2014 Ozarks Plant Exploration
When lengthening days with genial rays
Make green the waking earth,
With vasculum and trowel armed,
In search of crops that none have harmed,
The gentle botanist goes forth.
In this first stanza from his poem “The Botanist,” Ernest Jesse Palmer describes the cherished job of a plant explorer, drawing on his own work, particularly from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri. Many collections have been brought to the Arnold Arboretum from this area of great biodiversity, most extensively by Palmer through his almost fifty-year campaign there, but also through other arboretum explorers including Arnold Arboretum’s first director, Charles S. Sargent. In 2014 Michael Dosmann, Curator of Living Collections at the Arnold Arboretum, returned to the area, accompanied by Anthony Aiello from the Morris Arboretum, Timothy Boland and Ian Jochems from the Polly Hill Arboretum, and Theo Witsell from the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.
On October 1, 2014, the team arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas, spending the next six days collecting throughout the northwest highlands of the state, predominantly in the forests of the Ouachita and the Ozark Mountains. The focus of the expedition was the acquire species endemic to this part of North America, as well as to sample from the southern or western populations of wider ranging species. They ventured through Garland, Logan, Madison, and Saline Counties, King’s River Falls and Middle Fork Barrens Natural Areas, Mount Magazine State Park, Ouchita National Forest, and a flourishing property co-owned by Witsell’s family. The property was aptly named “Frog Valley” by Witsell’s daughter, and was overcome with large black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), and countless hickory trees (Carya spp). They also took in the cultivated beauty of Garvan Woodland Gardens, located near Hot Springs.
Every day seemed to bring a new, unsolicited snake encounter, and the team was even nearly swept up in a tornado! But despite the region’s startling nature, it yielded many successful seed, plant, and herbarium collections. The team collected one of the rarest oaks in North America, the aptly named maple-leaved Quercus acerifiolia, originally discovered by Palmer on Magazine Mountain in Arkansas in 1924. Genetic diversity was also gained for multiple species already present at the arboretum, in particular three collections of the Ozark witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis).
By the time they departed on October 8th, the team had gathered 34 different species and 36 distinct collections, including several new taxa for all three arboreta such as a new genus related to elms, Planera, and a new species, the southern prickly-ash, Zanthoxylum clava-herculis. The rich biodiversity of Arkansas demonstrated that explorers could return to the Natural State yet again to make noteworthy botanical collections.
Palmer, Ernest Jesse. “The Botanist.” Gathered leaves: Green, gold and sere. The William-Frederick Press, New York. 1958 [HOLLIS].
(More on Witch-hazels):
Gapinski, Andrew. 2014. “Hamamelidaceae, Part 1: Exploring the Witch-hazels of the Arnold Arboretum.” Arnoldia 72(2) [pdf]
Gapinski, Andrew. 2014. “Hamamelidaceae, Part 2: Exploring the Witch-hazel-relatives of the Arnold Arboretum.” Arnoldia 72(4) [pdf]
Ozarks Trip Report, prepared by Anthony S. Aiello, Michael Dosmann, Pamela Morris Olshefski and Elinor I. Goff [pdf].