This blog post covers the month from Sept. 9 to Oct. 9, during which we sought new vascular plant genera starting in the Florida Keys, working north along Florida’s Atlantic Coast (with occasional inland forays), then west across its Panhandle, and back home to El Paso, TX. During this period we conducted 53 searches, of which 35 were successful (66 %), and found 2 new genera serendipitously.
We started by spending five nights in the Florida Keys. We had expected some relief from the heat and humidity given our past experience with fairly constant breezes while in the Keys. However, there was very little wind while we were there, and the temperatures and dew points were about the same as on the mainland. We did enjoy seeing White-crowned Pigeons very well and in some numbers; they largely depart for the Caribbean during the cooler months when we are usually in Florida. A day spent at the hawk watch in Curry Hammock State Park was fun, though we were four weeks ahead of the peak migration, and so numbers were low. We also had flocks of migrant warblers in the Keys, with Ovenbird and Northern Parula being most common.
Returning to the mainland and Miami-Dade County, we undertook the most exciting search of the month. We followed directions kindly supplied by a fern expert, to look for Odontosoria clavata, the Wedgelet Fern. This very rare and unusual fern represented a new plant family for us, and was probably my most wanted plant species. We had searched for this fern several times before in the general area to which she directed us, but her coordinates got us to a large solution hole we did not know about. Tucked away on the wall of this sinkhole, we were thrilled to find one glorious clump of Odontosoria, deep green and glistening in the rain! It was one of the great moments of the year.
Heading north along the Atlantic Coast, we found the elegant sedge Remirea maritima on the first beach we tried, though as I keyed it a dark cloud moved in. As we started gathering our stuff, there was the closest lightning strike we have experienced in quite some time, and we (and everyone else) hightailed it out of there. Heading inland, we had some nice botanizing at Kissimmee Prairie State Park, and for the first time in 40 days, did not immediately turn on the air conditioning upon arriving in camp! The relief was short-lived but gave us hope. A day later, in nearby Lake Kissimmee State Park, we had a day in camp, and the Southern Dog-Day Cicadas were so loud that Eileen had to wear noise-canceling headphones to sit outside!
Farther north, near Orlando, while looking for a grass genus in Hal Scott Regional Preserve, we came across a stunning orange lily, Lilium catesbaei — a real treat! Father northeast towards the coast, we had a number of searches in pretty areas, with a highlight being Pavonia spinifex, an orange mallow family member found only in seven counties. We missed finding a different species in this genus several times in 2021 in Texas, making this success all the sweeter. We visited Julington Durbin Creek Nature Preserve near Jacksonville for the third time this year; this is an outstanding site with many unusual plants, and despite earlier visits we found five new species of plants on our hike.
When we finally headed west for the Panhandle on Sept. 24, it sank in that the road trip was entering its last phase; for the first time since leaving in February, we were pointed in the general direction of El Paso. We stayed at Ochlockonee State Park, which we greatly enjoyed five months earlier, and started paying attention to Tropical Storm Ian. Given the uncertainty in its predicted track, we undertook long days to finish up our remaining searches. On an epic day in Apalachicola National Forest, a favorite place of ours, we stopped at four lovely sites, finding four new genera and eleven additional new species! One site had a superb bog with two species each of sundews and pitcher plants. In St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, we added two grass genera and had great looks at the American Flamingo we saw there in February, 2021, a bird displaced from the Yucatan Peninsula by Hurricane Michael.
We left Ochlockonee the morning of Sept. 28, as the winds from Ian began to pick up after a calm night. After a slight delay caused by Eileen finding a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (an endangered species), we headed for Alabama. Our last stop in Florida, during our hastened departure, was bittersweet; in a neat pitcher plant bog on the Pensacola State College campus, we were treated to two new carnivorous plant species and an obscure gentian family genus, Bartonia.
Over the next five days we looked for a number of genera in Mississippi, Louisisana, and East Texas. Perhaps the most notable were Macranthera flammea, Flameflower, near Hattiesburg, MS, and Brunnichia ovata, American Buckwheatvine, on the banks of the Mississippi River in Natchez, LA. Visiting the lovely coastal prairie in Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, west of Houston, was fun and brought back memories of our first full year of retirement, in 2017, when we spent over four months exploring the North American prairies. Our last stop before El Paso was at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center in San Antonio, TX, which had a nice selection of butterflies and birds.
Looking back, our 227-day 2022 road trip was an unusual one in that it was broken up by two international birding tours, one to Ghana (from Jacksonville, FL), and one to Brazil (from Rochester, NY). This was the first time we attempted international travel during a road trip and it went surprisingly well. These tours totaled 34 days, but considerable time was also required to prepare for the trips (loading info onto phones, studying books, packing, etc.) and wrap up afterwards (unpacking, researching identifications, records-keeping, etc.). The prep and recovery time for the two trips took about as much time as the trips themselves, and in total, we spent about 158 days pursuing our normal road trip activities.
During this time, we visited fourteen states and one province, and traveled about 16,200 miles. Locations where we recorded sightings or camped are shown in the map below. We found 237 new species, an average of 1.5 per day. The vast majority of these were plants but we also added two mammals (Appalachian Cottontail and Hairy-tailed Mole, both major year highlights), five herps (River Cooter, Pine Woods and Squirrel Treefrogs, Eastern Ratsnake, and Eastern Musk Turtle), six odonates (Pale and Stream Bluets, Blackwater Clubtail, River Jewelwing, Chalk-fronted Skimmer, and Seaside Dragonlet), and the cicada species mentioned earlier. The first half of the year in particular was excellent for canoeing; we paddled 29 times, in nine states and one province, covering 203 miles.
In total, we conducted 139 vascular plant genus searches, of which 90 were successful (65%). We also found 13 genera serendipitously, and so added a total of 103 genera, out of 122 targets (84%). These percentages compare to 59% and 82%, respectively, in 2021. We have now seen 85% of the ca. 2108 genera in North America north of Mexico. When we started working on plant genera two years ago, there were about 120 reasonably likely candidates in Florida. Now only about 20 remain, scattered geographically and temporally, and many are difficult, so Florida is no longer a real hotspot for us for new genera. In fact, with our successes last year in Arizona and Texas, I doubt there is any reasonably sized region where we could add 20 new genera in a month of field work; there are probably no remaining real concentration points in spacetime.
Plant highlights this year included multiple experiences with Venus’ Flytraps; finding two new families (Lomariopsidaceae and Lindsaeaceae), each containing a single rare fern species in south Florida; and moving two families above the “50% of genera” threshold. The first of these was Hymenophyllaceae, the filmy fern family; we found the third of five genera, Crepidomanes, in southwest Virginia. The second such family was Orchidaceae; new genera this year were Isotria, Platythelis, Eulophia, Dendrophylax (wow!), and Epidendrum, bringing us to 32 of 62 extant genera. There is now only one family of 239 in North America north of Mexico (Molluginaceae), for which we have not seen at least half the native genera!
We have multiple international birding tours scheduled in 2023, and have not yet started planning how we could arrange one or more road trips around them, but it is likely that we will be sticking to the western U.S. If all goes well, our next post will cover an upcoming trip to New Zealand and New Caledonia.