Ernest Williams Leads Tour of Root Glen

Ernest Williams describes some flowers in Root Glen.
Ernest Williams describes some flowers in Root Glen.
Alumni College, A Nature Walk in the Root Glen 
"A Nature Walk in the Root Glen," an Alumni College led by Professor of Biology Ernest Williams, was far more than a nature lesson. Williams' fascinating hour-long tour touched on many areas of study including geology, history and math as well as biology. Reflective of the glen's frequent community usage, the Utica Tramp and Trail Club and a Kirkland Art Center painting class were also enjoying the Root Glen. Several members of those groups joined alumni for the informative tour.

Beginning with a brief explanation of how the geology of the area was influenced by the retreat of the glaciers during the last Ice Age, Williams continued with an overview of the Root family's involvement with the college. The Root Glen was originally a dump behind the tavern that was purchased by Oren Root as a homestead. The structure is now the Anderson-Connell Alumni Center. Oren and his son Elihu, who later became a U.S. Senator, Secretary of State and Secretary of War, cleared the area and began planting trees and flowers. A Hamilton alumnus and Hamilton math professor, Oren acquired more than 70 additional acres of land over the ensuing years, significantly enlarging the glen's area. The garden and glen continued to be developed by generations of Roots, some focusing on specific flowers and plantings as was the case with Grace Root's creation of the primrose basin.

Williams discussed individual flowers in the formal garden including those in the Alpine and Arctic raised gardens at the garden's top entrance. He continued on to the peony garden, a partial exhibit of the peony hybrids originally grown by chemistry professor Arthur Percy Saunders. With the goal of creating peonies with stronger stems, bigger flowers and more varied colors, Saunders eventually hybridized 70 tree and 140 herbaceous peonies. Hamilton's garden currently displays 50 varieties.

The tour also included a discussion of the largest Norwegian Spruce in the country, which can also be found in the Root Glen. Williams explained that measurements are taken of the tree's trunk circumference, height and branch spread to determine its size. The tree was planted by the Root family more than 150 years ago.

Williams pointed out invasive and aggressive plants like Queen's Anne Lace (also called Wild Carrot) that threaten native plants like Forget-Me-Nots as well as the insects that attack them. He also explained flower structure and how the Fibonacci numbers (a sequence of numbers named after Leonardo of Pisa) appear in the patterns of spirals of some glen flowers. From ground cover to late leafing trees to the chemical deterrents generated by plants against herbivores, the lecture provided a plethora of information about nature found in the glen.

As the tour was concluding, one alumnus pulled a copy of Williams' book, The Nature Handbook: A Guide to Observing the Great Outdoors, out of his back pocket. He heartily endorsed the book and encouraged all on the tour to purchase it if they were interested in learning more. This unsolicited testimony resulted in Williams autographing the copy. 
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