Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ed Miller's Arboretum

Yes, yes, I know, I know. This blog is supposed to be about Saratoga County's woods and waterways. Yet here I go, running off to Warren and Essex and Westchester Counties instead. And yesterday I went all the way to Schoharie County, near Esperance, New York, to visit the famous Landis Arboretum. I got the invitation to go there from noted plant enthusiast Ed Miller, who is curator of the arboretum's native plant collection. How could I turn this opportunity down? Ed is such great company, and I was most excited to see the collection he has assembled.

Although the Landis Arboretum was originally conceived as a project to grow exotic species, Ed's collection contains only those trees, shrubs, vines, and woody perennials that are native to New York State. He's been working almost single-handedly on this project for more than 10 years, growing and purchasing specimens, planting, watering, fertilizing, trying to get stubborn species to grow, and dealing with the disappointment when they don't. (He confessed that Bigtooth Aspen has continued to elude him. But he hasn't given up.)

One aspect of his collection that's particularly helpful is that the trees and other plants are grouped by families -- all maples are on the same site together, as are all oaks, sumacs, pines, rose family plants, etc. This makes it easy to compare the similarities of and differences between the plants. Each family site contains a metal mailbox with a keyed diagram of the plants tucked inside, so the observer can stand in one place and view all the species in relation to one another. Each specimen is also individually labeled.

Other sites are not family-specific, but rather related to habitat, with plants from different families sharing the environment in which they would naturally co-exist.

The Sumac-Family site engaged my attention for quite some time, since I wanted to study how each species differed as to leaf structure, bark texture, and other factors. I also found one species there I have never found in the wild but hope to see now that I know what it looks like: Fragrant Sumac. It looks quite different from the other sumacs, and yes, its leaves are indeed fragrant.

Another shrub I have never found in the wild is White Swamp Azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), so what a delight it was to find it blooming along the trail. And breathe its delicious scent.

A close look at its flower tubes reveals the glandular red-tipped hairs that set this species of white azalea apart.

In a sandy open area, Wild Lupines had made themselves at home among the woody plants. Their bloom long past, they are now in fruit with the fuzziest pea-pods I've ever seen. A light misty rain had collected in photogenic drops among the pods.

Here's another plant whose fruits are every bit as lovely to look at as its flowers. This is Ninebark, a shrub in the Rose Family whose flowers look very much like spirea blossoms and whose seeds are as rosy as rubies.

I've always wanted one in my personal native-plant garden, so Ed broke off a branch and gave it to me, explaining that it roots very easily from the twigs. I'm certainly game to give it a try. (But DON'T anyone else go breaking off twigs of plants in an arboretum!)

One part of Ed's project that particularly intrigued me was his mini-bog in a big wood tub. A floating raft of Sphagnum Moss is planted with many different kinds of bog plants, including a tiny Tamarack tree and a baby Black Spruce.

Some plants, like Bog Buckbean, Sweet Gale, and Pitcher Plant, are thriving in this mini-bog, but the Sphagnum itself appears to be struggling. Ed admitted to difficulties maintaining the water's acidity, despite previously dumping in a gallon of vinegar. He tested the water while we were there, and found the Ph still hovering at 7, which is not acidic but neutral. Concerned, but not overtly distressed, he seemed to take this issue in stride. Somehow, I have the feeling, he'll figure it out.


Ellen Rathbone said...

Ooo - what a great trip! Love the bog. And you've changed the look of your blog!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi Ellen, good to hear from you, dear loyal reader. I loved that tiny blog, too. You can see the plants without slogging ankle deep in bog muck. But what fun is that?

Yes, I'm trying out new blog designs. So many readers have told me they can't see the Comments cue, so let's see if this design works better. I think I still like my first template better, but I don't know how to get it back now.

Frank Knight said...

Jackie - Ed Miller recommended your site and I'm glad I browsed - great photos and charming text.

Come see my photo exhibition "Seventeen Native Orchids and a Weed" at Harmony House Marketplace, Remsen St., Cohoes this month.