Horticultural Highlight: Corneliancherry dogwood, Cornus mas

April 3, 2018

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for ambition,

But some days I’d rather steep in my own kettle.

Give me chamomile, cowboys, cornelian cherries.

Let me sink, once again, into purposeless sleep.

                -Michael Steffen

After enduring a full month of March that was more often like a lion than a lamb, let us welcome the flowers of April. Sprightly, lightening our landscape in early April are the golden haze of flowers of the Corneliancherry dogwood, Cornus mas. Plants’ common names versus their Latin names may occasionally produce mini-conundrums, red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is not a cedar (Cedrus), mountainash (Sorbus) is not an ash (Fraxinus), blue beech (Carpinus) is not a beech (Fagus), tulip poplar (Liriodendron) is not a poplar (Populus), etc.

Corneliancherry dogwood is not a cherry (Prunus), not even in the same botanical family as cherries, Rosaceae, the rose family. Rather this is a less well-known species of dogwood, in the genus Cornus. This genus with at least 30 species is more often known for two of its showy ornamentals, our native flowering dogwood and the summer blooming kousa dogwood. (more…)

First Fridays: Mount Auburn Digitization Days

April 3, 2018

Coming Soon in May

 

Join us the first Friday of every month for Digitization Days at Mount Auburn Cemetery, where members of the public can bring in a range of paper-based archival cultural heritage materials, such as photographs and letters, that help to tell the story of their community, Mount Auburn, and the 100,000 people buried and commemorated there. More information about the First Friday schedule is coming soon! Check back to this page for updates!

 

 

Eternally Green: Reintroducing the Wolves of the Forest Floor to Mount Auburn Cemetery

April 3, 2018

This article was written by ecologist, Brooks Mathewson

This spring my daughters and I tapped our Sugar Maple in the back yard. While standing over the boiling sap it occurred to me that just as forty ounces of maple sap is reduced to one ounce of maple syrup, the dozens of proposed solutions to climate change can be similarly reduced to three major strategies. The first two usually garner the most attention – consume less and produce energy in a cleaner way. However, there is a third critical part of the equation, although often overlooked, that must also be addressed. This is to sequester the excess carbon dioxide that is already in our atmosphere.

More carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere now than at any point in the last two to four million years. The last time carbon dioxide levels were above 400 parts per million, as they are today, sea levels were 100 feet higher and crocodiles lived in Greenland. Even if we were to completely end all carbon emissions tomorrow, we will still be left with a major problem.

Carbon can be drawn out of the atmosphere through the conservation of healthy forests. Fifteen percent of the carbon emitted by humans in the United States is absorbed by forests. Two-thirds of this carbon is stored in the soil. If we are to have healthy, carbon absorbing forests, soil health is essential. Looking down at our feet may not be such a bad idea after all.

Healthy ecosystems need top-level predators, and in this region the most important top-level predator of the forest floor is the diminutive eastern red-backed salamander. These small, slender amphibians are fully terrestrial, breeding in moist locations under rocks and logs. Liberation from the stereotypical amphibian life cycle constraints has enabled red-backs to be widely distributed throughout the forest as opposed to within a narrow range of territory in close proximity to a wetland. In fact, red-backs are the most abundant vertebrate in the forest, with a biomass equivalent to twice that of all the breeding birds. By preying on soil invertebrates that shred leaves, red-backs slow down the rate at which leaf litter decomposes, immobilizing more carbon to be stored in the soil.

Surprisingly, extensive searches at Mount Auburn from 2013 to 2015 did not produce any observations of red-backed salamanders. One reason for their absence may be that the species was unable to survive through the period in the early 1900s when the Cemetery was more open with less extensive tree cover. Today, however, major ecological restoration efforts in the forest at Consecration Dell make this area of Mount Auburn an ideal spot to reintroduce a species that undoubtedly was present in the past.After receiving permission from the State of Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Watertown Conservation Commission, thirty-one eastern red-backed salamanders were reintroduced in the fall of 2017 to the upland woods in Consecration Dell. This spring another fifty red-backs will join them. Rough-cut, untreated, boards have been set out as habitat around the paths surrounding the Dell Pond. Over the course of year I will monitor these cover boards to assess the status of the reintroduced population of salamanders. It is our hope that red-backs will begin to successfully breed and join the other species of amphibians successfully reintroduced to Mount Auburn Cemetery by Dr. Joe Martinez in past years including American Toad, Spring Peepers, and Gray Tree Frog.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Tomb Preservation Underway

March 29, 2018

The Gardner family tomb overlooks picturesque Auburn Lake in Mount Auburn Cemetery, and is one of our most timeless and beloved treasures. Consistently the focal point of tours led by the Friends of Mount Auburn, the tomb is frequently visited by devoted fans of Isabella Stewart Gardner, members and supporters of the Gardner Museum, and our more than 200,000 visitors a year. Today, with the vicissitudes of time, the tomb’s surfaces and interior have suffered marked erosion and are urgently in need of preservation. Thanks to a leadership gift from the estate of a Gardner family member, work is underway to restore and stabilize this important structure.

Set into the hillside overlooking the north end of Auburn Lake, the family tomb was built in 1859 using Concord Granite with a brick foundation and marble tile floor. Among the family members interred in the tomb are Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840 – 1924) and her husband, John Gardner (1837 – 1898). Their son was also buried here in 1868. The exterior façade of the tomb features distinctive incised carvings with a Greek key design, as well as a large oak door with bronze decorative elements. Inside the tomb, two marble portrait sculptures by the French artist Jules Clement commemorate two children who died within days of each other in 1865. A bust of a young girl represents Catherine Elizabeth Gardner (1857 – 1865), and an oval bas-relief profile depicts Samuel Pickering Gardner (1864 – 1865), most likely the children of George Augustus and Eliza Endicott Peabody Gardner. (more…)