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Miss Floribunda: The Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly

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Posted on: September 16, 2019

Dear Miss Floribunda,

I was really appalled by the insults from neighbors that “Eating Dirt” described in last month’s letter. While my very polite neighbors have been wonderful to me, a life-long resident of Arizona who moved to Hyattsville, I suspect they want me to make changes.There have been many friendly offers to help me with weeding that I haven’t accepted, just because I am so thrilled to finally have a lush green garden for the first time in my life. It’s true that I have a lot of plants I can’t identify, but I recognize quite a few that I’ve seen in Nicholson Park and especially Magruder Park, where my grandchildren and I spend a lot of time. The kids, by the way, think Magruder Park is as wonderful in its small way as the Grand Canyon. They not only like the events, the baseball diamond and the pool, but the nature walks we take there. 

So, is there a list of plants in Magruder Park that I could look up and find pictures of? I’d like to know which of my plants are desirable and which might be invasive weeds I should get rid of. Thank you so much. 

Newcomer on Nicholson Street

Dear Newcomer,

Welcome to Hyattsville. You will encounter new gardening challenges in our microclimate, of course. Weeds thrive in our what you term our “lush”  gardens. However, you are certainly right that most of what you see in Magruder Park, which is carefully overseen by Hyattsville’s Department of Public Works, is probably desirable in your own garden. Situated on the Anacostia River flood plain, this beloved park was donated to the City of Hyattsville in 1927, and it preserves a still-untainted ecosystem full of lovely native plants that house and feed many rare species of insects as well as the bats, frogs and toads that keep down our pesky mosquito population. You can get descriptive lists of its native plants, pollinating insects, and birds from Dawn Taft, supervisor of Environmental Programs for Hyattsville. Contact information is on the City of Hyattsville website: You can also get a list of the invasive plants you do not want in your garden from Marc Imlay, chair of the Natural Places Committee of the Sierra Club (ma********@ma******.org).

You might want to encourage your grandchildren to volunteer to help weed in Magruder Park with the experts. A group gathers there the third Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. to remove invasive species. You can get details from Colleen Aistis, Hyattsville’s Community Services manager, or just show up at the park and join the group. This would be hands-on learning, and would give the kids a way to participate in improving their new community. In the long term, it might even open up a career path in ecology for them. In the short term, Magruder Park is in very great need of boosters just now.

As you’ve come from Arizona, I’m sure you know that your magnificent Grand Canyon is famous for its ecosystem. Yet there are powerful forces seeking to open it to development, beginning at the edges, as well as a project for a tourist tramway across it that comes with restaurants and restrooms. Even more horrifying, recent news concerning wildfires in Amazonia, “the lungs of the world,” illustrate the disastrous consequences of allowing commercial interests free rein. 

Magruder Park, though it comprises only 32 acres, is the “lungs” of the City of Hyattsville, and has its own complex and delicate ecosystem in need of respect. To give only one example of what the park protects, the pretty white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) you find in the wetland area of the park is host to Maryland’s state butterfly, the Baltimore checkerspot. An important pollinator, this butterfly’s numbers have been steeply declining in Maryland and in other regions, so it is something of an honor that our own Magruder Park is providing a habitat for it. And, in addition to pollinators and mosquito-eaters, deer and other wildlife displaced by construction all around have found a haven in the park. Should any part of the park be nibbled away, there would be even more deer in our gardens helping themselves to our shrubs! 

Because there is talk of building a new middle school in the park, I want to go on record as opposing this as well as any high-density town house development in the flood plain adjacent to Magruder Park. My personal feeling is that the old school ought to be renovated, because renovation, with possible expansion, is the only genuinely “green” building. (Think about it — it makes sense to retain what is still usable rather than starting from scratch.) Nor do I understand the need to move the location of the school to another place. When Northwestern High School in Hyattsville was demolished in 2000, it was rebuilt on-site. Of course I agree that a better Hyattsville Middle School is needed, but I do not believe there can be any valid reason to violate Magruder Park. 

To discuss these matters and to participate in a plant exchange that might prove very useful to you, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society. As there will be no September meeting, the next meeting will take place on Saturday, Oct. 19 at 10 a.m. at the home of Joe Buriel and Dave Roeder, 3909 Longfellow Street.



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