For botanists, summer is field season, and each July we fill our social-media accounts with our plans for Arctic expeditions, dispatches from the field and just-in reports of new discoveries. There’s romance and adventure in fieldwork, no doubt about that. It’s hard work too, as any field researcher can attest. But the time in between trips is when we make each one of those expeditions really count.
Floristics (the science of documenting the plant species of a given area) is one of the main aims of each of these expeditions. The first step is to comprehensively collect all the plant species in a given area, southern Baffin Island where Jeff and Roger are now, for example. Step two is to come home, sort the plants out for identification and catch up on some much needed sleep. The longest step, number three, is to get down to our microscopes, and to start identifying and writing.
Rather than simply report on our new collections, a proper floristics paper includes an account of all of the collections previously made in the area and synthesizes these distribution records into a new contribution to knowledge about the species and the area we’re studying.
Therefore, we spend a lot of time looking through various floras and previously published papers, consulting with experts on various challenging species and poring over herbarium specimens—loans from other institutions and our own. Good thing our National Herbarium of Canada has one of the biggest collections of Canadian Arctic plants anywhere on the planet.
Over the past few months, two such floristic papers written by our team have been published. New vascular plant records for the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (published in the online journal PhytoKeys) is filled with new records, taxonomic changes and range extensions for species and locations across the Canadian Arctic Islands.
It serves to update the museum’s previously published Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
The other paper (in The Canadian Field-Naturalist), The Flora of Cunningham Inlet, is a summary of all the plant species known from the paper’s namesake on northern Somerset Island, Nunavut, and represents the scientific outcome of the 2013 Arctic Watch Lodge youth expedition. In the future, this publication may serve as a handy reference for monitoring floristic change in Canada’s High Arctic polar deserts.
As we continue to collect, we’ll continue to write these floristic papers because, as the old saying goes, “Science not published is science not finished.”
And under the auspices of the new Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration, each one of these smaller works also feed into our larger floristic goal: the publication of the new Arctic Flora of Canada and Alaska.