This article is an extract from Luke Wallace's diary who recorded the team including Bedgebury's Dendrologist, Dan Luscombe and Operations Manager, John Allen, gathering wild seed from some of the tallest, largest and rarest trees on the planet.
On 4th September 2015, the team set off on a three-week collaborative seed collecting expedition along the Pacific Northwest coast of the USA as part of Bedgebury’s ongoing international tree conservation efforts.
Partners from the Forestry Commission’s Westonbirt Arboretum and the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum formed part of the expedition team. Local expertise and support was alsoe provided by the United States Forest Services and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Los Angeles.
The expedition was funded through the Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum mainly from donations received in memory of our late Chairman, Gerald Willams OBE, who died earlier in the year. Gerald was passionate about the work of the Pinetum at Bedgebury and we are sure he would have approved of this venture.
5th September 2015
The team has completed the first part of their USA seed-collecting expedition and are now leaving the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula. The highlights so far included the world's biggest sitka spruce and stunning views of Lake Quinault and the Pacific Ocean. Andy Bryce of Westonbirt Arboretum is pictured (looking very happy indeed!) doing one of the first climbs of the expedition.
6th and 7th September 2015
Only five days in to the trip and already over 20 collections have been made, including the endangered whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), which will be a first for Bedgebury Pinetum. As the team were collecting this species, they had competition from the local clark's nutcrackers who voraciously remove the seeds from the cones of this species! There is a mutualistic relationship between the nutcracker and this pine.
7th September 2015 (late evening!)
The less glamorous side of seed collecting - the hours spent sorting and cleaning the various seeds late into the night after a long and tiring day spent working in the field and driving between locations.
8th September 2015
The team had another day of cone collecting, stunning landscapes and, of course, chipmunks in Washington State. Pictured below, the UK team are (from left to right): Luke Wallace, Dan Luscombe, Andy Bryce (of Westonbirt Arboretum), John Allen (also pictured preparing to climb in the picture further below) and Guy Horwood (of University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum).
Unfortunately, the (rather photogenic and apparently extremely tame!) Chipmunk pictured below won't be joining the team on the next leg of the journey!
9th September 2015
Today was all about climbing! The team collected nootka cypress, western white pine and grand silver fir (Bedgebury's Old Man of Kent), but not before stopping off to collect the only oak that is native to Washington state; the garry oak.
10th September 2015
The team were on the road all day today, and have now left Washington state and arrived in Oregon. To prove it, they are pictured below with Mount Hood (a potentially active volcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc of Northern Oregon) in the background. (From left to right: John, Dan, Luke, Guy and Andy).
11th September 2015
The heat in Oregon today was stifling and the climbers were glad of the breeze at the top of some very tall noble firs. As noble fir cones are very large, the team quickly ran out of space in their vehicles, so the US Forest Service were kind enough to let them drop the cones off at their Genetic Resource Centre, in Dorena, to dry. While the team were there, Dan also collected some oregon ash using their cherry picker!
12th to 15th September
For the last few days, the team has been camping in the northern Californian wilderness, away from the luxury of WiFi. For anyone who thinks this might be a fun break from the office, it is worth showing their modest campsite and explaining that the team work every moment they aren't asleep or driving between locations. Sleep has been in very short supply - particularly when they've been camping!
They continue to collect the seed of many more species, however, including another species of pine that the Pinetum does not have; the endemic foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana). And, of course, it’s not just conifers that the team are after. Seed from oaks, dogwoods, and walnuts have all been obtained.
16th and 17th September
The team want to say a massive thank you to Dr Andy Bower from the US Forest Service (pictured below with his pruning pole!) for being their invaluable guide over the past two weeks. They could not have achieved so much in so little time without his help.
Trees of note in the last couple of days include the vulnerable Baker’s cypress and the breathtakingly huge coast redwood. Dan, Guy and Andy are pictured at the base of one coast redwood, but none of the photos successfully capture their staggering scale.
18th to 21st September
Highlights from the past few days have included the collection of seed from the Coast Redwood, California Nutmeg and Monterey Pine.
Unfortunately, even though the rarest fir in North America was found yesterday (the 21st), Abies bracteata (Bristlecone Fir), no viable seeds were found in their cones. Collecting from this tree was was one of the key objectives for the expedition, so the team were extremely disappointed. Dan Luscombe and Evan Meyer (of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) are pictured below inspecting the seeds of Abies bracteata.
The team faced tricky terrain to reach Abies bracteata. John, Andy and Guy are all pictured below scaling the steep slopes of Cone Peak to make the collection.
However, the team did manage to take their first (and thoroughly overdue) short break of the expedition on the afternoon of the 21st, taking the chance to have a swim in the Pacific Ocean. Seeing the elephant seals there dampened their bristlecone fir disappointment a little!
The picture below tries (once again) to capture the sheer size of the coast redwoods, but with only limited success! Their cones are very small indeed relative to their size.
The threatened Cupressus macrocarpa (monterey cypress) is pictured below in its stunning coastal habitat.
The team also collected seed from the quercus agrifolia (California live oak). A scrub jay was pictured doing the same thing!
The team spent the day collecting from the fascinating Tejon Ranch in California, joined by Evan Meyer and Nick Jensen (from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden). The seed of 69 species has now been collected on this expedition - a phenomenal achievement in only two and half weeks in such a vast region of the USA. And they still have 3 or 4 more collecting days to go...!
Pictured below, the team can be seen carrying out some of the many tasks involved in the seed collecting process. Dan is pictured filling in the field data forms with Andy collecting in the background. Below that, Guy can be seen pressing herbarium specimens.
The team are collecting from a variety of species and are pictured below collecting yucca brevifolia and quercus lobata (valley oak). And then there is always the amazing, the rare and the wonderful.
A Horned Lizard.
And, to finish the day off, some beautiful geology!
What an amazing day for the team at Schulman Grove in Inyo National Forest!
Some amazing photos were taken of the oldest living organisms on the planet - the bristlecone pine. Examples of these extraordinary trees have been dated at more than 5,000 years old.
But things don't always run smoothly! John and Andy were wrestling with the team's first flat tyre of the trip.
The team are now nearing the end of the expedition, but there is no pause for reflection yet! Today was all about climbing again, with John, Andy and Guy climbing or preparing to climb. But it is not all such exciting stuff.. the cones must all be checked and field notes need to be written. And then there is the cleaning process pictured earlier in the expedition which goes on until the early hours of the morning. There is no doubt that the team are working in one of the most beautiful parts of our planet, these photos clearly evidence that, but they also make it clear that this is an incredibly challenging project, relentless both physically and mentally. However with so many species collected, and such an extensive photo library and diary recorded (far more than is shown here for now), the rewards are clear.
25th - 27th September
The final days of the expedition!
The team are grateful to a number of brilliant individuals from a variety of organisations including Andy Bower, Matt Lobdell, Evan Meyer (all pictured below) and Nick Jensen, without whom the expedition would not have succeeded.
So now, having travelled 4,000 miles collecting 90 different species, it is down to staff at institutes such as Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Forestry Commission's Alice Holt Research Station and, of course, Bedgebury Pinetum to ensure the seeds are successfully propagated and grown. Watch this space…
Until then, we have included some additional pictures below to give you a brief glimpse of the impact of the forest fires raging in California during our visit, as well as two more spectacular shots of the team climbing, Andy at Slate Peak and Guy taking on an enormous sugar pine, plus some great pictures of some of the lighter moments of the trip.... just to prove it wasn't quite all hard work!