The Niagara Frontier Botanical Society celebrates 25 Years


(This 916th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on October 12, 2008.)



NFBS President Jim Battaglia with a pennyroyal museum specimen


At 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 14, the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society will hold its regular monthly meeting at the Harlem Community Center off Main Street in Snyder. As always, the public is invited to attend. Normally these meetings have programs on various aspects of botany with an emphasis on western New York. For example, two programs at other meetings this fall are Dave Spierling's talk about prairie ecology and restoration and Mike Siuta's on the aquatic plants of this region.


What makes the October 14 meeting unusual and the reason I recommend that all readers, especially those who enjoy local wildflowers, ferns and trees, attend it is that it represents the Society's celebration of its 25 years existence. Founding president Jim Battaglia will talk about the Society's origin, its early history, some of its memorable personalities and some of its adventures in the field.


Free back issues of the Society's journal, Clintonia, will be available to those attending. On display will also be promotional posters produced in the Society's early years, many of which represent true botanical art. And refreshments will be served.


I suspect that most readers of this column will never have heard of the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society, yet this small organization has established a quite remarkable record of achievement over its history.


Shortly after the Society was founded and under the leadership of Richard Zander, then botanical curator for the Buffalo Museum of Science, its members established the journal, Clintonia, which continues to provide a wide range of articles about local botany. The journal name celebrates not only an interesting wildflower and New York State's famous Governor DeWitt Clinton for whom the plant was named but also the governor's nephew, George Clinton, a highly regarded 19th century naturalist whose many activities included first Buffalo Science Museum president and Buffalo mayor.


The Society has a number of enviable accomplishments. Its members have censused many local areas, providing detailed lists of the flora of areas like Chestnut Ridge Park and Great Baehre Swamp. These published lists provide data that not only guide people to where wildflowers may be found but also provide a basis for comparison over time as our vegetation changes. These censuses have added many species to the region's flora.


Under the leadership of Patricia Eckel members have also contributed to an overall listing of the plants of western New York. These are gathered in a volume and museum-based website, both with the odd title, MADCapHorse. That name doesn't represent a wildly cavorting horse; rather, it is a memory device employed by field botanists to distinguish trees and shrubs with opposite leaves from those with alternate leaves. Those opposite-leaved plants for which the letters stand are: maples, ashes, dogwoods, Caprifoliaceae and horse chestnut. Caprifoliaceae is the honeysuckle family that includes the viburnums.


 When Zander and Eckel left the Buffalo Museum, its Clinton Herbarium, the fourth oldest in this country with over 100,000 specimens, was closed. In response to this situation, Society members traveled to Cornell and the Cleveland Natural History Museum to obtain training in the handling and documentation of plant specimens and returned to reactivate this important repository.


One widely recognized Society-initiated project is the Western New York Old-Growth Forest Survey, whose purpose is to locate, evaluate, and describe all occurrences of ancient forests in the region and to report them to the New York Natural Heritage Program for further evaluation and for listing as significant biological resources. This group has identified over 100 locations. A former senior member of the group was honored in the name of a state law, the Bruce S. Kershner Old-growth Forest Preservation and Protection Act, sponsored by local legislators Mary Lou Rath and Sam Hoyt and signed September 8 by Governor David Paterson.


The Society has also played an important role in the creation of the wildlife preserves on the Onondaga Escarpment at Counterfeiter's Ledge near Akron, certainly one of the most significant natural areas in Western New York. Portions of these limestone cliffs and forests with their diverse and often rare flora are now protected by a state Department of Environmental Conservation "Botanically Unique Area" designation of 50 acres and a 302-acre preserve owned by Nature Conservancy.-- Gerry Rising