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Bridging borders through botany

September 23, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. - In terms of the flora, if not the topography, a walk in the woods of Caledonia State Park is not that different from a stroll in a forest near Moscow.

"It's surprisingly similar because we have this kind of mixed forest," said Artyom Pashin, deputy director of the Moscow University Botanical Garden. Like the Moscow region, the forest is home to a blend of broadleaf and coniferous trees, he said.

"We can recognize many plants. They are of different species, but similar," he said.

Pashin was among more than 70 botanists, half from Russia and half from the United States, participating in "New Roots for the 21st Century," a U.S.-Russian botanical conference sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The conference, which ends today, is at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa.

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Thursday, the conferees took a field trip to the state park to walk its trails and see the diversity of plant life and how it changes from the forest floor to the mountaintops.

"It is very interesting for me to be here in Caledonia because I can see the plants we only have in our greenhouses," said Alla Andreeva, also from Moscow. The university botanical garden there has a children's environmental education program based on the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Hiawatha," in which children identify North American trees and plants from the poem, she said.

"I like how nature is interpreted to the public," said Yurii V. Naumtsev, director of the Tver State University Botanical Garden. "It's very convenient for people to experience nature here."

"They're doing some very creative things with children's education," said Peter Olin, director of the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Olin, who attended a conference last year in Russia, said the Russians will be joining him in Minnesota for three days after the conference.

Andreeva said the Moscow and Minnesota gardens have worked in partnership for several years.

"There's a lot of concern about preserving biodiversity both here and in Russia," Olin said of one conference topic. "Diversity in the landscape is critical to keeping forests and meadows alive" because the loss of a plant, animal or insect can have a ripple effect on an ecological system.

Much of this country was once covered with American chestnut trees, but a blight all but wiped out the species, Forester Philip Varndell told the visitors. He showed them a chestnut sapling and said scientists have been developing a blight-resistant variety by repeatedly crossbreeding it with the Chinese chestnut.

The Russians and Americans stopped along the paths to inspect sassafras, poplars, dogbane, skunk cabbage and other plants.

"We have been collaborating with the Americans ... and during this collaboration we've addressed several major issues," said Professor Igor Koropachinskiy, chairman of the Council of Botanical Gardens of Siberia and the Russian Far East. They not only exchange ideas, they exchange plants to be studied by scientists for their nutritional, medicinal and ornamental properties, he said.

"We are also working on some fundamental botanical issues ... such as the systematizing or classifying of plants," Koropachinskiy said. "Also, we are studying rare and endangered species in both North America and Russia to find the reasons they are disappearing."

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