With the arrival of warmer weather, botanists stop dreaming about what plants will be blooming and get out and look. CMNH botanists managed to make an early spring trip to the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, visiting Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County. At Ryerson, we found some of the more common spring flowering species along with some non-native invasive species. While collecting more than a dozen plants as current vouchers for ongoing phenology comparisons with older specimens, we also visited a known site for a Pennsylvania proposed Endangered plant species, the single headed pussy-toes, or Antennaria solitaria.
While out and about, I am always interested to see how well plants that have been labeled are identified. Over the years I have found some gross misidentifications on signs along trails. Last year I visited a boy scout camp that had a tree trail with over half of the trees misidentified. I found an especially egregious label along one of the trails in Ryerson Station State Park. This one was not on a park sign but was placed there by some misguided soul. What is obviously a beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) is clearly labeled as a goose (Branta canadensis). Evidently there were no scientific editors around when this mislabeling abuse took place by someone who not only can’t tell the forest for the trees but can’t tell a tree from a bird.
All silliness aside, as spring moved along important field work stalled. With visits to Yellow Creek State Park and Cook Forest State Park in the works, we were notified by the Bureau of State Parks that all scientific permit holders must suspend collecting in the parks until further notice. So, our state park project, which has been running since 2017, was temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collecting restrictions were lifted weeks later, however, we have missed one of the most important seasons for our long-term state park phenology study. With our 10-year plan in place it may be another decade before we can collect to evaluate Yellow Creek State Park flora. Hopefully we can double up on parks next year, so we won’t have to wait another 10 years to get these parks involved in our phenology project.
Bonnie Isaac is the Collection Manager in the Section of Botany. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.