Greetings from “Chapel Thrill,” North Carolina!
It has been over four months since I started working at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, thousands of miles from where most of you are located. Despite being a lifelong resident of North Carolina, in the past few months, I have really gotten to know the state in a new way. With my co-intern, Jill, and our mentor, Andy, we have crisscrossed the interstates, rural roads, and rutted paths of North Carolina, sojourning in both the easternmost and westernmost parts of the state. Our primary occupation is seed collecting, for the BLM as well as for other agencies, but we have also assisted in quite a few rare-plant monitoring projects, collaborating with people from the Garden, the NC Natural Heritage Program, the Forest Service, etc. . .
A few months ago, I would have treated Pender County as just another piece of land to blast through on I-40 on the way to the beach. Now I also know it as home to Shaken Creek Nature Preserve, which hosts a shocking array of native plants. Sprinkled among the soft undulating masses of wiregrass are the garish chartreuse trumpets of the yellow pitcher plant (Sarracenia flava), the elegant pale star-shaped bracts of the white-topped beak sedge (Rhynchospora latifolia), and the ubiquitous pink of the meadow beauty (Rhexia alifanus). Deep red lilies and orange fringed orchids, roughly the hue of Cheetos, complete the palette. Despite repeated warnings from our mentor, we rarely have run-ins with snakes, and have yet to see a black bear. However, even constant vigilance with duct tape and Cutter did not save us from the torments of chiggers, ticks, and mosquitos throughout the summer.
North Carolina’s long east-west profile also encompasses some mountains (in size, nothing compared to what you westerners have, but I would like to think that they give the western mountains a run for their money in natural beauty). One of the most memorable trips we took was to Roan Mountain, where we helped monitor Geum radiatum, which clings to cliff faces on high peaks, and find populations of another Geum species. While we were up there, we encountered Jamie, alias the “goat guy.” His self-imposed responsibility is to live on the grassy bald at Carver’s Gap and maintain something akin to the prehistoric grazing regime, by means of a squadron of hungry goats and some gigantic but adorable guard dogs.
One of the sites we visited that turned out to be an unlikely favorite of mine was basically in my backyard, in Durham County. Located in the middle of a highly developed industrial park (RTP), it was an old roadbed with a unique geology and basic soils that support a very interesting plant community. Though environmentally degraded, the uniqueness and diversity of this community showed through. Unfortunately, our visits mostly had a tone of desperation. The Garden, in partnership with the EPA, who owns the surrounding land, was collecting seeds and individual plants to save some of the genetic diversity of the site – it was slated for destruction to make way for a new expressway. What a feeling of disappointment when we heard the logging equipment had rolled through. In spite of such setbacks, the experience has been enjoyable on the whole, and I have expanded my knowledge not only of plants but, in many senses of the phrase, of how the world works. Thanks to everyone who helped make it possible!
-Quentin Read, Chapel Hill, North Carolina