Inside The New York Botanical Garden

From the Field: Bill Buck in Cape Horn, Day 17

Posted in Bill Buck, From the Field, Science on March 6 2012, by William R. Buck

February 6, 2012; Isla Londonderry, Bahía Isabel, approximately 54º59’S, 70º52’W

The engines started early this morning, and shortly afterward we hit rough seas. Those who had stayed up late had been warned. I was not amongst them, but fortunately, I found it a pleasant surprise. When we came out onto the deck we were in a secluded harbor, surrounded by snow-covered peaks. In short order the sleet started up again, and in no time at all, it was accumulating on the deck. I guess it is a bit colder than usual, but I haven’t noticed that.

Laura standing on the sleet-covered deck
Laura standing on the sleet-covered deck

Today is Blanka’s wedding anniversary, and even though her husband isn’t here, I asked the cook to make something special for her. Since Blanka is the cook’s obvious favorite, he was glad to oblige. When I woke-up at 2:15 a.m. last night and started climbing up the ladder out of the bunk room, I was met by the most pleasantly surprising and appealing aroma. But that smell at that hour left me confused, and I wondered if I wasn’t imagining it in my half-awake state. Sure enough, the cook was still awake, working away, and as I passed the window to the galley, he saw me. I indicated that something smelled good, and when I walked back by, a few minutes later, he had put a small piece of what would become breakfast in the window for me. What a wonderful middle-of-the-night treat! For a special breakfast for Blanka he had made an apple and raisin bread pudding.

Nicanor's delicious bread pudding
Nicanor’s delicious bread pudding

After such a hearty breakfast, we were ready for our last field site, and were willing to take whatever weather Mother Nature had to throw at us. For me there were two obvious options for the morning’s collecting, both nice looking forests with streams coming through them. Since most of our group chose the one next to a large waterfall, I chose the one less popular. What a good choice!

Bahia Isabel
Bahia Isabel

Right away I could tell the site was special. The trees weren’t as large as those we saw earlier in the old-growth forest, and the forest was more open and easier to get around in, but there was something about it that captivated my attention. Immediately I began to find mosses we hadn’t seen the whole trip, like Hypopterygium, an obvious dendroid moss. The streams flowing through the forest were shallow and easy to cross in multiple places, so I didn’t feel trapped in one place. For the most part the weather held and there was only scattered light sleet, although in places it had accumulated to several inches deep. Initially my fingertips were cold, but once the collecting frenzy began, I took off my gloves and was oblivious to any cold.

Bahia Isabel
Bahia Isabel

The highlight of the day came toward the end of the morning when I noticed a small cave-like place. It was small, barely large enough for me to fit into, and I had to drop down a few feet to enter. However, there was a small opening on the other side through which I could crawl out. So, throwing caution to the wind, I dropped down to look at the rock wall on the back side. Right away my pulse quickened when I saw small, moss sporophytes emerging from the thin liverwort mat.

Last year, by pure chance, while collecting on a dripping cliff face, I noticed a few small capsules sticking out from a dense liverwort mat. At that point my glasses and hand lens had been rendered totally useless, so I just bagged the material for later study. Once back in New York I discovered that I had collected the moss Tetrodontium, only the second known recorded instance of this moss for South America, and the first for our region.

Bill in the forest
Bill in the forest

This time, though, I was looking for Tetrodontium, but without much hope for success. Yet here it was! Initially I considered trying to use my hammer and rock chisel to remove pieces of the rock upon which the mosses were growing, but upon looking directly overhead I realized that the whole “cave” might come down on me, and so I decided caution was the best policy and that I would have to just scrape the tiny plants off the rock. I don’t like doing this kind of collecting, but readily accepted it for such a bryological gem. I spent some time (I don’t know how long since time became irrelevant) scraping the miniature moss off the vertical rock wall. When I had collected all I could see–not all that much really, and I assumed more sterile plants lay embedded in the hepatic mat–I got down on my hands and knees and crawled out of the small grotto. At that exact moment the sleet resumed and pelted against the hood of my rain coat. I couldn’t help but interpret the noise as applause for the whole amazing experience. The remaining time was, by necessity, anticlimactic. But I pressed on with my collecting as I returned to the sea. I knew Juan would be upset that I had found this moss (once again), when he had been looking for it for years, but I also knew he would be pleased that it had been discovered once again in Chile.

Bahia Isabel
Bahia Isabel

Lunch was another large meal, specially prepared for Blanka’s anniversary. And it’s just as well, because it will hopefully help take her mind off the fact that we had just completed our last collecting of the expedition. Already, as her Zodiac was approaching the ship for the final time, she said, ”I’m not crying … yet!” We couldn’t have asked for a better last day in the field.

We  are now, after a final stop to fill our water tank, on the long journey back to Punta Arenas. Instead of boring you with details of drying and shipping specimens, I think I’ll end this year’s blog here.

Ed. note: NYBG scientist and Mary Flagler Cary Curator of Botany, Bill Buck is currently on expedition to the islands off Cape Horn, the southernmost point in South America, to study mosses and lichens. Follow his journeys on Plant Talk.

Bill Buck’s Previous Reports From the Field:


February 5, 2012; Isla Londonderry, Puerto Fortuna, approximately 54º54’S, 70º26’W

February 4, 2012; Isla O’Brien, Caleta Americana, approximately 54º53’S, 70º23’W

February 3, 2012; Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, Fiordo Garibaldi, approximately 54º58’S, 69º49’W

February 2, 2012; Isla Gordon, middle arm of Bahía Tres Brazos, approximately 54º58’S, 69º41’W

January 31, 2012; Isla Gordon, Bahía Romanche, 54º57’S, 69º30’W

January 30, 2012; Isla Gordon, Bahía Romanche, 54º57’S, 69º30’W

January 29, 2012; Canal O’Brien, on the way to the Brazo Noroeste of the Beagle Channel, approximately 54º55’S, 70º35’W

January 25, 2012; Isla Darwin, Caleta Virginia, approximately 54º57’S, 70º10’W

January 24, 2012; Unnamed sound off Isla Whittlebury, in Bahia San Jorge, west of Isla Hoste, approximately 55º16?S, 70º00?W

January 23, 2012; Arm of Estero Webb, SW coast of Isla Hoste, approximately 55º14’S, 69º41’W

January 22, 2012.; Unnamed sound on Isla Gordon behind Cabo El Gorro, approximately 55º02’S, 69º48’W

January 21, 2012; Isla Hoste, Estero Fouque, 55º1’S, 69º35’W

January 20, 2012; Isla Hoste, Estero Fouque, approximately 55º11’S, 69º35’W

January 19, 2012; Chile, unnamed sound on north-central coast of Isla Hoste, approximately 55º00’S, 69º12’W

January 18, 2012; Canal O’Brien, just south of Isla O’Brien, 54º55’S, 70º35’W

January 17, 2012; Punta Arenas, Chile


July 15, 2011; Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

July 14, 2011; Pyengana, Tasmania, Australia

July 13, 2011; Weldborough, Tasmania, Australia

July 12, 2011; Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

July 11, 2011; Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

February 8, 2011; Punta Arenas, Chile

February 5, 2011, unnamed sound northwest of Isla Georgiana

February 4, 2011, unnamed sound directly east of Seno Mama, Chile

February 2, 2011, Seno Courtenay, northern arm, Chile

February 1, 2011, Seno Courtenay, Chile

January 31, 2011, Canal between Isla Georgiana and Isla Clementina,, Chile

January 30, 2011, Unnamed sound on south side of Brecknock Peninsula, NW of Isla Georgiana, Chile

January 29, 2011, Isla Aguirre, Seno Quo Vadis, Chile

January 26, 2011, Punta Arenas, Chile

January 24, 2011, Seno Chasco, just north of isthmus to Brecknock Peninsula, Chile

January 23, 2011, Isla Grande de la Tierra del Fuego, Puerto Consuelo, Seno Chasco, Chile

January 22, 2011, Isla Grande de la Tierra del Fuego, Seno Brujo, Chile

January 21, 2011, Isla Grande de la Tierra del Fuego, Seno Brujo, Chile

January 20, 2011, Isla Grande de la Tierra del Fuego, Seno Bluff, Chile

January 18, 2011, Punta Arenas, Chile

January 16, 2011, Punta Arenas, Chile


Scott Schuette said:

Thank you for sharing this trip on your blog. What an adventure. I enjoyed even anticipated what each post was going to bring to my morning coffee.