by Georgia Hann
It was an hour after noontime in the early days of November 2017, and Sidney VanZandt, Joan Smith, and Whitney Adams were poised to greet us in the parking area before the remaining homestead of the Avery-Weber family. We had just arrived at the Avery Farm Nature Preserve on the Ledyard-bound edge of Groton, ready to explore the flora as part of a series of walks designed to supplement students’ learnings about plant identification in a central undergraduate botany course at Connecticut College: Plant Systematics and Taxonomy of the Local Flora. As a member of our local chapter of WildOnes, a national organization promoting native plants and wildlife, I had been delighted to explore this area in a previous year with the expert guiding of Whitney Adams, an experience that motivated me to include this destination in our schedule of excursions. A G.O.S.A. board member since 2009 with a lifetime interest in the natural world, Adams has tempered his years of experience in biochemical research with his own diligent study of plant identification in the northeast.
Attuned to the burgeoning interest in plant and wildlife diversity that can thrive along the early successional habitats of powerline corridors, Whitney has worked to familiarize himself with the abundance of plant species that pepper the landscape along the gravel maintenance trail that cuts through the property. Powerline trails are unique because they require constant disturbance by industrial crews; as long as they are in use their vegetation will never be allowed to grow to the height of a bordering forest’s canopy, and even the undergrowth will be often trodden on and ripped up by vehicles and other machines. While this may seem destructive, there are actually certain biodiversity boons borne of this byproduct of our cultural infrastructure; these areas can sometimes provide a haven for certain short-lived species that would otherwise cease to exist in the shaded, later-successional habitats of a wooded area. The small, widely-dispersed seeds of such plants can be stored in the seed bank to await emergence after each new onslaught of disturbance.
Even with most of the tree’s leaves beneath our feet rather than adorning the branches as we crunched through the trail alongside Whitney, Sidney, and Joan, there was an abundance of plant life to explore and discover against the golden-hued backdrop of fall. As Whitney’s fountainous knowledge mingled with the new learnings of the students, we took in the spicy-mint aroma of Comptonia peregrina, soaked in the visual candy of the Ilex verticillata, and tickled our fingers on the playful prickles of the Lycopodium clavatum, all the while basking in the joyous sense of freedom afforded by our bathe in the fresh air of protected open space. Collection and removal of any live plant matter from the G.O.S.A. properties is typically prohibited, but the board granted students’ permission to collect several samples for educational and scientific purposes as part of a class project to identify and mount common local species. With permission, I also returned to make some collections for an upcoming exhibit of 100 Herbarium Specimens for 100 Years of Botany at Connecticut College on February 5th, 2018 to celebrate the Centennial Anniversary of the school’s Botany Department. But far beyond any physical gains we gleaned from our journey to the Avery Farm Nature Preserve were the experiential gains of being offered shared knowledge from the generous local stewards of these precious conservation lands, and of forming new bonds with these talented and inspiring individuals. As the many strains of life that characterize the Earth’s ecosystems work in tandem to perpetuate the wholesome body that is this Earth, may we continue to work together to maintain a responsible and harmonious stewardship of the green spaces that surround us and support us.
Georgia Hann ’18 is a Mystic native who has recently completed an undergraduate degree in botany at Connecticut College in New London, CT. She intends to continue living in Southeastern CT as she pursues a lifetime of plant-related activity.
Georgia points to a delicate, light green fern called Asplenium platyneuron (common name “ebony spleenwort”) within a clonal patch of Comptonia peregrina (common name “sweet fern”). The darker green, long, slender, deeply-incised leaves of the Comptonia peregrina can also be seen in the far left lower corner of this photograph. Photo Credit: Joan Smith
Avery Farm Nature Preserve http://www.gosaonline.org/avery-farm-nature-preserve/
Whitney Adams http://www.gosaonline.org/board-of-directors/
February 5th, 2018 https://www.conncoll.edu/the-arboretum/programs-and-activities/