Natural Resources

The section of Virginia that includes the City of Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties contains a broad diversity of habitats and geologic conditions and is perhaps the most floristically diverse in the state. Flora and plant communities are the dominant natural resources on parkland in the eastern U.S., and those that remain in Alexandria are diverse and require careful stewardship.

Page updated on Oct 3, 2016 at 6:40 PM

Click here to view Natural Resource management plans.

Fig 1 - fall wildflowers 
Fig. 1.  Fall wildflowers at edg e of diverse Freshwater Tidal Hardwood Swamp at Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary, Arlington County, Virginia.  This globally-rare community type is contiguous along the Potomac River in the City of Alexandria, with small remnants at Daingerfield Island, Jones Point Park, and Hunting Creek.  Photo by R.H. Simmons.   

Natural resource management includes vegetation surveys and natural resource inventories throughout the City’s parks, natural areas, open space, wetlands, and waterways for the purposes of planning, management, and resource protection.  It also involves working with and providing assistance to federal, state, and local agencies, as well as City staff, consultants, organizations, and individuals concerned with natural resources in Alexandria.  Furthermore, this service increasingly includes overseeing and performing invasive exotic plant control efforts throughout the City.

In Alexandria these activities are coordinated by the Natural Resources Division of the Dept. Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities (RPCA).  This integrated team consists of Bob Taylor, Division Chief; Rod Simmons, Natural Resource Specialist / Plant Ecologist; John Walsh, City Horticulturist; Mark Kelly, City Naturalist and Ford Nature Center Director; and John Noelle, City Arborist, as well as their respective staffs.  In addition, a number of ongoing invasive exotic plant removal, stream cleanup, and native tree planting projects are partnered with the Dept. Transportation and Environmental Services, Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ), through collaboration with Claudia Hamblin-Katnik, the City’s Watershed Program Administrator, as well as the National Park Service and locally active organizations like the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists and the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust.  The Natural Resource Specialist also works closely with the City’s Open Space Coordinator, Laura Durham, by providing environmental review and technical descriptions of significant natural areas that remain in the City that may be considered for acquisition.

Geologic features are also important natural and scenic resources that support rare and specialized natural communities.  In 2008, Geologist Tony Fleming completed a several year project to survey and map Alexandria’s geology and soils, the first comprehensive geologic survey for the City.  The Flora of Alexandria, including natural communities within the City, is in preparation, though the bulk of it is completed, including a baseline Checklist of the Native Vascular Flora of the City of Alexandria.  These and other associated studies and reports are posted on the “Flora Project” webpage at, with material continually added and updated.    

Fig 2 - Geologists 
Fig. 2.  Geologists Steve Self (left), Tony Fleming (center), and Callan Bentley (right) examining the Occoquan Granite outcrops along Holmes Run at Dora Kelley Nature Park.  Photo by R.H. Simmons.

In addition, the RPCA Horticulture and Natural Resources Section maintains a City herbarium, housed at 2900 Business Center Drive.  The herbarium contains a representative specimen of each of the City’s native and exotic plants, as well as voucher specimens for the Alexandria Flora.  The collection is a representation of Alexandria’s botanical diversity and is an important resource for research and managing natural resources.

Documenting Alexandria’s old-age and notable native trees, with the invaluable assistance of Greg Zell, Arlington County Natural Resource Specialist, is also an important component of the City’s natural resource management program.  Many old and very large specimens were found in the City of Alexandria, including an American Holly (Ilex opaca) and Dwarf Hackberry (Celtis tenuifolia) that are recognized as National Champions (“the largest known of its species”) on the National Register of Big Trees. Numerous other trees were discovered that are regional, state, and City champions.  Alexandria trees that are State Champions are included on the Virginia Big Tree Program website at  These old-age trees are not only unique ecological resources, but also serve as touchstones to the past and provide important evidence of our vanishing natural history and floral past.

Green Ash 19'19 
 Fig. 3.  State champion Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) in the Del Ray section of the City of Alexandria – in the 1500 block of Commonwealth Ave. in the courtyard of Lacy Court Apartments.  This is one of many notable trees that are surviving relics of the once-extensive alluvial floodplain community and associated backswamps that extended throughout the lower Holmes Run and Four Mile Run valleys, Del Ray, and Old Town.  Photo by Greg Zell. 

In addition to forest and wetland resources in Alexandria, meadows and woodland glades are extremely important habitats for wildlife and also serve as important preserves for native plants that were once common along woodland edges, open areas, and roadsides but are now increasingly rare.  Meadows and “No-Mow” areas also serve as important natural buffers in protecting waterways, wetlands, and water resources.  As meadows and open areas continue to disappear throughout the east, many plant and wildlife species dependent on open conditions are also declining.  Therefore, amended management practices that more effectively preserve these resources are both appropriate and necessary.


Fig 4 - Meadow  

Fig. 4.  Diverse meadow on steep, gravelly slope behind Hammond School with warm-season native grasses, such as Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis) – pink/purple grass in flower – Rosette Grass (Dichanthelium acuminatum), Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus), Purpletop (Tridens flavus), Poverty Grasses (Aristida spp.), etc., and wildflowers.  This relatively small site is one of several managed meadows in the City of Alexandria, Virginia.  All of the species within this site are naturally occurring and have been gradually “released” from the seed bank once regular mowing ceased.  Several species found at this site, including Purple Sneezeweed (Helenium flexuosum), Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora), and Slender Ladies-tresses Orchid (Spiranthes gracilis) are regionally uncommon to rare and are the only known occurrences in the City of Alexandria.  This site is mowed once annually in late winter or early spring. 

With ecosystem management and the preservation of Alexandria’s natural resources and biodiversity the primary goal, natural resource management staff greatly expanded its Managed Meadows and “No-Mow” Areas Program in 2010.  Under this program, certain areas that were regularly mowed during the growing season are now mowed once annually or very infrequently, as determined by RPCA natural resource management staff.  Monitoring each site for invasive exotic plants, and implementing control efforts if necessary, remain a frequent and ongoing component of the program.  Managed meadows and “No-Mow” areas are marked with appropriate signage and the City maintains its official Managed Meadows and “No-Mow” Areas Policy, including Best Management Practices (BMPs), on the RPCA Park Operations website.

Together these ongoing programs and projects, under the direction of RPCA, provide a variety of services and contributions to help maintain and preserve the many special sites and natural areas that remain in the City of Alexandria.

Contact info:
Rod Simmons
Natural Resource Specialist
Horticulture and Natural Resources Section
Department of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities
2900 Business Center Drive
Alexandria, VA  22314