Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 32
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
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Ecologists, Friends of Open Spaces, Inventory Plants at Herrontown Woods

Dilshanie Perera

“Rushes are round, but sedges have edges,” quoted Steve Hiltner, Friends of Princeton Open Spaces (FOPOS) naturalist and member of the Princeton Environmental Commission, while showing the group assembled the deceptively-named “wool grass,” which is actually a sedge. Typically, rushes have round stems, whereas those of sedges are more triangular. You can differentiate between the two by rolling them between your thumb and forefinger.

That’s just one of the ecology-related tidbits that those assembled in Herrontown Woods last Sunday learned as part of the plant inventory walk sponsored by FOPOS. Ivies, trees, shrubberies, ferns, and other members of the Kingdom Plantae were identified and discussed.

Herrontown Woods is also a place of particular historical import. It is the only park in Princeton that is owned and managed by Mercer County. The land used to belong to Princeton mathematician and co-founder of the Institute for Advanced Study, Oswald Veblen, Mr. Hiltner noted, adding that Mr. Veblen and his family lived in the house in the middle of the woods beginning in the late 1910s, and a large cottage was built nearby as Mr. Veblen’s study. In 1957, the family donated the land to the Mercer County Park System for use as a wildlife and plant sanctuary.

The Veblen house and study have since fallen into disrepair. The windows are boarded up, fluorescent spray paint reads “Keep Out: Danger,” and steps leading to front doors have collapsed. Mr. Hiltner mentioned that Elizabeth Veblen had wanted their home to be turned into an environmental center, retrofitted with green materials and technologies, and used as a teaching site.

For most of the summer, Mr. Hiltner and Sarah Chambliss, an intern at FOPOS and a student of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton, have been cataloguing plants both indigenous and invasive throughout Princeton’s parks, woods, and wetlands. Invasive, or non-native species of plants, are proving problematic in many Princeton parks and woods. Ms. Chambliss mentioned that invasive species overshadow native plants, taking away sunlight, nutrients, and resources. She said that FOPOS has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) to cut back invasive species at the Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve and plant native species in that area.

The plant inventory will be published in the Princeton Environmental Resource Inventory, which is currently available as a draft for public comment at the Borough and Township clerks’ office, and at the public library. It can also be found online at

The public is invited along on the plant inventory walks, which take place on Sundays at 2 p.m. Locations will be announced at

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