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Boreal Botany from the Beginning

July 23 @ 9:00 AM - July 24 @ 4:30 PM


This is an exceptional opportunity to participate in a two-day field course in boreal lowland plants and landscapes with noted Adirondack ecologist, Jerry Jenkins.  The course will cover trees, shrubs, mosses, sedges, and grasses; conifer forests, swamps, thickets, and bogs. The focus will be on about forty of the most important species: who they are, how to find and recognize them, where they live, what they do, and how, acting together, they create the lowland boreal landscape.

Taught by Jerry Jenkins, director of the Northern Forest Atlas Project, using the Atlas photographic guides, and ecological maps.  Taught at Barnum Pond and Heron Marsh, adjacent to the VIC.  The course runs from 9am-4:30pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Additional program information:

Much of the American boreal, between the northern edge of the United States and the tree-line in Canada, is lake, river, swamp, muskeg, and bog. Together these are the lowland boreal: the country of tamarack, spruce, and sphagnum; hare, owl, and lynx; and snowshoe, setting-pole, and paddle.

The boreal, uniquely among major American landscapes, is biogenic: everything is made by plants. Mosses fill pools and make bog mats and peat; sedges and shrubs make thickets and patterned bogs; trees make swamps and muskegs. The course will be taught at the Paul Smith’s VIC, in and around Barnum Pond. and Heron Marsh, in the center of a large lowland boreal complex that extends from Lake Meacham east to Rainbow Lake and south to Lake Clear. The VIC is in the center of this complex. There are few larger or finer boreal landscapes in the Northeast; none has a college and nature center in its center.

The course was developed by the Northern Forest Atlas Project, (northernforestatlas.org) and will use the Atlas photo-guides for woody plants, sedges, mosses, and grasses. It will be the first time we have used them as a set. It will follow what we call the living-library approach: students start with labeled plants outdoors on tables—the living library— and figure how they are made and how to tell them apart. They then go out and look for them in the field, and make notes on what they have found and who lives with whom and where. We follow, question, and coach. We then come back, compare what we have seen to the library, and sit down and talk about what we have seen and what it means.

Said another way, most naturalists are, and in fact have to be, good at teaching themselves. The Atlas guides and our living-library approach are tools for autodidacts. They are a way you can teach yourself, with our help, during class; and a way that you can continue afterwards.

Important Details:  The course open to anyone, with the warning that it will involve some hiking, paddling, wet walking, possibly swimming or thrashing around. Up to ten students.  You will need field clothes and gear, a notebook you can sketch in, a hand lens of 7 to 10 power, a copy of Woody Plants of the Northern Forest (available from the VIC, local bookstores, or online [https://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/9781501719684/woody-plants-of-the-northern-forest/], about $17), lunches, and a camera if you like to take pictures. Class copies of the other photo guides will be available to use, or from the VIC store if you want your own. Some other useful material will be available by downloads or wireless.

Taught by Jerry Jenkins, director of the Northern Forest Atlas Project, author of the Northern Forest Atlas Guides, folding charts, and digital atlases; 54 years of field studies in boreal landscapes; 40 years of field studies in the Adirondacks; other books on Adirondack geography, scientific history, sustainability; field guides to trees and shrubs and ecological patterns in preparation.

And, as a surprise, some special wetland-wise guests to help out.

Reference material:



July 23 @ 9:00 AM
July 24 @ 4:30 PM


Paul Smith’s VIC


Paul Smith’s VIC
8023 State Route 30
Paul Smiths, NY 12970 United States
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