2013 Conservators Annual Dinner Meeting

Ned Friedman:

“What it Means to be a Tree”


Dr. Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum and Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, was the featured speaker at our Annual Meeting and dinner on May 1.

Early in his talk about “The Evolution of Big,” Dr. Friedman asked the audience what it means to be a tree. He showed a slide of palms and asked the audience whether they are trees. The easy answer? No. Why? Palms do not have a cambium, the layer of undifferentiated cells that many see as the defining feature of a tree. The cambium is the site of cell division and growth that allows a tree to increase in girth; it produces the xylem, the tubes that move water and nutrients from the roots to the rest of the tree, and phloem, the tubes that move sap from the leaves down to the rest of the tree.

Dr. Friedman told his listeners that approximately 350 million years ago there were no trees and then in a span of 15 million years (as he said, just the blink of a geological eye) six different groups of plants separately evolved the ability to increase their girth and to qualify as trees. He described the features of those early trees and then revealed that only one of those groups—the “progymnosperms,” which reproduced by spores—survived to become the trees we see today.

That is when Dr. Friedman’s discussion became more complicated. He explained that those progymnosperms gave rise to seed-producing plants, evolved into flowering plants; then one group broke away and redeveloped into herbaceous plants and re-evolved “small.” He gave evidence that most of our flowering plants still have remnants of a cambium. He even revealed that some herbaceous plants have once again re-evolved woodiness. He left us with the idea that it can be hard to define just what the essence of being a tree really is.

Dr. Friedman’s talk was warmly received, and afterwards, he was surrounded by members wanting to ask questions or to talk with him about their ideas. He invited everyone to visit the Arnold Aboretum on the Arborway in Boston, or online at www.arboretum.harvard.edu.

Note: Visit the Arboretum’s website to sign up to receive notices of their Tree Mobs. What is a Tree Mob? Their web site describes them as “interactions with scientists or other specialists at the Arnold Arboretum [that] provide another pathway to enjoy and learn in the landscape. Experts share little-known facts about our living plant collection, its relevance today, and its importance to future generations. A Tree Mob may attract a small group or a large gathering— we won’t know until it takes place.…Plan to spend approximately 30 minutes learning about an interesting component of our collection.”

–Beth Wilkinson

President’s Report

Greetings to our members and newsletter readers. As the new and former president (four years ago) of the Newton Conservators, I am looking forward to working with you again.

I hope more Newton residents will join us as members this year. Membership dues help us carry out our goals. The Newton Conservators are dedicated to protect and to preserve the natural areas of our city. As our board member Bill Hagar likes to say, we started on this mission in 1961. The Massachusetts Turnpike extension to Boston had just opened, and many were concerned that our Garden City would become overwhelmed by new developments. I hope our members and newsletter readers will also join us for our informative walks, kayak/canoe excursions and bicycle rides throughout the year. We have a Newton Conservators Almanac available with information about native plants and birds found in Newton’s open spaces on a month-by-month basis and a Walking Trails book that lists interesting open spaces to visit in Newton’s parks and conservation lands.

Our annual meeting was held on May 1st, and it was a delightful beginning to the month of May. There were many familiar faces and new people to meet, a great time to catch up with friends. We had a dandy lecture on the evolution of trees by Dr. William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum and Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. The meal from Maria’s catering was the best we ever had. The table decorations were lovely, and I was happy to bring home a centerpiece for my porch. I hope everyone had a good time.

We would like to thank David S. Backer and Chris Hepburn for joining the board as well as returning board member Duane Hillis. I welcome them to the board and look forward to working with them over the next year. Many others continue to volunteer and to help us with their expertise as advisors to our board. One example is Don Lubin, our local fern expert who leads fun and educational fern walks in the spring and fall.

If you would like to be more involved in the Newton Conservators, please let us know. We always appreciate your interest and participation.

– Beth Schroeder

Awards Presented

Environmentalist of the Year: Jane E. Sender

For four years as Conservators’ President and her work on the Conservation Commission

Award winner Jane Sender with director George Mansfield.
photos by Henry Finch

Back in the winter of 2004, teamwork was very much on the mind of Conservators President Eric Reenstierna. Teamwork, he noted in the winter newsletter, had suddenly become trendy. Every organization, he observed, from the Patriots to the Red Sox to “traditional, management-driven corporations, attempts to instill the team concept.” But that was nothing new to the Conservators, he went on to explain: “all along, the Conservators have played as a team. Every member of the Conservators’ Board of Directors serves an important function. In one aspect or another, every director takes the lead.…No one calls all the shots. We make all our decisions as a group. Every couple of years, someone else from the team takes the wheel. And it works. The proof is in our string of accomplishments.”

In that same issue, newsletter readers were introduced to Jane Sender, as the Conservators took note of the October dedication of the Marty Sender Riverwalk. Marty, a longtime director of the Newton Conservators died of injuries suffered in an accident in 2000. Three years later his widow, Jane, gathered with state and local officials, neighbors and friends to cut the ribbon and open the portion of the Charles River pathway named in Marty’s memory.

Nearly a decade later, the Conservators are proud to honor Jane with the Environmentalist of the Year Award, recognizing her many accomplishments as she carried on the Sender tradition as President of the Conservators and as a member of the Conservation Commission. Jane’s tenure encompassed the last years of the Conservators’ first half century and the first years of our next. As such, Jane was responsible for making sure we stayed true to our original mission while re-envisioning it for the 21st century.

Jane oversaw the upgrading of our operations, the establishment of an on-line membership database, and design and content improvements to our newsletter, website and other on-line and printed materials. With Jane at the helm, we finalized the Wilson conservation restriction protecting a 2-acre Newton Center parcel from further development, participated in Newton’s new Open Space plan, and advocated for issues ranging from storm-water problems plaguing our river, lakes and ponds to maintaining open space in new commercial developments. At Jane’s behest we worked closely with the Parks and Recreation Department on issues ranging from a temporary fire station and other non-park-related building use to snow and brush dumping to creating management plans. After all that, it would not be surprising if Jane wanted to rest on her non-invasive laurels. But we’re delighted to report that, while she may be changing positions, Jane will still be a part of our team!

This was the 32nd Environmentalist of the Year Award presented by the Newton Conservators to an individual or group who has made a distinguished environmental contribution to our community.

Charles Johnson Maynard Award: Eric Olson

For his commitment to the removal of invasive plants to preserve Newton’s biodiversity

The Charles Johnson Maynard Award is given each year to recognize efforts “to improve biodiversity, habitat reclamation, and natural resource protection.”

When Eric Olson says he’s working on a knotty problem, he means it literally. As the founder of the Newton Invasive Task Force, Eric is spearheading an effort to eradicate the invasive Japanese knotweed from the banks of the Charles River in the City’s northside. And knotweed isn’t the only problem—in a 2010 survey of a Newton wetland, Eric found three times as many invasive species as native species. Invasive plant species threaten the entire eco-system, outcompeting native plants, reducing biodiversity and negatively impact bird and insect life.

Eric, a professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School, is also a Board member of Green Decade and a member of the Waltham Land Trust Advisory Board. In his efforts to eradicate invasives, he’s become, as he puts it, “an expert on the risks and pleasures of depending entirely upon volunteer labor.” Whatever the risks and pleasures, Eric makes it look easy as he assembles a posse that includes everyone from high school students to senior citizens, all intent on ridding Newton of foreign invaders!

Directors’ Award: Norman A. Richardson

For his decades of exemplary service on the Newton Conservation Commission

When the Newton Tab profiled Norman Richardson in 2005, they said the key to the ultra-marathoner’s success was that he doesn’t “dwell on the blisters, the dry heaves and vomiting, the hallucinations and the pain.” Instead, Richardson gives up “on thoughts of defeat as quickly as they enter his mind.”

That’s probably also the key to Norm’s success at another marathon endeavor: his years of service on Newton’s Conservation Commission. Norm has laced up for many of the Commission’s landmark accomplishments. He helped negotiate the 30-year Conservation Restriction with Lasell College. He represented the Commission on the Newton Open Space Advisory when, in 2003, it prioritized the acquisition of West Kesseler Woods and Angino Farm. He agreed to represent the Commission on the Off-Leash Dog Task Force. And Norm was not afraid to be the voice of the loyal opposition, as he dissented from the Commission’s conditional approval of the installation of artificial turf at Newton South.

The citizens of Newton are grateful that Norm is still in it for the long haul. As he told the Tab, “From 60 miles on, you can be as fit as you want: if your head isn’t there, you’re not going to make it.” When it comes to conservation and advocating on behalf of all Newton residents, Norm’s head is clearly here!