Aug. 4-17, 2000
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Law dean Scott to step down
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Farm fertile ground for research

'Photography Against Itself' exhibition opens at Bayly

U.Va.'s Rob Turner plays James Madison's glass flute
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Courtesy of Blandy Experimental Farm
View from the archway in the 150-year-old original wing of the Quarters building, at the heart of the farm and arboretum. The Quarters is believed to have been housing for field slaves at Tuleyries. Today the building contains a library, laboratories, office space and dormitory rooms for researchers, staff and students.

Farm fertile ground for research

By Rebecca Arrington

Plants flourish. Butterflies, birds and turtles abound. Folks can even watch the grass grow, literally, in a meadow of recently sown warm-season grasses native to Virginia.

This haven for flora and fauna is Blandy Experimental Farm, one of U.Va.'s northernmost grounds. The 700-acre farm in Boyce is also home to the state's 170-acre Orland E. White Arboretum, designated as the State Arboretum of Virginia in 1986.

The two entities provide the Commonwealth's citizens and visitors a "didactic landscape" of the woody plants of Virginia, the southeastern U.S. and their exotic relatives, said Mary Olien, assistant curator for education.

Among them are 28 varieties of dogwoods, including 200 specimens of cornus florida, Virginia's state tree; the most extensive variety of boxwood in North America; and more than half of the world's pine species, she said. The farm also boasts one of the largest ginkgo groves in the Western Hemisphere. Among Blandy Farm's missions are to promote the study of ecology, an awareness of plant biology, the horticultural potential of native plants, and stewardship of the natural environment, said director and U.Va. research professor Michael Bowers.

Graham BlandyBlandy history In 1905, Graham F. Blandy, a New Yorker who made his fortune in the stock market, bought Tuleyries, an estate in Clarke County. Upon his death in 1926, he willed a portion of the estate to U.Va., stipulating that it be named "Blandy Experimental Farm" and that it be used "to teach boys about farming." Orland E. White was hired in 1927 as the first director, and upon his retirement in 1955, the arboretum was named in his honor. From 1930 to the 1960s, Blandy was an active research center of U.Va.'s biology department. From the 1960s to the early '80s, however, the farm sat dormant, as the biology department shifted its focus to molecular studies. In the early '80s, U.Va.'s environmental sciences department expressed an interest in using the property for its research purposes, and the farm's fields are fallow no more.

To that end, Blandy supports the academic programs of the University and other institutions by providing plant collections, protected habitats, and programs and facilities for research and teaching, Bowers said. In addition, Blandy assists in efforts to control invasive plants, to conserve rare and endangered plants, and to enrich the cultural environment and recreational opportunities of the region by providing an outdoor setting for cultural events.

To enhance Blandy's public mission, "We're trying to attract non-profit organizations to base their headquarters at Blandy," Olien said. "So far, the American Boxwood Society, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Audubon Society and the Virginia Native Plant Society are based here."

Blandy receives some 70,000 visitors a year. They participate in a variety of activities -- bird watching, gardening workshops, weekly research forums and a monthly concert series, to name a few -- or just wander the grounds on their own, said Olien, who hopes to increase the number of schoolchildren who visit.

Last year 4,000 students participated in school programs at the arboretum, which are now offered year-round. Olien also plans to host teacher workshops at the farm.

Another venture will not only bring students to Blandy physically, but virtually. "We are among the partners helping to develop and promote Virginia Naturally 2000," an initiative of Gov. Jim Gilmore's to promote lifelong learning about and stewardship of Virginia's environment and natural resources, Olien said. The centerpiece of the program is a virtual library, a Web gateway (www.VaNaturally.com) to statewide environmental resources, she said.

The arboretum, on Route 50 in Clarke County, nine miles east of Winchester, is open 365 days a year, dawn to dusk. For details on upcoming events, call 540-837-1758, ext. 0, or visit the Web site: http://www.virginia.edu/~blandy.

Research -- then and now

Orland E. White, Blandy's first director (1927-55), collected plants worldwide. He was interested in discovering what types of plants would thrive in the farm's limestone-based soil. Today, the collection's focus has shifted to preserving plants that are native to Virginia.

The latest addition to the arboretum is the Nancy Larrick Crosby Native Plant Trail, begun in 1997. The woodland and meadow portions of the trail are nearly complete, and a wetland section is planned.

"Blandy is a terrific resource for the department. It provides landscapes in which to perform environmental science, classes for our students to learn environmental science, and faculty colleagues for both research and teaching," said U.Va. environmental sciences chair James Galloway.

This year, there are six undergraduate and seven graduate fellows at Blandy. A summary of their research results will be presented at the Blandy Research Forum Aug. 9.

Among the fellows are two U.Va. undergraduates, Erin McMahon and Jerry McGuire. McMahon's project involves 50 Clarke County students in a countywide survey of butterflies, exploring the extent to which they can be used as indicators of human impact and land use from urban to rural areas.

Under the mentorship of U.Va. environmental sciences assistant professor Howie Epstein, McGuire is gathering data on native grasses to serve as the baseline for continuous study. This information will also be given to the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Faculty and graduate student research now under way includes:

  • Charting habitat fragmentation. Bowers studies small mammals in small land tracts. The data collected is applied to birds and larger mammals to see how changes in habitat affect wildlife.

  • Inbreeding in plants. Dave Carr, arboretum curator and research assistant professor, studies the evolutionary significance of breeding with closely related plants compared to breeding with more distantly related ones. This research is important as conservation and management programs typically focus on small populations where inbreeding is likely.

  • Tracking turtles. Dave Bowne, a U.Va. graduate research fellow, is studying Eastern Painted Turtles, their population characteristics and movements, how and why they move from pond to pond. He attaches radio transmitters to their bodies to track them.

  • Measuring carbon dioxide. Epstein and John Albertson of U.Va.'s environmental sciences department hope to quantify changes to the carbon cycle that result from the abandonment of agriculture and regrowth of forests, a phenomenon currently widespread in the eastern United States.

  • Studying microbial grassland community. U.Va. graduate student Sanghoon Kang and his adviser, U.Va. environmental sciences professor Aaron Mills, are studying the microbial community in a restored grassland to gain insights into management of that environment.


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