From the Field: Bill Buck in Tasmania
Ed. note: The blogging bryologist, Mary Flagler Cary Curator of Botany, Bill Buck, is back! This time, Buck is reporting from Tasmania where he is researching mosses for a week before flying to Melbourne for the International Botanical Congress.
July 11, 2011; Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
The International Botanical Congress (IBC) is held once every six years, and this time it is being held in Melbourne, Australia in mid-July. I have visited Australia twice in recent years, most recently in 2009 in Western Australia, and in 2007 in Tasmania. Both of these trips were to attend field meetings of an Australia-New Zealand bryological group. My motivation to attend the Tasmanian meeting had been to better acquaint myself with another south temperate moss flora so that I could compare it to my study area in southernmost Chile. Despite the constant threat of leeches, I loved Tasmania and thought attending the IBC would be a good opportunity to return. I shamelessly wrote to the organizer of that 2007 meeting, my friend and colleague, Paddy Dalton, at the University of Tasmania, to see if he would be willing to host my visit there, even though it was only a week before the IBC. He generously agreed and so we planned a week-long collecting trip to Tasmania, along with my two graduate students, James Lendemer, working on a lichen genus for his Ph.D. through the City University of New York, and Mike Tessler, a beginning student in the graduate program at Fordham University.
Prior to the trip I had checked the Australian meteorological website to see what the weather might be in Tasmania (and Melbourne), knowing full well it was the middle of the austral winter. Temperature predictions ranged from a low of 3°C (ca. 35°F) to a high of 13-14°C (ca. 55°F), and so I warned the students to bring warm clothes. A few days prior to the trip I heard from Paddy that there had been snow in the hills around Hobart! Not to be deterred by a little cold weather, especially after my last research trip to southern Chile, when it was the austral summer, we all eagerly anticipated the upcoming trip.
After over 24 hours of travel time, it all became real when we boarded a flight from Sydney to Hobart and the Qantas pilot came on and announced that the weather in Hobart to be slightly above freezing with snow showers. But as we flew down the east coast of Tasmania (where we intended to do our field work), I didn’t see any snow on the ground and was hopeful that we might avoid it. I would soon learn otherwise! Paddy Dalton greeted us at the Hobart airport, a familiar face in a faraway land. We rented a car and I followed Paddy to our hotel, driving for my first time on the left side of the road. We then all went to dinner at a local seafood restaurant (local shrimp and scallops have just come into season), where we discussed the upcoming itinerary.
The next morning Paddy had a special treat for us. He took us to the home of a Chinese-American woman who had moved to Tasmania and had purchased several illustrations of Tasmanian bryophytes. We were met at her home by the artist, Lauren Black, who showed us about a dozen framed illustrations of mosses and liverworts she has done, some in pen and ink and some in watercolors. The images are particularly striking and I was able to recognize most of the mosses from my previous experience with the Tasmanian bryoflora. We were then treated to an exceptional lunch by our hostess, Linda Zin. She said she visited New York every year, and so I invited her to visit The New York Botanical Garden on her next trip because, even though she is an avid plant-lover, she had never ventured up to the Bronx.
After lunch we headed for the field. We drove south from Hobart toward Port Arthur, site of the colonial penal colony, on the Tasman Peninsula. After we left the paved highway to enter the Taranna State Forest, the track became gradually narrower and narrower until we had to stop when it became impassible. By this time the shrubs were so close to the road that we could not even open the car doors all the way. Good thing it was a rental! Also, as we got further and further into the forest, we started noticing small patches of snow along the road.
As we began collecting along the track, I immediately started recognizing old friends, i.e., mosses I had learned from my previous visit. The first moss I picked up was Wijkia extenuata, a common moss, but in a group of special interest to me. As the four of us worked our way up toward our destination, Lichen Hill (a promising name to be sure!), we initially encountered scattered snow in the forest and on the track. But, as we got higher up the hill, the snow became deeper and continuous. By the time we turned back, the snow was 2-3” deep and covered most of the mosses on the ground, logs and rocks. Nevertheless, we all found plants (and lichens) of interest and were delighted to finally be in the field and not in an airplane. My motto is “Any day in the field is better than any day in the office!”
I have always found it to be interesting to take someone to a place with vegetation they have never seen before, because it allows me to re-experience the thrill of a new locality through their eyes. It hadn’t occurred to me to be surprised at a Eucalyptus-dominated rain forest with a rich component of bryophytes and lichens. However, James, who has only known Eucalyptus as an introduced tree, and then usually in dry habitats with a depauperate flora, marveled at how a native Eucalyptus forest could be so rich. It’s nice to be reminded of those awe-inspiring times when one first experiences a new habitat and vegetation for the first time.
After a couple of hours of collecting we returned to the car. We had to leave well before dark because, in order to get back to the paved highway, we had to back down the narrow track for quite a while before we could reach a place to turn around. Paddy got us back to the paved highway, now in darkness. Since many Tasmanian animals are nocturnal, we had hoped to see some wildlife on the back roads. Alas, we saw only a single small wallabee, less than 2’ tall, which darted in front of our car. At the paved highway Paddy asked if I wanted to get some more experience driving on the left side of the road. So I took over and drove the hour or so back to Hobart. At this stage I still don’t have a good feel for where the car is on the road, especially when car after car, with only their headlights visible, kept coming toward me on what seemed like the wrong side of the road. However, we made it back to our hotel without incident.
It was a great first day in Tasmania and we’re looking forward to tomorrow when we have a whole day planned to drive down (south) to the Hartz Mountains. On Wednesday morning we plan to head out for a 3-day trip to the north coast of Tasmania. We’ve been promised a site with a relic southern beech (Nothofagus) forest with a Sphagnum ground cover! We can hardly wait.
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Bill Buck’s Previous Reports From the Field: