February 2013 Meeting

Friday, March 1st, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Nick Kinser hosted our February meeting at his home in Sterling, Virginia, and Cavan Allen shared his experiences with plant collecting in his talk “Plant Collecting and Identification.” Cavan and several other GWAPA members have been collecting native species for a few years now. “You don’t have to go to the middle of the Amazon” to find good plants for the aquarium, as there are many suitable plants practically in our own backyard. 

Why collect native plants? There’s many new species to be tried, and the satisfaction of finding your own plants for free. Most of all, it’s fun!


Cavan showed slides and gave us a run down on a number of different species he has found on his collecting trips.


Sagittaria subulata  Not the plant circulating in the hobby that we’ve been calling S. subulata (we’re not certain what that plant actually is). This is the “real stuff” which only gets about an inch tall.


Eriocaulon parkeri  While a lot of Eriocaulons are very sensitive, this is “tough as nails.” It likes tidal places.


Hemianthus glomeratus  This is the true name of the plant many of us have been calling Hemianthus micranthemoides. The real H. micranthemoides has not been seen in nature since 1941.


Ludwigia x lacustris  A rare hybrid of L. palustris and L. brevipes, this is a “really gorgeous plant” with growth properties in between both species. It is found in scattered locations from Rhode Island to Georgia. Oddly, there is no L. brevipes in any of the locations where Ludwigia x lacustris is found.  Is this because L. brevipes once had a wider distribution? Or was Ludwigia x lacustris introduced to new locations because a small piece was dragged there by a duck? No one knows.


Ludwigia Sphaerocarpa  This “spectacular plant” is found from the the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Texas. It requires co2, a stable tank, and lots of light.


Lilaeopsis chinensis a good aquarium plant, similar to L. brasiliensis. It is found in brackish areas, but can grow in fresh water.


Juncus subcaudaris grows near here, in the Suitland area. It is very much like Cyperus helferi.


Callictriche terrestris  Cavan found this in New Jersey, “while looking for something else.” It forms a nice shrub, and pearls easily like Riccia.


Acmella repens is in the sunflower family. It works well in Dutch type aquascapes, and gets purple under high light.


Crassula aquatica  Erroneously listed as “extirpated in Maryland,” Cavan has found this plant in Charles County, Maryland. It is a tiny, succulent plant.


There are several plants Cavan refers to as “duds” that don’t work well in the aquarium:


Elatine minima  This is similar to the popular foreground plant Hemianthus callitrichoides, but “it rots from the bottom up eventually,” and no one has been able to keep it alive for long in an aquarium.


Glossostigma cleistathum   This invasive plant was originally from Australia and New Zealand. Its introduction to the US has been blamed on aquarists, but Cavan reports that “no one has been able to keep it alive.”


Myriophyllum tenellum Is very unlike other plants of the same genus. No one would have guessed from the slide Cavan showed us that it was a Myriophyllum –it looked more like a Lilaeopsis. It grows extremely slowly, and is more a novelty than anything else.



Cavan gave some tips on planning collecting trips. First, do your homework! Know what to look for and where.  Cavan recommends a mix of definite locations and general locations. Give less attention to artificial lakes and bodies of water with fixed water levels. Better choices are bodies of water with shallow slopes, tidal areas, and places with variable water levels.  A “wet soggy ditch” is an example of a good location.


Sources to help you find what you want include general web searching, literature, habitat surveys, the USDA website, and Google Earth. Bring a cooler, ziplock bags, GPS, plant keys/books, digging implements, and a camera. What to wear? Cavan recommends light colored nylon windbreaker pants, Keen or other closed toed sandals, and a wide brimmed hat.


You may want to press specimens that need to be identified. Most characteristics needed to ID a species are preserved this way. With pressing, there is no time limit for identifying a species, and can be sent to a specialist if needed. Before pressing, note anything that may not remain afterwards, such as flower color, growth habit, etc. Take photos and note what other plants it was found with. To press a plant, spread it evenly across newspaper and sandwich it between blotter paper or cardboard. In a pinch, even a book will do.


Some final tips:


–Share what you’ve found with other hobbyists (i.e. don’t put all your eggs in one basket)


–Don’t collect where you shouldn’t. Be careful about private property, and get permission when needed.


–Take only what you need


–Bring a friend. Both for your safety, and because it’s more fun. When possible, go with someone who knows the area.


–No luck? Try again next year. A plant may be plentiful in a location one year, but not the next. Conditions change, and some plants have adapted to produce seeds that germinate in both the short term and the long term. Seeds may germinate in just a few years, or in as much as 50 years.