A while back, our team here at the North Carolina Botanical Garden agreed to help our friends at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center with a collection they were making at Ted Harvey Wildlife Area just outside of Dover, DE. We were in touch with Barbara and Gio, and they described in brief what kind of help they were looking for. We were to meet them at Ted Harvey on a Tuesday afternoon, work through to the evening, and continue the following day until we could help no longer. We planned our trip that week around helping with their collection, making a few stops along the way, and on our way back at the end of the week.
On our way to Delaware, we had to first stop at a spot in Maryland we knew to have a large population of Bidens aristosa (Bearded Beggarticks). One of our closest collection sites, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge – a mere 4 hours from home base – requested a lot of seed from B. aristosa, and boy are they gonna get a lot! Once we finished that, we spent the night in MD and headed toward DE the following morning.
We knew we were to collect Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass), but we had no idea how much. We arrived that afternoon to see jumbo trash bags behind Barbara’s car absolutely jam-packed with Spartina inflorescences. We met up with the two of them, whom we hadn’t seen since training in June, and began our short hike to the collection area. Never have I seen so much S. alterniflora in one place, nor have I seen such tall plants either! They were easily 7-8 feet tall in some spots. The plants were on steroids. The tallest I’d seen up until then had been at most 5 feet tall. To add, the S. alterniflora we encounter at our own collection sites tends to have a whopping 2-3 seeds per spike, but these had in excess of 50 seeds per spike upon first inspection!
By the time we finished collecting that first day, I was convinced we had leaps and bounds more than we needed. Our bags were full of thousands upon thousands of spikes. But the following day when we met up with Barabara and Gio’s mentor Clara, she explained that the project for which they were collecting wanted to direct sow the seed in an area covering 1500-2000 acres! Not only that, but since they were seeding FROM AN AIRPLANE, they require massive quantities of seed. Somewhere in the area of 10-30 pounds of collected material per acre. You do the math. That’s a gargantuan collection that needs to be made!
Anyway, we spent that second day split between Bombay Hook NWR and Prime Hook NWR, collecting both from boat and by foot. Clara and I were at Prime Hook on foot, and I took the opportunity to ask what her thoughts were on the stark difference in culm height between the shorter plants I was used to, and the tall ones I was noticing in DE. We both agreed we needed to educate ourselves better on the subject. I did some research into the height differences and found that a number of scientists refer to the two as short and tall forms of S. alterniflora. The two forms seem to be distinct on a hereditary level, but I have not read any studies which have proven that claim.
I do not envy the NY crew. As exciting as it is to have such a large project requesting so much seed, its a large order to fill! I hope they appreciated our help!
On our way back to the garden at the end of our trip, we stopped in at a brand new Maryland state park, so new in fact, that it won’t be open until March of 2017. It’s called Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. I can’t wait for it to open so I can finally see first hand what it was like for Harriet Tubman and the many families and friends she saved to travel via the Underground Railroad.
And here’s a picture of some interesting looking Spartina patens from Ted Harvey:
Till next time.
SOS East – North Carolina Botanical Garden