Staff from the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University and colleagues from the North America-China Plant Exploration Consortium are embarking this fall on a plant collecting trip in the Appalachian Mountains region, the conservation partnership’s first expedition in North America in its 30-year history. Our intrepid explorers—Head of Horticulture Andrew Gapinski, Propagator Sean Halloran, and Living Collections Fellow Jared Rubinstein—are sharing their experiences in the field through a series of blogposts. This is their second transmission; see the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth parts.

Our 2019 collection expedition to the Appalachians started off with the safe arrival of our Chinese colleagues and a few days of visiting member institutions of the North American China Plant Exploration Consortium (NACPEC).

NACPEC 2019 Team by Sean Halloran
The full crew of the NACPEC 2019 expedition to Appalachia in front of one of the Arnold Arboretum’s prized paperbark maples. Left to right: Andrew Gapinski, Jared Rubinstein, Tao Deng, Xinfen Gao, Kang Wang, and Sean Halloran. Photo by Sean Halloran.

Our first day began with a visit to the Arnold Arboretum Library and Archives, where Lisa Pearson (Head of Library and Archives) had curated a set of historic photos of China. Lisa was able to find photos from E. H. Wilson and Joseph Rock in the archives taken of the provinces where Professor Xinfen Gao of the Chengdu Institute of Biology, Dr. Kang Wang of the Beijing Botanic Garden, and Dr. Deng Tao of the Kunming Institute of Botany now live and work.

We then toured the grounds of the Arnold Arboretum, visiting plants that had been collected on previous NACPEC expeditions. The most exciting aspect of our tour was a visit to the Bradley Rosaceous Garden, where Kang and Xinfen were presented with two rose bushes that they had helped collect, and got to assist in their planting. “I feel very honored to get to plant something that I actually helped collect!” Kang told us.

Kang Wang plants a rose bush with Scott Phillips
Arboretum horticultural technologist Scott Phillips helps Kang Wang plant a Rosa roxburghii that Kang helped collect in Sichuan Province in 2016. Photo by Sean Halloran.
Xinfen Gao plant a rose bush with Scott Phillips
Xinfen Gao and Scott plant a Rosa sweginzowii she helped collect in Sichuan Province in 2015. Photo by Sean Halloran.

We also visited the Dana Greenhouse to look at other NACPEC collections that aren’t yet in the Arboretum’s landscape. Particularly exciting was a katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) grown from a seed collected by Kang, Andrew Gapinski, and Michael Dosmann in Sichuan Province in 2017.

Wilson Cercidiphyllum image and recreation 2017 by Jonathan Shaw
On the left, E. H. Wilson photograph of three men in front of Cercidiphyllum japonicum (katsura-tree) taken August 17, 1910. At right, Kang Wang, Michael Dosmann, and Andrew Gapinski attempt to recreate Wilson’s 1910 image.
Katsura at DGH
At the Arnold Arboretum’s Dana Greenhouses, Kang, Michael, and Andrew once again recreate the 1910 image with a tree that resulted from their 2017 collection. Photo by Sean Halloran.

Our day ended with a tour of the Weld Hill lab space and a long meeting to finalize the logistics of our trip.

NACPEC Maping by Sean Halloran
Maps, floras, visas, and taxa lists: getting ready for our trip! Photo by Sean Halloran

After a good night sleep, we flew to Ohio for our next visit to a NACPEC member institution. We spent the day touring the Holden Arboretum outside of Cleveland, with Charles Tubesing, Plant Collections Curator. The Holden was a great introduction to the native flora of the Northern Appalachian foothills, including Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala). We also enjoyed the canopy walk and the Emergent Tower that brought us up above the tree canopy and gave us a great view of Lake Erie.

NACPEC canopy walk at Holden Arboretum by Sean Halloran
Charles Tubesing (third from the left) guides us through the canopy walk at the Holden Arboretum. Photo by Sean Halloran.
Kang Wang at Emergent Tower Holden Arboretum by Sean Halloran
Kang Wang rests after climbing hundreds of stairs to get to the top of the Emergent Tower at Holden Arboretum. Photo by Sean Halloran.

We also picked up many boxes of equipment that we’d shipped ahead to the Dawes—pole pruners, herbarium supplies, even a 50’ telescoping pole. All the boxes (15 in total!) managed to somehow fit into the trunk, and we continued on our way. The next morning we got up early and drove to the Dawes Arboretum outside of Columbus, OH. Greg Payton (Director of Living Collections), Richard Larson (Nursery Manager), and Luke Messinger (Executive Director) guided us through their beautiful collection of wild collected plants from around the world.

Dawes Arboreum visit by Sean Halloran
Luke Messinger (pointing) and Grey Payton (holding a water bottle) point out areas of future collections development at the Dawes Arboretum. Photo by Sean Halloran.

Of particular interest were the hundreds of metasequoia trees (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) that make up the Dawes’ nationally-accredited metasequoia collection. This planting represents one of the largest ex-situ conservation plantings outside of China—very exciting for our Chinese participants!

Metasequoia at Dawes Arboretum by Sean Halloran
Greg Payton points out one of the hundreds of metasequoias at the Dawes Arboretum. Photo by Sean Halloran.

Afterwards, we had the opportunity to meet David Brandenburg, Taxonomic Botanist at the Dawes, and author of Field Guide to the Wildflowers of North America. David kindly autographed three copies of his book for Kang, Xinfen, and Tao.

Metasequoia at Dawes Arboretum by Sean Halloran
Greg Payton points out one of the hundreds of metasequoias at the Dawes Arboretum. Photo by Jared Rubinstein.

After the visit to the Dawes, we headed back to the hotel to pack up for our first full day of collecting. Many days of work lie ahead!

Read the next story in this series of blog posts.