Vascular Plants of the Gorge at
Buttermilk Falls State Park (Ithaca, NY)


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Explanation of Concepts and Terms

x The information on this page will assist you in interpreting the data on species pages. Answers to many of your questions can be found here.

Plant Description Pages

Each of the species found during this survey has a web page devoted to it. The photographs included in these pages serve as primary evidence of findings. Plant species are arranged by plant form:  trees, shrubs, woody vines, ferns, graminoids (grasses, sedges, rushes), and herbaceous, broad-leaved flowering species (i.e., "wildflowers").

When viewing species pages, it is important to understand that all details pertain to the area surveyed, as described in the Project Overview and Methods pages.

A species that was found growing in just one or two places in the area surveyed, will be listed as "scarce", (i.e., "rare"). For example, the species Vinca minor (periwinkle) was found at just two locations, and is listed as being "scarce", even though it is quite common elsewhere in New York, and perhaps even "invasive" in places.

Similarly, the ecological habitats of these species are relative only to the area surveyed; not to where they typically may occur elsewhere. Thus, the habitat of a facultative wetland species found to be growing in a dry-mesic open, disturbed site within the survey area, would not be described here in terms of one of the various, known wetland habitats. 

The term "occurrence" refers to the location - one physical site - in which a species was found, regardless of how many stems or plants of the species are present. So, with reference to the distribution of a species within the area surveyed, one plant is counted the same as a large colony of that species. For instance, we list only one occurrence of the species Sassafras albidum (sassafras), even though there were approximately 10 individual trees located at the single, known site for that species.


Prevalence (abundance or scarcity)
(within the area surveyed)


Scarce one or two occurrence of a species within the surveyed area.
Infrequent infrequently found - three to several occurrences of a species within the surveyed area.
Occasional occasionally found - numerous occurrences, scattered about the surveyed area, or major sections of the surveyed area.
Frequent frequently found - many occurrences distributed about the surveyed area, or major sections of the surveyed area.
Widespread occurrences found nearly everywhere within the area surveyed.


Other Terms Used on Species Pages

Duration:  perennial, biennial or annual.

Graminoid:  grasses, sedges and rushes (flowering plants with very narrow, grass-like leaves).

Growth habit:  the form of a species:  woody (trees, shrubs, some vines); herbaceous (ferns, graminoids, other types of flowering plants).

Invasive:  a non-native plant species that multiplies so aggressively within the surveyed area that it dominates the landscape and drives out or kills other species. Species that may be rated "invasive" elsewhere in New York, but not within the surveyed area (as defined herein previously), are not listed as invasive in this report. For example, "dame's rocket" (Hesperis matronalis) is rated invasive in many states, but is rated "frequent" here, for it has not spread to form large colonies to the exclusion of other species, within the surveyed area. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) has the potential to be very invasive, but so far within the surveyed area, it is only occasionally found, and in small numbers.

Mesic:  With reference to soil moisture, primarily damp for much or most of the season, but not wet or subject to flooding.

Native (yes):  species indigenous to New York state (present in New York prior to the arrival of European settlers).

Native (no):  species not indigenous to New York state; i.e., deliberately or inadvertently introduced by humans to New York state. This includes some species that are native in other parts of North America, but not in New York.

Open:  not under the shade of trees; i.e., with sky fully visible.

Synonym:  an alternative name for a species, genus or plant family, which is used by other researchers or organizations, but not "recognized" here.


Refer to the glossary for definitions of additional terms.


.About Species Names

Unfortunately, there are no universally accepted scientific or English names for some species.  When assigning names for species that were found during this survey, a number of authorities (experts or organizations) were consulted. If consensus was lacking, the majority view was used.

Similarly, regarding English (i.e., "common") names, we tended to follow long-standing conventions, as appear in commonly-used field guides, such as Peterson's Guide to the Wildflowers, or Newcomb's Guide to the Wildflowers. For names of grasses, ferns, sedges or trees, well-known technical field guides were consulted. We decided not to make up our own English names.  Our goal was to avoid further confusion.

In our listings, and on species pages, synonyms for both scientific and English names are provided, as necessary.


About Plant Family Names

Again, in some cases, various botanical authorities were found to be in disagreement about scientific family names. We used best judgement in arbitrating these discrepancies. Synonyms are provided for alternative family names in reports produced on this website, as necessary.





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