From the Field: Bill Buck in Cape Horn, Day 16

February 5, 2012; Isla Londonderry, Puerto Fortuna, approximately 54º54′S, 70º26′W

Last night after dinner, I stood under the tarp that tents the hold where our dryers are kept, listening to the rain. Juan came out and said, “You enjoy this weather!” I looked at him quizzically, and he continued, “I can tell by the expression on your face.” And you know what? It’s true! I love bad weather–maybe not snow, it’s too soft–the aural component is critical. As long as I can remember I have loved rainy days, and the local version with sleet only adds to my delight. And a good thing too!

After everyone has been dropped off to their collecting sites, a big storm begins to roll in

This morning we moved to another harbor on Isla O’Brien. The weather forecast was not encouraging. However, the sun kept trying to come out, and all day it shone brightly, on and off, but only for a few minutes at a time. In this region, the weather is a losing battle. Those little bursts of sunshine provided momentary false hope in a day that ended up being dominated by sleet. In between the bouts of sun, the clouds would thicken, the wind would blow, and the sleet would pelt us relentlessly. Thank the heavens for good rain gear!

A flooded coastal woodland is full of bryophytes

This morning’s site, Caleta Lagunas (54º53′S, 70º27′W), as the name indicates, was a small bay right below a series of lakes. To see the lakes, I had to climb a small rise, and then they were visible as part of the breathtakingly beautiful scenery. I paused for a minute to appreciate it, and then I started collecting in earnest. I found all the usual suspects, and since we have not previously collected on this island, everything was fair game. I worked down to the lake and collected amongst the rocks while the wind whipped the water into waves. A number of interesting mosses were my reward.

Hail, rain, sun in rapid succession

Near the top of the hill, I came across a large patch of a dung moss, Tayloria magellanica, encasing much of the tail bone of an upland goose. This is a group of mosses in which many species are restricted to animal substrates, such as bone or dung. They have evolved special mechanisms for finding these spotty substrates. Capsules on many of the mosses release an odor which mimics that of  decaying animal remains or dung, thus attracting flies. The capsules are often brightly colored and have a platform upon which flies can land. The fly, now realizing it has been duped, flies away, carrying with it a plethora of sticky spores that have become stuck to its body. When the fly eventually finds carrion or dung–the  intended substrate of the spores–the life cycle starts anew. This is the family of mosses upon which Lily is doing her doctoral research, so I always share such material with her.

The morning’s collecting trip ends with a sunny break

After exhausting what I could find on the Magellanic tundra, I returned to the coast to collect those mosses restricted to within a few feet of the high tide mark. One moss in particular, Orthotrichum (Muelleriella) crassifolium, is characteristic of coastal rocks, and I try to remember to collect it at every site so that its distribution would be a good representation of where we have visited. About this time our zodiac arrived, and as we climbed aboard the sleet began once again.


After lunch we moved across the O’Brien Channel to Isla Londonderry, another new island for us. A momentary lull in the bad weather lured us into the field. Matt, Laura, Lily, and I chose to head to a point at one end of our port. A dense understory of Gaultheria and barberry, with stunted trees of southern beech rose precipitously from the sea. As Matt and Laura worked near the shore, I climbed up to the highest point to see if the vegetation changed.

Blechnum covered in hail

About the time I reached the summit, the sleet really kicked in. Pellets of sleet, 1/8-1/4″ in diameter were being blown almost horizontal, and after having them evade my eye glasses and hit me in the eyes a few times, I thought it best to seek shelter for a while. So, I sat down among the vegetation with my back to the wind, and watched and listened to the weather. As it fell harder and harder against the hood of my rain coat, it began to sound like the inside of a drum. Despite it all, I couldn’t help but smile. By the time the worst of it was over, the ground was completely covered with about 1/2″ of ice. The ground was now quite slippery, and since finding terrestrial mosses now seemed out of the question, I decided it was time to start working my way back down the steep slope. Below, I could see the red coats of Matt and Laura, but I couldn’t see that they were frantically signaling the ship for an early pick-up.

Hiding in a coastal woodland from the hail storm

By the time I got within talking distance, a member of the crew was finally getting into the Zodiac to come get us. As the Zodiac approached, the sleet picked up again. We sat in the bottom of the Zodiac, rather than on the sides, for the ride back to the ship. The sleet continued to accumulate in the Zodiac, and it was only the crabbiness of the others, brought on by physical discomfort from the weather, that kept me from throwing snowballs. The choppiness of the bay meant we were constantly sprayed with salt water, which served to increase my glee (but the others’ grimaces). I’m not sure what they thought as I broke out in laughter over and over. Now, almost three hours later, Blanka is the only one still out in the field. She’s the only one, other than me, who not only isn’t bothered by the weather, but relishes it.

Londonderry, sol y lluvio

Tomorrow we have only a half day in the field and then return to Punta Arenas. After being away from home for a month, I’m ready to head back, but hope tomorrow’s collecting ends on a sunny note.

Ed. note: NYBG scientist and Mary Flagler Cary Curator of Botany, Bill Buck is currently on expedition to the islands off Cape Horn, the southernmost point in South America, to study mosses and lichens. Follow his journeys on Plant Talk.

Bill Buck’s Previous Reports From the Field:


February 4, 2012; Isla O’Brien, Caleta Americana, approximately 54º53′S, 70º23′W 

February 3, 2012; Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, Fiordo Garibaldi, approximately 54º58′S, 69º49′W

February 2, 2012; Isla Gordon, middle arm of Bahía Tres Brazos, approximately 54º58′S, 69º41′W

January 31, 2012; Isla Gordon, Bahía Romanche, 54º57′S, 69º30′W

January 30, 2012; Isla Gordon, Bahía Romanche, 54º57′S, 69º30′W

January 29, 2012; Canal O’Brien, on the way to the Brazo Noroeste of the Beagle Channel, approximately 54º55′S, 70º35′W

January 25, 2012; Isla Darwin, Caleta Virginia, approximately 54º57′S, 70º10′W

January 24, 2012; Unnamed sound off Isla Whittlebury, in Bahia San Jorge, west of Isla Hoste, approximately 55º16?S, 70º00?W

January 23, 2012; Arm of Estero Webb, SW coast of Isla Hoste, approximately 55º14′S, 69º41′W

January 22, 2012.; Unnamed sound on Isla Gordon behind Cabo El Gorro, approximately 55º02′S, 69º48′W

January 21, 2012; Isla Hoste, Estero Fouque, 55º1′S, 69º35′W

January 20, 2012; Isla Hoste, Estero Fouque, approximately 55º11′S, 69º35′W

January 19, 2012; Chile, unnamed sound on north-central coast of Isla Hoste, approximately 55º00′S, 69º12′W

January 18, 2012; Canal O’Brien, just south of Isla O’Brien, 54º55′S, 70º35′W

January 17, 2012; Punta Arenas, Chile


July 15, 2011; Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

July 14, 2011; Pyengana, Tasmania, Australia

July 13, 2011; Weldborough, Tasmania, Australia

July 12, 2011; Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

July 11, 2011; Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

February 8, 2011; Punta Arenas, Chile

February 5, 2011, unnamed sound northwest of Isla Georgiana

February 4, 2011, unnamed sound directly east of Seno Mama, Chile

February 2, 2011, Seno Courtenay, northern arm, Chile

February 1, 2011, Seno Courtenay, Chile

January 31, 2011, Canal between Isla Georgiana and Isla Clementina,, Chile

January 30, 2011, Unnamed sound on south side of Brecknock Peninsula, NW of Isla Georgiana, Chile

January 29, 2011, Isla Aguirre, Seno Quo Vadis, Chile

January 26, 2011, Punta Arenas, Chile

January 24, 2011, Seno Chasco, just north of isthmus to Brecknock Peninsula, Chile

January 23, 2011, Isla Grande de la Tierra del Fuego, Puerto Consuelo, Seno Chasco, Chile

January 22, 2011, Isla Grande de la Tierra del Fuego, Seno Brujo, Chile

January 21, 2011, Isla Grande de la Tierra del Fuego, Seno Brujo, Chile

January 20, 2011, Isla Grande de la Tierra del Fuego, Seno Bluff, Chile

January 18, 2011, Punta Arenas, Chile

January 16, 2011, Punta Arenas, Chile

This entry was posted
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Scotts Lawn Service Fined $160,000 for Intentionally Polluting Water

Coming just a month after Scotts Miracle Gro pleaded guilty in federal court to falsifying documents and selling bird seed tainted with pesticide, a the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has fined a Pennsylvania branch of Scotts Lawn Service $160,000 for dumping its waste water directly into a stream.

In June of 2010 a Scotts employee built a syphon system to drain a tank of remaining weed killers, insecticides and synthetic chemical fertilizer. Approximately 1,000 gallons of the toxic material then flowed from a storm drain into a tributary of Thompson Run in Monroeville, Pa.

A Scotts spokesman told Pennsylvania media outlets that a single employee, Ronald F. Vargo, was responsible for the misdeed and said his employment has been terminated.

The DEP heard numerous complaints about the toxic dump from local tenants of a business park complained about a foul odor. Firefighters were called the scene to put up damns in the stream and to shut off the local sewer. Area buildings were evacuated.

On July 25 of 2011, Vargo entered a plea of no contest to unlawful conduct under the Clean Streams Law, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. He will serve two years probation, pay a $2,500 fine and perform 40 hours of community service.

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Morning Eye Candy: Alexandrina

A fuzzy bud in waiting. The magnolias that came out of October’s storm battered now give us cause for pleasant anticipation.

Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Alexandrina’ — Photo by Ivo M. Vermeulen

This entry was posted
on Thursday, January 12th, 2012 at 6:00 am and is filed under Around the Garden, Photography.
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Snow-tober: Assessing the Structural Damage of Trees

Sonia Uyterhoeven is the NYBG’s Gardener for Public Education.

Trees possess a physiognomy and physiology just like we do. If you are an arborist, a dendrologist, or just a lover of trees, you can walk into the woods and read the life stories of your local trees simply by tilting your head upwards and carefully observing your surroundings.

In lay terms this means that you can tell a lot about a tree just by looking at it and understanding the basics of how it functions. The snow storm we encountered at the end of October was an opportunity to reflect on the intimate relation that growth, structure, and environmental impact have on the lives of trees. I subtitled last week’s blog “No Tree Left Behind” because virtually every tree was at the mercy of last October’s unexpected snow, when the majority of deciduous trees still had full canopies.

An assessment of the storm damage here at The New York Botanical Garden reveals important lessons that help us understand which trees are generally hardest hit during a storm and why. Today I am going to discuss three variables that affect resistance to storm damage.

One has to do with the actual structure of the wood in different species. Some trees such as sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua), hickories (Carya sp.), willows (Salix sp.), tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), and Chinese elms (Ulmus parvifolia) are weak-wooded species. They tend to be more susceptible to storm damage.

The October snow storm demonstrated the veracity of this claim, with the majority of the damage in the Garden incurred on the above species. As a homeowner, if you are choosing a tree for your property which will sustain minimal storm damage, the general consensus amongst the woody plant crowd is that slow-growing trees tend to be more structurally sound than fast-growing trees. The fast growers are generally the species with weaker wood.

Another reason has to do with pockets of decay and past pruning injuries. Several decades ago, when it came to making major pruning cuts on trees, the common belief was that you were supposed to make a flush cut. This meant that you followed the branch back to where it met the central stem and made a clean cut at the base of the connection. Research has now shown that it is best to make the pruning cut in an area that lies just slightly outside of what is called the branch bark ridge and the branch collar. In simplified terms, this is the location where the wood from the central stem joins with the wood from the branch.

By making the cut outside this area you are essentially avoiding damage to the living tissues of the central stem. Only the branch tissues will be damaged from the cut, and if it is close to the area where the two tissues connect then it will callous over and heal quickly. Old flush cuts that remain on trees or poorly-made pruning cuts will contain pockets of decay or areas of weakened wood that will be targets for any severe weather that taxes the strength of the tree. It is nature’s way of cleaning house.

Narrow branch angles are the third variable in winter storm damage. The problem with narrow branch angles is that as the branch and the central stem become larger, they begin running out of space to grow. They become crammed into a small space causing their bark to fold over onto itself. The technical term for this is included bark.

There is no space for a strong, woody connection between the branch and the central stem to grow and the structurally weaker bark fills the space. In this instance, the branch becomes heavier as it grows, but the strength of the woody connection between the branch and the main stem doesn’t correspond to its size and leads to a weak connection. Arborists who are making risk assessments on trees look for what those in the trade term “elephant ears.” These are signs that there is included bark. From the ground it looks like the branch has grown a funny bulge or, as the name implies, ears.

If you survey your property and look for weak-wooded trees, old pruning cuts that never healed properly, and narrow branch angles, you will come away with an accurate idea of where potential storm damage may occur. That is, of course, if the past year hasn’t already taken care of it.

This entry was posted
on Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 at 11:02 am and is filed under Around the Garden.
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Notes From the Field: How I Survived the Snowpacalypse

When I heard that Illinois was going to have 20 inches of snow dumped on it within a 24-hour time frame, I did everything I could to make sure the house was in tip-top shape.

I made the sure the windows and doors were secure, I went downstairs and took a look at the furnace to make sure it was in proper working order, and I had every blanket and portable heater ready to take on the night. The snow shovel was at the door, ready for quick access, and I had emergency flashlights and candles ready in case we needed them.

I was as prepared as I could be.

We were supposed to get the dangerous thunder-snow with snow fall rates of more than 3 inches an hour, and my greatest fear was that it would knock out the power. I did everything I could to make sure I was prepared, but ultimately, it was up to Mother Nature.

Facebook was aflutter with friends talking about the Snowpacalypse, and my wife was looking forward to seeing the storm. As the snow started, I watched as the wind blew heavily and as the drift grew steadily against my front door until I couldn’t open it at all. There was a 2-foot drift, and it wasn’t going to budge.

When the thunder-snow started and the house was shaken by thunder, I began to worry about the power again. The radio told reports of hundreds of stranded cars on the road, and the National Guard had been called in to help the state police.

It would appear the Snowpacalypse was here and going strong. About 6 inches had already been dumped, and the heavy winds made it impossible for snow plows to keep up, so they just stopped. It got to the point where you couldn’t tell where the road was in comparison to anything and the world was a solid field of white.

By midnight, the snow began to subside, and the forecasts became more favorable. We only had about a foot of snow dumped on us, and the power never went out. I talk about how to be prepared for winter weather and storms such as these, and you do your best. I don’t know if things would have fared differently if I had not been prepared, but it was reassuring that I did everything I could and survived the Snowpacalypse with ease.


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Winter Wonderland: Snow Shovel Shenanigans

We had another storm again and it dumped a few inches of snow on the ground. I woke up and looked outside to see a blanket of white covering everything.

My wife and children looked out and saw a glorious winter wonderland. I saw back-breaking labor and an application of Icy Hot in my future. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, and I actually have to worry about things like hurting my back (oh, the joys of getting older), and you should, too. Here are some of the common problems people are hit with while shoveling snow and how to best handle them.

1. Back breaker: Ugh, every time I shovel snow, my back ends up sore for at least the day. It doesn’t seem to matter if it was a 2-inch snowfall or 10-inch, my back feels it. Before you head out, try and stretch out your back as best you can. Get those muscles loosened up so you can minimize injury. You can also use an ergonomic shovel that is made to be a bit easier on your back.

Try to push as much snow as you can, as opposed to throwing it with the shovel. Picking up the snow-laden shovel can easily pull a muscle in your back, especially if it is the wet, heavy snow. It may not seem like much, but snow can be heavy if it is packed together. When it’s all said and done, don’t forget to put some Icy Hot or other ointment on, as well as a pain reliever like ibuprofen.

2. Overexertion: This is primarily an issue with older people and those who are very much out of shape. If you do not get much physical activity, then shoveling the snow can be like running a marathon. Your body can easily be fooled into thinking its not doing to much work, because the cold weather will keep you from sweating a lot, but when you stop, you will feel your heart pounding in your chest. There are many people who suffer heart attacks while shoveling snow.

The best way to beat overexertion is to take your time and to take plenty of breaks. The snow is not going anywhere, so it won’t hurt to work for 10 minutes and then take a break, work 10 more minutes and then take another break. This simple act could save you a major medical problem. If you get winded and your chest hurts when shoveling snow, then it’s a good idea to see your doctor to make sure you don’t have any heart problems.

3. Motivation: I hate shoveling snow. When I see that white on the ground, I am immediately in a bad mood. It’s easy to say to yourself, “Why even bother? It’s just going to come back in a day or two with the next snow storm.” As much as I wish that I could leave the snow where it lays, it’s not just my problem. Sidewalks are public walkways, and often school children use it when walking to and from school or the bus stop. I don’t want to responsible for a child being late because he had to trudge across my snow-covered sidewalk or fall down and become injured. If you hate it so much that you can’t even bring yourself to do it, then hire a local child to shovel it for you. I have three boys, and when they get a little older, I can guarantee you that snow-shoveling will be a family affair.

No one likes to shovel snow, but it is one of the necessities of life when you live in the arctic tundra of the Midwest and other areas. Follow these tips and make sure to stay safe.


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Echoes and complements

Echoes and complements
Posted by Ruth

The pointy petals of sea holly (Eryngium maritimum) reinforce the angularity of the spiky foliage of an African blue lily (Agapanthus ‘Storm Cloud’) and the radiating leaf lines of a sweetgum…

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Home Repair: When Is It Time to Re-Shingle Your Roof?

This past spring, we had one heck of a gully washer here in the Midwest, and it dumped a lot of water on everyone. We had streets flooded for days, and the storm sewers just couldn’t keep up with it. While this was going on, I walked into my kitchen only to hear the drip drip drip of a roof leak.

I looked around and saw a puddle coming from the corner of our room and water dripping from the ceiling. I put a bucket under the leak and called a roofer for the first time in my home history. He came over and said that the shingles in the roof were in bad shape and that it caused the roof to rot and develop the drip.

I hated that man. It wasn’t his fault, but the idea that I allowed my shingles to get that bad irked me. Me! Mr. Fix It, let one slip. For those of you not familiar with the concept of shingling and re-shingling, it entails either adding a layer of shingling to the existing shingles or striping the roof or adding a new layer. It’s costly and annoying.

Here are some tips on deciding if it’s time to re-shingle:

1. Go outside and take a look. You are never going to know if the shingles are bad until you go outside and actually look at them. If you are comfortable with actually going on your roof and taking a look, then that’s even better.

2. Check for shrinking. When the shingles were put on, they were all set in a nice order and straight. If you see shingles that seem shorter than the others or that are curling up, then it’s probably time to put on a new layer. If you have a leak in your home, then some of the shingles will have to be taken up and the rotted wood removed before new shingles are put on.

3. Damaged shingles have to go. Shingles have a lifetime of 10 to 30 years, depending on how much bad weather and sun they are exposed to. If your shingles are 15 years old and are already disintegrating, then you’ve had some bad weather over the years. Damaged shingles translate to new shingles.

Shingles can be done by a professional roofer, or they can be done by a do-it-yourselfer. I will tackle how to shingle your home at a later date, probably a little closer to spring.

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The Ups and Downs of Using Snow Throwers

Every year after the snowfall, I promise myself that I am going to buy a snow thrower, and every year after the snow melts, I tell myself they are a waste of time and money.

For those of you blessed with warm weather climates, there are basically two ways to remove snow from a sidewalk and driveway. You can shovel it, which can be back-breaking work (and more than one person has had a heart attack while shoveling snow) or you can buy a snow thrower.

This machination basically acts as a snow till. Starting at one end, you turn on the snow thrower and the blades under the machine rotate and catch the snow. The snow is thrown out of the way, thus clearing a path. Growing up, I would see people with these and think, Why would you spend your money on that? Snow shoveling isn’t that big a deal. Then I got older.

Suddenly, lifting up that snow with a shovel takes a lot more effort, and it usually leaves my back aching for several days afterward. If it is a particularly bad snow storm or one that last a few days, my frozen butt is out there several times a day making sure that people don’t slip on my sidewalks and that my car can get out of the driveway.

My neighbor pulls out his monster, and the driveway is clear in five minutes. Then he’s back inside with hot cocoa. It’s during this time that I usually curse the idea that I didn’t buy one when they were cheap during the summer and vow to get one come spring. I am way too cheap to pay full price during the winter.

When the spring finally gets here and the snow melts, my mind once again reverts back to the old ways. It’s probably been several weeks since I shoveled snow, and my back has since recovered. In other words, I am invincible again.

I convince myself that the snow thrower isn’t worth it and that shoveling wasn’t a big deal this year. Ugh, when will I learn? Let me say, for the record, that a day after I shoveled snow, snow throwers seemed like the best thing since sliced bread. OK, now it’s in print and I can’t change my mind this year.


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Experts offer tips for safe snow removal

Be sure to keep walkways, driveways, rooftops clear


Children aren’t the only ones hoping to get on a good list for the holidays. Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, you should expect a visit from an area snow remover.

Signing up early for services can get you preferred treatment when your driveway starts to look like the frozen tundra. And if you dare take on Mother Nature by yourself, here are a few tips to keep you safe.

Early bird

Homeowners can sign up for one-time snow removal or seasonal service, said Matthew Kispert, owner of Sawyer’s Tree Service in De Pere. Seasonal subscribers can get Kispert to come out every time it snows at least one inch. They also can get a 10 percent discount, which can save $5 to $10 each time it snows.

“The best thing to do is plan ahead and get on our list before the snow storm,” he said.

Those on the seasonal list also get served before those who call the day of the storm.

Clear the path

Kispert comes equipped with snowblowers, and he shovels off driveways and sidewalks leading up to the home. He even takes care of edges leading to garages and can shovel off your porch.

“Salt is optional, but even the ones that don’t want it, if there’s bad spots, we put it in for free,” he said. A bad spot consists of ice patches on the sidewalk.

“Once in a while, people will have us clear a path for a dog,” he said.

Snow stretch

If the snow isn’t bad enough to call out professionals, be equipped for some taxing activity, said Jason Pienta, owner of Heartland Construction & Services in Green Bay.

“Just stretch out before you go shovel,” he said. “If you can’t grab your toes standing up, I don’t think you should be shoveling snow.”

Necessary tools include at least one good shovel, a snowblower if you can afford it and rock salt, Kispert said.

Each year, people report heart attacks while shoveling, so take breaks if you do it yourself. “We’re prepared to stand the wet, the cold, the windy conditions,” Kispert said. “We have the right equipment for it.”

Call of duty

You don’t have to be a lazy bum to call on snow removers. Many customers simply didn’t plan ahead or couldn’t “get the kids out of bed to shovel snow,” Kispert said. Other clients live out of town or aren’t physically able to do it.

Up on the rooftop

Refusing to remove the snow at all will have you feeling ho-hum during the holidays, Pienta said. Snow left on the roof can create ice in the gutters — known as ice dams — and work its way back into your shingles. When the ice melts, it can rain inside your home. “It’s a pretty big thing,” he said.

It’s also not a good idea to let snow pack down in your driveway. “It can damage the underside of your car if you drive it through snow,” Kispert said.

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