Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Strawberry Fields Forever
Yesterday was a wonderful day. My friend, Jackie, and I drove down to Strawberry Fields in beautiful Mohawk County. We were there to visit Jeff Leon and to see the amazing array of fringed gentians (Gentianopsis crinita) he has there. He has worked as a conservationist to protect these plants, as well as other rare, endangered, or threatened plants, on his 120 acres of land, since 1971.
He graciously led us about the grounds where we delighted in antiquated fieldstone fences, covered with moss and etched with delicate, lacy lichen; showed us his eight species of goldenrod, and nine species of aster; pointed out the rich cluster of glossy red berries that replaces the ‘jack’ in its pulpit; and led us to an overlook with a striking view of the Mohawk valley. We delighted in butternut hickory trees, hop hornbeam, witch hazel, dogbane, shagbark hickory, wild apple, cherry, bur oak, and others. Meanwhile, we trampled fragrant wild basil and marjoram and thyme below our feet, as well as the ubiquitous namesake, strawberry, and heal-all; and our eyes delighted in orange-fruited horse gentian, agrimony, spotted touch-me-not, red clover and bittersweet.
Jeff explained that the gentians like wet meadows on magnesium-rich calcareous rock, and that they like open sun, but will tolerate more shade as long as the soil is rich in these minerals. They unfurl in sunlight, but close up on overcast days. When they are tightly furled they are a deep, rich blue, but when they unfold, and let the light show through, they are a softer, lighter hue, looking, as my friend Jackie says, like Japanese lanterns. These native plants can grow up to 3 feet tall, and the flower is about 2 inches long. Their blooming peaks about the second week of October, but will bloom into November.
Jeff had to fence off a section of their growing area when he realized that the resident deer are as fond of them as we are, only not just to gaze upon. He discovered they were browsing upon them and that they particularly enjoyed them when they were in seed. Each plant can produce 1,000 seeds so a great storehouse of genetic material is lost each time one of these ungulates munches away on this threatened flower.
Thanks to Jeff for working to raise awareness about this graceful, lovely blossom, we applaud his efforts and are ever grateful for his provision of a a protected place in which such threatened plants can thrive! For those who wish to learn more about local efforts to protect endangered and threatened plants, and ways that we can work to protect them, contact Hudson Mohawk Land Conservancy. Jeff also invites groups and individuals to visit Strawberry Fields, contact him at email@example.com