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 sixth and final transmission; see the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth parts.
The last few days of our North American China Plant Exploration Consortium (NACPEC) 2019 North America Expedition took place in Washington, DC and Philadelphia, where we visited several other NACPEC member institutions and city sites with our visiting Chinese botanists.
After leaving North Carolina, we drove north to Washington, DC. We said goodbye to Angela at the gates of the National Arboretum (where she had to work at an event the very next day) and then I promptly dropped Sean’s water bottle into the sewer. Fortunately, with the help of the pole pruner, we recovered it.
With that nightmare behind us, we enjoyed some sightseeing in the nation’s capital, including the White House; the Lincoln, Jefferson, and MLK memorials; and the National Mall. The next morning, we returned to the US National Arboretum for a tour from Kevin Conrad, Curator of the Woody Landscape Plant Germplasm Repository. A portion of the seeds we collected on our trip will end up with Kevin, where he will preserve them in the repository and disperse them to other scientists and horticulturists. Kevin guided us through the living collections at the Arboretum, with a special focus on the Chinese gardens.
Kevin also brought us into the repository itself to look at his stored seeds, as well as into the National Arboretum’s herbarium.
In the herbarium, which will also receive a voucher for every plant we collected on our expedition, we found a few vouchers from previous NACPEC expeditions to China, including some carrying Kang’s name!
Kevin also took us to the bonsai collection, and to his research plots in Beltsville, MD, before we continued north to Philadelphia.
One of the first things I noticed when we arrived in Philadelphia, much to my horror, was a dead spotted lanternfly. Spotted lanternfly is an invasive leaf hopper from China that is wreaking havoc on trees in the Philadelphia area. We saw hundreds of them all over the place, but the public seemed very well informed and tried to stomp them out wherever they encountered them. Part of my job at the Arnold is to prepare us for the eventual arrival of spotted lanternfly, so needless to say I was not happy to see one in the flesh.
On a happier note, we spent our next day in Philadelphia visiting the Morris Arboretum, guided by Bill Cullina, the Executive Director. We enjoyed seeing their giant katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), and poking around the Fernery. In the production area, Sean stumbled upon a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) growing from a seed he collected on a previous expedition.
We also visited downtown Philadelphia and saw Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and more spotted lanternfly before our penultimate dinner together. To commemorate our expedition, we feasted on Sichuan food at a delicious Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Kang, Xinfen, and Tao were in charge of ordering, and our tongues burned as a result.
For our very last day together, we traveled to Longwood Gardens to meet Peter Zale, Associate Director, Conservation, Plant Breeding and Collections. Peter showed Longwood’s beautiful and recently renovated fountains, the conservatories, and his tissue culture lab, where plants of conservation concern can be kept alive for repropagation.
Finally, that afternoon we took our final journey as a group to Chanticleer Garden for a tour from Bill Thomas, Executive Director and Head Gardener. Chanticleer really blew us away—it was a perfect day and the perfect time of year to visit their 47 acres. As the sun set, we enjoyed a final glass of 啤酒 (beer) and reflected on an excellent trip together. Bill also autographed and shared copies of Chanticleer’s gardening book.
The next morning, we all went our separate ways: Tao Deng flew back to China; Kang Wang headed to South Korea for another work trip; Xinfen Gao took the bus to New York City to visit the herbarium at the New York Botanic Garden; and Andrew, Sean, and I headed back to Boston and the Arnold Arboretum.
In all, we covered 3,442 miles in ten states and the District of Columbia. We made 100 collections of 91 plant species, as well as approximately 425 herbarium vouchers. We worked with botanists, scientists, and naturalists from universities, local land trusts, and the federal government, and hopefully continued to build strong relationships with other plantspeople around the country and the world.