The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University has launched a 10-year initiative to expand and refine our collections of living plants–The Campaign for the Living Collections. This cross-institutional effort focused on plant exploration, collection, and production aims to enhance the Arboretum’s resources for research and conservation. Living Collections Fellows Robert Dowell and Jenna Zukswert just returned from a weeklong expedition through the Southern Appalachians with Thomas Clark (Polly Hill Arboretum). Below, read Robert and Jenna’s report from the field.
Due to its many unique habitats, and consequent high plant biodiversity, the southern Appalachian region has become a hotspot for plant collecting as part of the Arboretum’s Campaign for Living Collections. From high and dry slopes to rich, moist cove forests, these habitats are home to endemic plant species such as Buckleya distichophylla (pirate bush) and Tsuga caroliniana (Carolina hemlock) as well as southern provenances of plant species that we’re familiar with back in the northeast, such as Viburnum lantanoides (hobblebush) and Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel).
We just finished a successful, weeklong expedition collecting seeds from over a dozen of species desired by the Arboretum as part of the Campaign. Upon meeting at the Knoxville airport (Jenna arriving from Kentucky following an earlier expedition, Robert and Tom arriving from Massachusetts), our trio commenced a botanical road trip exploring the diverse forests of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. This journey took us to high-elevation forests near the Blue Ridge Parkway, along part of the Appalachian Trail, and through four different national forests: Cherokee (TN), Pisgah (NC), Nantahala (NC), and Chattahoochee (GA).
We were successful in large part due to our collaborations with local experts. In North Carolina, Kelly Holdbrooks (Executive Director) and Eric Kimbrel (Director of Horticulture) of the Southern Highlands Reserve welcomed us and joined us for a day of seed collecting. In Georgia, local naturalist Jack Johnston led us along ridges and in coves (and right in the thick of steep rhododendron dells, more aptly called “rhododendron hells”) in search of plants from our list, providing us with the opportunity to admire some of the largest Fagus grandifolia (American beech), Magnolia acuminata (cucumber tree magnolia), and Aesculus flava (yellow buckeye) trees we’d ever seen as we trekked. We are grateful for the expertise and hospitality of our collaborators – our trip would not have been as successful without their kindness and support.
The seeds that we’ve collected will be sown at the greenhouse and will end up in the landscape in several years, and the samples we collected and pressed will soon be added to Harvard University Herbarium’s collection. We look forward to being able to visit the herbarium and see the vouchers we collected from this trip, and years in the future seeing plants in the landscape that grew from the seeds we collected!