Out of all my experiences as a student at Stony Brook University, the class visit in June to the Ashley Schiff Preserve topped the charts. Our professor took us on a guided tour led by PhD student, Michael Schrimpf, to observe the ecosystem’s flora and fauna. Michael provided us with his extensive ecological knowledge base, so we all came out of the preserve with a newfound view on the mysterious forest by Roth quad.

During our nature walk, our professor instructed us to take photos of plants and animals we would stumble across. I could not find any critters aside from a couple of terrifying arachnids, so I decided to opt for capturing plant images. The most aesthetically pleasing photo I took consisted of a cluster of Common Cat’s-ear (Hypochaeris radicata) flowers. They have rectangular-shaped yellow petals and resemble a dandelion’s figure and height. Although scientists have not yet categorized this species on the IUCN’s red list, similar species have a stable population trend and are of Least Concern.catsears

Common Cat’s-ear have some interesting, and somewhat frightening, qualities. For instance, when they undergo stress from drought conditions, they release a neurotoxin called stringhalt. Stringhalt can poison horses who graze on fields inhabited by this flower. They also have a tendency to become highly invasive in some areas of the world, which can harm the other living organisms in their vicinity. Due to the Common Cat’s-ear’s ability to migrate to and expand their ecological niche, it’s no wonder that the IUCN labeled their cousins as Least Concern!

Overall, today’s trip to the Ashley Schiff Preserve provided our class with some much needed and appreciated TLC from Mother Nature. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a class outdoors where learning and relaxing can synchronize.

Rachel Wanderman

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