All of the Cockpit Country mountains we have chosen to visit during this expedition have been hitherto undocumented by botanists… in fact, we soon learned that even the locals living nearby these hills don’t have names for the forested hills our expedition team is climbing up to. So, we take the grand opportunity to give memorable names to the Cockpit hills as we explore them and document their hidden biodiversity.
The northern breeze was blowing strong and cool as we climbed our way up to newly named “Breezy Hill.” Notions of the elusive plants awaiting us in this botanical terra incognita filled my mind as we climbed to the top.
Looking out across the hilltop, a lovely Aechmea bromeliad in flower frames the view. The habitat at the very top of Breezy Hill is similar to other Cockpit peaks we have climbed to: the steep and nearly conical karst peak receives a good deal of sun as it is well-exposed in comparison to the Cockpit hill sides and Cockpit bottoms. The moderately sunny hill peak is habitat to a unique assemblage of plants that are well adapted to living in the rocky karstic terrain. The peak of Breezy Hill is also similar to other hilltops in the Cockpit in that many of the rarest plants and noteworthy endemic species are found here, and nowhere else in the world.
The sound of rustling leaves blowing in the wind atop Breezy Hill was all that was heard all morning, as we spread out and searched every nook and cranny of the steep rock faces in concentrated silence. Our efforts were paying off well, as we filled our sacks with the morning’s careful collections. Notes were taken and GPS points plotted. Finally, we would each carefully grasp one of the day’s large collection sacks in one of our hands, while the other hand felt for rock crevices to hold tightly on to as we made our decent down through the treacherous and steep Cockpit face.
A winding and bumpy ride took us and our 6 hefty sacks of plants on a two hour drive back to base. So far, so good: no more flat tires in our trusty 4WD pickup truck!
After a hard day of climbing and collecting, we worked late into the night to document our plants and carefully press them in newspaper and cardboard for drying in our handcrafted field dryer.
Our work just this one expedition day on Breezy Hill has yielded an amazing 210+ fruiting or flowering specimens processed. Processed, you ask? This means that for each one of our precious plant specimens we: climbed, searched, and found fertile specimens; clipped, collected, numbered, tagged, described them in my yellow notebook, saved them in plastic bags, and carried them carefully down the Cockpit mountains; and finally identified, photographed, pressed, and packed them carefully into our field plant dryer.
All in a good day’s work as a plant explorer.
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This post was written by MelissaAbdo on March 5, 2009