We’re basically truck drivers

My last collecting trip has come and gone, but by no means was it as sad as the overall feeling here at the North Carolina Botanical Garden with the impending end to our internship. We wanted to go out with a bang, and I feel like we really did. It’s surprising too, considering our days had to end around 5:00 because of daylight savings (which in my opinion is pure garbage and helps no one in this century).

We planned for the longest trip we could feasibly do in one week, and it actually panned out really well. Starting off here in Chapel Hill, NC, our first stop was Rocks State Park, a 5 and a half hour drive, but it was worth it, since we made our first Kalmia latifolia collection. Kalmia has the tiniest seeds, but true to form with it being in Ericaceae, the seeds take forever to mature. We first saw the very same plants flowering in mid-May when we scoped the place out, and it took until mid-November for the seeds to be ready for collection. And then they have the nerve to grow just as slowly once they germinate. Ericaceae has some of my favorite plants, but the glacial-pace growth from seed keeps me from growing my own.

Kalmia latifolia

Kalmia latifolia

Next we stopped at Elk Neck State Park, where we met a really friendly character, Joe, in a neighborhood we had to pass through. If anyone reading this hasn’t been to Elk Neck and plans to be in the area, it’s worth a visit. The views are gorgeous, and the people are so nice and passionate about their special peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay.

We continued on, stopping of course in our favorite town, Chestertown, MD, before hitting up Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, where we collected loads of Solidago sempervirens and a very late in the season Bolboschoenus robustus.

Solidago sempervirens

Solidago sempervirens

Bolboschoenus robustus

Bolboschoenus robustus

Our day ended with another long drive to Chincoteague Island, VA. That of course didn’t happen until we had first stopped for dinner at my favorite place to eat on the Virginia Eastern Shore – El Crucero Tienda y Taquería. In case you’ve been living under a rock in our melting pot of a country, that’s Spanish, and they sell tacos. But not just any tacos. The best street-food style tacos and pupusas and tortas and huaraches and tamales and and and… you get the picture. Look them up on yelp – they’re located in the biggest city I know, Temperanceville, VA.

The following day we went to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which has been hands down the best site we’ve been to. We collected so many things there that it’s hard to decide what to share with you all, but I’ll keep the list short. We got Strophostyles helvolaPityopsis graminifolia var. tenuifoliaPanicum rigidulum var. rigidulum, and plenty of others.

Panicum rigidulum var. rigidulum

Panicum rigidulum var. rigidulum

Pityopsis graminifolia var. tenuifolia

Pityopsis graminifolia var. tenuifolia

We spent so much time there (as usual), that we had to seriously book it to our other stop for the day, Brownsville Preserve in Nassawadox, VA. Mostly everything there was a bust, but we learned that Bolboschoenus is not at all a genus set in stone. I think the taxonomists that have described it thus far just gave up on trying to truly differentiate between species. There are hybrids all over the place, and with no certain characteristics. So at least something was accomplished at Brownsville!

What even is this? It doesn't fit comfortably into any species!

What even is this? It doesn’t fit comfortably into any species!

Our night ended with a drive down to Virginia Beach, which is really nice this time of year. The place is almost devoid of tourists, and the hotels are much cheaper.

The next morning we went to First Landing State Park where we finished a collection of Ammophila breviligulata, and made another hundred collections there including Panicum amarumStrophostyles helvolaSolidago sempervirensUniola paniculataCenchrus tribuloides, and more. We also got to see an LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushion), AKA the loudest vehicle on the planet. It’s amphibious, and large enough to carry a tank. Amanda, who’s a Navy veteran for those who have no reason to know that, said that you need hearing protection to even be inside of it. I could definitely believe that, considering we were a good mile from the thing and it was deafening!

Uniola paniculata

Uniola paniculata

Cenchrus tribuloides

Cenchrus tribuloides

Strophostyles helvola

Strophostyles helvola

Panicum amarum

Panicum amarum, which we’ve been told sets seed horribly, but not in our experience

Once we yelled our goodbyes to the folks at First Landing, we headed down to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge to collect Bidens laevis which sticks into your skin like you wouldn’t believe, Euthamia caroliniana, and a few others, after a nice chat with one of our contacts there who’s thrilled to receive seeds from us for a huge meadow they want to restore this coming Spring.

Euthamia caroliniana

Euthamia caroliniana

Bidens laevis

Bidens laevis and my fingertip

We spent the night in Elizabeth City, NC, and headed to the area around Phelps Lake for our last bit. We collected Conoclinium coelestinumSaccharum alopecuroides (which USDA Plants won’t admit is now Erianthus – they’re so August), and Andropogon glomeratus.

ERIANTHUS alopecuroides

ERIANTHUS alopecuroides

Conoclinium coelestinum in flower and fruit

Conoclinium coelestinum in flower and fruit

We returned home that afternoon with 24 collections – a new record for us. That’s just over 1 collection for every hour of driving we did that week! But honestly, we spend way too much time driving. We’re lucky to make as many collections as we do. The only drawback to collection so much seed is the fact that we have to clean it all. Not to pure seed, that’s Cape May Plant Materials Center’s job. But we sure do have a lot of work ahead of us before we close out the season.

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One last blog post till the end. See you then.

Jake Dakar

SOS East – North Carolina Botanical Garden

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