Floral surveys of the Middlesex Fells.  


Full published report 

A 70 page article in the botanical journal Rhodora described the ecological changes in the Fells since its inception in 1894, lists all plants ever reported and by whom, and lists the thirty types of habitat that support the over 900 taxa (species and varieties) of vascular plant currently known in the Fells. For a pdf of this article contact me at bryanthamlin@gmail.com  or at 781 395 7722.

Updates and commentary


Copy for the above-mentioned Rhodora 2012 article was submitted in August 2011.  Since then Walter Kittredge of the Harvard Herbarium and I have continued to find new things in the Fells.. Three update notes have been published in Rhodora  -  2012 findings in 2013, and 2013 findings in 2014; and further findings in early 2017.. The gist of these findings are listed further down this page.
     If we discover that we made mistakes in our earlier reporting we will report them here. That is how science works. First, hard thorough work and then being honest about mistakes which all of us will make.

2017
 

February was unusually mild and I saw Skunk Cabbage open on Feb 25th, beating last year's record of the 28th. However, March was unusually cold creating a problem for some early budding trees and shrubs that had been encouraged to move ahead by the February warmth.

Neverthless Walter Kittredge has already found a sedge Carex cumulata  last reported in the Fells in the 1920s; and increased the abundance reporting by making sector finds for the Bradford Pear - Pyrus calleryana, and Holly - Ilex opaca.  Walter also identified another sedge that I had found earlier as Carex tenera, last reported in 1896. So, there's still stuff to find in the Fells.

And the Note in the journal Rhodora by Walter Kittredge and myself has now appeared entitled "Continuing discoveries in the Middlesex Fells." Rhodora Vol. 118, No. 976.
 



2016
With record warmth in February, the Skunk Cabbage opened in the same location in the Fells a whole month earlier than in 2015. Here is a photo taken on February 28th. this year. 2015 was the hottest year on record. Then 2016 beat the 2015 record.  Climate change is for real !

skunk cabbage
Skunk Cabbage    in the Fells, Feb 28, 2016

However, the first week of May was unusually cold.  This delayed the blooming of Pink Lady Slipper orchids into late May and early June. After that it was a very hot and dry summer with reservoirs and ponds in the Fells shrinking considerably.

In early August I came across a patch of Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra; and in the Fall Walter Kittredge found one bush of an unusual Crabapple Malus sargentii. Sadly both these taxa are non-native.

Heliopsis      Malus s.
Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra                                     Malus sargentii

Meanwhile, I have found a few of what we term 'sector finds' - see map further down this page showing the Fells divied into 8 sectors. This means an increase in frequency - a rough measure of abundance in the reservation. Seven are natives - good news; six non-natives - not so good news. 

As the year closed out I received exciting information from friends Irina Kadis and Alexey Zinoviev that during 2016 they had made some important finds in the Fells.: Wild Coffee - Triosteum aurantiacum, Small-flowered Buttercup - Ranunculus micranthus  both native plants not reported since 1896;  and  Japanese Stiltgrass - Microstegium vimineum  an invasive grass, so not such a nice find, but still important to note it.; plus a couple of other probables to be confirmed  - a great piece of work. Thank you  Irina and Alexey.


Findings in 2015 (for earlier findings since the 2012 publication see further down this page.)

Golden Alexanders                   Ranunculus abortivus
Golden Alexanders  - Zizia aurea                           A small-flowered Buttercup - Ranunculus abortivus

2015 was a good year for new finds in the Fells. Walter Kittredge and I found ten species never before reported in the Fells. What was most exciting was that eight out of the ten are native species. Because it was an exceptionally (perhaps troubling so) dry year this allowed easier access to various wetland areas which is where several of these new species were found.

Adoxaceae
 Viburnum opulus subsp. trilobum                                                                          
N
Apiaceae
 Zizia aurea
N
Ceratophyllaceae
 Ceratophyllum demersum
N
Cyperaceae
  Scirpus atrocinctus
N
Cyperaceae
  Scirpus pedicellatus
N
Fabaceae
  Colutea arborescens
 I
Gentianaceae
  Bartonia paniculata
N
Potamogetonaceae
 Potamogeton berchtoldii
N
Potamogetonaceae
 Potamogeton gemniparus
N
Rosaceae
 Malus prunifolia
 I

Golden Alexanders is a common roadside native plant, common particularly in western Mass., but never reported in the Fells before. Here would seem to be a case of a recent native arrival, as it is difficult to believe that such a showy plant would go unseen for 121 years. In addition, a problem that has bothered me for a while was resolved.  There are basically two species of small-flowered buttercup. One is supposed to be common, the other is considered rare enough to be state-listed in Mass. In recent years we have only been able to find (by the hundred) the rare species Ranunculus allegheniensis distinguished by pronounced hooks on top of its fruit. Although reported before in the Fells, I had personally never found the more common species  - Ranunculus abortivus, with straight spikes on top the fruit. Finally, I found a patch in May of 2015. Clearly I had not sampled enough :-). In addition we found five taxa ( two native, three non-native) not reported in the Fells since earlier surveys in the 1890s or 1920s. Allowing for 7 species which we believe have taken their leave of the Fells in the last few years, our current total for the reservation  is  918  (586 or 64% of which are considered native).

Bartonia paniculata                                                R. abortivus
Bartonia paniculata  an unusual                               close-up of fruit of Ranunculus abortivus
saprophyte found on the muddy shore of one of the reservoirs.

Findings in 2014.

Apocynum cannabinum  Cranberry
Prairie Dogbane - Apocynum cannabinum                                   Cranberry  -  Vaccinium macrocarpon

These native plants, reported in the Fells by Deane in 1896, were re-found in 2014;  the Prairie Dogbane by Walter Kittredge in June; the Cranberry by Bryan Hamlin in December.  A non-native Hawthorn species - Crateagus crus-galli, also new to the Fells, was jointly discovered by Hamlin and Kittredge in July, 2014.

Further discoveries in 2013


In 2013 we had a further 11 new finds, four of which were native.  These findings resulted in a further small paper in Rhodora, published in 2014.


In February 2013, Arnoldia, the magazine of Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum, published a beautifully illustrated article by Walter Kittredge entitled The Middlesex fells, a Flourishing Urban Forest (Vol. 70, N0. 3).  This ten-page article describes the floristic history of the Fells in a more readable form than the scientific article in Rhodora in 2012.

http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/2013-70-3-the-middlesex-fells-a-flourishing-urban-forestno-title.pdf


2012 season

In the 2012 season we found 19 additional plant species not included in the main published survey (Hamlin et al. 2012). This was reported in a New England Note in the Spring 2013 issue of Rhodora. Fourteen were non-native some of which therefore probably represent new arrivals; but five of the new finds were native species. In the spring of 2012 we were excited to stumble upon a small patch of the three-lobed violet – Viola palmata. It was reported in 1854 in an area that later became part of the Fells.  It is possible that these native species have been in the Fells all the while and have been overlooked. 

Viola palmata

Viola palmata   File photo by  Hamlin

As a result of these new findings in 2012 a five-page Update note was published in Rhodora in June 2013 covering these new findings in 2012.  Hamlin, B. T. & W. T. Kittredge. 2013. An update on the Middlesex fells Flora. Rhodora, Vol. 115: 191-196.



Sector finds

For the purposes of determining a frequency of occurrence for each species, the Fells was subdivided into eight sectors of approximately equal size using roads and bodies of water as boundaries as shown on this map.

map of the Fells

The basic map image is reproduced with permission of the Friends of the Fells and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.   To zoom in: right click, choose 'view image', and click again. 

If a species was found in only one or two sectors it was deemed Rare, if in three or four then Occasional, five or six - Frequent, and if in seven or all eight sectors then we called it Common. Since September 1st, 2011 we have so far made 73 additional sector finds involving 67 taxa, leading to an increase in 33 species from


Rare to Occasional, again underlining how easy it is to overlook individual stations of rarer plants in a large area.


 Climate change  In the 2012 Rhodora paper we discuss the impact of climate change on the changes in the flora of the Fells, pointing out that 2010 was the hottest year in the area since 1872 when records started being kept. The year of 2012 beat that record. 


Corrections and clarifications
To err is human and that's certainly true for botanical field work, along with plant identification and taxonomy. So there will be errors and we report those we've discovered in our 2013 Update Note. Please let us know if you think we've made other mistakes.


Corrections discovered in 2013

Following a presentation to the New England Botanical Club on February 1st, 2013 by Massachusetts State Botanist Bryan Connolly on his doctoral research on the genus Aronia, doubt was cast on our finding Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry) in the Fells as we claimed. Further investigation in the fall of 2013 showed that what we had thought were the red berries of A. arbutifolia were in fact the unripe berries of Purple Chokeberry - A. x floribunda. . 

In the Rhodora 2012 article we list the non-native crack willow as Salix alba x fragilis.  It is now known that this taxon is actually a hybrid of Salix alba and S. euxina and should be listed as Salix x fragilis L.  Also in the Rhodora 2012 article we reported the garden escape Glory-of-the-Snow as Chionodoxa forbesii . It should have been listed as Chionodoxa luciliae  Boiss.

In the Rhodora Update Note for 2012 we reported Carex pellita as a new find. We had already reported it in the 2012 full report ! 

These new findings in 2013, resulted in a further Note in Rhodora in 2014:  Hamlin, B. T. & W. T. Kittredge. Further discoveries in the Middlesex Fells. Rhodora, Vol. 116: 224-227.

A History of plant surveys of the Fells

Upon creation of the Middlesex Fells as a reservation in 1894 a floral survey was conducted by Walter Deane and Warren Manning and others, and published in 1896. We owe a great debt to these pioneers for providing us with this base-line of what plant species existed in the Fells over a century ago. Here is the map of the Fells that accompanied Deane's Flora. 


               Deane's map

       reproduced by permission from the archives of the  Gray Herbarium, Harvard University

Much has happened to the Fells since then. New, wider roads have been created carrying a lot of traffic, in particular I-93 forming an almost solid barrier between an east and west Fells. An electric railway line has come and gone (1946), and the soap-box derby track at Sheepfold is still in evidence. Although land has been lost to the road widenings,  the creation of Stoneham Zoo and, to some extent, Wright's Park, there have been a few gains as well, most significantly the addition of Lawrence Woods in the southwest. General Samuel C. Lawrence, the first mayor of the City of Medford, owned a huge estate part of which was wooded. The public were welcome into these woods so that they served as an unofficial annexe to the Fells in the early years. General Lawrence died in 1911 and in 1925 this wooded part, now known as Lawrence Woods, was officially added to the Fells.

For more details on the first forty years of the Fells I recommend Round About the Middlesex Fells published by the Medford Historical Society in 1935. Compared with the original condition, where there were more fields and open spaces, the Fells has been allowed to go back to a reasonably natural state with re-growth of forest as well as much tree planting in the early part of the 20th century. But in the first decade or so of the 20th century the trees of the Fells were hit very badly with gypsy moth infestations. Human usage is on the increase and invasive species have made their encroachments. All these things have brought, and will continue to bring, changes to the flora of the Fells. Between 1920 -1922, Nathaniel Kidder collected many plant samples in the Fells which are now held at the Harvard Herbarium. He did not publish a report. 

 

As the centenary of the reservation approached, a survey of flowering plants was made by Brian Drayton through three growing seasons between 1990 and 1992 (Drayton and Primack, 1996).  Drayton compares what he found to what Deane had found a century earlier, noting in what location he found particular plants. Most interesting are the lists of those plants found by Deane but not found by Drayton, and vice versa. Sadly, but not too surprisingly, the former is the longer list.  It should be noted however that Drayton confined his area of survey to west of I-93 and north of South Border Road, therefore only about 40% of the present total. Not all subsequent reporting on Drayton's work has taken sufficient note of this. Because of a difference in the underlying geology between West and East Fells, there are quite a few species only found, and still found, in the eastern part. This meant that there had been no published survey east of I-93 since the original Deane survey, and never any published survey of Lawrence Woods, shown as sector 1 on the Fells map above.


A full plant survey of all the Fells was therefore required. I began making a simple check-list in 2003. Teamwork was needed in this large task.
The 2003 - 2011 survey ultimately involved several people including Betty Wright (trained by the New England Wildflower Society), Irina Kadis of the Arnold Arboretum, and Don Lubin, one of the leading authorities on ferns in New England. Starting in 2007, and particularly since 2008, much work has been done by Walter Kittredge of the Harvard Herbaria, taking things to a new level, including the documenting of thirty different habitat types - a major work in itself - and finding many more species, especially grasses. Other specialists helped with certain groups of plants, including Alexey Zinoviev with willows and Lisa Standley with sedges. Further acknowledgments are given in the Rhodora paper.


Deane, W. ed. 1896. Flora of the Blue Hills, Middlesex Fells, Stony Brook and Beaver Brook Reservations of the Metropolitan Parks Commission, Massachusetts.  C. M. Barrows  & Co.  Boston, MA.

 

        Drayton, B. & R. B. Primack. 1996. Plant species lost in an isolated conservation area in metropolitan Boston from 1894 to 1993. Conservation Biol. 10, No. 1: 30-39.


      Hamlin, B. T., W. T. Kiitredge,  D. P. Lubin and E. B. Wright.  2012.  Changes in the vascular flora of the Middlesex Fells Reservation, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from 1895 to 2011. Rhodora, Vol. 114: 229 - 308.