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In Memory: Mabel “Sindy” Hempstead

In early December, at the grand age of 95, RIWPS Life member and former Co-President, Mabel “Sindy” Hempstead passed on.  Sindy was a RIWPS member since 1994 and immediately recruited to serve on the Board, first as Secretary from 1994-1996, then as Co-President with URI Plant Science Prof. Richard Hull, from 1996-1997. Recruited once again in 2003, Sindy served as a Trustee-at-Large from 2003-2008. She was active for many years on the WildfloraRI publication, Walks & Workshops/Program committee and on Botanical Inventory committee. Sindy’s passion was wetland plants, particularly, the water lilies. To capture her spirit take note of the obituary her daughter and fellow RIWPS member, Joyce Hempstead provided.

Many of you may not know Sindy left RIWPS another legacy – the many plant related articles that appeared in our WildfloraRI publication. Links provided. Explore and thank Sindy!

WilfloraRI articles:
Aquatic Adaptation: You can’t turn back the clock (Fall 2010)
Pond Scum (Winter 2011)
The Bladderworts (Winter 2013)
Lousewort: Pirates of the Orobanchaceae (Winter 2015)

Cultivation Notes:
Lysimachia terrestris – Swamp Candles (2008)
Cephalanthus occidentalis – Buttonbush (2010)
Asclepias incarnata – Swamp-milkweed (2011)

On the Trail:
Wickford Harbor Islands (2013)

In 2010 Sindy received our Lifetime Service Award. A life well lived and appreciated.

At Risk Plant Propagation Program

Sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) planted at Doug Rayner Wildlife Refuge:

A cooperative effort of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, Rhode Island Wild Plant Society and Barrington Land Conservancy Trust


November 30, 2020
Hope Leeson, Botanist for The Rhode Island Natural History Survey

Nockum Hill, in Barrington is a place of the Wampanoag people of Sowams (Barrington Preservation Society, 2018). In Algonquian, the word nockum refers to a sandy place, and a place that is visible from afar (Van Edwards, 2013). Geologically, Nockum Hill is a bluff created by glacial outwash deposits along the Kickemuit River. For the Wampanoag and generations of Rhode Island settler families, the soil of the bluff was agriculturally important (now operated as Four Town Farm). For the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) Nockum Hill is a south facing sandy bluff, only a 27-foot climb up from the brackish water of the upper Kickemuit. A perfect place for digging and laying eggs, and moreover a perfect place to incubate terrapin embryos and over-winter hatchlings before the new generation ventures into the water. Nockum Hill itself is now land protected by the Barrington Land Conservation Trust under the name of the Doug Rayner Wildlife Refuge. Although there are no historical records of the sundial Lunpine (Lupinus perennis) growing on Nockum Hill, the sandy soils and periodic disturbances of terrapin digging, present ideal conditions for the species.

In 1997 Charlie Brown, a wildlife biologist with Rhode Island’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and a Barrington resident, observed a population of sundial lupine growing on a sandy outwash bluff along the eastern shore of the Seekonk River in East Providence. The site was heavily used for recreation and the lupine population was becoming increasingly compromised (RINHS database). Brown determined to save the genetic line of the East Providence population, and collected seed from the remaining plants. Later he and his wife Ginger planted the seed in the sandy outwash soils of Nockum Hill. Several patches of the species continue to grow there as a result of Charlie and Ginger’s seed collection and sowing. Sundial lupine is considered a rare species in Rhode Island, listed as a Species of State Concern, and is a host plant to butterfly and moth larvae including the frosted elfin (Callophrys irus), a Rhode Island Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RI WAP, 2015), as well as being the only known host for larvae of the karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa ssp. samuelis). The karner blue is no longer present in Rhode Island, and is nearly extinct over much of its range (USFWS, 2019).

In 2019, in an effort to formalize relocation and support of rare plant species populations, the RINHS, RIWPS, and RIDEM discussed a cooperative program to propagate the seed of state listed rare plant species. The focus of the program is augmentation of existing rare plant populations (At Risk Plant Propagation Program – ARP3) in support of other rare organisms that depend on these plant species for food. Lupines were selected as a first project, with the goal of increasing the population at Nockum Hill. Seed was collected from the genetic lineage of the East Providence population from plants growing in sandy soil at Charlie Brown’s Barrington home, as well as from plants growing on Nockum Hill. Propagation was overseen by Linda McDaniel (RIWPS Seed Starters East), and in May of this year 24 plants were planted into two locations at Nockum Hill. In addition, two areas with existing plants were weeded and cleared of overhanging branches to allow more sunlight to reach the ground. As a result of vegetation and light management, the number of seedlings that germinated in the largest patch increased. In 2020, a total of 312 sundial lupine were counted; all offspring of the 1997 cohort of plants.

Lupines propagated by SSE were planted in two separate lupine patches. Survival of the planted individuals was 100% for the first three weeks, until terrapins and their predators began digging within the planted areas, and uprooted the small seedlings. At this point each area was surrounded by one-foot high fencing attached to 2-inch wooden stakes. The fencing successfully deterred terrapins, and no further digging occurred.

A second wave of losses occurred at the end of July, when despite weekly watering, several plants failed to survive above-ground. By the end of August, a total of eight of the 24 seedlings were visable within the two patches. It is hoped that the deep tap roots, which are characteristic of the species, have survived and that the individual plants will resprout in the spring of 2021.

To build on experiences gained in 2020, seed was again collected by Charlie Brown, and donated to the project. In August, LindaMcDaniel sowed a total of 324 seeds. Germination was good (about 90%) and despite some initial losses 257 have gone into dormancy. With any luck there will be 200 lupine seedlings to plant at Nockum Hill in the spring of 2021!

The 2020 ARP3 Lupine Project began in 2019 with seed collection and its’ subsequent propagation. In addition to these initial efforts, the project required the execution of many important logistical efforts, for which I am extremely grateful. Peter McCalmont oversaw the project on behalf of the Barrington Land Conservancy Trust (BLCT). Charlie Brown and Pete McCalmont trimmed overhanging branches above the largest of the 1997 patches, and weeded oak seedlings and other species to reduce competition at the ground layer. Pete lugged additional water to the site throughout the summer, and created the much-needed fencing to keep terrapins and their predators from digging in the planted areas. Mary Grover, who is both a RIWPS and a BLCT member, collected seed in 2019, monitored and watered the plants throughout the summer of 2020, and collected survival data on the planted individuals. Linda McDaniel was responsible for the propagation and care of the lupine seedlings at the RIWPS SSE greenhouse in Portsmouth, and was accompanied by a masked and physically distant Sherry Dzamba for transporting and planting the seedlings at Nockum Hill.


-Barrington Preservation Society. 2018. The Story of Nockum Hill.

-Burton Van Edwards. 2013. In a Place Called Nockum, presentation to the people of Barrington.

-Kim Mitchell and Carnes, C. 1996 (updated 2019). Wild Lupine and Karner Blue Butterflies. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service MidwestRegion.

-Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. 2015. Rhode Island Wildlife Action Plan.

In Memory: Dick (Richard) Donnelly

Dick describing the characteristics of a plant at RIWPS plant sale

With sadness we are sharing the news of the death of Dick Donnelly a RIWPS’ member for 28 years and a wonderful volunteer. Dick was passionate about native plants and generously shared his talents for teaching about them, both informally and in a wide variety of public programs and events. His contributions to the many years of RIWPS’ annual award winning native plant exhibit at the Rhode Island Spring Flower Show and Garden Show in Providence are much remembered. He worked to source these exhibits, securing plants including trees and stones for creating walls, as well as stuffed animals appropriate to the exhibit’s setting. His attention to accurate habitat details was extraordinary.  He also served as a docent using his love of storytelling to create narratives not only to highlight the function and beauty of the wild plants themselves but also the magic and wonder of experiencing the scene in the exhibit. Volunteers recount the year he helped stage a display with an abandoned foundation of a house in the woods and then as docent enthralled children and adults, suggesting that this was the house he had grown up in along with describing how he had played among these woodland plants and creatures and used the products of the plants for many good purposes. Dick also served on the Board of Trustees and in 2008 received a Lifetime Service Award.  We are thankful to have benefitted from his passion, creativity and joy.

Obituary Notice

RIWPS Sponsors Another Pollinator Garden

RIWPS has sponsored another pollinator garden this year at the Roger Williams National Historic Park in downtown Providence. The park has a visitor center and facilities office on North Main Street. Previously there were four raised beds containing herbs and vegetables. Aaron Erzinger, the facilities manager, was impressed with the pollinator garden at the Captain Wilbur Kelly House in Cumberland which was also sponsored by RIWPS and installed by members of the Seed Starters East group and requested assistance to have a pollinator garden replace some of the raised beds.

After assessing the site RIWPS member Sherry Dzamba put together a list of species which would be appropriate. As with the pollinator garden in Cumberland, the species chosen were selected from Robert Gegear’s list of local species favored by our native bees. Plants were donated by RIWPS from the inventory in Portsmouth as well as plants donated by Peggy Buttenbaum, Linda McDaniel and Sherry. The three RIWPS members and Aaron spent a day planting.

The park is located on (5) acres of land which was the original settlement of Providence in 1636.The garden is located on the section of Smith Street between North Main Street and Canal Street. We expect a colorful display from spring to fall.

Interested in helping to maintain either the garden in Cumberland or Providence?
Please email We will be setting up a group of volunteers for each garden to meet periodically to weed and install new plants as needed.

RIWPS First Online Plant Sale – Much Thanks

RIWPS’s first online plant sale is over, plants have been picked up and we hope are settling into gardens throughout our region. Thank you to all who supported our sale and brought 1600 plants into our communities.

This has been an unusual year for us all and we have had to adjust to working differently and that includes our seed starter groups. We have worked all year in small groups, wearing masks and social distancing to put together a nice selection of plants.

Special thank you to Sally Johnson and Melissa Hughes who made it possible to purchase our inventory online; Mary Lou Upham, who printed orders for us, and to those who donated plants to the sale. Several members volunteered significant effort to help load cars, direct traffic, and set up tents and tables.

Thank you to a community of volunteers who have worked together to continue our mission to acknowledge the importance of native plants and make them available for our home gardens and communities.

native plant sales

Plant Sale for Members

The ordering phase of our plant sale for members, from August 1 through August 9, is the beginning of having more than a thousand additional native plants in the landscape.  Almost 50% of the species we had available sold out, including all trees and shrubs.

Members will be picking up their plants at designated times during the last two weekends of August.  The fall is an ideal time to plant!

Thanks to our volunteers who continue the work of the sale and our members who will be enriching their gardens and the general community by supporting local ecological diversity.  As Doug Tallamy notes, what we do in our  landscapes is “natures best hope”. We recommend his book  under this title as well as his recorded lecture.

We continue to look forward to a time when health restrictions allow us to create a much larger inventory and to offer our traditional spring sales in May and June.

Sigrid Hewit-transplanting

In Memory: Sigrid Hewitt

With sadness we announce the passing of Sigrid Hewitt, RIWPS member and volunteer, on May 3, 2020. Sigrid brought her strong interest in nature and plants with her when she moved to Rhode Island fifteen years ago. A long time volunteer at Seed Starters West, Sigrid was awarded a Lifetime Service Award in 2018, especially for her contributions to this group.

Rhode Island Wild Plant Society sponsors pollinator garden at Kelly House Museum

LINCOLN – Walkers and cyclists will have something new to see as they pass by the Kelly House Museum in Lincoln after members of the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society planted more than 160 native plants in a new pollinator garden at the site last Friday morning.

In Memory: Joan Pilson

With sadness, we announce the passing of RIWPS extraordinary volunteer, Joan Pilson. Joan joined RIWPS shortly after her retirement in 1990 and was soon involved in many aspects of the Society. She was a board member, serving as President from 1993 to 1995 and then as Co-President the following year. Spanning her tenure on the Programs Committee, which included being Chair, and continuing this focus on educational events through her participation in the current Walks & Workshops Committee, Joan created, arranged or oversaw hundreds and hundreds of programs.

Joan was also an original member of Seed Starters. In 1991 when Dorothy Swift suggested having a group dedicated to native plant propagating, Joan arranged the meeting. Within weeks, seeds were germinating. Joan was hooked, becoming a permanent member of Seed Starters and earning a Certificate in Native Plants from Native Plant Trust (formerly New England Wildflower Society). But Joan was also interested in protecting plants in their native habitats and proudly joined RIWPS’s campaign to add Sea Lavender to the list of plants protected by the “Christmas Greens” law, thus prohibiting the collecting or picking of this plant on public lands.

Joan promoted RIWPS’s mission through her work with the Environmental Council of Rhode Island and the Native Plant Trust.  Joan was an overseer of  the NPT and for a number of years served in an Ambassador role for them . One result, a joint RIWPS and NPT Native Plant Certificate Program. Joan received a Rhode Island State Service Award from the Native Plant Trust in 1999.

In recognition of Joan’s contributions in so many different capacities at RIWPS, she was given a Lifetime Service Award in 2011. Leader, organizer, volunteer scout and mentor, docent for native plant exhibits at the Rhode Island Spring and and garden tours, editorial advisor to WildfloraRI, host for Winter book discussions, planning groups and informal gatherings of volunteers at her home along with her husband Michael. Every committee sought out Joan – Special Events, Programs, Walks & Workshops, Seed Starters, Plant Sales, Flower Show, WildfloraRI. Each was made better by her efforts.

Joan gifted RIWPS with her generous and positive spirit, her stamina and spunk. We are very thankful.

Obituary notice.

A big Thank You to Dick Fisher, RIWPS President, 2016-2020!

Many of us feel Dick deserves more fanfare. However, since we could not gather in March to thank him nor will  be to gather anytime soon, we thought the least we could do is share a selection of thoughts from fellow board members.

Dick graciously agreed to helm the RIWPS ship at a critical time for the organization. I was relatively new to RIWPS and did not know Dick at the time, but those who advocated bringing him on clearly knew what they were talking about. He ably led the board through an examination of its mission, the development of a strategic plan, and numerous other important debates and decisions during his tenure as President. Moreover, Dick’s kind and generous manner, deep knowledge, and humble nature have been a blessing to RIWPS in one way or another for many years!
– Amanda Freitas

Dick has been a wonderful president for these past few years. At the start of serving, he successfully managed our long-term planning project, which led to some revision of goals for the society. Many committees and projects have continued to run smoothly and our society has been growing. We have had some successful joint projects with other organizations, such as the native plant art exhibit last year and the “at-risk” plant project just beginning. The society receives many requests for help or information or action and Dick is skillful at assessing these and saying “no” in a very diplomatic way to ones that do not fit well with our mission and current activities. RIWPS is thriving, and we can thank Dick for his knowledge and effective leadership.
– Dorothy Swift

It was great working with you at the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse on behalf of RIWPS. Thank you for everything, especially your welcoming, kind and thoughtful leadership.
– Beth Dickson

Thank you Dick, for your stalwart leadership, your calming presence and your always thoughtful & intelligent input. You have made everyone feel an important part of the process of Board leadership and you will be missed at the helm. Thank you also for the great cookies at every meeting!!
– Susan Shuster

Thanks Dick, for serving the past four years as RIWPS’ President. Your calm leadership, thoughtful suggestions and guidance moved RIWPS along through various stages and events. Some of the highlights I am particularly appreciative of:
• For your leadership in the Strategic Planning process
• For promoting the RIWPS 30th Anniversary in 2017 when RIWPS co-founder and first president, Lisa Gould,
came up from North Carolina to help celebrate and to address the gang with a talk … Back to Our Roots – Being Wild about Wild Plants
• For the January Social evolving into a more social event – this was your idea! A chance to meet informally and get to know each other.
• For fostering the collaboration with Brown University Herbarium, RI Historical Society, Brown University’s John Hay Library and RIWPS – which resulted in the exhibit at John Hay Library – Entwined exhibit and Pam Harrington’s talk on The History of Botanical Illustration.
• For guiding RIWPS involvement in the “at risk” plant propagation project
• For representing RIWPS at the annual RI Land & Water Summit
• For finding us our Bookkeeper – Kate O’Leary! She is a joy to work with.
– Mary Lou Upham

Thanks Dick for your leadership especially through your guidance during the strategic planning process and the review of the bylaws.  Your gentle but firm leadership has made the board and the society stronger as a community and broadened outreach to the public.
– Mary O’Connor

We are all so glad that you will continue to serve on the Board as a Trustee-at-Large!