July in Maryland

There has been a prolonged stretch of hot, humid days here in Maryland.  This weather can make field work unpleasant at times but there is a silver lining.  The decrease in the amount of rain, which is normal for this time of year, allows the Potomac River to drop to lower levels.  This drop has implications for the rare plant survey work I am tasked with for my internship.  River scour habitats were a new concept to me when I first got here and read about them.  The idea of grassland maintained by erosion from flood waters on river islands and river edge habitats was something I never really thought about.  With the drop in water levels on the Potomac, surveying these river habitats has gone to the forefront in my mind.  In particular, the historical records of the federally-endangered Haperella (Ptilimnium nodosum) within the canal have caught my interest.  The last time this plant was seen on the Potomac was around 20 years ago.  Even though I know the chances of finding it are remote, I still can’t help but hold out a little hope.  This plant has a habit of popping up in random river scour bars one year and disappearing the next.  From the little exposure I have to these scour bars it seems apparent that the invasive plant Japanese Knotweed (among several other invasives) also thrives in this disturbed soil.  One of the harder parts of my internship is seeing situations where rare plants are under assault from invasives and knowing how best to contribute to dealing with the problem in a meaningful way in light of the limited time I will be here.


Looking upstream on the Potomac in western Maryland. The plant at the bottom of the photo is Water Willow (Justicia americana) which is very fond of growing on the edges of these scour bars.

The development of a Weed Warrior program was also one of the tasks of my internship.  Another intern and I will be giving a presentation on several invasive plants commonly found in the canal as well as control methods and native look-alikes for each.  I read a statistic in a published paper that stated 33% of the flora of the Mid-Atlantic region is considered non-native to the region or North America.  I was surprised by that number honestly.  It really underlines the importance of efforts like this for the National Park Service moving forward.  It also poses some difficulties in prioritizing how to develop a program such as this with limited time and resources to train volunteers.

This experience will no doubt be valuable to me as a person that wants to be a nature preserve manager one day.  The part I am looking forward to most is meeting one on one with the individuals afterwards and learning the challenges of maintaining a volunteer-led invasive control effort.  I also hope to learn how to tailor future educational exercises for volunteers interested in invasive removal as well as knowing who these people are and why they chose to volunteer in this particular way.

I haven’t done as much botanical surveying since my last post.  One reason for this is because I participated in a wetland plant identification course at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia last week.  This was a great experience.  Of the three instructors for the course, one was an author for Flora of North America and another had a major hand in developing the wetland indicator codes assigned by the USDA.  He also founded a herbarium.  Needless to say it was great being around so many knowledgeable botanists.  It was also nice talking to the other students in the class, many with permanent federal jobs, who had some helpful advice about seasonal work and graduate schools.

On one of the few trips I made into the field recently I snapped a couple interesting photos.


Purple Cliffbrake (Pellaea atropurpurea) This cool looking fern was growing in the masonry walls of one of the canal locks.


Common Water Snake. When I stumbled upon this snake I thought for sure it was a Copperhead. However, after seeing the rounded pupils of the eyes I knew it was not vemonous.

Coleman Minney

Field Botany Intern

Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park




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