Vascular Plants


Cayuga Nature Center   Smith Woods   Total species found
  9 0   2 0    1 7 2


The forests and fields of the Cayuga Lake Basin provide habitat and food for innumerable animal species. The landscape of the Cayuga Lake Basin is dominated by green plants. Early clearing of the forest to create fields and pastures was followed by a period of agriculture that is still active in the areas where soils are deep and rich. On steep slopes where farming was impractical or where private tracts were left untouched, old-age hemlock and soaring tulip trees rise above diverse woodlands. Forest regrowth on abandoned, unproductive farmland has led to second growth stands of varying composition. These forests continue to produce timber, maple syrup, and increasingly, non-timber forest products such as mushrooms, wild fruits, and herbs. 

The vascular plants team recorded species both digitally with images as well into notebooks. Longitude and latitude of every species location was captured with the digital images. They also collected some herbarium specimens for later identification and/or verification. 

A BioBlitz provides an opportunity to capture a snapshot of biodiversity at a single site at a particular time. In practice, this effort forces close examination and intense study of what may be otherwise overlooked or easily dismissed. For vascular plants in the temperate zone, however, species' life cycles may play out over a very brief or extended period in a growing season. Thus the plant diversity of a site cannot be fully known without conducting similar surveys at other times during the year. 

As many as sixteen different plant community types have been described for the Finger Lakes Region based on species dominance and composition. Sucessional old fields may contain grasses and perennial forbs like goldenrod, or shrubby regrowth of native dogwood and hawthorn. Non-native shrub species may dominate these old fields: honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and autumn olive are present in increasing numbers. These introduced shrubs are well-used by birds and small mammals for food and habitat, but tend to out-compete native species. Sugar maple, red maple, and red oak are important hardwood species in second-growth forests. Sugar maple is dominant in good soils, whereas red maple is scattered throughout plant communities due to its tolerance for poor or wet soils. White pine co-occurs with another coniferous dominant, Eastern hemlock, on the steep slopes and uplands surrounding the region's many gores. 

The Eastern Deciduous forest harbors a variety of overstory trees. Although there are a few evergreen conifer species, all of the flowering tree specimens in this forest type are deciduous. Temperate forests tend to have high overstory dominance, with only a few species of large trees in a given locality, in contrast to the highly diverse overstory of tropical forests. 

With just a few exceptions most of the dominant trees in the deciduous forests are wind-pollinated, such as sugar maple, oaks, beeches, hickories, and birches. Understory herbaceous plants and woody shrubs are typically more diverse in these forests, but variable as well, depending on site factors and overstory composition. 

Pathogens have changed the structure3 and composition of the region's forests. Important tree species in the 20th century such as Chestnut, Elm, and to a lesser extent, Beech, are no longer present in the forest overstory where they were once dominant or co-dominant with other hardwoods. The imminent decline of Eastern Hemlock and native ash species due to the actions of Hemlock wolly adelgid and the emerald ash borer will contribute to the changing but resilient forest dynamic in years to come. 

Invasive species are of considerable concern for both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The aggressive growth and ability to out-compete native species enable invasive non-natives to displace more desirable natives from habitat, with potentially detrimental effects on the systems they invade. There were thirteen plant species in the two sites which are considered to be invasive. 7 of 13 of these are non-natives. 


The vascular plant team included botanists from Cornell, SUNY Cortland and the Ithaca community. Thanks to Kevin Nixon, Anna Stalter, Arieh Tal, Nathan Jud, Mike Hough, Aaron Iverson and Charles Smith.