Archive for the ‘Seed Collecting 2014’ Category

Collections for the arboretum

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

In the final week of our seed collecting expedition we collected under the expert guidance of Ron Lance, who has led us to places where our target species are.

The week began with ventures to parts of the Appalachians, at far higher elevations than we had previously visited. We were on the look out for seed of different Acer species, though this year has proved particularly poor in terms of seed production, though we were able to make a collection of the only snake bark maple native to the U.S, Acer pensylvanicum. We also collected seed of Nyssa sylvatica – another autumnal gem to add to the collection at Westonbirt!

nyssa sylvatica nyssa sylvatica fruits

We then travelled further south and back to low elevations for Carya myristiciformis, which as I mentioned previously is the rarest of the North American Carya hickories. We were taken to the only population in Georgia, where we sampled a population of mature trees – far far larger than the two specimens growing along Broad Drive, though much older it must be said. A real pleasure to see and to collect from!!

Edge-of-the-Carya-myristiciformis-population Jon and the Appalachians

This left us with one final Carya to collect – the water hickory, C. aquatica and after exploring a number of areas, it appeared that this one may elude us. But after a tip off as to where we might find it, we received permission to collect and headed to ‘Little Hell’ in South Carolina. The extra miles paid off and very soon after parking up, we came across our tree on the banks of the Savannah River – Amazing!! Whilst it wasn’t the biggest in the area, it had plenty of good seed on and we took full advantage.


This was a great climax to our collecting and what was more, the surrounding area was replete with some of the most amazing trees any of us had ever seen – monstrous Nyssa sylvatica and incredible Taxodium distichum with ‘knees’ up to our waists!! This was incredible to experience and further contributed to our admiration and appreciation of the trees of North America.

Living the dream!

We have been privileged to see so many different habitats on our travels in the States, where many of our more known exotics come from. To see them doing their thing on their home turf has been incredible and being able to collect seed from some of them for our wonderful collections is truly special and we are all truly grateful for being afforded the opportunity to do so.


The wonders of seed collecting!

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

So for most of the past week we have been travelling through the wilds of Missouri in search of Carya seed. Under the guidance of George Yatskievych and colleagues from Missouri Botanic Garden, we have been able to collect a number of our target species, including C. tomentosa and C. glabra. We have also been able to make further collections of species collected earlier in the trip. It will be most interesting to see how those collected in different regions perform back home at Westonbirt!


Along with the Carya species we have also managed to collect from some interesting species that grow in association with them. These include Aralia spinosa, Nyssa sylvatica and Diospyros virginiana – all species that will contribute to the wonderful Westonbirt landscape.


We continue to have to work hard for seed, however, and whilst we have arrived in many areas at a good time for the ripeness of the Carya seed, we are always racing the squirrels to be first to them!

As well as this, so far we are finding that we are either too early or too late for collecting seed of some of the other species we are coming across. Taxodium distichum, the swamp cypress, is one such example. As the common name suggests, it grows in swamps and we have been privileged to see it doing its thing in south east Missouri, where it can be found growing with Carya aquatica and a number of other interesting plants. To see this in its native range was truly special and while it was somewhat fustrating to find that the seed was well under ripe, this did not stop us from simply marvelling at these trees. Awesome.


After a speculative yet productive quick stop in Tennessee, we have now reached North Carolina, where we shall head to high elevations for a few other species of particular interest, before heading south to continue in our quest for Carya. We hope to collect southern variants of some that we already have in the bag, as well as others that have so far eluded us. Then there is the rarest of the North American representatives of the genus, Carya myristiciformis.



Documenting America

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Travelling through Missouri with our plant collectors has been an eye opener to say the least. I’ve been lucky enough to witness seed collecting in action: I’ve been given a pass into the world of the Tree Team!

I truly feel like I’ve been part of something unique on this trip. We have been taken to parts of Missouri that even some of our Missouri-born colleagues hadn’t been to yet! We have seen wildlife that we never imagined we would out here, a particular highlight (or decidedly NOT a highlight I should say…) would be nearly stepping on a tarantula as it walked across my path. Although the look and sound of sheer horror from me was highly amusing to everyone else!


Then there was the racoon that popped up on the side of a river, not too far from a few floating logs which had turtles happily basking in the sunshine; while turkey vultures circled their prey in the fields on the other side of the river, and deer jumped away into the distance.

And then of course to the main attraction for us: the trees!! Certainly my highlight would have to be seeing the swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) in its native habitat at the Mingo Nature Reserve. But I will let Dan Crowley tell you about that…

Of course this is all in conjunction with the real work which is the seed collecting itself; and let me tell you, it is hard.

As we all know, America is a HUGE country. We have had long drives, searching for known populations of the tree species we are looking for. The team then have to identify the key species they are targeting, followed by either shaking the seed off the tree using a throw line, or cutting them off with pole pruners in order to bag them up. Voucher specimens (dried cuttings of leaves and seeds/fruit) are taken and then pressed; labels are written; and then on we go to the next tree!

Susanna in recording mode

But the work doesn’t stop when you get back to the hotel: the seeds have to be cleaned and prepped for transport back to Westonbirt so our propagator can work her magic; notes must be written up; and the voucher specimens sorted in their frame.

So yes, we have seen incredible things; but we have also worked incredibly hard to bring seeds back which will help the Westonbirt landscape to evolve, and build important relationships with arguably one of the most important botanic gardens in the world: Missouri Botanic Garden in St Louis.

I have been recording everything (much to the annoyance of my colleagues who probably felt like the paparazzi were in town…!); and when I get back to the office I will start the editing process so that you can share in the experience too!

Jon not happy Jon recording


The Hickory hunt continues!

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Yesterday we headed to the Shaw Nature Reserve, which is part of Missouri Botanic Garden. Here we met James Trager, Naturalist at the Shaw Nature Reserve, who joined us in our quest to find the hickory species which are found here.


We spent the day in search of trees with seed, which we found to be few and far between. However, we did make collections from two species – Carya ovata and C. cordiformis. One collection of the former was particularly interesting, relative to what we had seen so far, with 7 leaflets per leaf, as well as 5, with hairyness and texture rather variable in different parts of the crown.


It was particularly interesting to observe the different habitat types as we moved from upland woodlands to floodplain and back again. The trees growing in the uplands were unsurprisingly not as large as those of the floodplain, with the species make up strikingly different. For example, Platanus occidentalis was entirely absent at 190m above sea level, but around 50-60 metres lower, they are huge!!


Today we met with George Yatskievych, author of the Flora of Missouri, who gave us some tip offs in areas which we will not be visiting later on, so we are off to spend some time there today, before heading further afield with George tomorrow. The quest continues…


American interpretation

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Something I never thought I would do in my life is accompany a seed collecting trip. Indeed I’m not even sure I knew they still happened before I started work at the arboretum!

In my mind they were a story of the past: intrepid adventurers spending years clambering through inhospitable terrain; navigating their way through civil wars and surviving through some of the worst weather imaginable. All to get to that one tree; that one tree they’ve dreamed of discovering during their tumultuous journey and from whom they would take seeds, in the hope that they would return to their native shores with a jewel in their pockets ready to grow into a majestic beauty for everyone to see.

And how do we know all this? From various records, we are able to piece together their journeys and learn stories about working in such remote, undiscovered areas.

I work for the Education Department, and my role specifically is to support interpretation for the Westonbirt Project. I spent a lot of time working on the exhibition in our new Welcome Building, and as such I delved into the historic records which make Westonbirt what it is today. What you inevitably find is that many historic documents have been lost to time, and plant hunter stories are no exception.

Modern day plant collecting trips are just as important and exciting as those of old (if a little more focused on health and safety…); and the current expedition to East USA will have records galore thanks to two cameras, an audio recorder, a microphone, a tripod and a multitude of spare batteries and SD cards!

I’ve flown out to Missouri where I was met by three modern day plant collectors! Westonbirt’s Dan Crowley and Rich Townsend, along with Jon Harmer from RGB Kew Wakehurst Place who are collecting seeds to further enhance our Plant Heritage National Collections.

I have joined them for 10 days to document how collecting is done; who records what; how seeds are cleaned; chats with local experts; the list is endless! They will act as an important archive for future interpretation, and help to update some of our exhibits in the Welcome Building.

So keep an eye out for my next blog… I will keep you up to date with any interpretational gems!

Interpretation Support Officer

Our arrival to America…

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Having arrived in Chicago on Monday afternoon, we spent a day at the marvellous Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois on Tuesday where we utilised the herbarium before heading to the living collection to study plants we hope to collect throughout our time here in the States.

We were treated to a tour led by Ed Hedborn, who gave us a real insight into a number of trees we will come across. Our thanks go to all at the Morton for inviting us to spend time with them and their trees. Fantastic!

DanCrowley and Ed Hedborn Ed Hedborn, Dan Crowley, Jon Harmer Richard Townsend, Dan Crowley, Jon Harmer

We then travelled south to meet Guy Sternberg and spent the day collecting with him and elsewhere around Petersburg, Illinois. Among the first collections we have made are Carya texana and Juglans nigra – both members of the Juglandaceae, and among our high priorities for the trip, which is excellent!

Those collected so far...

We will visit other sites in Illinois, before heading south to Missouri…

Dan Crowley.

We’re going on a Hickory hunt!

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Next week, Tree Team supervisor Rich Townsend, RBG Wakehurst Place arborist Jon Harmer and I are jetting off to the United States on a rather exciting mission – to collect seed of tree species which will further enhance the wonderful collections here at Westonbirt and beyond! We are particularly keen to boost our Plant Heritage National Collections of Juglandaceae, Acer species, Tilia and Staphyleaceae and shall explore areas where we hope to find seed of these that will help us achieve this. We shall travel from Illinois through Missouri towards the south eastern states of North and South Carolina and Georgia – regions that are home to more than a few of our National Collection species, notably the hickories (Carya spp.), which are renowned for their autumn colour and stature in the landscape.
On our way we shall also collect seed of species which grow with our key targets and are hopeful that in time (and with more than a little TLC from our excellent propagator) what we collect will bring some more American flavour to the Westonbirt landscape.

On the way we shall visit botanic gardens, utilising herbaria to further familiarise ourselves with the diverse range of plants we hope to have the opportunity to collect and will be working closely with regional experts who will aid us in our quest to boost the Westonbirt collection both in terms of species and plants of known wild origin. Fantastic!!!!!!!!

For part of the expedition we will be joined by Interpretation Support Officer Susanna Byers, who will be documenting the trip on camera and film for interpretation purposes!

Seed collected will also be shared with our partners at Bedgebury National Pinetum Forestry Commission (including Forest Research), Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (including Wakehurst Place), Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and University of Oxford Botanic Garden (including Harcourt Arboretum).

We shall endeavour to provide words and pictures along the way, to give a flavour of how the trees grow in their native range and a glimpse of some of the species we hope to see more of here at Westonbirt in the not too distant future!

Dan Crowley