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P. Allen Smith's container gardens : 60 container recipes to accent your garden / photographs by Jane Colclasure and Kelly Quinn.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
P. Allen Smith's container gardens : 60 container recipes to accent your garden / photographs by Jane Colclasure and Kelly Quinn.
Author: Smith, P. Allen.
Call Number: SB418.S64 2005

Classic garden structures : 18 elegant projects to enhance your garden / Jan & Michael Gertley.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Classic garden structures : 18 elegant projects to enhance your garden / Jan & Michael Gertley.
Author: Gertley, Jan.
Call Number: TH4961.G48 1998

Exploring garden style : creative ideas from America's best gardeners.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Exploring garden style : creative ideas from America's best gardeners.
Call Number: SB473.E97 2001

Gardening in small spaces / creative ideas from America's Best Gardeners.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Gardening in small spaces / creative ideas from America's Best Gardeners.
Call Number: SB473.G36 2002

Bonsai 360

Garden Blog - Mon, 01/11/2016 - 2:26pm

Bonsai are traditionally shown with the front side of the tree facing the viewer—the back side of the tree is not in view. Most bonsai displays have a backdrop of some kind as well. This allows the tree to stand out and be viewed without any distractions.

In this unique display—shown for the first time in the Krehbiel Gallery in the Regenstein Center—we give you a look at our bonsai from both the front and back side of the trees. This allows our guests to see the entire tree and appreciate a different perspective.

 Bonsai 360-view.

The Krehbiel Gallery exhibition displays trees so they may be viewed from all angles.

Choosing a “front” to a tree happens early in its development. A front is chosen in order to present the tree in the way that tells its story best. This can change as the tree matures and changes. The front should highlight the most interesting features of the tree, whether it’s nebari, trunk movement, shari, or jin.

 A bonsai's nebari, or surface roots; the base of the tree.

A bonsai’s nebari, or surface roots, form the base of the tree.

Often, the nebari (visible root base) of the tree is used to determine the front. This is the oldest part of the tree, and the most difficult to change. Nebari conveys the age and stability of the tree.

Trunk movement is another way of choosing a front. From one angle, a trunk may seem rather straight and uninteresting. However, adjusting its position and angle even slightly may bring out the movement that makes a tree special. The red pine below has great trunk movement and sets the “attitude” of the tree.

Sometimes a front is chosen for its deadwood features. A striking shari (dead wood on the tree trunk) or jin (dead wood on a branch) can set the tone for the entire tree. The white part on this tree is dead wood, and the reddish brown is called the live vein. The contrast of the dead wood, live vein, and bright green foliage is fantastic.

 Trunk movement is a highlight of this red pine.

Trunk movement is a highlight of this red pine.

 This juniper displays amazing shari.

This juniper displays amazing shari.

Equal care is taken to develop the back of the tree. If the front of the tree is the star of the show, then the back can be considered the supporting cast. The back of the tree provides depth and perspective to the tree. Without these strategically placed back branches, the tree would appear two-dimensional and lack interest. Back branches can also be used to help frame in interesting parts of the tree toward the front, like dead wood branches (jin).

 Back of bonsai ficus tree.

Back of ficus tree

When you view this exhibit, look for the indications of the trees’ front and back. The front of a tree will have fewer branches along the trunk line, exposing its trunk’s best features. The back branches cover more of the trunk line, potentially covering features on a tree that are less interesting. Most trees also have a natural lean toward the viewer. Some say the tree is bowing, in order to welcome or greet the viewer.

Ficus front, notice the exposed trunk line.

Notice the exposed trunk line in this ficus front.

Whether you are viewing the back or front of the tree, you can see the time and care that has gone into its creation. Many of these branching choices were made nearly 100 years ago. Each branch has its place in creating the entire tree. When front, back, and sides come together in harmony to represent nature, it makes the wonderful living art we call bonsai.

View the Bonsai 360 pop-up exhibition in Krehbiel Gallery through January 18, 2016.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Beatrix Potter: Author, Illustrator, Naturalist, Environmentalist – An Early Woman in STEM

Garden Blog - Thu, 01/07/2016 - 11:18am

Like many children, I was fascinated with Beatrix Potter, the creator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I remember wanting to visit Hill Top Farm, Potter’s home, after finding a photo of children reading by the fireplace in a National Geographic my parents had.

 Hill Top Farm, near Sawrey, Cumbria. Photographed in 2012.

Picturesque Hill Top Farm was purchased by Beatrix Potter in 1905 with proceeds from the sale of her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Photo by Richerman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

Those feelings returned after I saw Beatrix Potter: Beloved Children’s Author and Naturalist, on display through February 7 at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library. The exhibition gives wonderful insight into Potter’s early life and career, along with her love of nature and preservation. Here are ten things from the exhibition and beyond that you might not know about the beloved children’s author:

Potter was also an accomplished naturalist and botanical illustrator, although her paper On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae was dismissed by London’s Linnean Society—which had typical Victorian assumptions about women and their research.

Potter was an accomplished naturalist and botanical illustrator. However, her paper On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae was dismissed by London’s Linnean Society—which had a few assumptions about women and their research.

  1. Beatrix’s full name is Helen Beatrix Potter. She shares her first name with her mother, Helen Leech Potter, who was also interested in drawing and painting—common pastimes for upper-middle-class Victorian women. Beatrix used a paint box inscribed with her mother’s name, and she signed some of her drawings H.B.P.
  1. It was summer forays from the Potter’s London family home—first to Dalguise House in Perthshire, Scotland, and later England’s Lake District—that inspired Beatrix’s love of nature. Charles McIntosh, the postman Beatrix befriended in the Lake District, would collect mushroom specimens for her to draw. Some examples of her remarkable mycological illustrations are featured in the Lenhardt Library exhibition.
  1. She kept a secret journal between the ages of 15 and 30, and it was written in code. Though the journal was discovered in 1952, the code was not broken until 1958 by collector Leslie Linder, who then began a massive project to decipher the entire journal. The journal was published in 1966 and gives insights into her thoughts and daily life.

 The Tale of Peter Rabbit, in both original black-and-white, and color editions.

First published with black-and-white illustrations (inset), The Tale of Peter Rabbit has sold more than 45 million copies over the past century.

  1. Her most famous work, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was first self-published with black-and-white illustrations on December 16, 1901. Peter Rabbit started as a letter to Noel, the ill son of her former governess/companion. 
  1. She purchased Hill Top Farm with proceeds from book sales of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, published by Frederick Warne & Co. (Beatrix had been engaged for a short time to her publisher, Norman Warne, but he died of leukemia before they married.) She learned too late that she had overpaid for the property and was embarrassed about it. Beatrix vowed to be smarter if she purchased additional property and decided she would seek the assistance of a solicitor. As she began to acquire more property, she secured the services of William Heelis. They later married in 1913, when Beatrix was 47 years old. 
  1. She raised sheep. As Beatrix spent more time at Hill Top Farm, she focused her time and energy on raising local heritage livestock—primarily Herdwick sheep—with Kep, her favorite collie. Beatrix dressed in Herdwick tweed skirts and jackets, served as a sheep judge, and was the first female elected president of the Herdwick Sheepbreeders’ Association in 1943. Unfortunately, she died before she could serve.
 Beatrix Potter (Mrs. Heelis) by Charles King, April/May 1913, with her favourite collie Kep in the garden at Hill Top Farm and wearing her familiar Herdwick tweed skirt and jacket.

Beatrix Potter (Mrs. Heelis) by Charles King, April/May 1913, with her favorite collie Kep in the garden at Hill Top Farm and wearing her familiar Herdwick tweed skirt and jacket.

  1. The Fairy Caravan, a longer book for older children published in 1929, is autobiographical. Marta McDowell, author of Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, wrote of The Fairy Caravan: “A very personal book, she wove in the birds and blooms of memory, writing of old gardens and woodlands of her grandparents’ home in Camfield.” Once I read the exhibition label, I quickly went to my local library and am now reading The Fairy Caravan for the first time.
  1. She was an ardent preservationist. Beatrix realized that times would change the Lake District she loved so dearly, and she eventually bought 14 farms comprising over 4,000 acres that she donated to the National Trust. Many of her illustrations are directly drawn from the Lake District countryside. If you visit the Lake District, consider ordering Walking With Beatrix Potter: Fifteen Walks in Beatrix Potter Country by Norman and June Buckley.
  1. Peter Rabbit is extremely popular in Japan. The exhibition shows this through a Japanese catalog of all things Peter Rabbit for purchase. There is even a life-sized recreation of Hill Top Farm you can visit near Tokyo that was built in 2006.

 Waud felt figurine of Peter Rabbit.

Part of our Wonderland Express every year, our Waud’s felt figurine exhibit includes this beloved rascal—Peter Rabbit. Read more about the Waud felts here.

  1. Her Hill Top Farm still includes many small details of Beatrix’s life. Several years ago when I visited the farm, her clogs were still by the fireplace and, upstairs, the plaster ham Hunca Munca tried to carve in The Tale of Two Bad Mice was in the dollhouse. I almost expected Miss Potter/Mrs. Heelis to pop around the corner.

Beatrix Potter: Beloved Children’s Author and Naturalist closes on February 7, but the Lenhardt Library has a terrific selection of books about and by Beatrix Potter. Check out one of the books to learn more about Beatrix and her many contributions.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Farewell to the Carson City Internship

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 01/07/2016 - 10:29am

‘Twas noon before my last day, when all through the office,

Not an employee was stirring, not even the botanist.

The plants were stored in the cabinet with care,

in hopes that new interns soon would be there.’

Such is the atmosphere at the Carson City BLM Office while I wrap up my botany internship; most employees have already left for their vacations and those who are still here quietly work while waiting for the holidays to arrive. The past several weeks have been spent catching up from the busy field season, processing plant vouchers, and preparing helpful training materials for the next group of interns. So much time in the office has given me time to reflect on the internship and what I have learned while living and working in the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada mountains. I have broken into sections the various musings and reflections I have had over the past days.

Botany

IMGP1680

Castilleja chromosa in full bloom in Lassen County, California.

Identifying plants is at once relaxing, fun, and painful. Often, you think you have the correct identification only to read through the description and illustrations to find you are way off the mark. As frustrating as this process is (which usually depends on the quality of your specimen), most times you find yourself delighted with the ease of identification (especially if you have a spectacular specimen)! Many hours have been spent at the microscope, blissfully and fretfully keying out plants from the 2015 season as well as from years past. Here is a link to a poem I wrote in the midst of working through the piles of plants to identify.

How to Use a Dichotomous Key: A Poem

After I had processed most of the plant vouchers, I then set into updating the herbarium database for the Carson City office. The herbarium has vouchers dating back to the 1960s, providing valuable information about the plants of the area. My goal for organizing the data was to make a GIS shapefile available to the BLM Botanist and future interns so they could manipulate the data for their own conservation and land management purposes. I also used this data to build a list of ‘collection hot spots’ for future intern teams. I looked at vouchers collected over the years for Seeds of Success collections and found several heavily-scouted areas where seed collections were still waiting to be made. Being able to see where future intern teams could go for some quality seed collecting helped me connect the dots between the variety of work assignments I had completed this summer. At the beginning of my internship, I was so overwhelmed with the new area and the new plants to be able to settle down long enough to come up with a game plan for the season. Our team was still super productive under our supervisor’s guidance, cranking out 133 seed collections, but I hope my efforts at the end of this season will help next year’s group be even more efficient.

One final thought on botany: I hope I am able to see another desert spring in my lifetime. Again, I was so busy and overwhelmed in the spring and early summer to appreciate the beauty of the short-lived season of color here in the Great Basin. I would love to see the spring colors again so I can really take time to appreciate them.

IMGP1569

Purshia tridentata flowers paint the landscape a soft yellow in the spring.

Adjusting to the West

Learning my way around the western side of Nevada and the mid-eastern portion of California has taken the majority of the internship, but has been quite rewarding. Navigating to rural areas of Nevada for seed collecting and fire monitoring took a lot of spatial awareness as well as the ability to use common sense while following a not-always-so-accurate GPS. Just driving on some of the back roads of Nevada requires patience, stamina, and flexibility. Most roads are super bumpy and sometimes roads will be washed out too. Impassable roads (or getting stuck halfway down an unknowingly impassable road) delays the work day and the only thing you can do is pull yourself out of the predicament and find another route. Having flexibility in these situations is so helpful when everyone is stressed and worried.

DSC_7629

The 2015 team digs out the truck from a very wet drainage area in the Pine Nut Mountains.

Another adjustment to the west is the sheer size of the states. Being from the Midwest, I could travel between states within a few hours. Out here, it could take you a few hours just to travel from one county to another! Learning to allot several hours to travel anywhere definitely takes some of the spontaneity out of weekend trips, but the sites to see are so worth the time to get there!

One project I completed near the end of the internship was an ESRI Story Map journal that highlights the Carson City internship experience and leads viewers on a tour of some of the areas of interest throughout the range of the Carson City intern team. The Story Map web application is a powerful tool for telling your story or making information accessible and visually stimulating. It was exciting to be able to pull together the past twelve years of intern experiences into one place so future interns can acquaint themselves with the area before heading out into the field. While there is always value in self-exploration of a new area, having access to the Story Map resource will make it easier for future interns to plan field work and understand the large-scale scope of the Carson City internship. Check out the map at the link below!

ESRI Story Map Journal: Life of a CLM Intern in Carson City

Wildlife and Weather

While most days in the desert consist of cloudless, bright, sunny skies and breezy-to-gusty winds, sometimes the weather is unpredictable. One evening in May, our team was out doing rare plant monitoring and a snowstorm blew in as we were setting up camp for the night. I didn’t realize it was supposed to snow, so I didn’t have all of the layers with me I normally bring for cold nights. It was so cold that night, I ended up sleeping in one of the trucks so I could stay warm! I never forgot my layers after that experience! Always having enough layers for the surprise storm or just for the cold desert nights is a crucial part of being prepared in the desert. Surviving in this ecosystem requires more than just bringing enough water!

snow in pine nuts

Most of the 2015 team huddles around a campfire in May after a snowstorm blew in overnight. Photo credit Olivia Schilling

As for wildlife, nothing compares to waking up in the middle of the night to the stars shining above you and the sound of a coyote pack crying to the moon. I still get excited chills thinking about the countless nights this summer when I found myself in this situation. On the nights when I opted to sleep completely under the stars instead of in my tent (which never made it out of its bag as summer progressed), I was reminded of just how close the coyotes were and how exposed I was at that moment. As amazing as it is to hear coyotes howl, it is slightly unnerving to know they could run past you at any moment.

Another animal that is always neat to see is the wild horse. Running into a pack of horses grazing in the sage brush is quite an experience even when you realize the havoc they wreak on the environment. Our group was lucky to see a handful of different horse groups throughout the summer, but the most involved encounter was at the Palomino Horse and Burro Ranch north of Reno. While doing weed surveys here, we were able to interact with some of the horses who were begging for some pets. :)

DSC_7631

Wild horses at the Palomino Horse and Burro Ranch lean through the fence to beg for some pets from interns.

Final Thoughts

As I wrap up my time in Carson City, taking time to reflect on all of the adventures I have had while here has been helpful as I transition into the next stage of my career. I do not know yet where I will be going after this, but I am excited about the possibilities that have opened up because of the skills I have learned through this internship. I am incredibly grateful to have been an intern with the BLM as well as the CLM and Seeds of Success program.

What a week at Portland Japanese Garden!

Garden Blog - Tue, 01/05/2016 - 9:28am

In November, I had the unique opportunity to go to the Portland Japanese Garden for a week-long training session—and what a week it was!

I arrived in Portland in early November, having endured scarily bumpy plane rides and torrential rains. The next day the sun came out and I started my weeklong training at the Portland Japanese Garden. I spent the first day cleaning up needles and leaves from the beautiful moss that carpets the whole garden. I have difficulty growing it here in my moss garden, but in Portland, one gardener told me that moss will start to grow if you sit still for ten  minutes. The tools I used to rake and clean were very efficient, but at the same time gentle on the moss.

 Bamboo rake, broom, and winnow.

Bamboo rake, broom, and winnow

 Clearing leaf litter promotes moss growth.

Leaf litter should be removed on a regular basis for healthy moss growth.

The next few days were all about pine pruning. We began with a Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), a native of the rocky, windswept coastlines of Japan. One of the two pines species most popular in a Japanese garden, the black pine is symbolic of the seashore and referred to as on-matsu (the male pine), because of masculine qualities perceived in the branching and needles. Although considered a tough species, this pine has soil nematode and fungal disease problems. It prefers free-draining, acidic soil and full sun to grow well. As these requirements imply, the black pine is not very suitable for our region.

 Japanese black pine before pruning.

Japanese black pine before pruning

 Japanese black pine after pruning.

Notice how its shape is restored and more light can reach the inside and lower branches of the tree after pruning.

In contrast to the Japanese black pine, the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) favors our climate and is the tree most commonly planted at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden. I had a chance to prune one of the few Scots pines at the Portland Japanese Garden, and noticed how the environmental conditions affect growth patterns and the shape of a tree.

 Pine pad in need of thinning and shaping.

The pad needs thinning and shaping.

 After pruning, the pine pad has more air circulation and light penetration.

After pruning, the same pad has more air circulation and light penetration.

On my fourth day, I had the opportunity to learn how to build a bamboo fence with one of the expert gardeners. Fences and screens in Japanese gardens are primarily used to manipulate or block views, to form a perimeter, to partition garden areas, or to indicate a shift in garden elements, and to divide a garden into smaller thematic sections. The fence styles are numerous and diverse, utilizing almost exclusively natural materials: cut bamboo, wooden boards, and stones. Bamboo is by far the most popular choice of material due to its plentiful supply, texture, tonal qualities, and flexibility.

 Building yotsume-gaki (tea garden fence).

Building yotsume-gaki, a tea garden fence

 Tying ibo-musubi knots on the tea garden fence.

Vertical supports in place, it’s time to tie ibo-musubi knots in the time-honored way.

On my last day in Portland, I visited Lan Su Chinese Garden. In contrast to a Japanese Garden where the sanctity of nature is the defining principle, here terraces, doorways, and pavilions take precedence and frame vistas, while stone courtyards mark transition points between the architectural environment and nature.

 Enclosed space at Portland Japanese Garden.

This garden gives a wonderful sense of enclosed outdoor space.

 Japanese architecture in harmony with nature.

This skillful architecture testifies to the presence of mankind in nature.

Working alongside and learning from accomplished gardeners, visiting local gardens and nurseries, and exploring the city made my week in Portland so memorable. I can’t wait to go back and experience the same gardens in a different season!

Learn more about Japanese garden care that you may see in our own Garden, such as candling (done in spring and early summer), and willow pruning (a late fall/winter project). 

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Water Works

Plant Science and Conservation - Sat, 01/02/2016 - 8:59am

In a first-time summer internship research project, two college students set out to understand how plants were responding to the Garden’s shoreline restoration projects. They took a deep look into how variations in water levels may be affecting the health of the young plants. The results of their work will help others select the best plants for their own shorelines.

A silent troop of more than one-half million native plants stand watch alongside 4½ miles of restored Chicago Botanic Garden lakeshore. The tightly knit group of 242 taxa inhibit erosion along the shoreline, provide habitat for aquatic plants and animals, and create a tranquil aesthetic for 60 acres of lakes.

 The North Lake shoreline.

The North Lake shoreline
(photo by Bob Kirschner)

Now ranging from 2 to 15 years old, the plants grow up from tiered shelves on the sloping shores. Species lowest on the slope are always standing in water. At the top of the slope, the opposite is true, with only floods or intense downpours bringing the lake level up to their elevation.

Wading In

Jannice Newson and Ben Girgenti moved through clusters of tightly knit foliage along the Garden shoreline from June through August, taking turns as map reader or measurement taker. On a tranquil summer day, one would step gingerly into the water, settling on a planting shelf, before lowering a 2-foot ruler into the water to take a depth measurement. The other, feet on dry land, would hold fast to an architectural map of the shoreline while calling out directions or making notes.

Newson, a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) intern and sophomore at the University of Missouri, and Girgenti, a Garden intern and senior at Brown University, worked under the guidance of Bob Kirschner, the Garden’s director of restoration ecology and Woman’s Board curator of aquatics.

 Interns Ben Girgenti and Jannice Newson.

Interns Ben Girgenti and Jannice Newson gather plant data on the shoreline.

When the summer began, Girgenti and Newson had hoped to locate and measure every single plant. But after the immense scope of the project became clear in their first weeks, they decided to focus on species that are most commonly used in shoreline rehabilitation, as that information would be most useful for others.

View the Garden’s current list of recommended plants for shoreline restoration.

“We’re interested in which plants do really badly and which do really well when they are experiencing different levels of flooding, with the overall idea of informing people who are designing detention basins,” explained Girgenti, who went on to say that data analysis of the Garden’s sophisticated shoreline development would be especially useful for others.

“The final utility of this research will be to inform other natural resource managers,” confirmed Kirschner, who added that successful Garden shoreline plants must be able to withstand water levels that can rise and fall by as many as 5 feet several times in one year.

Steering the Ship

Along the shoreline, the interns followed vertical iron posts that were installed as field markers during construction, in order to find specific plants shown on the maps. “The posts are pretty key to being able to map out the beds,” said Girgenti.

 The Malott Japanese Garden shoreline 3 years after the 2011-12 restoration project.

The Malott Japanese Garden shoreline three years after the 2012 restoration project.

Once they found a target plant, they then counted clumps of it, and put it into one of six categories based on the amount of current coverage, ranging from nonexistent to area coverage of more than 95 percent.

They also measured the average depth of water for beds with plants below the water line, noting their elevation. For plants above the water line, the elevation was derived from the architectural drawings.

Data about the elevation and coverage level of each measured plant, together with daily lake water level readings dating back to the late 1990s, was then entered into a spreadsheet and prepared for analysis to identify correlations between planting bed elevation and plant survival.

Beneath the Surface

For her REU research project, Newson was careful to collect data for one species in particular, blue flag iris. “As a preliminary test of the project hypothesis, data relating to 101 planting beds of Iris virginica var. shrevei were analyzed to see if there was a significant correlation between the assessed plant condition and each planting bed’s elevation relative to normal water,” she explained in her final REU poster presentation in late August.

 Southern blue flag iris.

Southern blue flag iris (Iris virginica var. shrevei), photo by Jannice Newson

An environmental science major, she initially experienced science at the Garden as a participant in the Science First Program, and then as a Science First assistant, before becoming an REU intern.

Girgenti began his Garden work in the soil lab, where his mentor inspired him to focus on local, native flora. “I was kind of pushed up a little bit by the Garden,” he said. The following year he did more field work in the Aquatics department. “I wanted to come back because I really enjoyed being here the last two years,” he said. “Every year I’ve come back to the Garden, I’ve been very excited about what I’m going to do.”

Aside from the scientific discovery, the two also refined their professional interests. “I do enjoy being out in the field as opposed to maybe working in a lab; it’s a lot more interesting to me. And also just working in the water with native plants is very interesting,” said Newson.

“I was really interested in getting into more of the shoreline science and also learning which native species were planted there,” said Girgenti. “I really love working here. I’ve never really been involved this much in science, so this has been a really great experience—just all of the problem solving that we’ve had to do over the course of the summer.”

Newson also enjoyed the communication aspect of her work, as Garden visitors stopped to ask what work she and Girgenti were doing along the shoreline. She was especially excited to share with them and her fellow REU interns that “the purpose of why we are doing this is that it provides a beautiful site for visitors to see, it helps with erosion, and also improves aquatic habitat.”

 View of the Kleinman Familly Cove.

A view of the Kleinman Family Cove highlights the small bay where our youngest science explorers can learn about the shoreline.

Although the interns have left the Garden for now, the data they collected will have a lasting impact here and potentially elsewhere. Kirschner is currently working with his colleagues on the data analysis to complete a comprehensive set of recommendations for future use.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Water Works

Garden Blog - Sat, 01/02/2016 - 8:59am

In a first-time summer internship research project, two college students set out to understand how plants were responding to the Garden’s shoreline restoration projects. They took a deep look into how variations in water levels may be affecting the health of the young plants. The results of their work will help others select the best plants for their own shorelines.

A silent troop of more than one-half million native plants stand watch alongside 4½ miles of restored Chicago Botanic Garden lakeshore. The tightly knit group of 242 taxa inhibit erosion along the shoreline, provide habitat for aquatic plants and animals, and create a tranquil aesthetic for 60 acres of lakes.

 The North Lake shoreline.

The North Lake shoreline
(photo by Bob Kirschner)

Now ranging from 2 to 15 years old, the plants grow up from tiered shelves on the sloping shores. Species lowest on the slope are always standing in water. At the top of the slope, the opposite is true, with only floods or intense downpours bringing the lake level up to their elevation.

Wading In

Jannice Newson and Ben Girgenti moved through clusters of tightly knit foliage along the Garden shoreline from June through August, taking turns as map reader or measurement taker. On a tranquil summer day, one would step gingerly into the water, settling on a planting shelf, before lowering a 2-foot ruler into the water to take a depth measurement. The other, feet on dry land, would hold fast to an architectural map of the shoreline while calling out directions or making notes.

Newson, a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) intern and sophomore at the University of Missouri, and Girgenti, a Garden intern and senior at Brown University, worked under the guidance of Bob Kirschner, the Garden’s director of restoration ecology and Woman’s Board curator of aquatics.

 Interns Ben Girgenti and Jannice Newson.

Interns Ben Girgenti and Jannice Newson gather plant data on the shoreline.

When the summer began, Girgenti and Newson had hoped to locate and measure every single plant. But after the immense scope of the project became clear in their first weeks, they decided to focus on species that are most commonly used in shoreline rehabilitation, as that information would be most useful for others.

View the Garden’s current list of recommended plants for shoreline restoration.

“We’re interested in which plants do really badly and which do really well when they are experiencing different levels of flooding, with the overall idea of informing people who are designing detention basins,” explained Girgenti, who went on to say that data analysis of the Garden’s sophisticated shoreline development would be especially useful for others.

“The final utility of this research will be to inform other natural resource managers,” confirmed Kirschner, who added that successful Garden shoreline plants must be able to withstand water levels that can rise and fall by as many as 5 feet several times in one year.

Steering the Ship

Along the shoreline, the interns followed vertical iron posts that were installed as field markers during construction, in order to find specific plants shown on the maps. “The posts are pretty key to being able to map out the beds,” said Girgenti.

 The Malott Japanese Garden shoreline 3 years after the 2011-12 restoration project.

The Malott Japanese Garden shoreline three years after the 2012 restoration project.

Once they found a target plant, they then counted clumps of it, and put it into one of six categories based on the amount of current coverage, ranging from nonexistent to area coverage of more than 95 percent.

They also measured the average depth of water for beds with plants below the water line, noting their elevation. For plants above the water line, the elevation was derived from the architectural drawings.

Data about the elevation and coverage level of each measured plant, together with daily lake water level readings dating back to the late 1990s, was then entered into a spreadsheet and prepared for analysis to identify correlations between planting bed elevation and plant survival.

Beneath the Surface

For her REU research project, Newson was careful to collect data for one species in particular, blue flag iris. “As a preliminary test of the project hypothesis, data relating to 101 planting beds of Iris virginica var. shrevei were analyzed to see if there was a significant correlation between the assessed plant condition and each planting bed’s elevation relative to normal water,” she explained in her final REU poster presentation in late August.

 Southern blue flag iris.

Southern blue flag iris (Iris virginica var. shrevei), photo by Jannice Newson

An environmental science major, she initially experienced science at the Garden as a participant in the Science First Program, and then as a Science First assistant, before becoming an REU intern.

Girgenti began his Garden work in the soil lab, where his mentor inspired him to focus on local, native flora. “I was kind of pushed up a little bit by the Garden,” he said. The following year he did more field work in the Aquatics department. “I wanted to come back because I really enjoyed being here the last two years,” he said. “Every year I’ve come back to the Garden, I’ve been very excited about what I’m going to do.”

Aside from the scientific discovery, the two also refined their professional interests. “I do enjoy being out in the field as opposed to maybe working in a lab; it’s a lot more interesting to me. And also just working in the water with native plants is very interesting,” said Newson.

“I was really interested in getting into more of the shoreline science and also learning which native species were planted there,” said Girgenti. “I really love working here. I’ve never really been involved this much in science, so this has been a really great experience—just all of the problem solving that we’ve had to do over the course of the summer.”

Newson also enjoyed the communication aspect of her work, as Garden visitors stopped to ask what work she and Girgenti were doing along the shoreline. She was especially excited to share with them and her fellow REU interns that “the purpose of why we are doing this is that it provides a beautiful site for visitors to see, it helps with erosion, and also improves aquatic habitat.”

 View of the Kleinman Familly Cove.

A view of the Kleinman Family Cove highlights the small bay where our youngest science explorers can learn about the shoreline.

Although the interns have left the Garden for now, the data they collected will have a lasting impact here and potentially elsewhere. Kirschner is currently working with his colleagues on the data analysis to complete a comprehensive set of recommendations for future use.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Fun with Sphaeralcea

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 12/30/2015 - 2:38pm

Hello World,

Sphaeralcea is, in many ways, a wonderful genus. It is found throughout the western United States, it’s pretty, pollinators like it, herbivores like it, it germinates well and is easy to cultivate, and thus it is one of the few native genera that is readily available commercially for restoration use. However, if you’ve tried to identify them you are probably painfully aware that, although the genus is very easy to identify, species within it are an awful muddled mess. Part of the problem is that, despite how ubiquitous and important Sphaeralcea is, taxonomists have avoided it like the plague. There has been no significant taxonomic research on Sphaeralcea since 1935. At that time, of course, there were relatively few herbarium specimens available and taxonomic techniques were rather crude, consisting essentially of “stare at plants for a long time and guess”. That approach seems to work dramatically better than it has any right to, and is still used, but in many genera it just won’t get you there.

I don’t have any insight to provide in solving the problem of Sphaeralcea taxonomy, so this is mostly just a plea for some hapless graduate student to sink into this particular mire. I do have some photographs and a pdf, though.

One of the Sphaeralcea I’ve been confused by this season is shown below. I had hoped to collect seed of this species, but phenology did not cooperate.

Those of you who are familiar with Sphaeralcea will probably think that this looks an awful lot like Sphaeralcea coccinea. That’s what I thought, too, and I’ve misidentified these in the past as Sphaeralcea coccinea. However, the anthers are dark and there is a well-developed epicalyx, neither of which is compatible with that species. Other possibilities that might come to mind are Sphaeralcea digitata, Sphaeralcea grossulariifolia (this was my next best guess once I decided it wasn’t Sphaeralcea coccinea), or Sphaeralcea laxa. However, there are various features, which I won’t go into here, that will eventually lead you to believe it cannot be any of those species. What will not occur to you, or at least didn’t occur to me, is that this could be Sphaeralcea hastulata, a species that has narrow, shallowly lobed leaves and pale anthers. But that is, apparently, what it is, at least in recent floristic works.

My plants are a very good match for the type specimen of Sphaeralcea pumila, a species named by Wooton and Standley back in 1909. You can see that type specimen here. Since 1909, that species has been moved to Sphaeralcea subhastata subsp. pumila, then Sphaeralcea subhastata var. pumila, and more recent floras will simply list Sphaeralcea subhastata, and by inference Sphaeralcea pumila along with it, as a synonym of Sphaeralcea hastulata without any further explanation. So, my plants are the same taxon as the type of Sphaeralcea pumila, therefore they are Sphaeralcea hastulata even though they don’t look like it and won’t go there in the key. Part of the problem here is that, as I mentioned before, there hasn’t been any significant taxonomic research on Sphaeralcea in the last 80 years. The best published work on the genus is still Thomas H. Kearney’s “The North American Species of the Genus Sphaeralcea Subgenus Eusphaeralcea“, published as an issue of the University of California Publications in Botany in 1935. Kearney calls this plant Sphaeralcea subhastata subsp. pumila. I tried for a little while to figure out why someone decided to dump Sphaeralcea subhastata and all its subspecies into Sphaeralcea hastulata, but I didn’t get anywhere. This is what happens to genera that go without research, subsequent botanists poke around a little, move some names, and generally muddy the waters in a piecemeal fashion, and there’s rarely any clear, easy-to-find record of who made what decision and why. However good or bad the last big treatment of the genus was, over time our understanding gets worse. And, of course, Kearney’s 1935 work isn’t carried by too many libraries (New Mexico State University’s library system doesn’t have it) and isn’t available online. Luckily, you can still buy old copies for a reasonable price. Some out-of-print botanical works are exorbitantly expensive, but I found Kearney’s for $20 or so, which isn’t too bad. Since it is still the best taxonomic treatment of Sphaeralcea in North America, I bought a copy and turned it into a pdf. I can never get paper books to be where I need them, when I need them. Pdfs are easier, I just stick them on my phone. If you like you can download it here. I’ll see if I can get it onto Biodiversity Heritage Library, too, but it isn’t there yet. It’s amazing how much you can find online these days. Also, I checked, and this work is not under copyright.

All Good Things…

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 12/30/2015 - 2:36pm

Over the past 8 months, I’ve had a lot of really amazing opportunities here with the BLM / CLM internship program. I’ve gained experience with rare species monitoring, seed mixing, data management, GIS mapping, restoration seeding, plant identification, and more. Although I didn’t get the experience of being in a new place like most CLM interns because I already lived in Eugene, I did get to experience the place I live in a very different way.

KALichen

“When I’m on all fours pawing through blades of grass in search of the tiny seedlings of Lomatium Bradshawii (a listed wetland prairie species) I feel like I’m part of a private universe.

Few people take the time to look closely… really closely at their landbase.

To most, the minute details in that particular place are completely invisible. Although plot work can at times be tedious, I try to remember how special it is to be able to interact daily with plants and animals most people will never even see.” – Rare Plant & Butterfly Monitoring in the Wetland Prairies of Western Oregon, May 2015

KAWEW

Most of my work centered around counting rare plants but I was also lucky to learn how to identify a variety of common species as well.

“These surveys introduced me to more than a dozen non-native prairie species and refreshed my knowledge of an equal number of native species. I’m excited to continue to hone my skills as a botanist in the upcoming months of this internship!” –   WEW Botanical Surveys, June 2015

KALUOR

I’m a quiet and reflective person by nature, and I don’t usually struggle with tedious activities. This internship forced me to push beyond my comfort zone and helped me to gain a renewed appreciation for all of the plant-monitoring work that is done on federal lands for conservation.

“Doing this much intensive and detail-oriented monitoring has been a challenge. There is usually a fleeting moment when I question a few life choices and fantasize about a desk job, or even my past as a bartender / waitress. I bribe myself with sips of coffee and the occasional stretch in an effort to ignore sore knees and the sharp florets poking through my socks and into my ankle bones. I agonize over my ability to detect each tiny plant and constantly push myself to look closer. My muscles strain and my mind wanders… only 30 more to go…

I’ve never meditated much but I imagine that the struggle to quiet one’s mind is similar to that of careful monotonous counting. In the end, my work equates to a few rows and columns of data; a collection of numbers to better know the trajectory of these rare species. As we walk to the car I notice my internal dialog with each step…1,2,3,4… I’m caught in a loop of numbers and when I close my eyes I can see those delicate leaves, the bashful flowering stem, and a particular shade of green that separates one plant from another in my mind’s eye.” – Counting Daisies, July 2015

Although it was sometimes a challenge, this position helped to solidify my future goals and gave me renewed motivation to pursue restoration as a career.

“Oddly, the notion that I could spend the rest of my life working to unlock the best possible way to restore native plant communities… and never truly find that answer… is one of the most appealing aspects of becoming a restoration practitioner. Unending challenge and the constant need to adapt, re-think, and start over, sounds like a lot of fun. Field work detached from that thought process will never hold my interest for more than the short term.” – An End to Vegetation Monitoring… The Beginning Of? August 2015

KANTaylor2

When I started this internship, I had already been working for over a year to put together a funded research project so that I could get my master’s degree. 8 months later, I’m finished with my first term of school and well on my way to designing several restoration-related research projects for my thesis. I’m thrilled to be one step closer to my goal of becoming a researcher and restoration practitioner.

“After several years of constantly feeling like everything was either just about to work out or blow up in my face I often look back and think of many things I wish I had known or done differently.

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was how to tell the difference between things I had control over and those I didn’t… to put my future in the hands of my advisor and a host of strangers… and to just hope everything would work out.” – How Not to Start Graduate School, September 2015

IMG_20151014_161105901_HDR

One of my favorite activities of this internship was making wild seed mixes for restoration projects in the Willamette Valley. Doing this work solidified my desire to one day become an experienced grower of native plants.

“There is something truly amazing about being elbow deep in a bag full of Lomatium nudicaule seed that made the journey all the way from wild collection in a nearby remnant prairie, into a seed increase bed at a local native plant nursery, through an intense cleaning process, and finally back into the hands of the ecologists and botanists who will plant them into the threatened habitats they started in.” – Seed Castle October 2015

KAburn

“While sprinkling the seed that I mixed while working at the “Seed Castle, I realized that this internship has allowed me to come full circle. Last spring and summer I spent my time quantifying the percent cover of native prairie species, then I learned to make seed mixes, and finally I got to spread seed on the ground for the next intern to quantify.” – Job Security, December 2015

The day is coming to an end and I’m turning in my ID card, keys, cleaning the hard drive, and compiling a list of accomplishments to add to my resume. I’m looking forward to devoting all of my time to my master’s degree and my research in the Great Basin this spring but will miss the meadowlark songs in the summer heat of the prairie, the hummocky wetland landscape, and the feeling of being at the beginning of this journey.

 

Winter Birds Are Here!

Garden Blog - Tue, 12/29/2015 - 8:23am

The flowers are gone, the trees are bare, now what to photograph? Birds, of course! Winter is a great time to get some fabulous shots of winter birds. One huge bonus is that there are no leaves on the trees and the birds are much easier to see!

There are the “regular” local birds, like robins (yes, some robins do stay around all winter), goldfinches, cardinals, chickadees, mallards, Canada geese, red-tailed hawks, and cedar waxwings, to name a few. Plus, winter has the bonus of birds that actually migrate to our area just for the winter. Some migrants you will see every year are juncos, tree sparrows, and a variety of ducks. Other birds are occasional, or eruptive, and only show up once every few years, like pine siskins, red-breasted nuthatches, and redpolls. Then there are the, “wow! I’m really lucky to find this species!” birds, like crossbills, snowy owls, bald eagles, and bohemian waxwings. That is the fun part—you never know what you will find on any given day. That is why I go out every chance I get!

You can check the list of birds that you can expect to see at the Garden here.

Goldfinch in toned-down winter plumage, enjoying seeds on Dixon Prairie.

A goldfinch in toned-down winter plumage enjoys seeds on the Dixon Prairie. ©Carol Freeman

Male cardinal surveying the bounty on the prairie.

A male cardinal surveys the bounty on the prairie. ©Carol Freeman

Common redpoll feasting on birch tree seeds around the Regenstein building. It was a nice find to see this occasional visitor at the garden.

This common redpoll was feasting on birch tree seeds around the Regenstein Center. It was a nice find to see this occasional visitor at the Garden. ©Carol Freeman

Tap, tap, tap, I heard the Downy woodpecker before I saw him.

Tap, tap, tap…I heard the downy woodpecker before I saw him. ©Carol Freeman

When you get to the Garden, some places to look are all the trees with berries! Yes, the birds love them. Another good place to look is the Dixon Prairie, where all those seeds attract a lot of birds. Be sure to check out the bird feeders at the Buehler Enabling Garden too. You can also find a variety of birds—especially woodpeckers—in the McDonald Woods. If there is open water, check there for ducks and geese. You might be surprised at just how many birds you can find in winter.

What a surprise to find this adult bald eagle sitting in a tree just next to the Plant Science building!

What a surprise to find this adult bald eagle sitting in a tree just next to the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center! ©Carol Freeman

The local Robins are taking advantage of the abundant food supply at the garden.

The local robins take advantage of the abundant food supply at the Garden. ©Carol Freeman

The pine siskins were enjoying the bounty at the Enabling Garden bird feeders.

The pine siskins enjoy the thistle seeds at the Enabling Garden bird feeders. ©Carol Freeman


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Willow Verification Project Moves Forward

Garden Blog - Sun, 12/27/2015 - 10:41am

The versatility of the willow in the landscape, its year-round ornamental appeal, and its adaptability to colder climates make it a staple and a highlight of the Garden’s plant collections. In fact, the Garden is committed to amassing and displaying one of the largest collections of willows in the country. This initiative was started informally more than two decades ago when Kris Jarantoski, the Garden’s executive vice president and director, began collecting willows from other institutions.

 Willow tree at Dudley Point, at the Serpentine Bridge.

The Garden has 2.4 million plants, and specializes in the cultivation of a select few genera. These specialized collections will become collections of distinction, recognized nationally and internationally.

Willows have long been used by indigenous cultures worldwide. Ancient cultures used the willow as medicine (aspirin derives from salicylic acid—a component found in willow bark); as weaving material for baskets; and for creating shelter. These days, willows are used in furniture; as a material in cricket bats; and as an ornamental landscape plant.

 Salix tarraconensis catkins in winter.

Shrub willows like this Salix tarraconensis are a highlight of the Garden’s specialized collections.

The willow genus (Salix) contains more than 400 species. Derived from the Celtic word sallis—sal ‘near’ and lis ‘water’—their genus name describes the ideal natural habitat of most willows. Despite a natural affinity for water, however, many members of this diverse genus are adaptable to various landscape conditions, including dry sites (once established). Most are native to the cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere, but a few species occur naturally in the Southern Hemisphere. (Australia does not have native willow species, although willows are cultivated there.) 

Developing a world-class collection of willows is a team effort

The process of developing a specialized collection involves much more than acquiring as many difference species and varieties as possible. It also involves ongoing research on these collections by Garden staff and others. But before that is possible, it is essential the collection is authenticated—just as an art museum would do with a painting it received.

 A group of willow twigs shows a variety of color for the winter landscape.

Willow twigs are a colorful highlight of the winter landscape. Shown here are twigs from four varieties in the collection.

Willows are a complex and difficult group to accurately identify, and the Garden is currently in the process of verifying its holdings—a process that we believe will take nearly three years!

Emily Russell, assistant curator of woody plants, and Frank Balestri, research assistant at the Garden, work with our collaborators Michael Dodge, a willow enthusiast and owner of Vermont Willow Nursery, and Irina Belyaeva, Ph.D., taxonomist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Russell and Balestri and their teams of photo documentation and herbarium voucher staff and volunteers have devoted countless hours to the willow effort. Russell accompanies Dodge as he surveys the Garden’s collections during visits, and records new information as it becomes available. Balestri’s primary role has been to collect herbarium vouchers prepared by volunteers that will be shipped to Dr. Belyaeva early next year. As we near the end of year two, we are still very busy in these winter months as we continue to collect digital images and herbarium vouchers!  

 Emily Russell and Michael Dodge looking at alpine Salix in the rock garden.

Emily Russell and Michael Dodge look at alpine Salix in the rock garden.

 Frank Balestri examines a Salix herbarium voucher.

Frank Balestri examines a Salix herbarium voucher

While we continue this project over the coming months, we encourage you to visit the Garden and explore our Salix collection. Winter is a great time to explore the wonderful world of willows!

Learn about the ornamental value of Salix, the characteristics of shrub species, and their beauty in the winter landscape in the winter issue of Keep Growing.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Secret Society of Soil

Plant Science and Conservation - Mon, 12/21/2015 - 8:57am

When you lift a rock in your garden and glimpse earthworms and tiny insects hustling for cover, you’ve just encountered the celebrities of soil. We all know them on sight. The leggy, the skinny, the pale…the surprisingly fast.

Behind this fleeting moment are what may be considered the producers, editors, and set designers of the mysterious and complex world of soil—fungi. They often go unrecognized, simply because most of us can’t see them.

 Otidea decomposer.

Otidea, a decomposer

Fortunately, new technologies are helping experts, like Chicago Botanic Garden scientist Louise Egerton-Warburton, Ph.D., get a better look at fungi than ever before, and discover vital information.

“One of the problems we have with soil science is that you can’t see into it so you really depend on a lot of techniques and methods to work out what’s happening,” explained Dr. Egerton-Warburton, associate conservation scientist in soil and microbial ecology. 

In the last year, she has used high-throughput sequencing (also termed Next Generation Sequencing) to identify more than 120 species of mycorrhizal fungi in a single plant community. In contrast, previous reports suggested there were, at most, about 55 mycorrhizal species in a plant community. These tiny heroes are microscopic organisms that attach themselves to plant roots, for example, to carry out critical functions that support all life on earth. They are essential for the well-being of more than 85 percent of all plants, including those in your garden.

Mycorrhizal fungi are fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with roots of a vascular plant; from the Greek for “fungus” and “root.”

 White mushrooms.

Mushrooms are the above-ground fruiting body of fungi.

If climate change results in more intense rainfall and drought—as is predicted by climate change scientists—mycorrhizal fungi will also play an important role in processing varied levels of water in the soil.

Egerton-Warburton has just returned from November field work in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico, where she has been testing the responses of mycorrhizal fungi to changes in rainfall and soil moisture, especially to drought. Will fungi be able to keep pace? Will they be able to survive? What does that mean for other plant life? “Fungi are really good indicators of any environmental problems. So they are more likely to show the effects of any environmental stress before the plants will,” she said.

Each type of fungi also has a specific role, according to Egerton-Warburton, with some specialized to take up nutrients from the soil, while others cooperate to complete a function, such as fully decomposing a leaf.  A lot of fungi are needed to keep the system working. “You get 110 yards of fungal material in every teaspoon of soil,” she explained.

Aside from breaking down deceased plant material, fungi play a key role in many plant-soil interactions and the redistribution of resources in an ecosystem. They filter water that runs into the ground, cleaning it before it hits the bottom aquifers and drains out into rivers. Also, in the top few inches of soil, many fungi are respiring, along with their earthworm and other living counterparts, helping to filter gases and air that move through the system. Of growing interest, is also the fact that fungi could have a major role in soil carbon sequestration.

Soil carbon sequestration is the process of transferring carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil in a form that is not immediately reemitted.

 Leucocoprinus fungi.

Leucocoprinus fungi

For the past four years, Egerton-Warburton and colleagues at Northwestern University have been working to better understand the flow of carbon through fungal communities that results in long-term soil carbon sequestration. Soil’s capacity to store carbon is a reason for hope and a potential way to mitigate climate change. According to Egerton-Warburton, soil is known to hold three times more carbon than plants and trees above ground. “Maybe there are other ways we can manage the systems and enhance that capacity in the soil,” she said.

The study has required a lot of ‘getting to know you’, as the researchers first sought to identify each type of fungi involved in the process of carbon sequestration. As plant parts above ground are faced with absorbing and converting larger and larger amounts of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere into sugars, and sending it down into their roots, the more beneficial it will be to have a healthy suite of fungi waiting to receive it, use it, and move it along for future long-term storage.

Part of this equation has been to understand which fungi benefit from the increasing supply of sugar. Previous work by Egerton-Warburton has shown that mycorrhizal fungi respond to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide by producing large quantities of hyphae, a fine root-like structure, in the soil. This is because increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide allow a plant to produce more sugars during photosynthesis, and these sugars are shunted below ground for use by roots and their mycorrhizal fungi. At the other end of the equation are saprophytic and decomposer fungi, waiting to break down the new hyphae.

Recent work in the Dixon Prairie has used the high throughput sequencing and chemical fingerprinting to identify the fungi involved in this decomposition phase. Once that is resolved, they will be able to better understand how the fungi interact and balance the cycle carbon through specific pathways of activity.

Learn more about soil science in the winter 2015-16 issue of Keep Growing, pages 28-30.

 Louise Egerton-Warburton.

Louise Egerton-Warburton at work in the soil lab

The more the merrier, when it comes to fungi, and when it comes to people who are willing to help them endure, said Egerton-Warburton. The scientist often works with students who are interested in careers in the field, but encourages additional people to consider this critical line of work. “There’s a real need for soil ecologists in the country,” she said.

The good news is that the future story of fungi is one we can all help to script. Gardeners, she advised, can pay attention to the type of mulch they use in their garden, and plant lots of native species that will naturally enrich the function of that wonderful world that holds us up.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Secret Society of Soil

Garden Blog - Mon, 12/21/2015 - 8:57am

When you lift a rock in your garden and glimpse earthworms and tiny insects hustling for cover, you’ve just encountered the celebrities of soil. We all know them on sight. The leggy, the skinny, the pale…the surprisingly fast.

Behind this fleeting moment are what may be considered the producers, editors, and set designers of the mysterious and complex world of soil—fungi. They often go unrecognized, simply because most of us can’t see them.

 Otidea decomposer.

Otidea, a decomposer

Fortunately, new technologies are helping experts, like Chicago Botanic Garden scientist Louise Egerton-Warburton, Ph.D., get a better look at fungi than ever before, and discover vital information.

“One of the problems we have with soil science is that you can’t see into it so you really depend on a lot of techniques and methods to work out what’s happening,” explained Dr. Egerton-Warburton, associate conservation scientist in soil and microbial ecology. 

In the last year, she has used high-throughput sequencing (also termed Next Generation Sequencing) to identify more than 120 species of mycorrhizal fungi in a single plant community. In contrast, previous reports suggested there were, at most, about 55 mycorrhizal species in a plant community. These tiny heroes are microscopic organisms that attach themselves to plant roots, for example, to carry out critical functions that support all life on earth. They are essential for the well-being of more than 85 percent of all plants, including those in your garden.

Mycorrhizal fungi are fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with roots of a vascular plant; from the Greek for “fungus” and “root.”

 White mushrooms.

Mushrooms are the above-ground fruiting body of fungi.

If climate change results in more intense rainfall and drought—as is predicted by climate change scientists—mycorrhizal fungi will also play an important role in processing varied levels of water in the soil.

Egerton-Warburton has just returned from November field work in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico, where she has been testing the responses of mycorrhizal fungi to changes in rainfall and soil moisture, especially to drought. Will fungi be able to keep pace? Will they be able to survive? What does that mean for other plant life? “Fungi are really good indicators of any environmental problems. So they are more likely to show the effects of any environmental stress before the plants will,” she said.

Each type of fungi also has a specific role, according to Egerton-Warburton, with some specialized to take up nutrients from the soil, while others cooperate to complete a function, such as fully decomposing a leaf.  A lot of fungi are needed to keep the system working. “You get 110 yards of fungal material in every teaspoon of soil,” she explained.

Aside from breaking down deceased plant material, fungi play a key role in many plant-soil interactions and the redistribution of resources in an ecosystem. They filter water that runs into the ground, cleaning it before it hits the bottom aquifers and drains out into rivers. Also, in the top few inches of soil, many fungi are respiring, along with their earthworm and other living counterparts, helping to filter gases and air that move through the system. Of growing interest, is also the fact that fungi could have a major role in soil carbon sequestration.

Soil carbon sequestration is the process of transferring carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil in a form that is not immediately reemitted.

 Leucocoprinus fungi.

Leucocoprinus fungi

For the past four years, Egerton-Warburton and colleagues at Northwestern University have been working to better understand the flow of carbon through fungal communities that results in long-term soil carbon sequestration. Soil’s capacity to store carbon is a reason for hope and a potential way to mitigate climate change. According to Egerton-Warburton, soil is known to hold three times more carbon than plants and trees above ground. “Maybe there are other ways we can manage the systems and enhance that capacity in the soil,” she said.

The study has required a lot of ‘getting to know you’, as the researchers first sought to identify each type of fungi involved in the process of carbon sequestration. As plant parts above ground are faced with absorbing and converting larger and larger amounts of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere into sugars, and sending it down into their roots, the more beneficial it will be to have a healthy suite of fungi waiting to receive it, use it, and move it along for future long-term storage.

Part of this equation has been to understand which fungi benefit from the increasing supply of sugar. Previous work by Egerton-Warburton has shown that mycorrhizal fungi respond to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide by producing large quantities of hyphae, a fine root-like structure, in the soil. This is because increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide allow a plant to produce more sugars during photosynthesis, and these sugars are shunted below ground for use by roots and their mycorrhizal fungi. At the other end of the equation are saprophytic and decomposer fungi, waiting to break down the new hyphae.

Recent work in the Dixon Prairie has used the high throughput sequencing and chemical fingerprinting to identify the fungi involved in this decomposition phase. Once that is resolved, they will be able to better understand how the fungi interact and balance the cycle carbon through specific pathways of activity.

Learn more about soil science in the winter 2015-16 issue of Keep Growing, pages 28-30.

 Louise Egerton-Warburton.

Louise Egerton-Warburton at work in the soil lab

The more the merrier, when it comes to fungi, and when it comes to people who are willing to help them endure, said Egerton-Warburton. The scientist often works with students who are interested in careers in the field, but encourages additional people to consider this critical line of work. “There’s a real need for soil ecologists in the country,” she said.

The good news is that the future story of fungi is one we can all help to script. Gardeners, she advised, can pay attention to the type of mulch they use in their garden, and plant lots of native species that will naturally enrich the function of that wonderful world that holds us up.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Gardening Gift Book Recommendations, Part 2

Garden Blog - Sat, 12/19/2015 - 10:15am

You can give a gardening book to almost everyone on your list. They will especially love books about food and how to grow it! Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg adds to her recent Top 10 Gardening Gift Books blog with a follow-up list—plus more titles to find at our Garden Shop (on-site and online). 

Order through our Amazon Smile link and 0.5 percent of the profits go to support the Chicago Botanic Garden! Or bookmark smile.amazon.com/ch/36-2225482

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

Audels Gardeners & Growers Guide: Good Vegetables and Market Gardening. Its opening line: “The book of nature is open, but its wonderful beauties and mysteries are revealed only to the careful student.”

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C.E. Voight and J.S. Vandermark

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C. E. Voight and J. S. Vandermark. Our horticulturist-in-chief, Kris Jarantoski, included this classic on his recommendation list, too.

 A Cultural and Architectural History

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers

Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers. A go-to history book about the world’s most distinctive gardens and the communities of people who built them.

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts by Frances Densmore

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts by Frances Densmore. Such a fascinating book, all about food history and resourcefulness.

How to Grow Vegetables by the Organic Method

How to Grow Vegetables by the Organic Method edited by J.I. Rodale

How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method edited by J. I. Rodale. The grandmother of organic gardening books, by the grandfather of organic gardening. A classic.

Edible Landscaping

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy. Beautiful yards from beautiful vegetables.

Seed to Seed

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. For the seed saver in your life.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. For gardeners of all ages.

Secret Garden, An Inky Treasure Hunt

Secret Garden, An Inky Treasure Hunt by Johanna Basford

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. A botanical coloring book to unleash your creativity—add Caran d’Ache colored pencils to this gift.

A RARE FIND: Planting: Putting Down Roots by Penelope Hobhouse. Sleuth the book resellers to find this hand-sized book, part of a series by one of England’s great gardeners. 

special bonus!

Now at our Garden Shop: More Great Gift Books

Lisa hand-picked these favorite fruit-and-vegetable books from the bookshelves at our Garden Shop. Members, make us your book-buying resource—you always save 10 percent!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Spring in December?

Garden Blog - Fri, 12/18/2015 - 11:43am

It has been an unusually mild December, and some of you may be seeing “springlike” growth in your home gardens. Plus, you are tempted to get out in the garden. Here’s what you can expect:

 Viburnum in bloom.

It’s happening in our yard, too: This viburnum bloom photo was taken December 10, 2015.

Bulbs and perennials: Any new growth present now will experience a freeze in the very near future. That will have little impact on these plants come spring.

Evergreens and newly installed plants: Because it has rained so much, you shouldn’t have to do any supplemental watering. You should continue to monitor any evergreens that are in containers and provide supplemental water, if needed. A word of caution: always avoid working with and on soils that are wet.

Flowering trees and shrubs: Lilac, redbuds, forsythia and other flowering trees and shrubs will be impacted by this season’s warm weather. The longer the warm weather stays above freezing, the greater the chance there will be damage to the flowers. Prolonged warm weather at this time of year may mean fewer spring flowers on some plants.

There is another benefit to the warm weather: Get outside! You can finish those outside projects like installing brick pathways that you started earlier in the year. You can also lay sod and plant deciduous trees and shrubs until the ground freezes.

 Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' in bloom.

Lenten roses like Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ are in bud or bloom in the Garden.

When you visit the Garden to see Wonderland Express, see if you can find lady’s mantle or the bed of dwarf fragrant viburnum in full flower, the hellebores coming to bud (hint: Farwell Landscape Garden), or the ornamental kales with great color.

It’s a great time for a winter walk!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Practice Shelf Awareness with Local Fungi

Garden Blog - Wed, 12/16/2015 - 11:08am

One of the most recognized lines from Shakespeare is the following: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” You would have to read Hamlet to get the backstory, but one thing I know as an ecologist, is that we would be in a lot of trouble if there wasn’t a whole lot of rot going on all over the place.

You can probably imagine when walking through our oak woodland, that if things were not constantly rotting, you would be up to your eyeballs in dead leaves, and it would be almost impossible to walk anyway, because of the mass of dead branches and logs lying all over like a bunch of pick-up sticks.

 Trichaptum biforme (a hardwood decomposer).

Trichaptum biforme is a hardwood decomposer.

Although there are a tremendous number of organisms that are involved in the rotting process, fungi are the very most important component of this team of decomposers. A tremendous number of species of fungi live in the McDonald Woods at the Chicago Botanic Garden; they can be broken up into two basic categories: those that form symbiotic relationships with living plants (mycorrhizal), and those that decompose organic matter (a.k.a. the rotters).

 Another Trichaptum biforme (Violet-toothed polypore).

Another Trichaptum biforme (violet-toothed polypore)

While walking through the woods the other day, I tripped over a downed log and came face-to-face with one member of those decomposers, the bracket fungi. These familiar fungi, also known as shelf fungi, have a characteristic growth form. Most do not produce a stalk (stipe) that supports their cap. Instead, whether on a standing tree or on a log lying on the ground, the cap is attached directly to the wood and projects out horizontally like a shelf or awning.

Gravity causes tropism (the turning or bending in plants and fungi toward or away from an external stimuli), which causes the shelves to orient horizontally out from the wood. This is interesting to observe, especially when a standing dead tree that has shelf fungi falls to the ground, and the new fungi orient in a different direction after the tree falls. (This is one way that you can discover if a tree was dead before it fell to the ground.)

 The beautiful layers of Trametes versicolor, or turkey tail fungus.

The beautiful layers of Trametes versicolor, or turkey tail fungus

Just like most of the “mushrooms” we find growing on the ground, these shelf fungi are the fruiting bodies of an organism that we seldom see. The actual organism is a spiderweb-like structure that is either sprawled out within the soil or, in the case of the decomposers, spread throughout the dead plant material.

What is important about these decomposer fungi is that they are able to breakdown cellulose and lignin—the building blocks of plants, and two materials that are unable to be decomposed by almost any other organism. Therefore, without the help of these fungi, we would be swimming in a sea of dead plant material, and all those nutrients and minerals would be locked up—unavailable for other plants to use.

Many of the shelf fungi differ from other fungi, not only because of their growth form, but also because they are usually very woody or leathery in nature. ( I can imagine that people mistake some of these fungi for a deformity in the tree when they feel them and realize that they are as hard as a rock. This is not true of all shelf fungi; some are soft and squishy and quite fragile.)

Some common shelf fungi are the artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum), the horse hoof fungi (Fomes fomentarius), the turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor), and the sulphur polypore (Laetiporus sulphureus).

 Ganoderma species fungus.

Ganoderma species fungus

 Sulphur polypore, or chicken-of-the-woods fungus (Laetiporus sulphureus).

Sulphur polypore, or chicken of the woods fungus (Laetiporus sulphureus)

The type of decomposition that takes place is referred to as either white rot or brown rot. In white rot, the fungi breaks down the lignin and leaves the cellulose behind. Wood that is being decomposed by white rot fungi turns off white and stringy. In brown rot, the fungi decompose the cellulose and leave the lignin behind. Brown rot fungi turn the wood reddish-brown and crumbly. In combination, the two types of decomposers reduce even large tree trunks to their component nutrients and minerals and make them available to the environment for living plants to use.

 Stereum ostrea, or false turkey tail fungus.

Stereum ostrea, or false turkey tail fungus

Although some of the shelf fungi are interesting and quite attractive, like the turkey tail and violet tooth fungi (Trichaptum biforme), it is not a good sign to see them growing on your favorite shade tree. Some of these shelf fungi can be found on living trees where disease or damage has caused the decomposition process to begin, and may not portend a bright future for the tree. You might also see some of the fungi sprouting from structural elements of your home if the wood is unprotected and exposed to excess moisture—another sign of trouble.

Some of the shelf fungi are very prolific and can occur in the hundreds on a single log, or they might be one giant shelf that can be more than a few feet across and weight 50 to 100 pounds or more. One of these large examples can be seen in our Wonderland Express exhibition.

 Shelf fungus on display in Wonderland Express.

Shelf fungus on display in Wonderland Express

 Ganoderma lucidum fungus.

Ganoderma lucidum

It should also be noted that these shelf fungi have some aspect to them that are of interest other than their role in decomposition: while most species are woody and unpalatable, the chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulfureus), is considered one of the best fungi for eating. There are also several species of shelf fungi thought to have medicinal properties, including the attractive Ganoderma lucidum (known as reishi in herbal medicine).

So next time you are out hiking in one of our local forest preserves, consider the “shelf life” around you, and what the woods—and life—would be like without them.

Find out more about the natural world at the Garden and in your backyard: learn about Lepidoptera, bats, and grubs.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Not for the faint of heart

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 12/16/2015 - 10:39am

On our way out of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge a few weeks back, we spent a good ten minutes talking to a couple of women from the Midwest and Oregon who happened to be traveling around the country with their husbands after having sold their homes. We had a nice chat about conservation and restoration, and how the two of them had been academics.

We parted ways, at which point we came across another interesting character: a man who claimed to be working for the National Audubon Society taking photos of wildlife, namely birds, in the salt marshes. He said he had been a Marine Biologist and stressed the importance of having a wide skill set. His had helped him stay afloat – there wasn’t always a lot of money in Marine Biology, and having photography as a hobby paid off during the lulls in his main career.

He spoke to us about a trip he took with his wife during the summer in which they encountered a family that claimed to have fields and fields of Ginseng, which for any of you that are familiar with the plant know that it sells for a lot money. Apparently a lot of people in the mountains of NC (and probably elsewhere) make such claims to impress their friends, so take the story as you will.

Anyway, once we left his company we headed back to our car to stow our seeds and press our herbarium specimens. While getting everything packed up, one of the women we spoke to earlier came up to us and exclaimed, “have you two heard about the whale”? We obviously didn’t know what she was talking about since we had been in an interdune marsh all afternoon, so we asked what she meant. A whale had washed ashore and she and her friend went to see it, as there were many people stopping on the side of the road, pulling out their cameras, and hiking the dunes to gawk.

We assumed it was probably still alive, and maybe there would be a need for our new Marine Biologist friend to have a look at it and contact the necessary authorities to help it back into the ocean, if that’s what it needed. Much to our dismay, the whale was dead. Very dead. Like d-e-a-d dead. It must’ve been sitting there on the shore for well over a week, rotting in the sun and being eaten, inside and out, by who knows what.

The smell was awful, for one thing, and the sight of it was pretty bad too. For those of you that have smelled a dead animal before, but are not quite sure what a dead whale might smell like, imagine this: take a dead deer, for example, maybe roadkill. Stuff the body with all the seaweed you can find, throw a few fish in there for good measure, then let the corpse do its thing on the side of the road for a while in the heat. That’s about what this whale smelled like.

Once we got over the smell, we took a good look at this thing. The skin was mottled and stretched, full of holes like a balloon that’s been blown up too far and is wearing thinner and thinner. The entire back end was gone. The tail and what seemed like half the distance from the tail to the dorsal fins had been torn off. We’re not sure if it was a someone or a something that took it, but it made for an interesting view of the vertebrae. The head was mostly eaten away, but the big wide tongue remained.

Neither one of us knows a whole lot about whales, so maybe someone else can enlighten us on what type of whale it was. I’ll include one picture for that purpose, and I’ll spare the ones of the rotting flesh dripping from the skeleton.

We see a lot of interesting things on our travels. Maybe one of these days we’ll get to see a live whale!

Whale corpseTill next time.

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