A Walk in the Park

A typical day of fieldwork generally starts around 9:30am, by which time the heat and humidity has already set in. Sometimes I meet a volunteer, usually a longtime Richmond resident who has kindly volunteered to show me around their favorite park and its plants, but mostly I head out by myself. With me, I carry a checklist with all the species I’ve seen so far, a waterproof notebook where I record the details of each collection, a pocket magnifier, and an nearly antique vasculum, found in an old Millington cabinet. A vasculum is a cylindrical, metal container used to hold fresh plant specimens.

As I walk along the paths, I note down every species I recognize on my checklist. Occasionally, I stop to look up an unfamiliar plant, but often the necessary clues are on an absent fruit or flower and so I’ll have to wait till my next visit to add it to the list. When I see a plant in flower or fruit that I haven’t collected yet, I stop, dig it up – roots and all, and carefully record a description of the plant and its location. I can only take a specimen when there are others of that species nearby. If I can’t find more than one, I take pictures instead. For example, here is a picture of Rudbeckia hirta, also known as black-eyed susan. Photos, however, are less than ideal because sometimes I need to see microscopic hairs or check the size and shape of hidden seeds for the final identification.


Collection #138 Rudbeckia hirta

Around 2 or 3PM, I head back to Williamsburg, where back in the lab, I carefully label and press my specimens. After a couple days in the drying oven, I’ll take them out and identify them to species with a 1000+ page dichotomous key. At the end of the summer, my specimens will be added to the William & Mary Herbarium’s collection as data supporting my findings and a resource for future research.

In case you’re interested, below are some more photos from the park:


There are some incredibly large trees like this hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). While incredibly cool, some really tall trees are hard to ID because their leaves are so high up.



The perfect spot for a picnic lunch.



I saw this beautiful blue heron at Pipeline Overlook, where there is a heron rookery.



A composite flower under a dissecting scope.


  1. These visuals are very enticing! I’m torn between thinking it must be fun to get outside and not be stuck indoors all day and that it could potentially suck depending on the %humidity that day.

  2. Eileen Nakahata: Plant Detective

  3. Very intere

  4. This is very interesting research and the pictures look great! I was wondering how you could identify the plants that you have never seen before. Do you use a dictionary (?) or any online resources to help you label the specimens? What details will be needed in order to identify the plants?