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"Lost" Salt Marsh Species Discovered in Syracuse

Seaside Goldenrod beautiful and useful

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) researchers have found thriving populations of a plant, native to inland salt marshes, that was previously thought to have vanished from the region.

The once abundant seaside goldenrod was discovered in unlikely locations: in the median of Interstate 81 south of Syracuse and along the northbound lane of I-81, and one lone plant in the concrete median at the end of the Adams Street exit off I-81.

The fact that the plants are growing well in seemingly inhospitable locations — heavily trafficked areas that are treated with substantial amounts of salt during the winter — could make them important components of urban landscaping.

"There is probably not a more beautiful plant species that will thrive under very sunny, salty, wet or dry conditions than seaside goldenrod. It's amazing to see this plant growing through asphalt as it does," said Dr. Donald J. Leopold, Distinguished Teaching Professor and chair of ESF's Department of Environmental and Forest Biology.

Although it often takes the blame for aggravating allergies, seaside goldenrod is not the culprit. It blooms around the same time as ragweed, which frequently causes the symptoms of hay fever.
Seaside goldenrod grew in the inland salt marshes that once were common around Onondaga Lake. Until Leopold and doctoral student Tony Eallonardo made their discovery, it was believed that the plant had been eliminated from upstate New York. Few native species better represent the once abundant salt marshes near Syracuse.

"Besides being exceptionally attractive and uncommon, these plant species represent the natural and cultural heritage of Syracuse, the Salt City," said Eallonardo. "The restoration of these species recognizes our shared history as residents of Central New York."

Seaside goldenrod is a robust plant up to eight feet tall with large clusters of bright yellow flowers atop succulent, dark green leaves. It is highly tolerant to salt spray and saline soils and is scattered along the eastern U.S. coast near the ocean.

Seaside goldenrod blooms later in the fall than many other native goldenrod species, its flower display peaking in late September. It is an important nectar species for many insects.

Both populations along I-81 have hundreds of stems, the researchers said.

In their work with salt marsh restoration, Eallonardo and Leopold have found several species that are rare in New York state. Areas along Onondaga Lake Parkway have been particularly rich in these species. When possible, Eallonardo has been propagating these species for eventual outplanting.
The scientists hope to promote the use of these species in urban plantings, specifically along roadsides and in urban rain gardens and retention basins. These native species are much more suitable to these conditions than species typically selected.

This work is supported by a grant from New York State's Biodiversity Research Institute. The work focuses on studying the inland salt marshes west of Syracuse in the Montezuma Swamp area. Inland salt marshes are among the rarest plant communities in the eastern United States, unlike the common, tidal salt marshes of the mid- Atlantic region.

Leopold is author of Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation, as well as five other books on native plants.