Trumansburg Connection: Smith Woods: On the road to recovery

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Smith Woods are full of native plants that at this time last year were struggling to regrow after a long winter and foraging of the many deer that call the woods their home. These plants add to the plush beauty and fragile ecosystem of the old growth forest and have been protected in the last year by what was originally a 6-foot gated fence, which did a good, but not complete job of keeping the deer out. The Paleontological Research Institute (PRI)/Cayuga Nature Center was recently granted a variance from the Town of Ulysses to add another 2 feet to the fence, ensuring the deer will not be able to get in. I had the great opportunity to tour the forest and take an inventory of the plants with Marvin Pritts, a member of the Board of Trustees for PRI and a professor of plant science at Cornell University, who was very pleased with the early growth. Here are some of the plants we observed, many of which have historical medicinal uses.

  •  Bloodroot has a daisy-esque flower with a yellow center surrounded by white petals. It was used by Native American tribes for red dye as well as the treatment of skin, gastroenterological, and blood conditions.
  •  Trillium is reminiscent of a lily, with three white or light red leaves. White trillium symbolizes the Christian Trinity.
  • Blue cohosh was abundant, with bluish foliage and blue flowers that resemble berries. Blue Cohosh has also been used for gastroenterological issues as well as gynecological and muscle spasms.
  • Mayapple has large green foliage with small white flowers. Properties found in Mayapple have the potential to be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis as well as some cancers.
  • Hepatica is part of the buttercup family, although the flower petals are more elongated than its buttercup cousin, and has white, pink, lavender, and purple or bluish flowers. It could be used as an astringent but is lethal if consumed in large doses.
  • Spring Beauty has five light pink or white petals and actually looks more like a buttercup than the Hepatica plant. The whole cooked plant was used by Native Americans for general consumption, and it was believed consuming raw root would prevent conception.
  • Beechdrops are what Pritts calls a “cool plant.” It contains no chlorophyll and is considered a parasite as it lives off the roots of Beech trees, although they do no harm to the trees or roots. The tall, brown plant produces white or purple flowers in the summer through the fall and can grow over 12 inches tall.
  • Toothwort is a fast-growing plant that also could reach 12 inches in height. It has three large scalloped leaves and white flowers, and the leaves and roots are edible and can be eaten either cooked or raw.
  • Dogtooth Violet, or Trout Lily, looks just like its name would suggest. The plant has yellow or white petals, the latter with a purple tinge to the outside of the petals.

Rounding out the plants we observed were plenty of wild ramps and ferns. There were also a few non-native and invasive species that PRI/Cayuga Nature Center is trying to control or remove.


Vinca, known to us as Myrtle, is an ornamental fast-spreading plant that is unfortunately difficult to impossible to remove. Also living in the woods are Garlic Mustard, Wild Rose, and Honeysuckle, which can be pulled, but need to be diligently monitored.


There is so much going on in the woods! Various groups have ongoing experiments happening; one group is monitoring mercury levels in leaf litter, while another group is monitoring tree growth rate. We observed a large swath of maple tree seedlings - which would likely have been eaten over the winter had the fence not been erected.


When asked how PRI/Cayuga Nature Center feels the fence is doing its job, Pritts reports, “We are delighted to see a large number of trillium this spring. Also, there are many maple saplings emerging from the forest floor. Deer browsing used to nearly eliminate young trees and severely impact spring wildflowers. It appears that Smith Woods is on the road to recovery.”


Pritts led a Mother’s Day hike in the woods, and if you didn’t have a chance to make it, please do stop by the woods to take a look around. Bring your boots, and park in the ShurSave parking lot or along the side of Cemetary Road. Please do observe the rules; carry in-carry out, all dogs on leash, etc. The woods are free and open to the public during daylight hours.

In brief:

Rotary News
Trumansburg Rotary continues its open-to-the-public speaker series with David Cornfield on May 23 on the need for kindness and inclusion, Tompkins County Recycling representative Geoff Dunn on June 6 to tell us about the new recycling guidelines, and Fred VanDerzee on June 13 speaking about T’burg Takes on Pediatric Cancer. Talks begin at 7 p.m. on Thursdays at the T’burg Legion, and all are welcome.


Rotary will also be offering its famous chicken barbecues during the Village Yard Sale on May 18, and Porchfest June 15. Chickens come off the grill around 11:15 a.m. in the Atlas Bowl parking lot and $10 buys you half a Cornell-recipe barbecued chicken, cole slaw, salt potatoes, Italian bread, utensils, and napkins.

Build a Birdhouse at Ulysses Philomathic Library
Birdhouse Build-Saturday May 18, 9 a.m. on the Library front lawn. Rain location: the Melvin Community Room. Local carpenters will be on hand to help you build a birdhouse for your feathered friends. Free and open to all. No registration required, although supplies are limited.

Water Management Workshop
Join Sean Dembrosky of Edible Acres on May 29 for a detailed look at human scale water management in the landscape. For 10 years he’s been slowly evolving how water moves, stores, shifts, releases, etc in a 6 acre challenging site. All with hand tools. Register for the event and find more info at groundswellcenter.org/events/water-management-workshop-part-1-with-edible-acres/

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