In the Shade

July 2022

The sun makes plant life possible, no question about it, but shade is not without influence. This month, our web features include stories about one formerly endangered plant and one aggressive invader that make use of shade, and an introduction to a Northern Research Station facility operations specialist who is using shade to reduce energy use.

Environmental Education

Our education partners at NASA have great resources on the urban heat island effect. Climate Kids explains this effect for upper elementary students. Educators, see this one-week pacing guide for teaching urban heat islands to older students. And follow up with i-Tree Design to choose locations for shade trees in your neighborhood.

Featured Staff Member

Jess Lewandowski

Jess LewandowskiJess Lewandowski, Facility Operations Specialist at the Northern Research Station Lab in Delaware, Ohio, has worked for the Station for 3 years. Lately he has been spending a lot of his time with the lab’s sustainable operations group to implement more energy efficient technologies and ideas throughout the facility. Working closely with a research scientist, he successfully integrated controls to automatically turn lights on and off as needed in shared spaces. “We also planted several bald cypress trees on the south side of the building to shade the windows in summer. The trees shed their needles in winter allowing the sun to shine in to help heat the building,” said Lewandowski.

Lewandowski grew up in a valley in upstate New York surrounded by fields, hills, and orchards. The Finger Lakes flanked his childhood home to the east and west just beyond the slopes. “My days were spent hiking, camping, hunting, swimming, and all other outdoor mischief one can get into,” said Lewandowski.

Following high school, he joined the United States Marine Corps and served two tours to Iraq receiving over a dozen medals. After his service was complete, he worked in commercial construction for several years before deciding to move to Wisconsin and go to college. “I graduated with honors and received my bachelor’s degree and worked for the Dane County Park System all the while,” said Lewandowski.

When his spouse finished her Ph.D. and got a job in Ohio, he followed and landed a job with an algae harvesting company focused on finding novel compounds to cure certain types of cancers. Following that he landed his current job with the Forest Service. “The thing I like most about working for the Forest Service is the people. From the top down, everyone is pleasant, understanding, and willing to help when needed,” he said.

In his spare time, Lewandowski likes to cook elegant dishes, shoot clay pigeons, and draw tattoos, but most often finds himself entertaining and being entertained by his 4-year-old son.

More about Jess Lewandowski >>

Featured Research

Herbarium Records and a Single Plant Trait Provide a Possible Clue to Japanese Stiltgrass Invasion History in the United States

Close up of Japanese stiltgrass - awned and awnless flowers. USDA Forest Service photo by Cynthia Huebner.In the approximately 100 years since Japanese stiltgrass arrived in the United States in packing material, it has become one of the nation’s most damaging invasive plants. An annual that thrives in sun as well as shade and can produce as many as 1,000 seeds per plant in optimal conditions, Japanese stiltgrass has spread to more than 24 states in the East, South and Midwest. Research by a Northern Research Station scientist and a West Virginia University (WVU) professor and their team aims to slow the spread of Japanese stiltgrass. The researcher recently found that mechanisms behind successful invasions of Japanese stiltgrass in northern versus southern states may be explained by by the introduction of at least two different forms of Japanese stiltgrass, one from colder climates and another from warmer climates.

The two forms of Japanese stiltgrass are “awned” and “awnless.” Awns are bristles found on some grass flowers that may aid in seed dispersal via attachment, or aid in seed protection via soil burial, with an awn untwisting/twisting to effectively drill downward in response to freezing/thawing. Research Botanist Cynthia Huebner of the Northern Research Station and Craig Barrett of WVU collaborated to characterize the invasion history of Japanese stiltgrass by studying the presence of awns. They used more than 1,000 digitized herbarium images from the plant’s native Asia and the United States and found that Asia and the United States both had the awned form at higher latitudes and the awnless form at lower latitudes. Awned forms have larger flowers and longer awns that show greater twisting, supporting a selective advantage in colder climates. The advantage of being awnless in warmer climates is unclear, but smaller flowers may equate to greater seed abundance.

Analysis of the spread of Japanese stiltgrass in the United States confirmed an invasion in 1919 of the awnless form in Tennessee and a possible second invasion of the awned form in eastern Pennsylvania in the late 1930s, with subsequent southern and northeastern spreads, respectively, both with a 10- to 20-year lag time.

The study demonstrated the importance of herbarium records and underscored how the evaluation of plant traits may reveal patterns of invasive species spread.

More information on Japanese Stiltgrass >>

Featured Product

The Fernow Experimental Forest is Key to an Endangered Plant being Delisted

An example of the distribution of individual crowns of running buffalo clover plants on a skid road on the Fernow Experimental Forest. Each red flag marks the location of an individual rooted crown of running buffalo clover.Long-term research, and the places where it occurs, are not often in the limelight, unless a species protected under the Endangered Species Act recovers to the point where it is delisted. That is exactly the scenario on the USDA Forest Service’s Fernow Experimental Forest, where for more than 30 years scientists with the Northern Research Station have contributed to understanding the ecology of running buffalo clover.

Running buffalo clover was listed as an endangered species in 1987; it was found on the Fernow Experimental Forest in 1993, and efforts to protect the plant set in motion an unplanned and surprising study. Northern Research Station scientist Clay Smith worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the plants while still allowing long-term silvicultural research to continue. Smith had new paths built for hauling timber so paths where running buffalo clover were growing could be left undisturbed. Later, scientists observed that the original patch of running buffalo clover looked less robust after it was protected and a new patch of running buffalo clover sprang up along the new timber hauling path.

Publications by Northern Research Station scientists in 2002 and 2013 described the habitat of running buffalo clover on the Fernow Experimental Forest and documented the importance of disturbance in maintaining populations. Staff and volunteers have monitored running buffalo clover populations since 1994; a recent analysis and publication of 20 years of data lends support for the previous findings showing the association between sustained periodic disturbance and running buffalo clover abundance. Some Fernow Experimental Forest sites with no management or no recent harvest activity were found to have reduced populations of running buffalo clover over time.

Data collected by the Forest Service while monitoring running buffalo clover on the experimental forest has been shared with partners, and this work directly contributed to the decision to delist the species. Through the years, NRS scientists have also been members of the recovery team and have helped to develop management plans for the species. 

More on running buffalo clover >>

Last updated: 07/01/2022