Archive for February 2011

2011 Is the UN’s International Year of the Forests

February 17, 2011

You can help celebrate this with the UN by going to their website and learning more.  This is important since most of New York is forested.

Here is the introduction at their website:

Welcome to the International Year of Forests, 2011 (Forests 2011) Web site, a global platform to celebrate people’s action to sustainably manage the world’s forests. The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests.

Here, you will find information regarding events being organized throughout the International Year as well as interactive web tools and resources to promote dialogue on forests. Tell us how you plan to celebrate “forests for people” during 2011, so that we may showcase your stories and initiatives through this website.

Access the website HERE.

Sunset over the forests of the Long Island Pine Barrens. Photo Steve Young.

Dodder (Cuscuta pentagona) Exploits Odors to Find its Host

February 17, 2011

While browsing the website Parasite of the Day, I came across an interesting article about dodder and a reference about how they key on odors or chemical signals of some plants to find a host.  Here is a detailed entry about it in the Why Files Blog. This species is considered uncommon in New York and there are four other species that are endangered and threatened in the state. To find out more about two of them, you can go to the NY Natural Heritage Program Plant Conservation Guides.

The flowers of Cuscuta gronovii, a common species of dodder, in Schenectady. Photo Steve Young

Watson, Jeopardy, and Plant Identification

February 16, 2011

I just returned from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy where I watched IBM’s Watson computer compete against humans in a game of Jeopardy.  The huge auditorium of the EMPAC building was full of people (mostly students) interested in watching the competition on the big screen and listening to the panel of experts, alumni from RPI, who were responsible for designing and programming Watson. One of the panelists said that even though supercomputers like this were great at gathering information and answering questions in the Jeopardy format, they are still a long way from being able to do the same thing with audio or visual clues. I can attest to that personally since I use voice software everyday and the programmers still have not figured out how to come up with the right homonym in context. It got me thinking about when supercomputers would be smart enough visually to identify plants as well and as fast as a trained botanist. There are projects out there that identify plants visually, one using mainly tree leaves, and others that would read the DNA bar code of plants to identify them. Some groups of plants might be easy to identify but when you get down to grasses, sedges, willows, hawthorns and other difficult groups you might have a real challenge on your hands.

One of the panel members was asked why compete on Jeopardy. He explained that after they finished beating chess world-champion Garry Kasparov with the supercomputer Deep Blue they needed a new challenge. One night after discussing this they saw everyone rush out to a bar to see Ken Jennings compete on Jeopardy.  They figured that would be the next big challenge; to show how far computers have come with their information-gathering power.  So far the humans are no match for Watson (although Watson confused Toronto as an American city in final Jeopardy).  I think one of the next big challenges for IBM would be to visually identify a wide variety of plants faster than our best botanists (with a supercomputer called Linnaeus?).  I think that might take awhile. – Steve Young

The panel discusses Watson at the EMPAC before the show. Photo Steve Young

An Interactive Visual Identification Key to Carices of North America

February 15, 2011

Now you have no excuse to not learn more about the genus Carex in New York with the release of this new identification key.  It is a stunning assemblage of photos and drawings of the species of Carex in North America. You can sort them multiple ways, starting with New York, and even compare two species. The photos are high resolution so you can zoom way in on the spikelets. It would be nice if there were photos with the key characters identified on the photo. The website is HERE but you can view a short video on its features below. You will need Microsoft Silverlight on your computer to get it to work. – Steve Young

NYS DEC Lands and Forests Job Openings for Giant Hogweed Control

February 15, 2011

There are 8 positions open this summer for controlling giant hogweed.  Five positions for manual control and three for herbicide control.

The beginning compensation rate as of April 1, 2010 is $13.27.

To Apply
For more information on how to apply contact Naja Kraus at or 845-255-1701 (Fax). First review of applications to begin March 1st.

DEC’s giant hogweed page

This is why it is called giant.

Exploding Cattails – A Cool Natural Phenomenon

February 14, 2011

From our friend Jackie Donnelly of the  Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog comes a video of the phenomenon of exploding cattail heads.   Its very interesting how these heads are so packed together with fruits that a slight nudge will start the dispersal process.  I have added another video below Jackie’s showing the same phenomenon in a slightly different way. Some of you may have had this happen on its own if you used the heads in dried arrangements. – Steve Young

Pennsylvania Rare Plant Forum to be Held April 9, 2011

February 8, 2011


9:30 AM-about 2:30 PM

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Jennings Environmental Education Center

12 miles north-west of Butler, on PA Route 528 just west of Route 8

40.9° N 80.1° W, Elevation 350 m

All people interested in the conservation of Pennsylvania’s native flora are encouraged to attend this meeting. The Rare Plant Forum is a function of the Vascular Plant Technical Committee of the Pennsylvania Biological Survey, and for over thirty years has served in an advisory role to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for issues related to the conservation of the native flora of Pennsylvania. In addition to discussing proposed changes to the list of Plants of Special Concern in Pennsylvania (POSCIP), there will be a few related presentations. This is an excellent opportunity to connect and work with other botanists, amateur and professional, who share your interest in the flora of Pennsylvania.

It is fitting for us to meet at a facility named for Otto E. Jennings, late Curator of Botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and early advocate of native plant conservation. If you know of people who might be interested in attending, especially in NW Pennsylvania or adjacent parts of Ohio and New York, please extend this invitation to them.

The proposal form is in an Excel spreadsheet, downloadable at Related documents such as the definitions of the status categories and the minutes from past meetings are also available here. Please start working on your proposals right away, as John Kunsman and I will need some lead time to help gather the data. Please submit your proposals by 4 March. Proposals will be posted to the above url shortly after I receive them, and a summary will be distributed at least a week before the meeting along with an agenda.


You are encouraged to consider presenting on recent work you have done related to the conservation of the flora of our region. One of the advantages of holding the Rare Plant Forum is the opportunity to share the results of our work. This can increase the value of your work by allowing others to build upon it. It also encourages collaboration and minimizes duplication of effort. Email or call me with the subject and how much time you would like.

There will be time on the agenda for un-premeditated announcements, but it helps me plan if I have some idea how many there will be, so let me know if you can.

Dinner on Friday

Some of us will be having dinner on Friday at North Country Brewing in Slippery Rock. Let me know ( if you would like to join us; I will make a reservation.

River Running!

Some of us are going to take advantage of the spring thaw on Sunday to explore a local stream, probably Wolf Creek. WPC owns land at Wolf Creek Narrows where we can take out and botanize. It is one of the best spring wildflower sites in the Commonwealth. Some experienced whitewater enthusiasts might brave Slippery Rock Creek Gorge. Email me if you are interested.


We have reserved the Muskrat Cove group camping site at Moraine State Park for Friday and Saturday ( This will be primitive camping with water, but no hot water. The cost will be $10/night divided between everyone who camps. Please contact Kelly Sitch at if you are interested.

See you soon! – Steve

Steve Grund

Chair, Pennsylvania Rare Plant Forum

Botanist, Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

800 Waterfront Drive

Pittsburgh, PA 15222

(412) 586-2350

Report: Only 39 percent of North American endangered plant species are protected in collections.

February 7, 2011

Washington, D.C. – Only 39 percent of the nearly 10,000 North American plant species threatened with extinction are protected by being maintained in collections, according to the first comprehensive listing of the threatened plant species in Canada, Mexico and the United States. Seed banks or living collections maintained by public gardens and conservation organizations across North America provide an insurance policy against extinction for many threatened species.

The North American Collections Assessment – conducted collaboratively by Botanic Gardens Conservation International U.S., the U.S. Botanic Garden, and Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum – found that 3,681 of 9,494 of North America’s most threatened plant species are maintained in 230 collections. Much more collaborative work is needed to conserve North America’s botanical wealth and to provide true protection against extinction, says the report, Conserving North America’s Threatened Plants, released this week

Andrea Kramer, Botanic Gardens Conservation International U.S. executive director, said, “These assessment results are hopeful, but also a call to action. For many public gardens, this report marks the first time their potential to assist in the conservation effort has been recognized. We hope this is a watershed moment.”

“As the U.S. Botanic Garden, we felt a critical need for a common baseline of understanding among the entire conservation community,” said Ray Mims, one of the authors. “To move forward together to protect North America’s native plants, we have to understand where we are today. Now that we know both what is threatened and what needs to be protected, there is a solid foundation on which to build future conservation work.”

“One of the lessons we learned from this assessment is how important it is to curate for conservation,” said Michael Dosmann, curator of living collections at the Arnold Arboretum. “Curators and horticulturists have not always considered conservation value as they go about their routines. Yet by participating in this assessment, many for the very first time saw the direct value of their plants in bolstering efforts to conserve our threatened flora. We hope this becomes a new paradigm in collections management.”

Assessment results indicate that North America did not reach the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation’s (GSPC) Target 8 goal set in 2002 of protecting 60 percent of threatened plant species in collections by 2010. While botanical organizations across Canada, Mexico and the United States are making progress to achieve these targets, the report found that 3,500 or more additional threatened plant species will need to be added to current collections to meet the new GSPC goal of conserving 75 percent of known threatened species in North America by 2020. This will require nearly doubling the current capacity.

The assessment calls for the strengthening of conservation networks and collaboration in conservation planning and data sharing. Institutions are urged to contribute plant lists to BGCI’s PlantSearch database and update them regularly. It is crucial to increase cooperation and coordination among a broad and diverse network of gardens and conservation organizations with different expertise and resources. To win this race against extinction, conservation organizations will need to prioritize the development of genetically diverse and secure collections to ensure meaningful protection of threatened plants.

Additional information and the full report can be found at

The Art of Plant Mounting – Three Examples

February 4, 2011

The following three videos show the techniques used at different herbaria for mounting plants. Many herbaria in this country and in New York use the same techniques but some of them may glue the specimens and some may use herbarium tape or stitching.  Some may include a separate envelope and some may not. There are also slightly different sizes of herbarium mounting paper but they should all fit in a standard size herbarium cabinet.  A lot of work goes into each specimen so handle them carefully.  They will last over 100 years if preserved properly. Probably the biggest difference in the presentations is the accent of the presenters!

Job Opening for Assistant Plant Inspector for Emerald Ash Borer in Otsego County

February 3, 2011

POSITION: Assistant Plant Inspector
SALARY: $15.93/hour
APPOINTMENT: Temporary, Non-Competitive
LOCATION: Otsego County

POSITION DESCRIPTION: As an Assistant Plant Inspector, you will be assigned to the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Control Program.  The objective of the EAB Control Program is to minimize human assisted spread of this insect within New York and to adjacent states.  This position will ensure regulated material is properly transported, the appropriate documents are used, and that regulated establishments are in compliance.  Some duties will include, but not limited to:  participate in tradeshows, fairs, present at industry meetings to gain compliance of regulated parties, schedule quarterly mulch inspections for establishments holding a mulch agreement, conduct regulatory enforcement checkpoints along key routes out of the regulated area and major transportation routes within the State, and also follow up on any suspect emerald ash borer reports by the public or industry.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS: 30 College Credits – preferably in horticulture, forestry, plant pathology, botany, entomology, environmental studies/plant science, or a biological science primarily related to the scientific study of plants or animals.

TO APPLY: Forward resume by February 25, 2011 to:

Ms. Christine A. Pettograsso
NYS Dept of Agriculture and Markets
Human Resources Management
10B Airline Drive
Albany, NY 12235
Telephone:  (518) 457-3216
Fax:  (518) 457-8852


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