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ANHC Botanists Guide Seed Collection Expedition

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In early October, ANHC botanists Theo Witsell and Brent Baker participated in a seed collecting expedition to sites throughout the Arkansas portion of the Interior Highlands (the Ozark Plateau, Ouachita Mountains, and Arkansas Valley). They guided a team consisting of Anthony S. Aiello (Director of Horticulture and Curator at the University of Pennsylvania’s Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia), Michael Dosmann (Curator of Living Collections at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum in Boston), Tim Boland (Executive Director of the Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury, Massachusetts ), and Ian Jochems (Arborist and Nursery Manager at the Polly Hill Arboretum).

Members of this team represent institutions that grow and display plants for public enjoyment, education, plant research, and conservation. Theo and Brent assisted the group by leading them to sites, many on ANHC Natural Areas, where they could gather seed of target species which included Interior Highlands endemics like Ozark Witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), Ouachita Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), and Ouachita Blazing-star (Liatris compacta), among many others.

Seed collected from wild populations are sought as they represent the true type for the species. In addition to collecting seed, the group collected detailed field notes about the location and ecology of each site. Herbarium specimens were also collected as part of the documentation procedure for each collection.

So what led botanists from these major Northeastern Arboreta to Arkansas to gather seed from the wild? “The flora of the Ozarks has a significant history of botanical collections extending back to the 1800s with botanist Thomas Nuttall’s explorations and the later work of Ernest Jesse Palmer (Arnold Arboretum) and others. Botanical gardens and Arboreta have held a long-term interest in the Flora of Arkansas due to its varying habitats and floristic diversity,” Tim Boland, trip organizer, said. “Other reasons include the fact that the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission does an outstanding job monitoring, studying, mapping, and managing its natural areas. All of us were inspired by the dedication and work of Theo and Brent, who accompanied us during portions of our trip,” Boland said. “The fact that the populations are so well documented, mapped, and being monitored is a huge credit to the state. While the diversity of plants is impressive, finding them, and documenting their populations is of critical importance. There are still many more plants to discover, and I imagine several years out that the flora will greatly expand and take on even more importance.”

A total of 37 collections were made by the group, representing 34 different species. “Now we take the seed back, give it various treatments, and hope for successful germination next spring season,” Boland said. “We look forward to coming back to Arkansas -- there are still so many sites to visit. “

L to R: Michael Dosmann, Tony Aiello, Tim Boland, and Ian Jochems collecting seed of Ozark witch hazel in Saline County. Photo by Brent Baker.


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