Friday, June 17, 2022

Episode 630 (6-20-22): A Sampler of Shrubs from Soggy Spaces

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:49).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 6-16-22.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the weeks of June 20 and June 27, 2022.   This episode is part of a series this year of episodes related to trees and shrubs.

MUSIC – ~10 sec – instrumental.

That’s part of “Under,” by the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, Va.-based band The Steel Wheels, from their 2019 album “Over the Trees.”  It opens an episode about relatively short and often sprawling woody plants that make up much of the understory below trees.  We start with some guest voices, accompanied by more of the music, calling out particular water-related examples of these plants.  Have a listen to the call-outs for about 25 seconds, and see if you know what kind of plant, generally, the examples represent.  And here’s a hint:  it’s SH-ure to RUB you the wrong way if you don’t guess this.

MUSIC and VOICES - ~26 sec – “Buttonbush.  Coastal Dog-hobble.  Elderberry.  Possum-haw.  Red Chokeberry.  Silky Dogwood.  Smooth Alder.  Swamp Azalea.  Swamp Highbush Blueberry.  Virginia-willow. 

If you guessed shrubs, you’re right!  You heard the names of 10 species of native Virginia shrubs that can live in or near streams and rivers, wetlands, or other relatively wet areas.  Some shrubs, like Elderberry, are tolerant of relatively wet soils but can also inhabit drier areas; others, like Swamp Azalea, are typically found only in wet areas.

Like trees, shrubs are perennial plants producing woody stems.  According to the Flora of Virginia, they’re distinguished from trees by being shorter when they’re mature, typically less than about five meters, or about 16 feet; and by having many stems, instead of one main trunk.  Some trees, however, can also show such shrub-like characteristics, depending on species, environmental conditions, and the history of the individual plant.

In forests, shrubs are a main component of the understory, that is, the vegetation growing below the tree canopy.  Shrubs may also be part of the understory below large trees in the streamside, or riparian, areas beside rivers.  And shrubs can be the dominant woody vegetation in areas that lack trees, such as in some wetlands or beside some lakes, ponds, or streams. 

Shrubs share several ecological roles with trees, including providing shade, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, reducing soil erosion, and providing food and habitat for other creatures.  Shrubs contribute additionally by providing lower and often thicker layers of branches and leaves than trees do, offering habitat and cover to birds, insects, and other animals that live closer to the ground.

Sometimes overlooked in the understory, shrubs are an important component of the overall story of woody plants in landscapes and waterscapes.

Thanks to six Blacksburg, Va., friends for lending their voices to this episode.  Thanks also to The Steel Wheels for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with about 20 more seconds of “Under.” 

MUSIC – ~20 sec – instrumental.


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this episode.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


“Under,” from the 2019 album “Over the Trees,” is copyright by The Steel Wheels, used with permission.  A July 2019 review by Americana Highways of this album is available online at  More information about The Steel Wheels is available online at 

The shrub name call-outs were recorded by Virginia Water Radio on June 14-15, 2022.

Virginia Water Radio thanks John Peterson, Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Conservation, and Leighton Reid, Virginia Tech School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, for their help with the information in this episode.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


(Photographs are by Virginia Water Radio.)

Common Elderberry beside a small stream in Blacksburg, Va. (Montgomery County), June 15, 2022.

Silky Dogwood beside Stroubles Creek in Blacksburg, Va. (Montgomery County), June 9, 2022.

Alder (particular species not identified) in a wetland in Augusta Springs, Va., (Augusta County), November 25, 2007.


Following are common and scientific names of the shrub species mentioned in this episode, plus basic information on the habitats where each species is found.  The species are listed in the order they were named in the audio.  An asterisk (*) beside the common name indicates that the species can grow more like a tree than a shrub in some cases.  The information is from A.S. Weakley, J.C. Ludwig, and J.F. Townsend, Flora of Virginia, Bland Crowder, ed., Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Fort Worth, 2012.

Buttonbush* - Cephalanthus occidentalis – Found in marshes, swamps, certain pools and ponds, and “a variety of artificial and disturbed wetlands, usually in seasonally or semi-permanently flooded habitats.” 

Coastal Dog-hobble - Leucothoe axillaris – Found in wet flatwoods, peaty swamps, and pocosins, and occasionally in occasionally in mesic (moderately wet) acidic forests, such as are found within the Great Dismal Swamp and other swamps in southeastern Virginia.

Common Elderberry - Sambucus Canadensis – Found on damp to wet soils in fields, ditches, etc., and in floodplain forests and swamps. 

Possum-haw* (also called Deciduous Holly) - Ilex decidua – Found in floodplain forests and swamps.

Red Chokeberry* - Aronia arbutifolia – Found in a variety of wetlands, and occasionally in mesic or dry upland forests. 

Silky Dogwood - Cornus amomum – Found in floodplain forests, alluvial and tidal swamps, river and stream banks, wet meadows, and old fields.

Smooth Alder* (also called Hazel Alder) - Alnus serrulata – Found in various wetlands and along streams.

Swamp Azalea (also called Clammy Azalea) - Rhododendron viscosum - Found in various wetlands (especially acidic ones), and in wet flatwoods. 

Swamp Highbush Blueberry - Vaccinium formosum – Found in various wetlands (especially acidic ones), depression ponds, and wet flatwoods, and less commonly in mesic acidic upland forests.

Virginia-willow (also called or Virginia Sweetspire) - Itea virginica – Found along stream banks and in forested wetlands, depression ponds, and acidic floodplain forests. 


Used in Audio

Rachel Carter, “Waterway Sidewalks: Native Trees and Shrubs,” Cornell [University] Small Farms Program, October 5, 2015, online at

Center for Watershed Protection, “Trees and Stormwater Runoff,” online at

James P. Engel, “Shrubs in the Understory,” February 2012, online at 

Oscar W. Gupton and Fred C. Swope, Trees and Shrubs of Virginia, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1981.

Penn State Extension, “Trees, Shrubs, and Groundcovers Tolerant of Wet Sites,” prepared by N. Robert Nuss, and reviewed and revised by Scott Guiser and Jim Smellmer, October 2007, online at 

Plant Virginia Natives, “Virginia Native Shrubs—Backbone of Our Landscape,” undated, online at

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Natural Resources Conservation Service, “PLANTS Database,” online at

A.S. Weakley, J.C. Ludwig, and J.F. Townsend, Flora of Virginia, Bland Crowder, ed.  Copyright by the Foundation of the Flora of Virginia Project, Inc., Richmond.  Published by Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Fort Worth, 2012.

For More Information about Trees and Shrubs in Virginia and Elsewhere

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Field Guide: Plants and Trees,” online at, “Flora of North America,” online at

Sanglin Lee and Alan Raflo, “Trees and Water,” Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Virginia Water Central Newsletter, pages 13-18, online at

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, Forests of Virginia, 2018, Resource Update FS-264, Asheville, N.C., 2020; available online at

U.S. Department of Agriculture/U.S. Forest Service, “State and Private Forestry Fact Sheet—Virginia 2022,” online (as a PDF) at

U.S. Department of Agriculture/Forest Service/Climate Change Resource Center, “Forest Tree Diseases and Climate Change,” online at

Virginia Botanical Associates, “Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora,” online at

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation/Natural Heritage Program, “The Natural Communities of Virginia: Ecological Groups and Community Types,” online (as a PDF) at

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation/Natural Heritage Division, online at

Virginia Department of Forestry, “Virginia’s Forests,” online at  Some of the useful pages at that site are the following:
“Benefits of Trees,” online at;
“Common Native Trees of Virginia,” 2020 edition, online (as a PDF) at;
“Forest Management and Health/Insects and Diseases,” online at;
Tree and Forest Health Guide
, 2020, online (as a PDF) at;
“Trees for Clean Water Program,” online at;
“Virginia Statewide Assessment of Forest Resources,” November 2020, online (as a PDF) at;
“Tree Identification,” online at

Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment, online at

Virginia Forest Products Association, online at

Virginia Native Plant Society, online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Plants” subject category.

Following are links to other episodes on trees and shrubs.

Introduction to trees and water – Episode 621, 3-21-22.
American Sycamore – Episode 624, 4-11-22.
American Witch Hazel – Episode 238, 10-31-14.
Ash trees – Episode 376, 7-10-17 and Episode 625, 4-18-22.
Early spring wildflowers in woodlands – Episode 573, 4-19-21.
Forest lands and work in Virginia – Episode 623, 4-4-22.
Maple trees – Episode 503, 12-16-19.
Photosynthesis – Episode 602, 11-8-21.
Poison Ivy and related plants, including the shrub Poison Sumac – Episode 535, 7-27-20.
Rhododendrons – Episode 574, 4-26-21.
Tree buds – Episode 622, 3-28-22.
Tree colors and changes in fall, including changes to water movement – Episode 285, 10-12-15.
Trees in watery habitats – Episode 626, 4-25-22.
Waterside trees as bird nesting habitat – Episode 627, 5-9-22.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2020 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2018 Science SOLs

Grades K-4: Living Systems and Processes
K.7 – Plants and animals have basic needs and life processes.
1.4 – Plants have basic life needs (including water) and functional parts that allow them to survive; including that plants can be classified based on a variety of characteristics.
2.5 – Living things are part of a system.
3.4 – Adaptations allow organisms to satisfy life needs and respond to the environment.
3.5 – Aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems support a diversity of organisms.
4.2 – Plants and animals have structures that distinguish them from one another and play vital roles in their ability to survive.
4.3 – Organisms, including humans, interact with one another and with the nonliving components in the ecosystem.

Grades K-5: Earth and Space Systems
3.6 – Soil is important in ecosystems.
3.7 – There is a water cycle and water is important to life on Earth.

Grades K-5: Earth Resources
2.8 – Plants are important natural resources.
3.8 – Natural events and humans influence ecosystems.
4.8 – Virginia has important natural resources.

Grade 6
6.6 – Water has unique physical properties and has a role in the natural and human-made environment.
6.8 – Land and water have roles in watershed systems. 

Life Science
LS.3 – There are levels of structural organization in living things.
LS.5 – Biotic and abiotic factors affect an ecosystem.
LS.6     – Populations in a biological community interact and are interdependent.
LS.7 – Adaptations support an organism’s survival in an ecosystem.

BIO.8 – Dynamic equilibria exist within populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20 – on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20 – on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.
Episode 606, 12-6-21 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.