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Hello from Carson City NV!

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 02/05/2016 - 10:28am

“I bet you’re really wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

People have been saying this to me a lot during my first week as an intern with the BLM in Carson City, and I’d say they’re pretty much spot on with that assessment.  They’re mostly referring to the uncertainty that’s followed in the wake of recent events in Oregon. But I’ll be working here in an unknown place for the next ten months, so “what I’ve gotten myself into” is a question that I’d already been pondering anyways. It’s been a rather hectic first week here, and my fellow interns and I have already learned that our plans can be changed by events outside of our control.  So – what have I gotten myself into?

I arrived here in Carson City on Sunday after spending the better part of a week driving across the country from Pennsylvania.  The next day was my first day at the field office, so my fellow interns, Alec, Monique, and Margaret, gave me a tour of the place.  My first day mostly was filled with meetings and paperwork and training videos.  Now don’t get me wrong, all of those things are great – but the part of my job I’m really looking forward to is the time spent outside among natural scenery.  So, Tuesday was a bit more interesting in that regard.

One of the major tasks that our group is undertaking at the beginning of this field season is the restoration of the former site of the American Flat Mill.  This mill processed silver and gold during the 1920’s, but was subsequently abandoned.  When it was demolished a couple of years ago, a barren field was left behind.  Now it’s the task of our crew to plant native seeds in this area, in the hopes of preventing noxious weeds from claiming the land. We spent Tuesday morning mixing seeds from different plant species together, and after lunch we drove to the site to begin planting.

Dividing up the seeds.

Dividing up the seeds.

Our mentor, Dean, showin' us how it's done

Our mentor, Dean, showin’ us how it’s done.

Native sagebrush will be sprouting up here in no time!

Native sagebrush will be sprouting up here in no time!

We’d also planned to head back out into the field the following two days, but Tuesday night’s events in Oregon forced us to change our plans.  It was decided that we would be safer if we didn’t go out to our field sites for the rest of the week, so we spent the time completing more training and orientation.  We also got a chance to visit the herbarium at UN-Reno.  For me, this just built up even more anticipation to dive into the ecosystems of the eastern Sierra Nevada and Great Basin and discover new plants – or at least plants that are new to me.  That’s what I’ll be doing as a BLM intern for the next ten months, and I couldn’t be more excited to find out what the future will hold!

Until next time,

Sam Scherneck

Mycobiota of Kanaka Valley Preserve

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 02/05/2016 - 10:26am

After a busy season of collecting seeds and pressing plants, it was a pleasant change of pace to start the year’s mushroom collection last week.  We began at Kanaka Valley Preserve, an oak-woodland parcel where grassland and chaparral shrubland lie adjacent, with an abrupt transition between the two.  We collected in a shaded, grassy area where old stumps and fallen branches hosted a wide variety of mushrooms.

Our team doesn’t have much experience with mushroom ID, but armed with several books, many photos, and dried specimens, we are confident about our prospects.  If you, kind blog reader, have any insight, please comment!

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Winter in the ELFO

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 02/05/2016 - 10:26am

Since winter hit, work in the Eagle Lake Field office has slowed down a bit. With Seeds of Success completed and the remaining seasonals gone, its been extremely quiet in the office.

I was fortunate to take a few weeks off around the holidays, just as it was getting super quiet, to visit family and friends in Chicago and to take a tremendous trip to Italy. It was just long enough to make me miss Susanville!

Since coming back, I realized how short of a time I have left here. I have been working on taking full advantage of winter in Lassen County before heading to the Bay Area. Skiing at the local hill Coppervale was the first on my to do list. I also enjoyed some amazingly scenic hotsprings near Cedarville!

 

The Hotsprings in Cedarville!

The Hotsprings in Cedarville!

 

Most of the projects I have been working on since I returned have involved teaming up with the Range Specialist and Wildlife Biologist to digitize some important information in GIS. One project involved adjusting wildlife polygons for pronghorn and deer habitat. Another project involved digitizing a series of utilization inspection points into a new layer for future range projects. I have enjoyed the opportunity to take some GIS training courses and to advance my knowledge of using this program. It has also introduced me to the other type of work different parts of the office are working on.

Every now and then I am given the opportunity to go out into the field. Those days are the best days! A couple weeks ago, I had a go at performing Bald Eagle Surveys at the perfectly named Eagle Lake. Although we only spotted one Bald Eagle along our transect, it turned out to be a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the lake was frozen, and the snow wasn’t too deep for the eight mile walk along the shore!

 

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Eagle Lake in the Winter!

 

I also had the chance to go on a nice drive along Smoke Creek Road to my favorite spot in the field office. The previous few days were a bit rainy, so it made for a fun and muddy ride. Thinking about it now…that was probably my last time out in the field for the remainder of my internship!

 

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Gotta love the baby Cows on Smoke Creek Road.

 

Until next time!

 

Jill

The Hidden Partners of the Vanilla Orchid

Garden Blog - Thu, 02/04/2016 - 10:55am

Vanilla cookies, vanilla perfume, and everything vanilla swept through my nostrils at a scented display at last year’s Orchid Show. The sweet smell was a great way to show many visitors that vanilla comes from the fruits of the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia).

 Orchid pods on the farm have dates scribbled on them in permanent marker, to help estimate a harvest date.

What are the scribbles about? Orchid pods are dated to estimate how long the pods have been on the vine, possibly to determine a good time to harvest them.

As a docent at last year’s show, I was eager to show off the Garden’s vanilla plant (located in the Tropical Greenhouse next to the banana trees), because I knew that may visitors didn’t know that they had an orchid in their spice cabinet.

Currently, I am in the second year of my research of the vanilla orchid. Vanilla is an exciting plant to study because it grows as a vine with two different types of roots. These roots help vanilla grow as a vine (more precisely a hemiepiphyte) because terrestrial roots anchor it within the soil, and epiphytic roots anchor it to tree trunks. My last post, Vanilla inhabitants: The search for associated bacteria and fungi, showcased my ongoing experiment in Mexico. This included collecting roots from four different Mexican farms that had very different practices for how they grew the orchid. We know that vanilla orchids use their epiphytic roots for support, but what other functions do they perform? Do they also form symbiotic relationships with fungal partners to obtain nutrients and water, like terrestrial roots?

Monocultures—crops with genetically identical heritage—are common in vanilla cultivation.

 Many vanilla plantations use man-made structures for the vining orchids. Here, an old tree provides support to this orchid.

Many vanilla plantations use man-made structures for the vining orchids. Here, an old tree provides support to this orchid.

The fungal partners of orchids, known as mycorrhizal fungi, help an orchid start its life by providing needed nutrients for its seeds to germinate. No orchids in the wild can germinate without one or more mycorrhizal fungi. As a scientist, my goal is to study the interactions that the vanilla orchid has with these fungi as they mature. This is important because most vanilla farms are monocultures—it is easier to obtain clones from cuttings of vanilla than to germinate them from seeds. This, however, creates serious problems, because farms that have low genetic diversity in their vanilla orchids can lose their entire crop if a disease (such as root rot caused by Fusarium) appears.

Prior reports based on classic techniques have documented two or three species of mycorrhizal fungi within vanilla roots. In addition to these mycorrhizal fungi, there are also fungal pathogens (fungi that cause disease) and fungal endophytes (fungi that seem to have a mutualistic relationship with the host) that colonize a vanilla’s root.

To further investigate the situation, I ran an experiment using the latest DNA technology—Next Generation Sequencing (NGS)—to document the communities of fungi within terrestrial and epiphytic vanilla roots.

As fungal endophytes take up nutrients from their host, the mycotoxins they produce reduce herbivory and susceptibility to pathogens.

 A length of canopies shields the growing vanilla orchids from harsh direct sunlight.

A length of canopies shields the growing vanilla orchids from harsh direct sunlight.

I documented 142 species of fungi associated with vanilla roots from the four Mexican farms, with an average of nine fungi colonizing a single vanilla root at one time. Of these 142 species, 20 are likely mycorrhizal. I find that fascinating, because these mycorrhizal fungi were found within both root types and across all farms. It was also surprising to know that epiphytic roots have a similar diversity of mycorrhizal fungi as terrestrial roots even though the epiphytic roots were green and could photosynthesize and have been considered primarily as support structures.

My study also documented a high number of previously unreported species of fungal pathogens and fungal endophytes colonized the roots of vanilla plants. This means that if plants are unhealthy, fungal pathogens likely can quickly take over, because they are already present within the roots. Overall, vanilla roots have good and bad partners just like we do, but contain more beneficial fungi (fungal endophytes and mycorrhizal fungi) than previously believed. These beneficial fungi not only supply the plant with water and nutrients, but also help control fungal pathogens. Thus, they are essential for plant health.

This research is funded with support from Mexican collaborators as part of the SAGARPA-CONACYT-SNITT 2012-04-190442 Mexican Vanilla Project.

 Vanilla planifolia (vanilla orchid) in bloom.

Learn more about the orchids in your kitchen cabinet with our Vanilla Infographic; read up on another edible orchid in A Sip of Salep. Stay tuned for more orchid research projects, amazing orchid displays, and fun facts on our blog. The Orchid Show opens February 13!

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

60-Second Science: Plants’ Roots Helped Them Move to Land

Plant Science and Conservation - Tue, 02/02/2016 - 2:28pm

 Alicia Foxx.Alicia Foxx is a second-year Ph.D., student in the joint program in Plant Biology and Conservation between Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Her research focuses on restoration of native plants in the Colorado Plateau, where invasive plants are present. Specifically, she studies how we can understand the root traits of these native plants, how those traits impact competition, and whether plant neighbors can remain together in the plant community at hand.

Life for plants on land is hard because the environment can become dry. Water is important because it is used when plants take in sunlight and carbon dioxide to make energy; this is called photosynthesis. In fact, the largest object in a plant cell is a sack that holds water. Without water, plants would die.

Plants first evolved in water, which is a comfortable place: there is little friction, you almost feel weightless, and…there was plenty of water back then. These plants had no difficulty photosynthesizing, as water diffused quite easily into their leaf cells! They had little use for roots.

Evolving Plant Structures

In the time plants evolved to live on land (100 million years later), water shortages and the need to be anchored in place became issues and restricted plants to living near bodies of water. Some plants evolved root-like structures that were mostly for anchoring a plant in place, but also took in some water.  

It wasn’t until an additional 50 million years after the move on to land that true roots evolved, and these are very effective at getting the resources essential for photosynthesis and survival. In fact, the evolution of true roots 400 million years ago is associated with the worldwide reductions in carbon dioxide, since more resources could be gathered by roots for photosynthesis. Importantly, plants were no longer tied to bodies of water!

 tree roots.

Large roots anchor a plant in place.

 bulb with tiny bulblets and root hairs.

Tiny root hairs on a bulb take up nutrients when moisture is present.

Water issues continued, however, even with true roots. Early roots were very thick and could not efficiently search through the soil for resources. So plants either evolved thinner roots, or formed beneficial associations with very tiny fungi (called mycorrhizal fungi) that live in the soil. These fungi create very thin, root-like structures that allow for more effective resource uptake. In general, while life on land is hard, plants have evolved ways to cope via their roots.

Garden scientists are studying the relationships between plants and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Orchids are masters of nutrient collection. The vanilla orchid has terrestrial (in soil) and epiphytic (above ground, or air) roots—and forms relationships with fungi for nutrient collection. Read more about research on Vanilla planifolia here

Students in the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University Program in Plant Biology and Conservation were given a challenge: Write a short, clear explanation of a scientific concept that can be easily understood by non-scientists. This is our second installment of their exploration.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

60-Second Science: Plants’ Roots Helped Them Move to Land

Garden Blog - Tue, 02/02/2016 - 2:28pm

Students in the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University Program in Plant Biology and Conservation were given a challenge: Write a short, clear explanation of a scientific concept that can be easily understood by non-scientists. This is our second installment of their exploration.

Life for plants on land is hard because the environment can become dry. Water is important because it is used when plants take in sunlight and carbon dioxide to make energy; this is called photosynthesis. In fact, the largest object in a plant cell is a sack that holds water. Without water, plants would die.

Plants first evolved in water, which is a comfortable place: there is little friction, you almost feel weightless, and…there was plenty of water back then. These plants had no difficulty photosynthesizing, as water diffused quite easily into their leaf cells! They had little use for roots.

Evolving Plant Structures

In the time plants evolved to live on land (100 million years later), water shortages and the need to be anchored in place became issues and restricted plants to living near bodies of water. Some plants evolved root-like structures that were mostly for anchoring a plant in place, but also took in some water.  

It wasn’t until an additional 50 million years after the move on to land that true roots evolved, and these are very effective at getting the resources essential for photosynthesis and survival. In fact, the evolution of true roots 400 million years ago is associated with the worldwide reductions in carbon dioxide, since more resources could be gathered by roots for photosynthesis. Importantly, plants were no longer tied to bodies of water!

 tree roots.

Large roots anchor a plant in place.

 bulb with tiny bulblets and root hairs.

Tiny root hairs on a bulb take up nutrients when moisture is present.

Water issues continued, however, even with true roots. Early roots were very thick and could not efficiently search through the soil for resources. So plants either evolved thinner roots, or formed beneficial associations with very tiny fungi (called mycorrhizal fungi) that live in the soil. These fungi create very thin, root-like structures that allow for more effective resource uptake. In general, while life on land is hard, plants have evolved ways to cope via their roots.

Garden scientists are studying the relationships between plants and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Orchids are masters of nutrient collection. The vanilla orchid has terrestrial (in soil) and epiphytic (above ground, or air) roots—and forms relationships with fungi for nutrient collection. Read more about research on Vanilla planifolia here

 Alicia Foxx.Alicia Foxx is a second-year Ph.D., student in the joint program in Plant Biology and Conservation between Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Her research focuses on restoration of native plants in the Colorado Plateau, where invasive plants are present. Specifically, she studies how we can understand the root traits of these native plants, how those traits impact competition, and whether plant neighbors can remain together in the plant community at hand.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Osprey Nesting Platform Installed at the Garden

Garden Blog - Sat, 01/30/2016 - 8:48am

Look up! In partnership with Friends of the Chicago River (FOCR) and the Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC), an osprey nesting platform was installed on Friday, January 29, along the North Branch Trail at the south end of the Chicago Botanic Garden near Dundee Road.

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The Garden’s new osprey nesting platform is located near Dundee Road and is viewable from the North Branch Trail.

The osprey is listed as an endangered species in Illinois, which means it’s at risk of disappearing as a breeding species. A fish-eating raptor that migrates south and winters from the southern United States to South America, osprey are often seen during their migrations—yet few remain in Illinois to nest. The lack of suitable nesting structures has been identified as a limiting factor to their breeding success here.

Males attract their mates to their strategically chosen nesting location in the spring. In order for a nest to be successful, it must be located near water (their diet consists exclusively of fish, with largemouth bass and perch among their favorites), the nest must be higher than any other nearby structure, and it must be resistant to predators (think raccoons) climbing the nest pole and attacking the young.

FOCR and the FPCC sought out the Garden as a partner for an installation site, in large part owing to the Garden’s strong conservation messaging and proximity to other nearby nesting platforms that have been recently installed (two are located alongside the FPCC’s Skokie Lagoons just to the south).

The Garden’s nesting platform was installed atop an 80-foot “telephone pole,” set 10 feet into the ground and extending upwards by 70 feet. The 40-inch hexagonal nest platform atop the pole has a wire mesh on the bottom so that water can pass through the sticks and stems that the osprey will bring to construct the nest.

 Installing and osprey nesting pole.

A truck-mounted auger and crane set the nesting pole and platform into place.

 Installing an osprey nesting pole.

The nesting platform sits atop the pole and is ideally sized for a future osprey nest; notice that we even “staged” the new osprey home with a few sticks of our own!

 Installing an osprey nesting pole.

A metal band was wrapped near the bottom of the pole to prevent predators from being able to climb it.

 Installing an osprey nesting pole.

The nesting pole and platform is fully installed and is viewable from the North Branch Trail that runs through the Garden.

With the osprey nesting platform now in place, our hope is that within the next few years, a migrating male will select the site and pair with a female. Osprey generally mate for life, though they’re together only during the breeding and rearing seasons.

You can learn more about the how and why of the osprey nesting platform project at the FOCR website. Follow the links on that webpage for images, video, and a press release relating to the installation of an identical osprey platform at the Skokie Lagoons last spring.

Read more about the longterm effort, and about ospreys making a comeback in Cook County. Discover birding at the Garden and find our full bird list online at chicagobotanic.org/birds.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Chicago, Here I Come! Of Tomatoes and Seed Swaps…

Garden Blog - Fri, 01/29/2016 - 9:12am

I’ve flown into Chicago many times, marveling at the city and the lake as viewed from the airplane window. Many years ago, during a January trek from Rhode Island to Seattle for a post-graduate position, I waved hello as I drove through snow on I-294. My wife loved her visit during her mission to safely chaperone our daughter’s high school orchestra. Apparently, my doppelgänger was playing cello in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! (At least my daughter and her friend thought it was my body double!)

But now it’s my turn, and I am so excited to be bringing my tomato stories and seeds to the Seed Swap event at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

As always, I hope to learn as much from the audience, fellow bloggers, and swap participants. One of my favorite things about gardening is the ability for all who partake to learn new and exciting things to share. It is one of those unique pursuits that no one can do perfectly or predictably. The renewal of each season, the arrival of the seed catalogs, fire up hope and optimism, and helps us to keep going year after year.

 Heirloom tomato harvest, with cultivars labeled.

January: the time when we dream of heirloom tomatoes.


Sign up for my free lecture at the Garden on February 28. Don’t live in the Chicago area? Find more National Seed Swap Day events nationwide in January and February.

There will be a lot of seed swapping going on around the country on or about January 30; National Seed Swap Day is the last Saturday in January. A great list of the various events is nicely captured here: Seed Swap Events Nationwide.

I am so pleased to be able to participate in the Chicago Botanic Garden swap on February 28. Seed swaps are just marvelous events which represent far more than just entering into a fun, interactive way to build seed collections. Seeds are the future—as in flowers, vegetables, or herbs for your garden. Seeds, perhaps even more significantly, are the past. They are a direct way to pass on a bit of history, as well as a bit of your own effort, if the seeds happen to be those that you saved yourself. When passing on seeds, be sure to also pass on whatever history and information that you’ve accumulated along the way.

 Heirloom tomato seed collection.

Part of the Craig LeHoullier heirloom tomato seed collection housed with my go-to books.

I’ve got a “small” collection of seeds saved and sent through my 35 years of gardening (if you call more than 5,000 samples of seeds small, that is). There will be some fun, interesting, historic varieties among the packets that I will bring to share at the swap event. I like to tell people that it recently came to me that heirloom tomatoes chose me to be one of their ambassadors. How else can I explain the unsolicited gifts, in the form of letters with packets of seeds, which populated my mailbox in and around 1990? Among them are Anna Russian, Mexico Midget, and two varieties that came to me unnamed—Cherokee Purple and Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom. It is a role I relish, and serve gladly and enthusiastically. I am joined in this by so many—Carolyn Male, Amy Goldman, Bill Minkey, and Calvin Wait, just to name a few of those whose books and/or seed-saving efforts have been but a small part of making this perhaps the very best time for tomato enthusiasts to paint their gardens with such an array of colors, shapes, and sizes.

 LeHoullier's garden, covered in snow.

The LeHoullier backyard tomato garden—it doesn’t look like much now, but wait until August!

This event is timed perfectly. As I type this blog, there is snow covering the ground. We’ve not had our mail delivered in days (this is, after all, Raleigh, where snow is a dirty word). But indoors, armed with seed catalogs, vials, and notebooks, gardeners everywhere are immersed in planning and planting. The challenge of planning is that there is always more to grow than can reasonably fit. Some succeed better than others at narrowing things down. It is a good thing that tomato seeds will keep germination for at least a decade; it helps to ease the pressure of over buying. Hey—how about swapping for some of those extras! Whoops—that means I will then have even more to choose from. Great!

Sources for Craig’s seeds:

As far as what to grow, how does one navigate the confounding waters of tomato choices? Part of that answer lies in the intent of the garden—primary food source, tomato playground for testing or projects, or just one part of a greater whole with many other types of crops. There are choices of heirloom or hybrid, indeterminate or dwarf, and then the more fun projections such as colors and flavors. It all adds up to some pretty intense dreams—both during the day, and for me, occasionally while I sleep.

And so, Chicago, here I come. From lunching with bloggers and sharing gardening ideas and battle scars to my main talk where I can entice you with pictures of my conquests (and challenges, because they are unavoidable), and finally some time to swap seeds and stories, ask and answer questions. I will be happy to share the list of my favorite varieties and why. And stories—lots of stories, because many of the tomatoes I cherish, most have wonderful stories. Each summer, as I cast my eyes over my garden, I envision the faces and names of those who sent me seeds just as much as the appearance of the plants and the excitement of the tomatoes to come.

 Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier.

Purchase Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier in the Garden Shop!

In the meantime, come on along on my journey by checking out my website at craiglehoullier.com. I will soon be blogging about seed starting, making choices, and anything else that pops into my mind. There is info about my books, my upcoming events, and the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, from which some swap samples will be made available.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

60-Second Science: Dormancy and Germination

Plant Science and Conservation - Wed, 01/27/2016 - 11:14am

Students in the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University Program in Plant Biology and Conservation were given a challenge: Write a short, clear explanation of a scientific concept that can be easily understood by non-scientists. Each week this spring, we’ll publish some of the results.

These brief explanations cover the topics of seed dormancy and germination, the role of fire in maintaining prairies, the evolution of roots, the Janzen-Connell model of tropical forest diversity, and more. Join us the next several weeks to see how our students met this challenge, and learn a bit of plant science too.

 A tiny oak sprouting from an acorn.

A tiny oak emerges from an acorn. Photo by Amphis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Dormancy and Germination

The seed is an essential life stage of a plant. Without seeds, flowers and trees would not exist. However, a seed doesn’t always live a nice, cozy life in the soil, and go on to produce a mature, healthy plant. Similar to Goldilocks, the conditions for growth of a seed should be “just right.” The charismatic acorn is just one type of seed, but it can be used here as an example. Mature acorns fall from the branches of a majestic oak and land on the ground below the mother tree. A thrifty squirrel may harvest one of these acorns and stash it away for safekeeping to eat as a snack at a later time. The squirrel, scatterbrained as he is, forgets many of his secret hiding places for his nuts, and the acorn has a chance at life. But it’s not quite smooth sailing from here for that little acorn.

Imagine trying to be your most productive in extreme drought, or during a blizzard. It would be impossible! Just as we have trouble in such inhospitable conditions, a seed also finds difficulty in remaining active, and as a result, it essentially goes into hibernation until conditions for growth are more suitable. Think of a bear going into hibernation as a way to explore seed dormancy. The acorn cozies up in the soil similar to the way a bear crawls into her den in the snowy winter and goes to sleep until spring comes along. As the snow melts, the bear stretches out her sore limbs and makes her way out into the bright world. The acorn feels just as good when that warmer weather comes about, and it too stretches. But rather than limbs, it stretches its fragile root out into the soil and begins the process of germination. This process allows the seed to develop into a tiny seedling — and perhaps eventually grow into a beautiful, magnificent oak tree.

Our scientists are studying seed germination in a changing climate. Learn how you can help efforts to help match plants to a changing ecosystem with the National Seed Strategy

 Alexandra Seglias at work in the field.Alexandra Seglias is a second-year master’s student in the Plant Biology and Conservation program at Northwestern University/The Chicago Botanic Garden. Her research focuses on the relationship between climate and dormancy and germination of Colorado Plateau native forb species. She hopes that the results of her research will help inform seed sourcing decisions in restoration projects.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

60-Second Science: Dormancy and Germination

Garden Blog - Wed, 01/27/2016 - 11:14am

Students in the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University Program in Plant Biology and Conservation were given a challenge: Write a short, clear explanation of a scientific concept that can be easily understood by non-scientists. Each week this spring, we’ll publish some of the results.

These brief explanations cover the topics of seed dormancy and germination, the role of fire in maintaining prairies, the evolution of roots, the Janzen-Connell model of tropical forest diversity, and more. Join us the next several weeks to see how our students met this challenge, and learn a bit of plant science too.

 A tiny oak sprouting from an acorn.

A tiny oak emerges from an acorn. Photo by Amphis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Dormancy and Germination

The seed is an essential life stage of a plant. Without seeds, flowers and trees would not exist. However, a seed doesn’t always live a nice, cozy life in the soil, and go on to produce a mature, healthy plant. Similar to Goldilocks, the conditions for growth of a seed should be “just right.” The charismatic acorn is just one type of seed, but it can be used here as an example. Mature acorns fall from the branches of a majestic oak and land on the ground below the mother tree. A thrifty squirrel may harvest one of these acorns and stash it away for safekeeping to eat as a snack at a later time. The squirrel, scatterbrained as he is, forgets many of his secret hiding places for his nuts, and the acorn has a chance at life. But it’s not quite smooth sailing from here for that little acorn.

Imagine trying to be your most productive in extreme drought, or during a blizzard. It would be impossible! Just as we have trouble in such inhospitable conditions, a seed also finds difficulty in remaining active, and as a result, it essentially goes into hibernation until conditions for growth are more suitable. Think of a bear going into hibernation as a way to explore seed dormancy. The acorn cozies up in the soil similar to the way a bear crawls into her den in the snowy winter and goes to sleep until spring comes along. As the snow melts, the bear stretches out her sore limbs and makes her way out into the bright world. The acorn feels just as good when that warmer weather comes about, and it too stretches. But rather than limbs, it stretches its fragile root out into the soil and begins the process of germination. This process allows the seed to develop into a tiny seedling — and perhaps eventually grow into a beautiful, magnificent oak tree.

Our scientists are studying seed germination in a changing climate. Learn how you can help efforts to help match plants to a changing ecosystem with the National Seed Strategy

 Alexandra Seglias at work in the field.Alexandra Seglias is a second-year master’s student in the Plant Biology and Conservation program at Northwestern University/The Chicago Botanic Garden. Her research focuses on the relationship between climate and dormancy and germination of Colorado Plateau native forb species. She hopes that the results of her research will help inform seed sourcing decisions in restoration projects.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Reshape the way you think about winter

Garden Blog - Tue, 01/26/2016 - 11:48am

Are you feeling winter blue? Do you feel trapped in cold and ice? Has your mood gone south, leaving you wishing that you could, too?

What, with the world’s best antidepressant right out your front door?

The magic elixir is a winter walk. And the Chicago Botanic Garden awaits with a prescription-strength dose—miles of trails through the Garden, almost all of them kept clear of snow and ice, with a number of mapped-out walks ranging from 1 to 2.3 miles.

 Spider Island in winter.

A hidden gem, the path along Spider Island is just the place for a peaceful winter walk.

I love a brisk walk any time, anywhere. But never is it as urgently necessary for my mental health as in winter.

A winter walk is the cure for cabin fever. And more than that, it’s the way to reshape the way you think about winter.

 Birches in winter.

Elegant in winter, birches line the Sensory Garden path.

Winter doesn’t have to be a sentence to months of suffering. Once you start walking in it, you see it as a time for a brisk spins through snow-frosted landscapes; an opportunity to see trees in their dramatically revealed architecture; a chance at that perfect winter moment when a bright sun in a blue sky makes a new snowfall glitter like diamonds.

The Garden’s winter regulars need no convincing.

“I love the freshly fallen snow,” said Paul Wagner, who was here on a recent blue-sky day when snow frosted the hills and chunks of ice floated in the Garden’s waters.

He regularly drives 40 minutes from his Northbrook home to walk a 4½-mile circuit here.

“The Garden is really pretty. And it’s certainly less crowded,” he said. “It’s just peaceful. I listen to music…you’re deep in thought—and at the end of it, you’re just so relaxed you wonder where the time went.”

Cookie Harms, of Wilmette, treasures the quiet and solitude. She also admires the birds, untroubled by winter and more visible in leafless trees. “I still see something different every time I come here,” she said.

And as a self-described “summer girl,” she considers walking in winter an essential survival tool.

“It really lifts the blues,” she said. “It’s definitely a drug.”

 Linden Allee in winter.

The Linden Allée, newly plowed after a fresh blanket of snow

But is it a hard drug to take? Isn’t walking in winter cold?

Wagner was wearing a sweatshirt over a base layer. The air temperature was 25 degrees Fahrenheit. He was perfectly comfortable. Walking fast is like being surrounded by a bubble of heat.

Harms was downright toasty, but that might be because she was basking in the sun in the Garden View Café before setting out on her walk.

Still, she was certain she would still be warm outside. “Fleece base layers,” she said, pointing to her leggings.

I would add: Hat. Wind-blocking scarf or neck gaiter. Chemical hand-warmers. Mittens.

Add a route through trees and hills, whether at the Garden or your local forest preserve—and out you go!

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Search for Rare Oak Species Yields Results

Plant Science and Conservation - Thu, 01/21/2016 - 12:30pm

On October 25 last year, I met Matt Lobdell, curator at the Morton Arboretum, in Orange Beach, Alabama, to begin a ten-day plant expedition trip to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. 

Matt Lobdell had received a grant from the American Public Gardens Association and the U.S. Forest Service in the spring to collect seed of Quercus oglethorpensis from as many genetic populations as possible, so that the breadth of this species could be preserved in ex-situ collections in botanic gardens and arboreta. This expedition was an opportunity to collect this species and other important oak species, as well as other species of trees, shrubs, and perennials that could be added to our collections.

We were targeting the collection of four oaks with conservation status: Oglethorpe oak (Quercus oglethorpensis), Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana), Boynton sand post oak (Quercus boyntonii), and Arkansas oak (Quercus arkansana). All four of these oaks are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which identifies plants that have important conservation status. (Quercus georgiana and Q. oglethorpensis are listed as endangered.)

 Matt Lobdell at the Morton Arboretum and Greg Paige at Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum make an herbarium voucher of Quercus boyntonii.

Matt Lobdell at the Morton Arboretum and Greg Paige at Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum make an herbarium voucher of Quercus boyntonii.

Any successful plant expedition is the result of a very collaborative effort. Because we are often looking for hard-to-find species, we rely on local experts. For different parts of the trip we had guidance from Mike Gibson of Huntsville Botanical Garden; John Jensen and Tom Patrick at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Brian Keener at the University of Western Alabama, assisted by Wayne K. Webb at Superior Trees; Fred Spicer, CEO of Birmingham Botanical Gardens; and Patrick Thompson of Davis Arboretum at Auburn University.

We were also joined by other institutions that helped with both the collection of seed and the associated data, but also helped with the collecting of two herbarium vouchers for each collection (pressed specimens), which are now housed in the herbaria at the Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanic Garden respectively. Assistance was provided by Tim Boland of Polly Hill Arboretum; Amy Highland and Cat Meholic of Mt. Cuba Center; Ethan Kauffman of Moore Farms Botanical Garden; and Greg Paige from Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum.

Our expedition begins

On October 26, we collected at Gulf State Park in pelting rain and very high winds that resulted from the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, which had made landfall near Puerto Vallarta days earlier. Nevertheless, we found several small, windswept oaks in this sandy habitat, including Q. myrtifolia, Q. minima, Q. geminata, and Q. chapmanii.

 Talladega National Forest

Talladega National Forest

The next day, we moved north to the Talladega National Forest in central Alabama. In addition to collecting more oaks, we made collections of the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), Euonymus americanus, and the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). We also saw fantastic specimens of the big-leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), but we were too late to find any viable seed.

 Quercus boyntonii

Quercus boyntonii

Fred Spicer, CEO of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, joined us the next day, October 28, to take us to several populations of Q. boyntonii, where we were able to make collections for six different populations. He also took us to Moss Rock Preserve in Jefferson County, where we made collections of the Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana). We also made a collection of the Carolina silverbell (Halesia tetraptera).

On October 30, we spent the day in Sumter County, Alabama, with Brian Keener, where we encountered Quercus arkansana, Dalea purpurea, Viburnum rufidulum, and Liatris aspera.

On October 31, we botanized in Blount County, Alabama, at Swann Bridge. Below the bridge was a small river, where we saw an array of interesting plants including the yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima); hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana); a small St. Johnswort (Hypericum prolificum); and a native stewartia (Stewartia malacodendron), in which we were able to find a few seeds. From there we continued on to the Bibb County Glades and collected Silphium glutinosum and Hypericum densiflorum.

 Bibb County Glades

Bibb County Glades

 Moss Rock Preserve at the habitat of Quercus georgiana

Moss Rock Preserve at the habitat of Quercus georgiana

On the following day, we made another collection of Quercus boyntonii in St. Clair Country and then headed to the Little River Canyon in Cherokee County. This was a rich area filled with native vegetation of many popular plants including the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), with its wine-red fall color; both the smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), and the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia); the winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), and the Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus). Interestingly, many of these Alabama natives are perfectly hardy in the Chicago area.

Toward the end of the trip, we headed into Jasper County, Georgia, and met up with John Jensen and Tom Patrick of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, who helped us find populations of Quercus oglethorpensis. In Taylor County, we collected several oaks, including Q. margarettae, Q. incana, and Q. laevis.

We finished the expedition in Sumter National Forest in McCormick County, South Carolina. This was the final collecting site for Q. oglethorpensis, which was cohabiting with Baptisia bracteata and Q. durandii.

 Little River Canyon

Little River Canyon

 Quercus ogelthorpensis seedlings in Jasper Country, Georgia

Quercus oglethorpensis seedlings in Jasper Country, Georgia

An expedition’s rewards

In total, we made 92 collections of seed and herbarium vouchers. The seed is being grown at both the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Morton Arboretum. Most likely, plants will not be ready for distribution until 2017 and most likely would not be planted into the Garden’s collections until 2018 at the earliest.

In spring 2016, Northwestern University graduate student Jordan Wood will retrace some of our steps in search of leaf samples of Q. oglethorpensis so he can study the DNA and fully understand the genetic breadth of this species throughout its native range from Louisiana to South Carolina.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Search for Rare Oak Species Yields Results

Garden Blog - Thu, 01/21/2016 - 12:30pm

On October 25 last year, I met Matt Lobdell, curator at the Morton Arboretum, in Orange Beach, Alabama, to begin a ten-day plant expedition trip to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. 

Matt Lobdell had received a grant from the American Public Gardens Association and the U.S. Forest Service in the spring to collect seed of Quercus ogelthorpensis from as many genetic populations as possible, so that the breadth of this species could be preserved in ex-situ collections in botanic gardens and arboreta. This expedition was an opportunity to collect this species and other important oak species, as well as other species of trees, shrubs, and perennials that could be added to our collections.

We were targeting the collection of four oaks with conservation status: Ogelthorpe oak (Quercus ogelthorpensis), Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana), Boynton sand post oak (Quercus boyntonii), and Arkansas oak (Quercus arkansana). All four of these oaks are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which identifies plants that have important conservation status. (Quercus georgiana and Q. ogelthorpensis are listed as endangered.)

 Matt Lobdell at the Morton Arboretum and Greg Paige at Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum make an herbarium voucher of Quercus boyntonii.

Matt Lobdell at the Morton Arboretum and Greg Paige at Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum make an herbarium voucher of Quercus boyntonii.

Any successful plant expedition is the result of a very collaborative effort. Because we are often looking for hard-to-find species, we rely on local experts. For different parts of the trip we had guidance from Mike Gibson of the Huntsville Botanical Garden; John Jensen and Tom Patrick at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Brian Keener at the University of Western Alabama, assisted by Wayne K. Webb at Superior Trees; Fred Spicer of the Birmingham Botanical Garden; and Patrick Thompson of the Davis Arboretum at Auburn University.

We were also joined by other institutions that helped with both the collection of seed and the associated data, but also helped with the collecting of two herbarium vouchers for each collection (pressed specimens), which are now housed in the herbaria at the Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanic Garden respectively. Assistance was provided by Tim Boland of Polly Hill Arboretum; Amy Highland and Cat Meholic of Mt. Cuba Center; Ethan Kauffman of Moore Farms Botanical Garden; and Greg Paige from Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum.

Our expedition begins

On October 26, we collected at Gulf State Park in pelting rain and very high winds that resulted from the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, which had made landfall near Puerto Vallarta days earlier. Nevertheless, we found several small, windswept oaks in this sandy habitat, including Q. myrtifolia, Q. minima, Q. geminata, and Q. chapmanii.

 Talladega National Forest

Talladega National Forest

The next day, we moved north to the Talladega National Forest in central Alabama. In addition to collecting more oaks, we made collections of the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), Euonymus americanus, and the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). We also saw fantastic specimens of the big-leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), but we were too late to find any viable seed.

 Quercus boyntonii

Quercus boyntonii

Fred Spicer, director of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, joined us the next day, October 28, to take us to several populations of Q. boyntonii, where we were able to make collections for six different populations. He also took us to Moss Rock Preserve in Jefferson County, where we made collections of the Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana). We also made a collection of the Carolina silverbell (Halesia tetraptera).

On October 30, we spent the day in Sumter County, Alabama, with Brian Keener, where we encountered Quercus arkansana, Dalea purpurea, Viburnum rufidulum, and Liatris aspera.

On October 31, we botanized in Blount County, Alabama, at Swann Bridge. Below the bridge was a small river, where we saw an array of interesting plants including the yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima); hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana); a small St. Johnswort (Hypericum prolificum); and a native stewartia (Stewartia malacodendron), in which we were able to find a few seeds. From there we continued on to the Bibb County Glades and collected Silphium glutinosum and Hypericum densiflorum.

 Bibb County Glades

Bibb County Glades

 Moss Rock Preserve at the habitat of Quercus georgiana

Moss Rock Preserve at the habitat of Quercus georgiana

On the following day, we made another collection of Quercus boyntonii in St. Clair Country and then headed to the Little River Canyon in Cherokee County. This was a rich area filled with native vegetation of many popular plants including the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), with its wine-red fall color; both the smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), and the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia); the winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), and the Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus). Interestingly, many of these Alabama natives are perfectly hardy in the Chicago area.

Toward the end of the trip, we headed into Jasper County, Georgia, and met up with John Jensen and Tom Patrick of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, who helped us find populations of Quercus ogelthorpensis. In Taylor County, we collected several oaks, including Q. margarettae, Q. incana, and Q. laevis.

We finished the expedition in Sumter National Forest in McCormick County, South Carolina. This was the final collecting site for Q. ogelthorpensis, which was cohabiting with Baptisia bracteata and Q. durandii.

 Little River Canyon

Little River Canyon

 Quercus ogelthorpensis seedlings in Jasper Country, Georgia

Quercus ogelthorpensis seedlings in Jasper Country, Georgia

An expedition’s rewards

In total, we made 92 collections of seed and herbarium vouchers. The seed is being grown at both the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Morton Arboretum. Most likely, plants will not be ready for distribution until 2017 and most likely would not be planted into the Garden’s collections until 2018 at the earliest.

In spring 2016, Northwestern University graduate student Jordan Wood will retrace some of our steps in search of leaf samples of Q. ogelthorpensis so he can study the DNA and fully understand the genetic breadth of this species throughout its native range from Louisiana to South Carolina.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Big Bear, Bigger Snow in the SoCal Mountains

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 01/19/2016 - 12:04pm

IMG_6143

Before I moved to Big Bear Lake for the CLM internship, I lived in Washington state for eight months. Before that, I studied environmental science in northern California for four years. The epic California drought is a common topic of conversation among my environmentally mindful circle of friends, coworkers, and teachers. With very, very good reason. California is the most populous state, and delivers a majority of the thirsty produce and meats and other foods desired by people all over the country (and the world). The drought here affects most everybody, and the establishment of new priorities and solutions in the face of this new climate regime is essential.

During the few weeks prior to my internship, I drove the full spectrum of the state in terms of moisture. Beginning on the North Coast, under the noble redwoods, I soaked up steady rain showers with college friends. Down in the Bay Area, a few pitiful sprinkles fell on the green-brown hills. Further south, on the Central Coast near San Luis Obispo, little more than a few live oaks survive to dot the golden hills. Another 200 miles south on Highway 101 the gold gives way to intense human development, palm trees, and the gray-green of coast chaparral. Finally, I turned east from Los Angeles towards the vast Inland Empire for the last leg of my trip. Along the road through Riverside and San Bernadino, I took note of the truly arid landscape. I’d never traveled this far south on the West Coast. Scrub, cacti, and yucca are the status quo here. I switched on Mountain At My Gates by Foals to magnify the montane vibes, and ascended into San Bernadino National Forest in my old Suabru.

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Passing by the first National Forest sign I wondered if someone had made an egregious error designating this a forest. Where were the trees? It was just too hot, too dry, too sparse here to support a true forest ecosystem. But as I climbed another hundred feet and then another, the landscape rapidly transitioned. Hello trees. And hello everyone from SoCal. E v e r y o n e. Traffic up the mountain slowed to a crawl. My supervisor warned me this was a heavily utilized forest. She warned me it’d be a good idea to consider alternate routes on New Year’s Day. But, sometimes I mistakenly place too much trust in Google Maps, so spent an extra two hours in bumper to bumper conditions en route to Big Bear Lake. For all the roads in the world to crawl along, though, I was grateful this was mine. The brigade of southern Californians and I twisted and turned from dramatic mountain vista to vista, alongside diverse, beautiful plant communities. At last, I reached the lake and my new home.

I’d chosen to arrive a few days early so that I could properly settle in and explore the new digs. As it turned out, there was a trailhead just outside the front door of my government barracks that connects to the PCT and tops Mt. Bertha, which offers spectacular views of the lake and surrounding mountains. I seized upon the convenience, and made it to the peak in about two hours. I look to my left, lodgepole pine. To my right, juniper. Seems about right. I look down. Cactus. Growing straight out of the snow! What is this place? I share a photo with a few of my friends who assert the cactus is actually a set of dinosaur scales. Hmm. I can see it. But the naming scientist thought the species more closely resembled a beavertail. Therefore, beavertail prickly pear, Opuntia basilaris. While snow did cover some shadowed spots on the trail where I found this cactus, along the roads, and by the ski slopes, the majority of the area was dry. Like the rest of California, right? Not for long!

IMG_6102

Two days into my internship, I was enjoying the company of a savvy USFS crew, I’d completed the bulk of my entrance paperwork, and spent some time transplanting baby buckwheat in a delightful greenhouse. Then the heavens opened up, and out spilled two feet of heavy, wet, snow. In southern California! This was a great thing. One storm will not cancel a four year drought. But snowpack will provide some degree of relief to the landscape and the community. The snow, however, also presents its share of challenges to a USFS district office complex.

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Our priorities shifted from more paperwork to snow removal. The greenhouse was coated with a growing layer of frozen precipitation. We needed to relieve this weight from the roof of the structure, so got to scraping with a very long shovel. Fortunately, the other intern and I both grew up in New England and are no strangers to shoveling. It’d been a while since I’d seen this amount of snow, though, and it’d been a while for the locals as well. A couple informed us this was their first “big snow” in 3-4 years. The mountains and trees covered in glistening white is a spectacular sight, especially in contrast to the sharp blue mountain skies. The Forest Service vehicles and my Subaru, however, I prefer snow-free.

IMG_6104IMG_6115

For the remainder of our time, the other new intern (the incredibly accomplished Marta) and I attended an informative meeting between our SBNF restoration team and non-profit partner, the Southern California Mountains Foundation. It was interesting to learn the ways in which these two groups of highly committed conservationists and educators work together to achieve forest restoration. Both rely largely on grant funding to carry out an array of impressive projects within one of the most heavily utilized stretches of public land in the country. So glad I took that grant writing class in college!

We also got to enjoy a bit more time inside the greenhouse, which remains humid and warm despite the chilly snow outside. SBNF collects seed and propagates several dozen species of native vegetation for out-planting at resto sites all over the forest—grasses, forbs, cacti, trees, and yucca, among many others. My favorite thing about the Big Bear area and San Bernadino National Forest so far is the dramatically different types of vegetation that grow side by side, and the variety of diverse habitats that exist in close proximity to one another. In fact, SBNF is part of a bioregion designated by Conservation International as one of 25 global biodiversity hotspots, demonstrating “high vegetation diversity, unique ecological communities found nowhere else, and many endemic species…” How fortunate I am to be stationed here for the next several months in this special corner of California. More soon!

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A Snowy Welcome

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 01/19/2016 - 12:01pm

I was welcomed to the San Bernardino National Forest with a cascade of snow. By Tuesday, January 5, my second day of work, over three feet of snow had fallen. Despite being in Southern California, I was returned to my typical Boston and St. Paul winter duties: clearing roofs and digging out cars.

After clearing the greenhouse roof.

After clearing the greenhouse roof.

This is my second CLM Internship, and I am working at the Big Bear Ranger Station here in Fawnskin, CA. It’s about two hours to Los Angeles, an hour and fifteen minutes to Joshua Tree National Park, and steps away from forest recreation opportunities like hiking, skiing, mountain biking, and OHV riding. Interestingly, my first CLM Internship site has been in the news a lot recently: heard of Burns, OR lately? Yep, it’s crazy to read about what’s going on there and remember visiting the Malheur Wildlife Refuge on a sunny spring day to watch birds.

I am working with the Resource department in their Restoration program. This is not a normal Forest Service department, like botany, wildlife, or recreation; my mentor, along with some others, created and built it up to work on restoration and revegetation within the forest. Many of the restoration sites are OHV damage sites, and the majority of the money funding the department comes from OHV grants. The resource department also works closely with a non-profit, the Southern California Mountains Foundation (SCMF), and together they get this restoration and revegetation work done. Sometimes the Forest Service people will take the lead on a project; sometimes it will be SCMF. This way they can complete a chunk of the many projects waiting to be done.

So far, I’ve been in and out of the office and the greenhouse and spent one day visiting some restoration sites in the forest. I am reading a lot of literature as part of my work updating and revising the Native Plant Materials Notebook. This notebook will be a guide to San Bernardino restoration and plant propagation programs and provide links to many resources to help other National Forests or interested groups create their own program. This is already quite an impressive document, but needs updating as well as some additional sections.

I am learning all about the plant propagation process in the greenhouse. The plants begin in flats, are transferred to “small bullets”, then to “large bullets”, and then into the “tall pots”. They may be out planted, that is, planted at a restoration site from any of the last three pot sizes depending on need. What is really interesting to me is the focus on proper genetic selection of source plants for propagation for your restoration site. I read several papers on such selections, and they focus on choosing local plants in order to avoid both inbreeding and outbreeding depression, i.e. you want to gather seed from enough plants that you have a high genetic variation from within the population, but you do not want to swamp your restoration site with genetic material that could make the plants less fit for the ecology of the site. Interestingly, in the Resource program at Big Bear this translates to gathering plants from within the range of 500 feet vertically (because of the elevation change in this mountainous area) and about one mile horizontally. I have also learned about the watering regimen, some common pathogens, and how to plant seed and transplant seedlings.

It was great to get into the field this Wednesday to visit some restoration sites. Seeing OHV damage in the field, which is such a huge problem here, helped to connect everything that I have been learning from other Forest Service employees and the literature. The landscape was also stunning, with the San Bernardino Mountains brown against the snowy San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. I was happy to recognize plants from my days as a CLM Intern in Burns and to learn some new plants from Mary, a seasonal employee who has been working with the Forest for two years, starting as a CLM Intern. I also got a quick lesson on how to use a Trimble and was able to map a fence.

I am very much looking forward to attacking the Native Plant Materials Notebook, starting some milkweed plantings in the greenhouse, and getting out into the field again to learn monitoring methodology. Other things I am looking forward to doing during my free time are hiking or snowshoeing, joining a gym, volunteering, going to the library, exploring more of the town, eventually going to LA, Joshua Tree National Park, and the hot springs, and studying for the GRE.

Best Wishes,
Marta
San Bernardino National Forest
Fawnskin,CA

Month 11-CO State BLM Office

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 01/19/2016 - 11:59am

Hi everybody, I’m a bit over due for a blog. This is my eleventh month at the CO state BLM office! It is also my last full month on the job. So, what have I been up to?

Since returning from all the holiday fun my most recent task has been to inventory all the information known about the CO threatened species Sclerocactus glaucus. This is one of the species we monitor here at the state office, along with much help from the field offices. I went on a river trip surveying for additional populations over the summer, which I believe I talked about in an earlier blog.

The inventorying is going well so far, there is a lot of data to sort through from various sources. I’m trying to get a clear picture of how many plants we know exist, where they’re at, an idea of occupied habitat, and what portion of the population has any protections. This is all in an effort to get this species delisted.  There are a lot more plants on the landscape than previously thought and our monitoring efforts have shown density is higher than previously believed.

The largest problem I’m facing is how to deal with dated occurrence reports and geographic data without survey dates or population estimates. Luckily we do have a lot of reliable, accurate, and recent data, but tweezing out information from less recent, less reliable records has been difficult.

I also recently finished an annual report of our rare species monitoring for 2015. This is more or less just for our office here, but information for certain species will also be sent to field offices and partners. It’s important to summarize our monitoring activities and results from year to year, and especially helpful to new interns becoming familiar with these species and our monitoring efforts.

As I said, this is my last full month working with Carol here in Colorado. I have four more weeks, and will leave in mid-February, but it’s strange to think it’s all coming to an end. In my next, my last, blog I’ll share some parting thoughts and future plans!

 

Here are two pictures of a plant I really like, and saw for the first time over the summer.

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Caulanthus crassicaulis

Caulanthus crassicaulis

Caulanthus crassicaulis

Until next time,

Colleen Sullivan

See ya later Cedarville

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 01/19/2016 - 11:57am

Well, today’s my last day in the Modoc. It’s crazy to think that 7 months have passed since my arrival. My first impression of this small isolated town is definitely memorable. I drove into town and the first thing I noticed that the town population was 514. There’s one of everything- one bar, grocery store, gas station….you get the idea. It was a little unnerving to live in such small, isolated, and conservative place but I really enjoyed working in the sagebrush country. The townspeople here are nice and friendly and the people I worked with all very knowledgeable and easy to work with.

This internship was very rewarding. I got to see the beautiful landscapes of Northeastern California as well as Nevada and Oregon and experience real seasons (unusual in other parts of California). Word to the wise: if you end up in Cedarville in the winter time, have a 4×4 or AWD vehicle. It makes life much MUCH easier.

This internship gave me an opportunity to get hands-on field experience in disciplines that I didn’t really know much about. For example, I helped out with evaluating rangeland health by assessing bunchgrass utilization. Before Cedarville, I didn’t have any knowledge about rangeland. Also, I got to work on various projects like flagging juniper trees for cuttings, monitoring vegetation, planting sagebrush seedlings, and doing pika and raptor surveys. Moreover, I got to hone my ID’ing skills for plants and wildlife. I actually got to use the information I learned in school. Ha!

I guess the final advice to future interns is: JUST TRY IT. It may be out of your comfort zone, but once you do it, you’ll look back and be glad you did it. To think that 8 months ago, I was stressing about making a decision about this internship and another job offer. I’m glad to say that I made the right decision and really enjoyed my time here in the Surprise Valley.

Well…I’ll stop rambling now…and end with some cool  and memorable pictures.

2016-01-09 12.15.13

Amanda and I in our cave. At the Lava Beds National Monument

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Sledding up at Cedar Pass on our off day. It’s great that we have a “ski park” only a couple miles away from Cedarville.

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Avenue of the Giants. California is a gorgeous state.

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View of the Pacific Ocean up in Humboldt county

Lunch time with new friends

Lunch time with new friends

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Final Thoughts from Cedarville, CA

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 01/19/2016 - 11:55am

My CLM internship in Cedarville, CA has come to an end. It has been a very enjoyable and educational 7 months spend with the BLM Surprise Field Office. Moving to northern California was definitely a change and provided me a great opportunity to learn a lot.

One of the first things that was a major change was the town itself. It is a small town consisting of only 500 people and one of everything….one grocery store, one gas station, one bar, and so on. It took a while to get used to the idea that Wal-Mart was 2 hours away and in a different state. Because of this fact, excursions to the store involved some planning. However, needing to get groceries gave me the perfect opportunity to do some exploring of nearby nature. During 2 separate trips to the store, my co-intern and I were able to explore Lava Beds National Monument and Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Another thing that was a major change and an opportunity to learn new skills was the fact that I was now living and working in a whole new ecosystem. Coming from the Midwest to here I had to learn a whole new set of plants. Luckily, I was able to learn the predominant species fairy quickly. It is really neat to see how plants are adapted to living in this area and compare that to how plants in my area adapted to living there. While the 2 ecosystems are vastly different, they each have their own special qualities.

Mountain Sunset

Mountain Sunset

While working in my office I also had a chance to work on a variety of projects.  I had a chance to work on wildlife, botany, archaeology, and range projects. It really was a great opportunity to help narrow down my career goals. It also gave me experience working within the federal government. It helped me to understand the process and why things are done the way they are. This will help me easily transition into another office.

I greatly enjoyed my CLM internship and the experience and knowledge that came with it. I would definitely suggest this internship to anybody thinking about working in the federal government. It is a great way to earn valuable experience, network with professionals in the field, and possibly experience a different ecosystem then they are used to.

Farewell,

AZ

Where I’ve been in the past year

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 01/19/2016 - 11:52am

Hello world,

Last year about this time, my post was a map of where I’d been in the past year. I couldn’t think of a better idea then, and I can’t think of one now, so here we go again.

I’ve highlighted the counties of the Las Cruces District Office in red. Each of those blue dots is a place where I’ve taken a picture and recorded what plants were there. About a third of those dots are places I visited as part of my CLM internship, the rest are mostly recreational botanizing. I continue to move slowly towards my goal of having been everywhere in southwestern New Mexico, but do not anticipate achieving that goal any time soon. That’s good. If I thought I knew what was going on, I would be wrong and it would be time to move elsewhere. For instance, at this time last year I had visited 174 of the LCDO’s 608 grazing allotments. Now I have visited 250 of them. So, closing in one half-way for that particular metric. In the last few weeks I’ve decided to wander around northwestern Luna County for no particular reason. It’s nice out there.

And, recently, I came across a mysterious Cylindropuntia. I couldn’t identify it, so I sent the pictures out to folks who might. According to Marc Baker, it is Cylindropuntia davisii, a species I had not seen before that has been very rarely recorded in southwestern New Mexico.

It’s kind of an unpleasant little cactus, but interesting. And, repeating a theme from my earlier posts here… you wouldn’t find it unless you’re walking around out there for a while, and why would you do that? Well, why not?

Looking Back

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 01/19/2016 - 11:51am

Nearly five months ago I began a journey with the CLM internship program with no idea what would be in store for me. Little did I know that I would be a pioneer of something new to the state of Texas. This botany internship is the first to be established with the United States Forest Service in Texas.

I have met many great people from the Caddo-LBJ National Grasslands District office, the Ladybird Wildflower Foundation, and Texas Nature Conservancy. I have seen new sides facets of the conservation that I have previously were unaware off, such as wildland fire fighting.

Accomplishments achieved include the completion of the offices first seed collection, a monarch butterfly survey, and Asclepias survey.

This internship has opened new possibilities and options for the coming days. But for now it is just time to sit back and relax in the moment.

-Keagan

First collection complete and shipped to Bend for cleaning.

First collection complete and shipped to Bend for cleaning.

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