Jonesboro Meeting Cool but Too Hot, Too

Our ANPS Spring 2012 meeting drew a good crowd up to Jonesboro and Crowley’s Ridge in northeast Arkansas.

Saturday field trips to Crowley’s Ridge State Park and to the Arkansas Game and Fish Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center were excellent, however with temperatures into the 90s, enthusiasm for outdoor botanizing faded after lunch. Brent Baker—with the help of Meghan Foard and David Burge, graduate students of Travis Marsico, and Jennifer Ogle, graduate student at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville  —and Eric Sundell led the trips at the state park, Larry Lowman and Travis the trips to the nature center, with Travis’s former colleague at UARK Sarah Nunn and his grad student Kari Harris helping out on the afternoon walk. Larry gave folks a tour of the nature center native plant garden that he had designed for the Game & Fish Commission several years ago. Here are just a few of the memorable plant moments: A waist-high green dragon, Arisaema dracontium, at the nature center.

Kari Harris, aka The Girl Without the Dragon Tattoo, measuring up to a monstrous Green Dragon, Arisaema dracontium
Photo courtesy of Don Ford

Along the Dancing Rabbit Trail at the park, a single perfect specimen of Virginia snakeroot, Aristolochia serpentaria, a small perennial herb in the same genus as the high-climbing, woody pipevine—the flowers bloom at ground level in the leaf litter where several young fruits were developing, and the spicy-smelling roots were used by old timers to flavor their homemade candy.

Virginia snakeroot, Aristolochia serpentaria
Photo courtesy of Martha Bowden

Young fruits of the Virginia snakeroot
Photo courtesy of Martha Bowden

And along the Spider Creek Trail, native wild yam, Dioscorea villosa, with both staminate and pistillate plants in full flower—the foamy sprays of male flowers are especially striking.

Native wild yam, Dioscorea villosa
Photo courtesy of Don Ford

Both of the evening programs scored a perfect ten on the Afflicter Scale, which measures the percentage of audience members asleep by the end of the slide show when the lights come back on. A score of ten indicates that everybody was still awake, and in fact many of them had questions for the presenters. (It was just like teaching undergraduates!)

Larry Lowman gave the Friday evening program, an illustrated talk on the flora and geology of the Ridge, a globally unique landform, with a fascinating mix of common and intriguingly rare plants. For example, yellow-poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, so common east of the Mississippi River—and the largest hardwood tree in the eastern forest—is native in Arkansas only on Crowley’s Ridge, as is the rare magnolia vine, Schisandra glabra, the genus Schisandra comprising some 25 species, of which 24 grow in eastern Asia and one in eastern North America. (The Sino-American disjunction strikes again!)

Travis Marsico’s program Saturday evening was titled, “Stop and Smell the Roses: They Are Trying to Tell You Something.” The highlight of Travis’s energetic presentation occurred when his film clip of a parasitic dodder vine, Cuscuta sp., seeking a host tomato plant failed to cooperate with the ASU computer projector and could not be screened. Without skipping a beat, Travis shifted to Plan B, personally acting out the role of the dodder and commandeering an audience volunteer, Eric Sundell, to ad lib the part of the tomato plant. The sketch was a big hit. And the fact that it cannot be seen on YouTube suggests that ANPS needs to put more energy into recruiting people who don’t qualify for senior discounts.

Pondberry, Lindera melissifolia
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Lavers

Brent Baker led the Sunday morning trip to the St. Francis Sunken Lands Wildlife Management Area, where about 20 of us admired the world’s largest known population of pondberry, Lindera melissifolia, an Arkansas native shrub on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Threatened and Endangered Species list. For those of us who live in more or less upland, well drained habitats, the Sunken Lands are an exotic, foreign place, dominated by the most aquatic of Arkansas trees: baldcypress of course, but also overcup oak, Nuttall oak, water oak, river birch, Drummond red maple, green ash, sycamore, American elm, and black gum. The low mounds supported most of the woody vegetation. The swales were black with leaf litter scarcely decomposed under prolonged anaerobic conditions. It was a different botanical world.

By Eric Sundell

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