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Natural Heritage


On the floodplain, much of the forest is dominated by sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) and cottonwood (Populus deltoides), but sugar maple and basswood are dominant in some sections. Formerly, American elm (Ulmus americana) was an important component of forests such as this. Here, large gaps in the canopy left by the demise of elms are rapidly being filled in by small trees.

Hemlock and beech are the most common tree species in the forest on the shady, north and east facing slopes above the wildflower garden. At the base of the steep slope there is an oxbow of the creek, a low wet area where the creek once flowed. Here, marsh species such as skunk cabbage, cattail, and yellow-flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) are found. A meadow, dominated by goldenrods (Solidago), asters (Aster), and other native and naturalized field flowers, is located near the creek on gravelly soils that are regularly flooded. This pattern of recurring disturbance periodically washes away the vegetation, but the Cornell Botanic Gardens staff also now mows the meadow at regular intervals to suppress trees and shrubs and to keep the herbaceous community open and diverse.

Along the path leading from the parking area to the wildflower garden, native plants are displayed. Horticultural conditions play an important role in determining the size, habit, vigor, and ornamental value of native and naturalized plant species. Differences in growth form and appearance can be compared between plants grown in a horticultural setting and the same species growing in wild conditions in the wildflower garden.


Glacial gravels were carried by Fall Creek from upstream sites and deposited at the wildflower garden. One of the largest glacial erratics (a boulder) in the area is found here. The material of the erratic, anorthosite, is a type of granitic rock composed almost exclusively of soda-lime feldspar, and suggests that the boulder, mixed with other gravels, was transported from the Adirondacks by continental glaciers. Later, the smaller pieces of gravel were washed downstream, leaving behind this heavy, rather immobile erratic.