Monday, December 29, 2014

On 16 December 2014, Fred wrote to botanists and the NatureList, and posted on the Ottawa Field Naturalists and Ontario Field Botanists facebook pages:

“Botanists! After a field season spent exploring streams and pipelines from Saint John, New Brunswick, to Fort McMurray, Alberta, we've accumulated a 60 cm stack of plant specimens which seemed interesting to us at the time, some of which are are identified with stunning accuracy ("Pinus strobus L.") and others of which are denominated more laxly ("<mystery herb>"). So we've wondered if, over the holiday season, we could assemble a group of botanical identifiers to work through the stack. It would be nice to get a fair-sized group together in a party-like atmosphere, but it will be hard to synchronize schedules... I will print out labels for all the database entries labelled as plant specimens, and as the stack is worked through I'll crouch over the computer and sluice the identification and identifiers into the database. Authoritative identifications will improve the quality of our survey of the Energy East pipeline route.”

Owen Clarkin, Lis Allison, Clayton Shearer, Eleanor Thomson, Mathieu BĂ©lisle, and Bettina Henkelman replied affirmatively, and the date was set for Saturday, 27 December. 

Mathieu wasn't able to come, Bettina had the flu, but four would make a lively enough party so we set up tables in the
living room and assembled little desk lamps, while Owen, Lis, Clay, and Eleanor unpacked bags full of identification manuals. There was much discussion of the merits of different editions of the Flora of Michigan, and laments about the weak points of various keys as they began working down through the stack. Everybody got to exercise their specialty, and almost all the western mystery herbs were successfully named through the process of collective puzzlement.

Fred had printed out a list of all the specimens tagged as botanical specimens in the database, but quite a number, seemingly especially at the top of the stack, were not on the list, because the information about the specimens hadn't been broken out of the record for the visit to the site, so Fred spent much of the time extracting the locations from the database as an aid to the identifications. 

Once they really got underway, things went so fast, that rather than entering the identifications into the database in real time, we reverted to the traditional botanical practice of putting handwritten determination or confirmation slips in with the specimens. So Fred's next task will be to revisit the stack of newspapers enclosing pressed plants, to database the identifications and their identifiers, and then format and print the labels.

I was kept busy throughout, making coffee and tea, and filling up bowls of snacks, serving vegetable soup and biscuits - and hovering in the doorway listening to the happy chatter of botanical discussion. During our travels along the Energy East route, we merely recorded plant identifications we were sure of - but collected specimens of plants that we were not certain of, or that seemed to us to be noteworthy. One of these may be the first record of invasive Phragmites from Saskatchewan. We confirmed that it is the invasive "kind" but the questions now are whether anybody else has recognized it and if anything will be done to suppress it!

Owen and Clay plan to return this afternoon to wrestle with the remaining puzzles. This naming process is essential for our documentation of conditions along the Energy East route - and collaboration is the best way, both to accomplish the task, and to maximize the accuracy of identifications. Owen has brought up the fact that we have a 7 metre-high pile of pre-pipeline herbarium specimens up at the collections trailer, so there may be more botany bees this winter.

Happy New Year everyone! You can read our annual letter on  under the heading of "You can find out more about our activities than it's likely anyone would legitimately want to know." 2014 is closing out, but our winter's work is still to finish paintings, fill out the database, and otherwise wrap up the first year of the Fragile Crossings project. 

Aleta & Fred 

1 comment:

  1. I can feel the new, thin ice. Your birthday painting is always a present! I like this one a lot Aleta.