In the field with Susan Pell

By Douglas C. Daly, John D. Mitchell

Mar 12 2020

I first got to know Susan Pell when she was a grad student at Louisiana State University and had arrived at NYBG to become a Sapindales soul-mate, especially with John Mitchell, mining his encyclopedic knowledge of the Anacardiaceae and giving it a molecular twist. We had plenty of face-time in the herbarium, but it is through field work that you get to know someone quickly and deeply. After long and often dicey field trips in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Vietnam, I can safely say that the only thing that Susan Pell is afraid of is cilantro.

The PNG trip was out there in every way, including geography. We spent most of the trip based on the 60-foot Jazz II, which was not meant to carry the 13 people we had aboard, and we went as far as Rossel Island, the farthest of the Louisiade Archipelago. To prepare for the PNG voyage, Susan had done her tech homework, experimenting with solar panels, water purification, and a satellite phone, all rather primitive at the time.

And in the field, Susan’s brand was International Harvester, meaning she is a dynamo, with an eagle eye for rare plants and practiced in the use of the extendable pole pruners to supplement her natural beanpole height.

The PNG trip produced remarkable specimens of flora, deep friendships, and unforgettable, truly exotic experiences. Sometimes Susan and John and I look back on it and wonder, did we do all that? We did.

A Closer Look