I spent my last week in Alaska, somewhat anticlimactically, working on my talk for the botany conference happening less than a week after I returned to Florida. It seemed like a pretty silly way to spend my last hours in the far north but I was so anxious about getting my talk done that I probably wouldn't have been able to enjoy a hike if I had gone on one. Additionally, I had found all the plants I needed so I made a trip to Fairbanks, returned my borrowed plant presses, and with help from the UAF herbarium shipped all my specimens back to UF . I couldn't have collected a plant if I'd wanted to - which was ideal for getting work done.
I had a few days in hot, hot Florida, which I used to move to a new house before heading to Savannah for the conference. It was really great to see my friends after being gone for two months and I went to some interesting talks. After the conference I spent a few days back in Gainesville before re-packing all my camping gear and getting on a plane to Seattle. I had received a grant from the Washington Native Plant Society to collect in the state a few years ago. I couldn't go last year because I was in China during the peak blooming season so last week was my only chance to go. I was a bit overwhelmed from the my seemingly constant travel, but - spoiler alert - Washington is amazing.
My main agenda was to collect Micranthes tischii in the Olympic Peninsula. This species only occurs on a few mountain tops in and around Olympic National Park and I was determined to find it. I had my permits set up way in advance (thanks to Olympic National Park for being so supportive of my research) and I figured I'd grab any other Micranthes that I found. Washington seemed like a continuation of my summer in Alaska because Olympic National Park and surrounding areas are vast expanse of wilderness with many elements of the Pacific Northwest Flora being shared between the two states. Basically, it felt like home [again].
After flying into Seattle and staying with some friends from my SFSU days I drove my car onto a ferry and cruised across the bay to the Olympic Peninsula. The ferry was quite enjoyable and I saw a whale from the deck during the 40 minute ride. I drove off the ferry, pretending that I knew what I was doing, and drove around the outside of the park and to Hurricane Ridge via Port Angeles. Hurricane Ridge is a pretty popular stop for tourists in the park, but I booked it up the trail and turned off onto a climber's trail (I'm going to be kind of vague about the locations because this plant is rare). After some low-key rock climbing I found the elusive Micranthes tischii!! Or did I??? It seemed this population was intermixed with the similar looking M. rufidula. So, while clinging to rocks, trying not to loose my balance, I closely inspected the two plants. The differences between the two species are there but they require magnification - luckily as a well-trained botanist (Thanks Bob Patterson) I always have a hand lens on me. I got to where I felt comfortable distinguishing the two and started making my collections and notes, taking extra care to sort them into the appropriate bags. Gotta love when the first time you head to the field you find the plant you traveled all away across the U.S. to get!
Well that first hike set the precedent for the rest of the week! I found all the Micranthes I was looking for and bagged three peaks: Buckhorn Mountain, Bogachiel Peak, and Mt. Ellinor. All were great but Bogachiel Peak ended up being a beautiful 17.5 mile roundtrip hike where I crossed through four radically different ecosystems and found three super cool Micranthes after scrambling down the north-face of the mountain. That night I went to the Sol Duc hot springs for some much needed R & R. I also took a day and drove around the peninsula to the Hoh Rainforest because I had some time to spare with all of the plants I was successfully finding. You may or may not know that the Olympic Peninsula in Washington is home to one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world - the Hoh (part of Olympic National Park). I figured this was a site worth seeing and though it is not exactly Micranthes habitat, as a botanist it was quite the experience.
On my last day I was taking the redeye out of Seattle in the evening so that morning I thought I'd run up one last mountain before heading back to flat, flat Florida. I chose Mt. Ellinor because it had some (very old) populations of M. tolmiei recorded from the summit. Now I have multiple collections of this species, but it is one of my favorites so I figured it wouldn't hurt to grab a few more samples. It was a pretty fun hike with good views of Mt. Rainier but when I got to the top there were no Micranthes to be found. Now, this happens to me fairly frequently but this is notable because I had billed this as my last collection of Micranthes ever. You see I am beginning my fourth year at UF and it is time to get serious with my lab work and start getting some results. For this to happen, I need to stop collecting plants so I can finish with my extractions and ship everything off for sequencing. So, this trip to Washington was it; I'm done with [Micranthes] fieldwork. And for some reason I kind of think it is great that on my last hike ever to search for a Micranthes I didn't find the plant. Perhaps suggesting the work isn't completely done.
I have added a photo album of my 2016 fieldwork here if you want to check them out.