Monthly Archives: May 2015

Rivanna: An Icon in Virginia History

The Rivanna River, currently a focal point of outdoor recreation, has long stood as an important part of Virginia’s history. It has held economic and military significance throughout time and has seen many alterations.

Before European settlers arrived in Virginia, the Monacan Indian tribe inhabited the area around the river. The Monacan people cleared forests along the riverbank for agricultural purposes, using shells and fish bones as fertilizer. After suffering repeated attacks from the Iroquois Indians, the Monacans left the banks of the Rivanna and were consequently gone before the English arrived.

As the English colonists began to take over the area, even more woodland was cut down in order to provide land for tobacco farming and later wheat. The river was initially called the “River Anna” after Queen Anne, later shortened to its current name.

Thomas Jefferson is often associated with the river, as he grew up nearby and consequently had a sustained interest in it. He conducted a study of the river in 1763 and later ordered that it be cleared and made suitable for transport, which would lead to its importance for travel during the American Revolutionary War. Bridges as well as a military depot and arsenal were built along the river. The military arsenal was captured by the British and destroyed during the war.

After the revolution, the Rivanna Navigation Company formed in order to make the river more navigable, building dams and locks all along it. The remnants of these dams can be seen today and add to the strong sense of history still present on the river.

As farming declined in Albemarle County, partly as a result of men leaving to fight in the world wars, the land that was once cleared along the Rivanna River returned to forested area, restoring some of the scenic area that predated human manipulation. Currently, forests surround 72.2% of the river. Several parks have been designated along the river, including Darden Towe Park, Pen Park, and Riverview Park.

In 1990, the Rivanna Conservation Society formed with the goal “to safeguard the ecological, recreational, historical, cultural, and scenic resources of the Rivanna River and its tributaries.” The society also works to connect citizens with the river in a responsible and positive way.

In 2008, the Rivanna River was the first Virginia river to be declared a “Scenic River” by the state government.  The Rivanna Conservation Society was a key component in achieving this status.

The river remains an important part of the Charlottesville area and is a heavily visited and appreciated aspect of the local outdoor culture.

Unfortunately, it is also impaired in several areas due to excessive pollution. The Department of Environmental Quality is currently conducting studies to find ways to improve the water quality. As the Rivanna is an extremely iconic and important part of Virginia’s history, cleaning and preserving it are crucial actions to ensure its health and usability for future generations.

Works Cited

“About the Rivanna Watershed.” Rivanna River Basin Commission. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <>.

“Mission and History.” Rivanna Conservation Society. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <>.

Nolting, Lindsay. “Rivanna River History.” Cville Water. 1 Feb. 1996. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <>.

Post by Michael Carter

An Edible Past: The Historic Relationship Between the Kentucky Coffeetree and Our Grounds

My name is Sam Askenas and I am a second year student entering the McIntire School of Commerce this upcoming fall.  This blog post is part of the Spring 2015 Edible Plants BioGrounds group endeavor to create a virtual map of many the edible plants located hear on grounds.  My responsibility is to report on the Kentucky Coffeetree located in the Gardens at Pavilion X and Morea Gardens.

“The planting of a tree […] is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.” – George Orwell

Although predating this quote, Thomas Jefferson and the overarching University of Virginia community exudes the same sentiment in each and every way.  As many of these blog posts will address, the greater Charlottesville area – and more specifically the Pavilion Gardens – have a plethora of trees and other plant life.  Undoubtedly, all these trees and plants add to the beauty of our grounds, but what is more important is that this greenery can double as sustenance for people.  The Kentucky Coffeetree is one such pant that adds to the character of the gardens in which it inhabits and can also be eaten as a means of nutrition.

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Morea Garden: Kentucky Coffeetree.  Photo from

The Kentucky Coffeetree is native to North America, and was further introduced to new areas by the Native Americans.  Originally, the pulp and bark were utilized as tonics and herbal remedies, but the tree was also utilized for food!  A tea can easily be made from the leaves and pulp, and many Native American tribes roasted the beans for food.  Additionally, Settlers would also utilize the beans as a coffee substitute.  However, not the whole tree is edible.  The presence of cytisine in the seeds and pods makes them poisonous to the human body if they are not roasted.  It is a common belief that the cytisine in the seeds and pods is neutralized, thus rendered obsolete, in the roasting process.


Morea Garden: Seed Pod from Kentucky Coffeetree.  Photo from

Pavilion X is one home of the Kentucky Coffeetree here on grounds.  The Kentucky Coffeetree can be seen on either side of the picturesque white bench.  On top of the tree’s ability to be eaten, it offers a tremendous amount of shade and adds to the overall beauty and biodiversity of the garden.  From my own experience, I can say that it was extremely peaceful to break away from the hubbub of everyday life and rest underneath this gorgeous tree.


Pavilion X Garden: Kentucky Coffeetree

The Kentucky Coffeetree can also be found in the Morea Garden.  Morea was originally built in 1834 by the first professor of natural history at the University of Virginia – Dr. John Patten Emmet.  Following his death in 1843, Morea has served as the residents for many UVa professors who use the grounds as a teaching tool for botany.  Presently, the University of Virginia and the Albemarle Garden Club share usage and care of the garden.


Morea House. Photo from

Edible plants are located all around us.  With the help of our virtual map, students and faculty will be able to marvel at the edible beauty that surrounds us.  By making a map of these plants and trees, we hope that it will encourage more people to enjoy all the delicious wonder that they have to offer.

Post by Sam Askenas

Works Cited:


First Location of Song Meter SM3

As the first group members to use the Song Meter SM3, Sarah Kearsley and I were not only the first ones to read through the manual and set the program, but we were also the first members of our group to choose a set up location for our device to record night flight bird calls.  The location of the Song Meter SM3 is very important to our research because it needs to be in an area that exists as a habitat to birds, is removed from extraneous noises, and high up enough to catch the bird calls.  In addition, because this recording device is very expensive and university owned, we wanted to place the Song Meter SM3 in a safe area on campus where the honor code is enforced.

We began by brainstorming many different places around grounds such as the top of Observatory Hill, outside of our house on Madison Lane, in the garden area atop Carrs Hill, in the wooded area by the Dell Pond, and even on the Lawn.  Slowly though we began weeding each area out.  The Lawn and the exterior of our house on Madison Lane experience a lot of pedestrian traffic, which could potentially lead to extraneous sounds on the recording device, as well as the possibility of being stolen.  Next we removed the idea of placing the device by the wooded area near the Dell Pond.  This is because the Dell Pond is too close to the busy street of Emmet Street, which is a University Bus Route and would cause too much extraneous noise from the vehicle traffic.  Our final options were the top of Observatory Hill and in the garden area atop Carrs Hill.  Because we planned to research two separate areas around grounds, we chose the location of the garden area atop Carrs Hill because it was closer to our house, a more unique space, and more secluded than other surrounding areas.  This location can be seen in the satellite image below, designated by the red arrow.  In addition to the map below, I have also included some images of the sound recording device as we secured it in the tree with a thick string between two branches.

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Post by Sarah Riedel

UVA Edible Gardens – Pavilion VII

My name is Trevor Ruegg and I am a second-year student from California. I am posting on behalf of the Edible Trees & Plants team.

Since first walking through the gardens during my first few weeks at UVA, the abundance of different plants and trees, both edible and not edible, has astounded me. I have had certain classes taught in the gardens, and some teachers have taken us there to encourage deeper, more reflective thought. Since Jefferson founded the University, gardens have had a critical presence on grounds. Many of the same plants here today have been there for hundreds of years. Most of my research consisted of exploring certain edible plants in the garden behind Pavilion VII.

Garden VII has a multitude of different plants, only some edible, but all beautiful. The apple, plum, and walnut trees provide penumbral lighting that is perfect for studying, thinking, and even a place to close your eyes and take a nap. This garden has a traditionally styled orchard, set in “old” style turf parterres (pictured below). Many of the elements in Garden VIII are reflective of what Jefferson saw traveling throughout Europe and other parts of the country not similar to Virginia.



I specifically focused on the plum tree, one of mine, as well as Jefferson’s, favorite fruits. The plum tree is popular throughout the entire world – in the US, Europe, and Asia. In America, plum trees begin to blossom in the spring and fruits are on the trees during the summer. As displayed in the picture below, the plum tree can reach heights of 15-20 feet when pruned properly. There are four different types of plum plants in this garden, out of the approximate 20 types across the world (depending on the taxonomist). Along with the sweet taste and juicy texture, plums have medicinal benefits for the digestive system and can function as a mild laxative when prepared certain ways. A plum tree is pictured below.


Unfortunately the quality and health of the plum yield has diminished over the past decades. During the present day, the plum trees, along with other edible trees in the UVA Gardens, are primarily for decorative and historical purposes, and do not produce the same yield that they would if they were used solely for harvesting purposes.

In an effort to explore edible weeds, I found ground ivy located under some of the trees outside Robertson Hall. Ground ivy is an edible weed that although not good tasting, have many medicinal purposes in ointments and teas. The ground ivy is pictured below.



UVA’s grounds have an incredible array of different plants, many of which are edible, and I encourage everyone to seek out not only the gardens, but also fruits here that are still produce an edible yield. As one can see by standing outside any garden entrance, the gardens are extremely underutilized by UVA students and often only visited by someone passing through. The environment of the garden provides students with an excellent biofphilic opportunity, and on a nice day can be a much more productive place to do coursework than somewhere like the stacks of Alderman Library. The isolation from other people, yet integration with nature inhibits a space for wonderful, contemplative thinking. In fact, I took this opportunity to write this blog post under the plum trees in Garden VIII and can attest that the UVA Gardens are fantastic places to work.


Post by Trevor Ruegg

A Deeper Look at what is Around You: Pavilion II

The Gardens at UVa, although beautiful and useful for gatherings, serve a purpose that many do not appreciate. Pavilion II hosts a plethora of aesthetically pleasing plants and trees, that are also edible, nutritious, and delicious. Not many know, but Pavilion II was originally intended to be practical, not ornamental. The large pecan tree, planted by late Dean Ivy F. Lewis, contributes shade and a nice place to read, but also nuts that are tasty and healthy. Interestingly, a pecan is technically not a nut; it is a “drupe,” which is a fruit with a single pit. Pecans can be eaten raw or cooked. Pick one from a Garden tree and it can make a healthy snack right then and there. Pecan trees are the only major nut trees that originate from North America. It is also known that Thomas Jefferson was a lover of pecan trees, as he planted them in his own personal garden in 1779.



Pecans growing in their husks. Photo from:

Blueberry and grape vines grow on a terrace dissecting through the middle of the garden, which aims to serve as a reminder of the utilitarian purpose of these gardens as opposed to just their aesthetic purpose (“The Gardens”). Grapes are actually berries and are a very popular and delicious snack. The grape vine needs very little maintenance and will last for 50 to 100 years, serving Garden goers for a lifetime. Similarly, blueberries average about a 60-year lifespan, but ideally can live forever if treated and pruned properly. Together the two create a beautiful, and edible, sight with the clusters of purple and dark blue fruit hanging from the vines. Grapes and blueberries can both be picked and eaten on the spot, so enjoy!



Vines along a serpentine wall in the Garden. Photo by: Caroline Kugler

The Garden is also home to four heirloom varieties of plums. Like pecans, plums are also considered to be drupes. Arguably the most nutritious edible plant in the Garden, the plum is a large provider of phenols, a type of antioxidant, and vitamin C, which is proven to increase the absorption of iron in the body. Plums are a great source of fiber, necessary for every diet. Plums can be eaten fresh or dried and made into prunes.

Along the serpentine walls of the Garden are crabapple trees. Although crabapple trees are a variety of apple trees, the fruit itself is very different. Crabapples are sharp and bitter and do not provide the same taste sensation as a traditional apple. Like apples, the seeds of a crabapple contain a form of cyanide, a toxin. Even though this toxin is present, it is only in the seeds and needs to be ingested in large quantities to take effect. Although not enjoyed fresh, crabapples can be used to make a delicious jam and still add value to the very useful Garden.



Crabapples. Photo from:

Daylilies, the beautiful orange flowers on the lower bank of the Garden, are actually edible as well. In fact, the entire plant is edible. The young shoots can be eaten when they are under 5 inches tall and they taste like onion when fried. The flower buds are a source of iron and the blossoms can be eaten as well, cooked or uncooked. The roots can also be harvested when they are white and new and can be eaten raw or cooked. The dried plant is a good source of vitamin A. Many do not think to eat plants, it is not common in the modern era, however, eating daylilies dates back to the 1500s with the Europeans and is a common practice in many cultures, including a famous Portuguese dish made with daylilies.

How can we promote the education and use of edible trees and plants on Grounds? There should be an initiative to build an On-Grounds, edible garden. It can be sustained by students or through a company called Cville Foodscapes that builds low-maintenance, edible gardens. By creating an edible garden open to all University students, students will unknowingly learn about nature and contribute to a sustainable university and world.

When it comes to planning, it is important to think about the impact that the trees and plants you choose will have on the visitors to your site. A tree is beautiful and serves many purposes, (shade, a seat, a climbing apparatus) but if it can also provide fruit, which is an added bonus. Edible plants and trees add to the sustainability of areas and encourage citizens to become more connected to and educated about nature.


A view of Pavilion II. Photo by: Caroline Kugler

 With our knowledge, we must encourage students to look deeper at the nature around them, to look past the aesthetics to the nutritional value that the world around them can provide.

To learn more about where to find edible plants and trees on Grounds, view our team virtual map!

Post by Caroline Kugler




Many UVA students have the option of living off campus past their first year. Apartments and houses mean that students have access to kitchens, which have the ability to foster many microorganisms. While kitchens are already “germy” places, the habits of college students can make them even more so. The major way to combat the accumulation and growth of microorganisms is by cleaning properly. But most college students are not used to living on their own without the help of parents and are unaware of proper cleaning habits.

Some of the most common germs found in kitchens are E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. According to NSF International (an organization that provides auditing and solutions for public health), the presence of these germs is a hazard to our health. These microorganisms can cause foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that an estimated 1 out of every 6 Americans gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die due to foodborne illnesses. In a study NSF international attempted to find out what places in the kitchen harbor the most microorganisms. In the study, 20 families were asked to swab 14 common kitchen items, with jarring results. The places that harbored the most germs were refrigerator vegetable and meat compartments, blender gasket, rubber spatula and rubber-sealed food storage container. Both E. coli and salmonella were found on 25 percent of the 14 items tested – if infected with either of these, can cause mild to serious health issues.

If we had the proper equipment, we would conduct a study similar to the one discussed above. But instead, we asked each other and our fellow peers some questions pertaining to the topic of microorganisms in kitchens. Most people told us that they either use paper towels instead of sponges or have had the same sponge all year. They were shocked (and slightly disgusted) to learn that dish sponges and rags harbored many germs (according to a different 2011 NSF study). We also shared which places had the most germs (which are listed above). We found that most students seldom to never cleaned these items in the proper way. For example, most people do not know that in washing a blender, one must disassemble the entire blender to get at all the spots to clean it well. Because these items all come into direct contact with food they can easily transmit the bacteria and cause us to get sick.

I think it is important to note the grave effect that these microorganisms can have on our health as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimates. While the presence of these microorganisms is inevitable it is necessary to properly clean the spaces we live in to mitigate their effects. This seems to be a little known subject and I hope that we can raise awareness to help our fellow peers.


UVA student interviews

Post by Emma Nosseir

Learning How to Use the Song Meter SM3

My housemate Sarah Riedel and I were the first group members to attempt to use the Song Meter SM3. Before we were able to begin recording the first Birds Night Flight Calls (NFCs) for our blog we had to learn how to use this device and program it for the appropriate time decided at our group meeting – dawn for three hours. At first glance the SM3 looked very easy to use however, after turning the pages of the manual a few times we realized that it would not be as easy as anticipated.

“The most advanced and most adaptable professional bioacoustics recorder available,” according to the Bioacoustics Monitoring Systems homepage, the SM3 is a long-deployment acoustic recorder that is used to record combinations of birds, frogs, and insects and or marine life. It can be powered by batteries or by an external power source, and runs on low power during standby before or after the hours of the day that are recorded. This is important because there are long periods of the day, primarily at dusk and dawn, when birds are likely to make NFCs and it is crucial that the recording device collect accurate data during these times.

The first steps involved in setting up the SM3 were turning the machine on, clearing the SD card, and testing the two built-in microphones to ensure that they were functioning and at a frequency sensitive enough to record the NFCs. After this we checked the SM3’s GPS unit to confirm that the longitude and latitude were correct so it would record during dawn and not an earlier or later time of the morning that may not have as much bird traffic. Once the preliminary steps were completed we had to select and load one of the preset programs, for our research purposes this was dawn for three hours, then start the program. Once the program was started a message came up alerting us that the SM3 was waiting to record. On the night of April 14, 2015 we set up the machine in a tree in the garden above Campbell Hall, and retrieved it the next morning.

Initially it seemed as if the machine had not recorded any data, which worried us briefly before we went back to the handbook and realized that exporting the program to the SD card was an additional step outlined in the recording process. We then passed it on to another group member to listen to and analyze the data that was collected! Learning how to use this device was both entertaining and a bit stressful, but I believe that advanced technology such as this is the best way to record NFCs, and more, in a highly efficient and reliable way. Its unique ability to record simultaneously makes it a really great resource to have available to the planning and architecture department, and could be used to study wider breadths of species in the community.

 Post by Sarah Kearsley

Information regarding the SM3: “Bioacoustics Monitoring Systems.” Wildlife Acoustics. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <>.

Microorganisms on Buses

Every time we lay down on the Lawn to study or sit on the bench by Clark, microorganisms surround us. They reside in gutters, soils, bicycle tires, bus seats, and more; microorganisms are everywhere. Many people in the Environmental Planning field think very little about the tiny critters that we cannot see. Since they are so miniscule, they are often forgotten about. Microorganisms seemingly play no part in planning. In reality, they make their homes in our new buildings and transportation centers; they’re the ones there to keep order balanced in the natural world. They break down materials and provide energy for other organisms.

My group, Microorganisms of Gutters, thought that we would connect the lives of microorganisms to important aspects of planning, which include transportation. Buses are constantly going through grounds, picking up people from various activities. My focus would be on examining the microorganisms found on buses. My plan was to take samples from the bus seats as well as the heavily trafficked bus floor. While I did expect to find a lot of dirt and germs, I did want to perhaps use the experiment as a way to track where UVa students had been. I could’ve seen if a person volunteering at the community garden had taken a bus to get lunch at Newcomb. I could see if someone walking through a muddy amphitheater had escaped the rain by jumping onto the bus. However, this sort of experiment would take a lot of pre-planning and access to equipment that my group could not get in time. Because we did not have time to grow and cultivate cultures, we changed our focus of research.

In keeping with the theme, we decided to slightly shift topics: we would still collect samples from grounds, yet we would only be collecting things like dirt, so we could simply use microscopes. Because we would not be able to take a picture of our findings, we decided to draw them on a sheet of paper, to at least create a visual. Again, our team came to a halt. We could not find access to labs after numerous attempts and were very quickly running out of time. After a chat with Professor Beatley, we then concluded that our research would be hypothetical. For my bus seat research, I predict that, if given the appropriate microscopes, I could’ve observed bacteria and other organisms that find their homes on grounds. This research would’ve been able to give one insight to where people on grounds are traveling and perhaps why they are traveling. In the future, I would have acted sooner in organizing materials so that I could have grown and observed an organism.

Post by Michelle Kislyakov

Collisions and Windows

Birds are an important part of nature and naturally, keep the ecosystem running. Saying this, incorporating nature into urban planning is key in keeping a happier, livelier community, thus bird mortality should be a topic that people should become aware about. There are numerous factors that contribute to bird mortality, but one thing that seems to stand out the most is collisions. In one study, there was an estimated 8 to 57 million birds killed by some type of collision. Though this is just one study, the numbers are definitely high for mortality. What is shocking is that an estimated 97-976 million birds are killed per year from window strikes and 174 million from high-tension line collisions. Furthermore, 56% of deaths are due to the occasional collisions into buildings between 4 to 11 stories high and 44% caused from collisions into buildings between 1 to 3 stories high.


There were surprisingly a good number of deceased birds found when our biogrounds group walked around grounds, specifically around New Cabell and Nau Hall. Both buildings fall into the category of small buildings between the heights of 1-11 stories high. As a group, we found four birds around New Cabell Hall and one around Nau Hall. It is interesting to see how small buildings have more fatal causes to birds than high-rise skyscrapers. The U.S. has 15.1 million low-rise buildings and only about 21,000 skyscrapers. Clearly, more harm is done to birds around communities with lower rise buildings, contrary to what most people may believe. JuHee and I found one bird under some bushed by the main entrance of Nau Hall, which was a Song Sparrow (see picture below). Nau Hall is only a four-story building and has many windows surrounding it, making it an easy target for this particular bird to crash into and die. So now the real question is how can we try to prevent or limit the number of birds that die each year?

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Crashing into building glass is one of the main factors that cause bird mortality every year. As stated earlier, an estimated 97-976 million birds die every year. These beings usually collide with glass on buildings whether they are skyscrapers or windows in regular homes. A main reasoning for collisions with glass is due to the fact that birds believe that the reflection of the sky and trees is real, and therefore do not learn to move away from the glass in time before the collision happens. One of the solutions that may help to decrease the number of deaths is to incorporate the use of Ornilux glass.


This is a type of glass that is visible to birds, but not to humans. The birds are able to see the patterns on the glass because of the UV reflecting coating. According to the American Bird Conservancy, the Ornilux glass has been proved to be very effective in minimizing bird collisions with glass. Fritted glass, which also contains lines and patterns, within the glass, can also help reduce window strikes. Other solutions include attaching strips of tape on the outside of glass, or having feathers hanging outside windows.

It is crucial for everyone to understand the importance of such high bird mortality rates. This issue can negatively impact the natural flow in nature and ecosystem. Collisions with glass windows are one of the biggest reasons that disturb the bird life in our modern world. With the proven statistics of bird mortality, we can address this issue by having smarter urban planning ideas, such as using the Ornilux glass or fritted glass to prevent more collisions.

Post by Lauren Diaz-Yi and JuHee Bae


Nau and Gibson Hall

One of the places that houses some of the best views for those that want to study is the relatively new Nau/Gibson Hall building. While the building branches out into two sides that house classrooms and meeting areas, the middle area is completely open with tables for anyone who needs a place to study. Large, open areas for studying are not new around grounds; many of the libraries have similar types of spaces. However, the thing that makes Nau and Gibson Hall so special is the easy access views of nature out of the front window.


When building this space, it is obvious that the architects thought about how it would be used and how a clear view of nature would enhance it. The entire façade of the main entrance of the building is made of glass which allows plenty of natural light to enter and allows for views of nature from every angle. Some may argue that this nature is a little too trimmed and maintained to constitute as “wild,” but the fact that there is such a prevalent push to be able to see trees and grass is definitely a step in the right direction. Even the meeting rooms and offices around the side of the building make a point of having plenty of windows in every room.

On the top of the three stories, there is also a glass wall on the back side of the building that opens onto a land bridge that crosses Jefferson Park Avenue. It is also obvious that nature was integrated as an important part of this bridge, because just after you step out of the third floor you can get a great view of the land bridge. Because of this, the third floor seems to be one of the most sought out spaces to study as well – I have regularly seen it filled with people. It offers the most natural light and views from both sides while still being a fairly quiet and suitable place to do work.




Every time I have walked through Nau or Gibson Hall, almost every study table has been full, which is a testament to how much people like to study there. I think that it is in part because of these views of green spaces and the ability to see out onto a natural space (there could also be some natural attraction to the top floor because of the Urban Cliff Hypothesis). I can only hope that future university buildings offer the ample views that Nau and Gibson Hall give students.

Post by Brett Offutt