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Hunting for the Elusive Pyxie

In the spring of 1976, I drove two miles on dirt roads to a remote area of Connetquot River State Park Preserve in New York where I was a biologist. The purpose of my trip was to rediscover a rare plant called Pyxie Moss (Pyxadanthera barbulata). Despite its name and looks, the plant is not a moss. It is a low growing evergreen shrub.

After parking my vehicle, I walked along a path to where the plant is normally found. It was an unusually warm March day. The red maples, black gums and scrub oaks were still barren of leaves. The only green in the landscape was the evergreen inkberry holly, pitch pine and mosses and lichens.

I left the well-trodden trail and pushed my way through dense brush until I came  to an opening in the vegetation. Kneeling, I brushed the leaf litter aside to expose the ground and to my delight I found little white blossoms of the pyxie moss.

Walking from one opening to another I found more plants. Not too many were blooming and it did not look healthy. The shrubs and trees and dense leaf litter was starving the plant of sunlight.

In 1977, a spring fire scorched the woodlands where I found the pyxie moss. I returned the following spring see if the plant survived the fire. With the brush burned away, I was able to explore more of the area and to my surprise the pyxie was flourishing. It was everywhere – in more places than I initially found it. Evidently, the fire burned away the leaf litter exposing the plant to sunlight enabling it to grow.

Now retired in Florida and it being March, I think back to the days I spent searching for this New York State endangered plant and hope that current and future caretakers of the state park will continue to preserve the area for future generations to discover the pyxie.

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