Goodness, how time flies! We are about half way done with our internship already! While the beginning of the summer focused more on scouting out sites for plants we were able to collect, we are now finally getting into the full swing of seed collecting season. We’ve made over 40 collections so far (sometimes up to five in one day) covering all five New England coastal states. We’ve voyaged over seas of sand dunes, gotten sucked into mud waist-deep, narrowly escaped endless clouds of mosquitos, bushwhacked through 10-foot tall stands of Phragmites, walked through creeks chest-high in water, canoed through rivers that were more plant-matter than water, and had a few lucky days of being caught in the rain – a very welcome way to cool off. Every day has been a different adventure with new things to learn. It’s been a very immersive (figuratively and literally) way to experience the natural world, and I’ve been enjoying every bit of it.
Currently most of New England is in a moderate to severe drought. Although we don’t have enough comparative data to draw any solid conclusions, we are pretty sure that the drought has been impacting many of the plants very badly this year. Last week were in a small salt marsh in Southern CT, when we came across a huge patch of Schoenoplectus pungens (three-square bulrush). There were plenty of plants to collect from, however after sampling a few of them we realized it wouldn’t be worth it. The seeds were either absent or had turned to mush, the top half of the plants yellow and sun-scorched. Similarly, there have been several times now that we’ve witnessed a very distraught population of Juncus gerardii (black grass). This is one of the four main component species of a salt marsh, usually filling the landscape of the upper marsh area. Most of our sites with J. gerardii have massive populations, yet we are having trouble finding good seed – some we have had to not even attempt a collection from. According to our mentor and last year’s records, J. gerardii should have plenty of seeds available for collection well into August.
I don’t think I would have fully understood the effects of the drought if I hadn’t been out in the field this summer. It’s one thing to read or hear about something like this, but it’s another thing to see it up close. And it’s a third thing to experience it. Because we have been out in the field during the hottest parts of the day, I found I’m able to empathize with these plants on a much more personal level. However, we know that at the end of the day we will catch a breeze in our air-conditioned cars, fill up water bottles from a cold faucet, and eat a nutrient-balanced meal. The plants and animals in these habitats can’t make that assumption, especially during a drought like this. Being out there with these plants on a daily basis is helping me not take these gifts essential for our survival for granted… Yet for those few hours of our day, we are united in our experience. We’ve been drained and wilted under the relentless heat, and we’ve been dancing and laughing and re-energized during the rains. I like to think that the plants are having the same reactions too – we are just much more vocal about it.
Here’s to hoping for more rain, and moving forward with gratitude.
Seeds of Success East Intern
New England Wild Flower Society