Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

The Brood X cicadas, and their songs, may be gone, but the effect of their several week sojourn in Northern Virginia is readily apparent in many treetops. Female cicadas make small slits in the ends of tree branches to lay their eggs. That small slit kills the branch tip, a condition known as flagging.

The crown and branches of a large tree may have hundreds of brown “flags” right now, a good indication of where the next Brood X will emerge in 2038.

Entomologists and foresters tell us that cicada flagging will not kill a tree; flagging simply “prunes” a tree. The fallen “flags” can be disposed of as yard waste.

The rice-like cicada eggs already have sucked at the tree fluids that sustain them as they fall and burrow into the ground that will shelter them for another 17 years, as the fascinating cycle starts anew.

At the same time that the 2021 cicada cycle was fading, the Fairfax County Tree Commission released its annual tree-planting report to the Board of Supervisors.

The Tree Commission is an advisory group of about a dozen members who make recommendations to the board, but who also are committed to trees and their benefits to the environment.

In Fiscal Year 2021 (which ended on June 30), a grand total of 22,247 trees were planted or distributed through various local and state government agencies or non-profit organizations.

That number does not include homeowners who may have planted their own trees purchased through a commercial entity, like a garden center or nursery.

The Virginia Department of Forestry distributed more than 2,000 seedlings, which were planted by county agencies on county-owned land. At least six of those trees were planted at the Mason District Governmental Center by George Mason University students.

One of the new trees stands watch outside my office window; it sported tiny pink flowers when it was first installed on a cold March morning.

The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District and Earth Sangha distributed more than 13,000 seedlings and trees, and Fairfax ReLeaf planted another 6,500 seedlings within the county.

“Plant Virginia Trees: Plant NOVA Natives” is a five-year planting and preservation campaign with 140 partnering organizations, focused on government, non-profit, private and individual landowners.

The Tree Commission report says that the goal is to change landscaping culture, address climate change, and contribute to the Virginia Department of Forestry’s goal of planting 600,000 trees by 2025.

Native trees are important to local habitats; many popular landscaping trees, like Bradford pear, are non-native, invasive, and fraught with problems.

Beautiful blossoms for about three weeks in the springtime, but brittle, subject to wind and weather damage, and short-lived.

The seedling distribution mentioned above uses only native plants; a good place to see native trees and plants in the landscape is Green Spring Gardens, a jewel of a Fairfax County Park near the intersection of Braddock Road and Little River Turnpike in Mason District.

Staff, volunteers, and Master Gardeners can provide tips and lots of information about planting and caring for native plantings in the suburban landscape.

Native trees planted now will be mature and ready for the next Brood X cicadas in 2038!

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]