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!
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!