Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spring sneaks in during my absence (Shortia 4/15/2008 4:00 PM)

Going away for a week in April seemed like insanity but turned out to be an interesting experience. Its a bit like being an uncle; when you don't see them every day, wow! Driving south (on April 4) spring advanced in a time-lapse sort of way. Here in Washington, the Magnolias and Cherries were flowering and the Redbuds were coming into bloom. By the time we got into North Carolina, Dogwoods were fully open, Redbuds had just about reached their peak season, and Carolina Jasmine was everywhere. Farther south, we reached Azaleas in their prime, and then in southern Georgia and north Florida, past their prime. By the time we got to Wildwood, daytime temperatures were in the mid to upper-eighties and there weren't even brown petals on Azaleas. Still, it seemed to make some sense. Reversing our course a week later we started in summer, drove through the stages of spring and were met with temperatures in the upper 30s at home. That's weird.

A Fern Valley resident that sneaked into flower while I was away, was Shortia galacifolia, one of those plants that comes with a story. A beautiful wildflower of the Southern Appalachians, it was discovered by the French botanist Andre Michaux in South Carolina in 1788. He brought an herbarium specimen (sans flowers) back to Paris where it was ignored until the famous American botanist Asa Gray (of Gray's Botany) discovered it in 1839. Without locating the plant he named it (still sans flowers) Shortia for an American botanist and galacifolia for its resemblance to another Southern Appalachian plant Galax. Gray named the plant without ever locating a population or seeing an entire plant. In fact there is no record of its being sighted again until 1877. Now it is known from multiple stations and while not an exceedingly rare plant it is undeniably beautiful and certainly not common.

We have some fine specimens of Shortia in Fern Valley, but our biggest colony is in decline due to a complex of problems. We (the Fern Valley staff) are going on a collecting trip the last week of May to reinvigorate our germplasm. More later.

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