Bottomlands and bluffs on the Potomac

I’ve almost completed the first week of my internship with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.  As a botany intern I am responsible for updating plant records for all the rare and threatened flora within the parks borders.  The park runs approximately 130 miles along a narrow corridor from the mountains of western Maryland to Washington, D.C.  I’ve spent most of my time here so far getting acquainted with the rich cultural history of the canal and the friendly staff at the park.  I’m immersing myself in the many publications on the natural resources of the area that sits on four massive shelves at the park headquarters.  In particular one publication has caught my fancy and I can’t put it down.  Some of the taxonomic names are out of date but the information it holds on the specialized habitats of the state and the plants within them is invaluable.  Shale barrens and limestone bluffs are especially interesting because this is where many of the plants I’m tasked with surveying for are located.


The first few days here involved various orientation tasks and I’ve only been in the field for a couple hours.  However, in that short time I got to see an impressive display of spring ephemerals and two state listed plants.


Delphinium tricorne, Dwarf Larkspur


Dodecatheon meadia, Shooting Star


I look forward to getting into the field more and more in the coming weeks.  The towpath that runs alongside the entirety of the canal offers great access to the entire park.


Moving forward I plan to schedule my surveying with the goal of focusing on the plants that are flowering currently or will be soon.  I also am tasked with getting the parks “Weed Warrior” program up and running. While the canal has its share of rarities and beautiful habitat, it also faces challenges including a fairly healthy crop of invasive plant species.

“Death is one thing…  an end to birth is something else…”

-M.E. Soule and B.A. Wilcox

Protecting rare and threatened plants has been a passion of mine for a while but the quotation above made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  After reading it I felt a renewed sense of urgency for the protection of our nations endangered species. It feels good to be in a position to make a positive contribution towards that end.


Coleman Minney
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Hagerstown, Maryland


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