will be collecting data to evaluate one island’s effect on water quality, with the Maryland Department of the Environment close by our side. The data we’ve already collected are promising! To help show you what we’re seeing, our cameras took a dive below the surface:

Our island was installed late in the summer, so the plants didn’t have an entire season to grow. Despite this, the plants have thrived. But the thriving plants above the island only tell a small part of the story. As you saw in the video, a lot of the action goes on beneath the island.

Continue reading ‘When given a chance, life flourishes’

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