Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An introduced invasive - in 1710

Patrick and I have gone through some of John Lawson's specimens - so far we've done determinations on his specimens in H.S. 158 and H.S. 145. These are intriguing because they were collected in 1710 or earlier (couldn't have been later, because Lawson was killed by Indians in 1711 - more on that in a bit). That was long before major European settlement in the Carolinas, more than a decade earlier than Mark Catesby. Lawson wrote a really great book about his adventures, A New Voyage to Carolina, which describes his fun with native Americans after most of them had died from smallpox but before they disappeared as a significant social force in the area. (Many thanks to UNC for digitizing this book!)

Anyway, Lawson was kicking around the Carolinas EARLY. The Lords Proprietors didn't get going with the Province of Carolina until 1663. Charleston, SC was founded in 1670. (This would be a great time to review my Restoration history - you known, when Charles II took the monarchy back in the wake of Oliver Cromwell's death.) Lawson set out for the Carolinas as an explorer, mainly because he heard that Carolina was the best place to go, and spent the next decade traveling around the countryside. His writing displays enthusiasm for his surroundings, keen observation of both natural history and human interactions, and a good sense of humor at said interactions. Also, his descriptions of animals combine observations on their physique and behavior with culinary notes. His book was a bestseller in Europe and persuaded many would-be settlers to follow Lawson into the wilds of Carolina.

Because Carolina was still wild when Lawson was there. There were some settlements, and some farms, but much of his food on his journey came from native Americans who were hunting and gathering wild foods. Not many Europeans had yet arrived in this area.

So imagine my surprise to find a specimen of Rumex crispus, curly dock, in his collection! (It's on H.S. 145 f. 62.) He (or someone) even wrote a note on it - "Wild dock a sorrell, Trout River June 20th 1710, vid with Leed[?]"(Lawson's handwriting is a bit difficult for me to decipher. "Vid" means "saw", and I think he is saying that he saw this plant with a man named Leed, or perhaps Lord.) The remark about "sorrell" is correct, as all the members of the genus Rumex are commonly called docks or sorrels.

This plant is native to Eurasia. It's currently present in every state in the U.S., and most of the world too. North Carolina now considers it one of the most troublesome invasive weeds in the state. The seeds get into agricultural seeds and they stick to clothing. So how did the darn thing get to the Trout River by 1710? Did some Englishman go walking in the countryside and then board a ship without washing his trousers? Did someone carefully save some seeds to plant in the New World, as a healthful taste of home?

In any case, that sure was fast. People move, and plants go with.

Catesby collected a bunch of introduced plants 13 years after Lawson. In a couple of weeks I'm going to the Sloane to photograph more plants collected between 1700 and 1710. We shall see how much of old Europe had managed to establish itself in North America by that point.

Oh, Lawson's death? Well, in his own book, Lawson describes a method of torture used by Indians in which they would stick a victim full of pine splinters and then set him on fire, to dance to their delight. Lawson was captured by the Tuscorora Indians in 1711 and apparently put to death, though no one knows exactly how this occurred. Lawson's friend Christopher Gale claimed that he died according to the pattern he had himself described. Qui sait?