Collaborating in the Coastal Southeast: A Multi-Institution Expedition along the Coasts of North and South Carolina

by Sean Halloran
October 31, 2017

COSE Team Members 2017

Collaborating in the Coastal Southeast: A Multi-Institution Expedition along the Coasts of North and South Carolina

The Arnold Arboretum is currently in the midst of a Campaign for the Living Collections, an ambitious effort to increase and diversify our living collections in the landscape. We, however, are not alone in aiming to enhance our temperate woody plant collections. As we learned in October, collaborations with other public gardens that are also interested in increasing their living collections can result in successful collecting expeditions, and deepened connections through collaboration.

From October 12-19, we joined Tom Clark (Polly Hill Arboretum and Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden), Jess Slade (Morris Arboretum), Ethan Kauffman (Stoneleigh), and Catherine Meholic (University of Delaware Botanic Garden) in an expedition along the coasts of North and South Carolina. Armed with a list of over 40 desired taxa of interest, we started our journey near Charleston, South Carolina and worked up the coast over a week’s time to the Croatan National Forest in North Carolina, exploring a variety of unique habitat types where our desired taxa were known to be found.

Team members on the 2017 Coastal Southeast (COSE) Expedition at the Green Swamp Preserve in North Carolina (left to right: Cat Meholic, Ethan Kauffman, Jenna Zukswert, Jess Slade, Sean Halloran, and Tom Clark)

In addition to learning much from our wonderful teammates, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and learn from local experts in this region. Staff members of the Moore Farms Botanical Gardens in Lake City, SC, kindly hosted us on our first night in South Carolina, and Dr. Richard Porcher, author of A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina, guided us to several unique habitat types on our first day of field collecting. Dr. Porcher brought us to our first collections, and provided insight into the natural history of the lands we were exploring. This approach was very successful, and we made 12 collections on the first day, including Carya myristiciformis (nutmeg hickory), the rarest species of hickory; as well as Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry) in an upland forest, and Opuntia humifusa (Eastern prickly pear) near a 4,000 year old shell ring, and an 800 year old clamshell mound. This area had both everyday and ceremonial uses for Native Americans, and their discarded shells have broken down to create a ring of rich soil that a number of native plant species now call home.

Tom Clark takes diligent notes, describing the fruit of Carya myrisiticiformis. In plant collecting, documenting details about the plants you collect from is just as important as obtaining the plant material.

Opuntia humifusa (Eastern prickly pear) growing in calcium-rich soils, near a 4,000-year old shell ring and 800-year-old clam shell mound.

Sean and Cat pose with a very fruitful Callicarpa americana, encountered in North Carolina.

Further north, natural lands manager Mike Ammons of Brookgreen Gardens near Myrtle Beach, SC, took us to conservation areas closed to the public to search for several Carya (hickory) species, and we found three from our list. Mike’s knowledge of these natural lands allowed us to collect a plethora of Pinus palustris (longleaf pine) cones in one of the most picturesque longleaf pine savannas we encountered. In this savanna, we saw all of the post-fire stages of longleaf pine development, including the “grass stage” in which saplings look like large tufts of grass. Of course, mature specimens of the plant towered over us, and the bark showed signs of years of controlled burning which enables complex ecological interactions to occur, and wonderful plants like Asclepias humistrata (sandhill milkweed) to exist there. Mike explained that without management of these annual and biennial fire events, fuel accumulates and larger fires cause problems for local landowners, and that one of the most important aspects of their work is educating the public about the positives of fire.

Fire-adapted longleaf pine forest in the natural lands at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina, with pines in various phases of post-fire development.

Asclepias humistrata (sandhill milkweed) growth habit, in the understory of longleaf pine savanna in South Carolina.

On our first day in North Carolina, National Forest Service botanists Andy Walker and Gary Kauffman took time out of their busy day to welcome us to the forest and botanize with us in the biodiverse habitats. We saw one of the rarest plants in North Carolina, Lysimachia asperulifolia (roughleaf yellow loosestrife), which is federally listed and considered to be critically endangered. We spent several days exploring areas called ecotones, or transitional areas between longleaf pine savannas and pond pine pocosins, in order to find suitable areas for some of our desired taxa. Due to recent burns making our way passable, we were able to find Gordonia lasianthus (loblolly bay) and Persea palustris (swamp bay) seed.

Jenna, Cat, and Jess (others team members hidden from view) botanize with Andy Walker in a fire-adapted longleaf pine forest at the Croatan National Forest in North Carolina.

Persea palustris (swamp bay, foreground) grows in the ecotone between longleaf pine savannas and pond pine pocosins in North Carolina; Ethan scouts for other plants of interest in the background.

We are grateful for the incredible knowledge and generosity of these passionate and dedicated professionals who guided us through these wild areas, and attribute much of our success to the collaborative nature of our expedition. Look for more information and details about our trip in upcoming articles highlighting the Campaign for the Living Collections!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *