Today, I woke up with sore fingers, some back pain, and aching feet... but it was for a good cause. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting the New Jersey Pine Barrens with an old family friend who happens to be an expert biologist of this amazing habitat and also works for a non-profit conservation agency doing great work there. Our plan was to visit a few spots where a few extremely rare plants survive and to clean up some habitat around these plants. I'm sworn to secrecy on the locations of these plants, so details will be vague.
Our first stop was a roadside that holds the last population of American Chaffseed (Schwalbea americana) in the northeast. This plant is interesting. It's a hemi-parasite, meaning it has its own cholorphyll, but still parasitizes other plans for some nutrients. Fire, which has been largely subsided in the Pine Barrens, also helps this plant germinate. Unfortunately, this site also houses a pretty healthy population of Chinese Bush Clover (Lespedeza cuneata), one of the few invasives in the Pine Barrens.. Thanks go out to the state soil conservation folks who thought this plant would help reduce erosion around bridges. Too bad they didn't realize how invasive it is. It can grow very densely and crowd out other plants. Our job was to dig up all of the Chinese Bush Clover in this spot. It took us a few hours, but by the time we were done, the area was clear of Bush Clover. It'll need to be checked again next year and in successive years to keep reducing the population.
Our next stop was a location where they have been creating new habitat to plant American Chaffseed. A doctoral candidate at a local college joined us. He is the first person to discover how to grow American Chaffseed in captivity and they plan to plant hundreds of plants in the fall at this site. It was interesting watching these biologists at work discussing the different soil types and how to create the best habitat for the plants.
Our last stop was one of the last five sites for Pickering's Morning-Glory (Stylisma pickeringii). This site was also overrun by Chinese Bush Clover. Unfortunately, our shovels proved to risky for the ground-hugging morning-glory. Hand-pulling was our only option. It was back breaking work in 90+ degree heat, but it was worth it to help this precious plant.
Despite the tough work, it was an extremely interesting way to spend a day. I spend so much time watching and looking at plants, birds, etc., but these folks spend their days truly doing to work on the ground. They are "fighting the good fight" and do this kind of work every day. I got to hear some insights into the politics and bureaucracy that these biologists need to deal with every day just to do their jobs. At the same time, I got to see and help some rare plants.