Plants as Indicators

Not every plant can grow everywhere. You don't usually find cactus growing in a swamp or cattails growing on sand dunes. If you learn a little about plants, you can look out the window of a car or bus and know what a roadside spot is like, just by the kinds of plants growing there. Remember, plants can survive where people plant them if they are taken care of, but if they are surviving without care, they are probably growing in the kind of conditions they are best adapted to. 

Use the links below to build up your knowledge of plants so that by the time spring and summer are here, you can read the landscape as you ride, walk, or bike along. 

Wetlands: If these plants are growing wild in an area, it usually means the soil is wet. 

Alder
Black willow
Cattails 
Jewelweed
Red maple
Sensitive fern
Shagbark hickory 
Silver maple
Skunk cabbage
Sphagnum moss
Spicebush
Sycamore 

Old Field: The plants listed next can survive the sunny, windy conditions of a field that was once used for farming but has been left to grow without human care.

Aster 
Briers (raspberry, blackberry)
Goldenrod
Queen Anne’s lace
Shrub dogwoods
Sumac 

Young Woodlands: A field will turn to a young woodland if left long enough for wind, birds, and squirrels to bring in tree seeds. The trees listed below are often the first to begin changing a field into a woodland. 

Ash trees
Aspens
Black cherry 
Box elder
White pine 

Mature Woodlands: In New York State, most areas will become woodland if left alone long enough. The list of trees below includes some of those found in older woodlands in New York State.

Beech 
Black birch (Sweet birch) 
Hemlock
Sugar maple
Yellow birch 

Human Impacted Sites: It can be fun to hike in a park or wildlife area and find signs that people were living and farming there years ago. The following are often clues that people once lived in an area.

Apple trees
Daylilles 
English Ivy
Fence rows
Lilacs 
Myrtle 

Alkaline soils: Soils have pH, a chemical measurement of whether they are acid, base, or neutral. Plants can be an indicator of soil conditions. The following plants are clues that a soil is alkaline.

Northern White Cedar (arborvitae)
Columbine
Eastern red cedar

Acid soils: The plants below are good indicators that the soil is acidic rather that alkaline.

Blueberry
Canada mayflower
Gentian 
Goldthread
Pin cushion moss
Sphagnum moss

So click on the links above and start learning these plants and other clues on sight. Soon you will be reading what the land is like as you travel around your neighborhood and beyond.
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