December 9, 2012

Botanists plant ideas for future during field trip

Elizabeth Lee

---- — The first weekend of December while hunters were enjoying their last foray into the woods for whitetails, botanists were on the move as well. 

On Saturday, Dec. 1, the Adirondack Botanical Society met in Ray Brook to review activities of 2012, plan for field trips in 2013 and take an excursion into a local bog.

Formed in 2011 for the purpose of sharing information about the diverse flora of the Adirondacks,  the Adirondack Botanical Society (ABS) brings together a broad range of knowledge and experience.

Steve Young, chief botanist at the NY Natural Heritage Program, came from Albany for the meeting and was joined by members of the faculties of Paul Smith’s, SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY ESF; a former DEC botanist; several APA biologists; a Master Gardener; a horticulturalist who likes moss; two outdoor guides; and a friendly “career zoologist who crashed the botanical meeting.”

Botanists are outdoor folk like any others. Preferring to get together in the field more than in meetings, the group only meets in person twice a year.

The agenda this month began with details of various social media tools that link the members so that plans can be made remotely. For most members, smartphones are tools of the trade, making it possible to use GPS to log plant sightings and the Internet to access the NYS Flora Atlas from the field.

During 2012, ABS took field trips to Coon Mountain, Spring Pond Bog, Whiteface and Skylight. The goal of the field trips is to create plant lists for the species that are found on a given date. Dated plant lists let those who manage forest lands know where populations of rare or invasive species are, but they also affirm the status of the baseline population of plants that are expected in that location.

Coon Mountain, known for its plant diversity, met expectations this spring — more than 30 plants were recorded in flower in April. 

The study of when leaves emerge or flowers open for the first time each year is called plant phenology. Naturalists are keenly watching plants in the same way they are watching birds, mammals and amphibians to see how climate change is affecting the timing of annual events in the life cycle of the forest.

At the recent meeting, Botanical Society members considered another topic of concern. As botanists who studied the Adirondacks prior to the digital age retire, how will their field notes and herbaria be preserved and made accessible to future researchers?

The file cabinets, library shelves and back-room stacks of hand-written notes hold illustrations and tell stories that shouldn’t be lost to future generations.

In 2013, the group plans field trips to Shingle Shanty Preserve and Research Station, Chase Fen, Slush Pond Bog, Lake Champlain (aquatics) and a return to Whiteface.

Over the winter, a study group plans to learn more about bryophytes (mosses).

Field trips and events are open to the public as space permits. 

While plant lists and taxonomy aren’t for everyone, there may be a flashbot for you — a spontaneous field trip to a unique destination with a few great botanists. It’s sort of a botanist’s version of an emergency fishing trip.

Visit to join a discussion group or find out more.

Elizabeth Lee is a licensed guide who lives in Westport. She leads recreational and educational programs focused in the Champlain Valley throughout the year. Contact her at

RARE SIGHT While exploring a wintery bog in Ray Brook on Dec. 1, Adirondack botanists found a plant that is considered rare in New York. Pod grass, or Scheuchzeria palustris, is a plant that grows in peatland. It is a taxnomic "only child" as the only species in the only genera in the plant family Scheuchzeriaceae. The NY Natural Heritage Program notes that the rope-like strands that gardeners find mixed with peat moss are likely to be rhizomes of pod grass harvested from northern bogs.