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Natural Heritage

This is an important area. Its special value lies in its closeness to campus, in the variety of tree species present, and in the large size of many individual trees. This rich mesic forest has great diversity in both the tree canopy and the herb layer. Dominant tree species include sugar maple, basswood, white ash, and tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), but oaks, hickories, red maple, white pine, beech, and hemlock are also common. Cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata) is surprisingly abundant. Also present are sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis).

The magnificent and diverse spring wildflower display is widely appreciated. Trilliums (Trillium grandiflorum, T. erectum, and T. undulatum), spring beauties (Claytonia virginica and C. caroliniana), mayapple, and trout lily (Erythronium americanum) are especially abundant.

At first glance, this tract appears rather level and uniform, but small differences in elevation give rise to surprising differences in wetness. There is a dendritic pattern of seasonally wet areas, draining from the northeast to the southwest. The soils are underlain with lake-basin sediments of silt and clay that form a relatively impermeable layer, so that water pools in lower areas. Convex areas are highly erosible, and as a result, silty materials have accumulated in the lower areas, creating a thick layer of dark, rich soil there. These small differences in elevation and resulting soil structure, wetness, and fertility help explain the high diversity of plant species here, and the patchiness of the spring wildflower display.

The meadow is dominated by tall goldenrod and smooth goldenrod (Solidago gigantea). Look for gaps about a meter wide in the goldenrods. These are due to ant agriculture! As the ants expand their mound, they destroy the rhizomes of the goldenrods. The opening becomes a grassy mound, seeded with grass seeds the ants bring back to their nest.