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There are several state and local rarities associated with the lake cliffs and gorge.  Upland boneset (Eupatorium sessilifolium), a locally rare plant species that had not been seen in the Cayuga Lake drainage since the 1920’s reappeared a few years ago at the top of the lake cliffs after a treatment to clear out some invasive swallowwort plants.  The forests above the lake cliffs have a lot of hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), an understory tree, and are generally quite species-rich.  This is because of the limestone influence.  Oaks, sugar maple and hickories dominate the overstory canopy.  There are a lot of spring ephemerals; especially cut-leaved toothwort (Cardamine concatenata).  Woods above the lake cliffs is the only site in the Cayuga Lake drainage for the early buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis), though this species may no longer occur in the Edwards preserve due to competition from invasive plants such as pale swallowwort (Cynanchum rossicum).

The native bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) continues to be abundant here, even though it has been pushed out of its original niche by the invasive Asian bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) throughout most of the region, and is now locally rare.  Some rare ferns, most notably the purple-stemmed cliff-brake (Pellaea atropurpurea) and rusty woodsia (Woodsia ilvensis), are found on the steep rock faces of the gorge and lake cliffs.

Unique Natural Area

This site is considered one of the rarest ecosystems in the region and has been designated as a Tompkins County Unique Natural Area by the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council. This designation recognizes sites that are deserving of special attention for preservation and protection.

Cornell Botanic Gardens staff and many community volunteers work hard to safeguard the unique biodiversity here through efforts such as:

  • Partnering with Cornell scientists to study whether a predatory beetle can provide long-term control of the hemlock wooly adelgid which threatens the eastern hemlock trees here.
  • Partnering with Cornell scientists on control strategies for pale swallow-wort (Cynanchum rossicum), an aggressive invasive plant found here. Lessons learned from this research have informed Cornell Botanic Gardens and other land managers on treatment approaches.
  • Community supported trail maintenance, invasive species control, and financial support for the ongoing management of this preserve.

Ecological Communities

Calcareous cliff community

A community with sparse vegetation that occurs on vertical exposures, cliffs, and talus slopes of resistant bedrock such as limestone or dolomite or consolidated materials. There is little soil . Characteristic species include purple cliff brake, bulbet fern, early saxifrage, and eastern red cedar.

Calcareous talus slope woodland

A woodland on calcareous talus slopes of limestone or dolomite, sometimes with numerous outcrops. Soils are usually moist and loamy. Characteristic trees include sugar maple, white ash, hop hornbeam, white oak, and eastern red cedar. Shrubs may be abundant if the canopy is open; characteristic shrubs include round-leaved dogwood, downy arrowwood, prickly ash, and bladdernut. Herbaceous vegetation may be diverse and includes bulbet fern, lady fern, bottlebrush grass, white baneberry, early meadow rue, bluestem goldenrod, and white wood aster

Erosional slope/bluff

Shale cliff and talus community

A community with sparse vegetation that occurs on nearly vertical exposures of shale bedrock, ledges, and talus. The talus is unstable, there is little soil. Characteristic species include blunt-lobed woodsia, rusty woodsia. penstemon, herb-Robert, cyperus, little bluestem, panic grass, Carex pensylvanica, and eastern red cedar.

Successional shrubland

A shrubland with at least 50% cover of shrubs that occurs on agricultural fields 10 – 25 years after abandonment, following other disturbance, and especially on sites with restricted drainage. Characteristic shrubs include gray dogwood, raspberries, hawthorn, serviceberries, chokecherry, sumac, nannyberry, arrowwood and buckthorn. Herbs are of those of old-fields. Seedlings of white pine, red maple and white ash are usually present
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Successional old field

Successional northern hardwoods

A forest that occurs on sites that have been cleared or otherwise disturbed. Dominant trees are usually two or more of the following; red maple, white pine, white ash, gray birch, quaking aspen, big-tooth aspen, and, less frequently, sugar maple. Tree seedling and saplings may be of more shade tolerant species. Shrubs and ground cover species may be those of old-fields. In abandoned pasturelands apples and hawthorns may be present in the understory.

Midreach stream

The aquatic community of stream that has a well-defined pattern of alternating pool, riffle, and run sections. Waterfalls and springs may be present. Typical aquatic macrophytes include waterweed, and linear leaved pondweeds such as sago pondweed.

Intermittent stream

The aquatic community of a small ephemeral streambed with a moderate to steep gradient, where the water flows only during the spring or after a heavy rain. The streambed may be covered with mosses such as Bryhnia novae-angliae.

Appalachian oak-hickory forest

A hardwood forest that occurs on well-drained sites, usually on flat hilltops, upper slopes, or south and west facing slopes. Dominant trees include one or more of red oak, white oak, and black oak. Mixed with oaks, are one or more of pignut, shagbark, and sweet pignut hickory. Common associates are white ash, red maple, and hop hornbeam. Small trees include flowering dogwood, witch hazel, shadbush, and choke cherry. Shrubs and groundlayer flora are diverse. Shrubs include maple-leaf viburnum, blueberries, red raspberry, gray dogwood, and beaked hazelnut.

Mixed oak forest

A forest dominated by oaks found on steep south and west facing slopes. Soils may have calcareous materials at depth. Dominants are red, black, and white oak, and white pine. Black oak is an indicator of this type. Pignut hickory and red maple are usually present. Flowering dogwood and choke cherry are often abundant in the understory.  Hemlock-northern hardwood forest

Rocky headwater stream

The aquatic community of a small to moderate sized rocky stream with a moderate to steep gradient. The cold water stream flows over eroded bedrock near the stream origin and contains alternating riffle and pool sections. These streams typically have mosses and algae present, but few larger rooted plants.