Archive for the ‘Natural History’ category

Photo Show: Every Tree Tells a Story

May 2, 2011

The Cultural Landscape Foundation presents: Every Tree Tells a Story featuring extraordinary trees and tree groupings at twelve sites around the country and Puerto Rico. The show includes a history of the elms of East Hampton, New York.  For the website CLICK HERE.

Help Record Plant Phenology in New York With Project Bud Break

March 15, 2011

Now that plants are starting to flower (I have gotten reports of skunk cabbage and pussy willow) you can help record this natural phenomenon by using the New York-based website Project Bud Break. According to the website it is associated with a national effort, a network of citizen scientists that is being established in New York to observe the timing of flowering, leaf development, fruiting, and leaf drop in populations of common native trees and herbaceous species. This site will help observers to enter their data on the timing of important plant events through the growing season. Through time they can see the effects of climate change by observing the fluctuations in phenology of our native plants. To register for the site CLICK HERE.

Help record the flowering and fruiting of trees like the silver maple pictured here.

The History of High School Botany Education in America

March 8, 2011

Margaret Conover, a botanist from SUNY Stony Brook, has written an interesting overview of how botany has been taught in American high schools from 1800 to the present.  She states that just over 100 years ago nearly all high-school students studied botany for a full year and emphasis was placed on identifying local flora.

Later, the “Golden Age of Botany Teaching” and the nature study movement of the early 1900s had students studying all aspects of plants in nature. The state Board of Regents even had a botany exam (which you can take yourself on page 4 of her article).What happened to this emphasis on botany in high schools? Read her article and you will find out why it is so different today.  Why a student who omits the answer to every plant related question on the Living Environments Regents Exam could still receive a passing grade of 80% and what the forces are that have led to the decline of botany as a subject in high school.

She ends with a note of hope that people are working to cure the “plant blindness” that pervades high-school biology education. To read the full article from the Long Island Botanical Society newsletter CLICK HERE.

Marielle Anzelone teaches high schoolers about plants in the Bronx. Photo

An Ode to Naturalists and Their Discoveries

March 3, 2011

A recent New York Times article by Richard Conniff entitled “How Species Save Our Lives” heaps praise on naturalists and their discovery of species that have provided the many health benefits that we enjoy today.  I like his comments, “Were it not for the work of naturalists, you and I would probably be dead.  Or if alive, we would be far likelier to be crippled, in pain, or otherwise incapacitated.” And “When the new wave of emerging diseases comes washing up on our doorsteps, we may find ourselves asking two questions:  Where are the naturalists to help us sort out the causes and cures?  And where are the species that might once have saved us?”

He presents a good, and much used, reason why we must continue to explore the natural world and save species.   I also like his suggestion #7: “Learn to identify 10 species of plants and animals in your own neighborhood, then 20, and onward.” NYFA can help with that! To read the entire article CLICK HERE. You can also see his blog about species at The Species Seekers.

Learning about species at


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

Frazil Ice at Yosemite Video: Like the Hudson River at The Glen

January 18, 2011

Evelyn Greene sent a link to this video to show how frazil ice is formed in Yosemite. It is the same process that builds the ice we see on the ice meadows at The Glen on the Hudson River.  Evelyn has studied this phenomenon for years and how it affects the unique flora of the area.  You can visit the Hudson River north of Warrensburg up to North Creek to see our own version of this beautiful natural event.

Keep Your Eye out for Rare Bumblebees

May 20, 2010

Since we are out observing and photographing wildflowers all the time, our friends over on the zoology side of the Natural Heritage Program are asking us to keep our eyes out for a couple of bumblebees which might be in severe decline. On February 10, 2010, a broad coalition of scientists submitted a letter to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requesting that they create new regulations to protect wild bumble bees from threats posed by commercial bumble bees. The letter was signed by over 60 scientists with research on bumble bees and other bees. A recent status review by Dr. Robbin Thorp and The Xerces Society established that at least four species of formerly common North American bumble bees have experienced steep declines; two of those species teeter on the brink of extinction. A major threat to the survival of these wild bees is the spread of diseases from commercially produced bees that are transported throughout the country. The two in our area are the yellow banded bumble bee and the rusty patched bumble bee. Fact sheets about these bumblebees can be found at the following website:

Yellow Banded Bumble Bee

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee