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Pinedale, WY to Grand Junction, CO and Canyonlands National Park, UT: A Photo Journey

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 08/08/2016 - 11:36am
camping at Island lake, Grand Junction CO IMG_6466 I am turning into one of those people that takes pictures with the fish they catch IMG_6483 IMG_6481

I caught this little chipmunk in my Frito’s chip bag, cheeks full

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Congratulations to my co-worker and friend, Lara, for finishing her SECOND UltraMarathon, 33.3 miles, placing 3rd and beating her previous time by nearly an hour! You Rock, Lara.

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This hike in Canyonlands was stunning and you should definitely do it if in the area. Make sure to bring at least a gallon of water for yourself, especially if you go in the summer!

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rock scrambles into the canyon

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an epic camping spot on BLM land near Dead Horse Point State Park

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Life is Good

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Val Stacey

Pinedale, WY

July in Lander, WY

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 08/08/2016 - 11:28am

July has been a busy month in Lander, WY, on a personal and professional level. Starting off with an awesome Fourth of July weekend (think rodeos, parades, live music, friends, grilling, fireworks beyond belief), and ending with hikes through Sinks Canyon – an awesome geologic and recreational spot right outside of Lander city limits – with a dog I was dog sitting named Bean, July has been great. The 23rd International Rock Climbers Festival happened in Lander, which provided many opportunities to win free goodies and dance to some awesome bands –The Whiskey Shivers were a crowd favorite! Though I’m barely a beginner boulder-er, I still had a lot of fun watching the bouldering competitions and being around incredibly buff and tan men and women. I’ve had many nice times with friends in town, playing pool, swimming in a local swimming hole, helping garden, and listening to live music. I’ve also been reading a lot of books from the library, playing Frisbee and tennis, and writing to friends.

Working as a rangeland monitoring technician at the Lander Field Office (BLM) continues to be fulfilling and satisfying. My work partner and I have fallen into a routine with the original monitoring work we learned; we’ve gotten much faster running transects and spying on cows.  These past two weeks we helped out a different rangeland specialist with long-term monitoring efforts. We learned new types of monitoring and saw new country. New grasses to learn, rocks to find and nuances to appreciate.

 replaced stromatolite mounds, replaced ooids and mossy agate.

Left to right: replaced stromatolite mounds, replaced ooids and mossy agate.

A lovely outhouse and coyote skull found exploring new BLM land.

A lovely outhouse and coyote skull found exploring new BLM land.

Since we’ve gotten faster at most of our daily work, we have a bit more time in the office in the afternoon. We’ve picked up some office projects – filing things, calling companies that need to renew permits etc. – to help out those around us. While being in the office pales next to working in the field, everyone is extremely friendly and makes the work enjoyable.

Can’t wait to see what August brings!

Abby

Lander Field Office, Wyoming, Bureau of Land Management

Month two in Casper

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 08/08/2016 - 11:24am

I am close to completing my second month working for the BLM here in Casper, WY. This second month has proven to be much busier than the first, with some exciting new projects and responsibilities.  Although we began to do some cheatgrass monitoring during my first month here, the other intern and I have largely taken over all the monitoring duties associated with that project.  This includes selecting sites to establish new permanent monitoring transects, with the intention of treating that area to remove the cheatgrass at a later date.  Once the monitoring is complete, I will analyze the data and make recommendations for a treatment plan based on the location and density of the cheatgrass.

The importance of removing this dangerous invasive has become more and more apparent as we have entered the main fire season here in Wyoming. The fire danger, posted daily in the office and on many highways, is consistently classified as “Very High” or “Extremely High”.  New fires are seen and reported daily, some of them burning areas greater than 20,000 acres!   The BLM firefighters at this office have been hard at work to control the situation, and have been in cooperation with many nearby fire agencies.  I recently heard that one of the larger fires had 12 large firefighting engines assigned to it, a very large number considering all of the smaller fires that also require attention.  Cheatgrass, being incredibly flammable, may have been a factor in starting these fires, and we are therefore hopeful that removing it will lower the fire danger in the future.

In addition to addressing the cheatgrass problem, I have been helping the wildlife biologists here wrap up the raptor and nest monitoring for the year. Although it may seem early, most raptors will only remain around their nests until their offspring have fledged.  The typical fledging season has ended, and we have observed that most raptors have now left their nests.  I am currently working on an end-of-the-year report to summarize our findings at one monitoring site encompassing 19 nests.  I will indicate which nests remain active and which will require monitoring next year.  The distinction between active and inactive is important because buffer zones are established around every active nest that prohibits any development in that area.  If no raptor activity is recorded over a certain length of time, the buffer restriction is removed and companies (typically oil and gas) are free to develop in that area.

I have also become involved in a number of other exciting projects. We have begun monitoring of Ute Ladies’ Tresses, a listed species of orchid that is endemic to the western United States.  I have observed one population begin to flower, allowing the wildlife biologists here to alert other biologists and contractors to begin searching a variety of areas across the state for more flowering individuals.  The consolidated data should give us an idea of the health of the species, and could potentially be compared to climate data to look for any correlations or trends.

Going forward, I have been talking with one of the wildlife biologists about beginning a project to establish substrate to encourage the nesting of wood ducks in suitable Wyoming habitat. This project would entail identifying areas of habitat that appear appropriate for sustaining populations of wood duck, building the artificial nesting structures, and developing a protocol for monitoring their efficacy going forward.  One of the challenges of this project is that many areas of appropriate habitat may lack corridors to provide feasible immigration by wood ducks.  Therefore, more research may be needed before beginning this project.

Outside of work, I have continued to explore the area and engage in various outdoor activities. I travelled down to Lander, WY to briefly check out a rock climbing festival before embarking on an overnight hike in the Wind River mountain range.  I spent the night at “Island Lake”, likely the most beautiful place I have had the good fortune to camp in the United States.  When not camping or traveling, I have spent a few weekend days floating down the North Platte River here in Casper, which makes for a very fun and relaxing time.  Overall, my second month in Casper has been fantastic both personally and professionally, and I look forward to continuing my work!

My Second Month in Casper, Wyoming

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 08/05/2016 - 5:10pm

I can’t believe a second month has passed! The time is going by so quickly.

Recently, I have been working on a lot of cheatgrass monitoring projects. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is an introduced annual grass that is widely distributed on rangelands throughout the western U.S. This grass is considered opportunistic, meaning it spreads rapidly throughout habitat, it is extremely tolerant of grazing, and it increases in population with frequent fires. With these cheatgrass monitoring projects, we set up permanent transects in heavily populated areas so that we can get an estimation of how much cheatgrass is in that area. After monitoring that site the BLM hires a contractor to go out and spray those sites with herbicide to kill off the population and combat it from spreading elsewhere.

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A patch of cheatgrass from on of our monitoring sites.

I have also been able to participate in the Port-OPotty Owl Project (aka the Poo-Poo Project), by the Teton Raptor Center. This project was started with the idea to prevent wildlife entrapment within vent pipes found on vault toilets by installing safe and effective screens. Many small owls are attracted to small spaces and dark holes because they are cavity nesters. The vents on the outhouses are like tunnels for these birds and once they fly in they can’t get out. For this project I went out and installed about 25 screens on top of toilet vents throughout different public lands that the BLM Casper Field Office is responsible for. I really enjoyed participating in this project because I know that it will make a difference in protecting different cavity nesting species by blocking off unsafe pipes.

I was also finally able to review a couple of wildlife camera trap images that were taken from the last six months. I am excited to say that a known bobcat in the area had kittens this year! Five to be exact! We got an awesome picture of them playing on top of a guzzler that was installed previously by the BLM.

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This image is from a camera trap set up at one of the guzzlers installed by the BLM, Casper.

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The same camera trap but this time we got Bobcat kittens in the photo!

This month I am very excited to start on some Ute Ladies’-tresses monitoring. Ute Ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes diluvialis) is an orchid flowering plant that is officially listed as threatened in the U.S.  This is due primarily to habitat loss. They are also considered extremely vulnerable to other threats because their populations are so small and their reproductive rate is very low. This plant occurs along riparian edges, high flow channels, and moist to wet meadows along streams. To monitor this species we will be going out once a week to survey areas of known populations. We will then record the number of plants we see and whether or not they are flowering at that time.

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Found a blooming Ute Ladies’-tresse covered up by some taller vegetation!

I am so grateful for my time here at the BLM and I can’t wait to learn so many more new things in the coming months!

Summer Fun with Horticultural Therapy

Garden Blog - Thu, 08/04/2016 - 10:02am

Each year, the Horticultural Therapy Services department plans, plants, and programs outdoor pop-up gardens all over the greater Chicago region as part of the offsite program offerings. From colorful sensory plants to delicious edibles, these therapy gardens have something for everyone. 

The Horticultural Therapy Services department’s summer programs engage participants of all ages and abilities in bi-weekly, plant-based activities in an outdoor pop-up garden. The summer season begins with the implementation of the garden in mid-May and lasts throughout the entire growing season. Pop-up gardens give participants the opportunity to plant, maintain, and enjoy the many benefits of a garden—from watering on a hot day to picking (and eating) vine-ripened tomatoes.

The programs thrive with the assistance of facility participants and staff, and this year, the participants weighed in on some of their favorite plants and activities as we enter into the second half of the summer season. 

 A greenhouse full of the plants we use for our many activities on- and offsite.

A greenhouse full of the plants we use for our many activities on- and offsite.

Favorite 2016 Sensory Plants:

Each year, plants are selected to engage participants across the sensory spectrum. Grasses for sound, herbs for taste, and lambs ear for touch—just to name a few. The participants have been enjoying the wide range of plant material, with a few standouts in 2016:

 greens, strawberries, and pickles.

Summer harvest: greens, strawberries, and pickles

  • Cucumis sativus ‘Patio Stacker’ (Cucumber)
  • Fragaria × ananassa ‘All Star’ (Strawberry)
  • Gomphrena globosa ‘Fireworks’ (Globe flower)
  • Lagurus ovatus ‘Bunny Tails’ 
  • Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’ (Pineapple mint)
  • Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese’ (Basil)
  • Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple heart’ (Purple heart)
  • Solanum lycopersicum ‘Tumbler’ (Cherry tomato)
  • Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Gay’s Delight’ (Coleus)

In early summer, the participants enjoyed sweet strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa ‘All Star’)—a first for the summer offsite gardens—and learned how to appropriately trim and tame the basil (Ocium basilicum ‘Genovese’). At Shriners Hospital for Children, the patients and staff said they could “hardly keep up with all the basil.” Sounds like it’s time for garden pesto!

Favorite 2016 activities:

Planting: Participants learn how to remove plants from the cell packs, loosen the roots, and appropriately plant each item. Each year they take great pride in planting their garden and documenting the plant growth. 

 Using a watering wand to reach planters.

A watering wand is a fun and easy way for everyone to participate in tending the garden.

Watering and maintenance: On hot, summer days, watering the garden provides nourishment and relief to plants and people alike. Watering is one of the most vital needs for a thriving garden and thankfully, this calming and restorative experience is inclusive of all program participants. No matter the age or ability, participants can use a lightweight watering wand and hand-over-hand assistance.

Garden lemonade: As a sweet relief at the halfway point of the season, we planned a “Garden Lemonade” activity, utilizing fresh herbs for homemade simple syrup and garnish. The activity was designed to allow participants to taste the difference between homemade and store-bought lemonade. For our fresh lemonade, the participants squeezed fresh lemons into a pitcher, added homemade simple syrup—1 cup sugar in the raw, 1 cup hot water, and fresh muddled mint leaves—and ice to create a refreshing summer treat. Additional herbs and sweet blueberries were added as garnish and enjoyed by all. 

 Garden lemonade is a total hit—and delicious on a hot day.

Garden lemonade is a total hit—and delicious on a hot day.

Upcoming Summer & Fall Activities:

As the season moves along, the participants will continue to tend to and utilize the fruits of their labor. Later this summer, participants will plant fall crop seeds—leafy greens, carrots, radishes, and herbs—and create a pasta salad for our “Garden Pasta Party” summer finale. The pasta party activity is designed to engage participants in a healthy garden-focused cooking activity, one that can be easily replicated at home. The horticultural therapy participants will prepare their own personal salad to pack and share with family and friends at home.

As much as we enjoy summer, we always look forward to the fall season with our offsite contracts. This fall, we’re planning to extend the harvest season with cold crops and more culinary activities. We’ll also repot and propagate many of the plant varieties for over-wintering and compost or donate the rest. 

With luck, we’ll successfully grow a few mini pumpkins for a favored horticultural therapy activity: fall mum pumpkins, and roast seeds before concluding the offsite programs in mid-November. 

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Humbled

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 3:51pm

The largest terrestrial ecosystem on the Planet Earth is the boreal forest. Standing on top of a bluff or mountain, with a view of the interior, invokes a sense of awe that at this moment I cannot express in words. When attempting to describe how it feels to gently walk on a soft sphagnum carpet through the spruce/aspen stands, weaving through a berry-rich understory, lichens crumbling under my feet, sentences fail and language becomes ineffective. I have come to the conclusion that ecosystems of the north are otherworldly.

During the course of this summer, I have come to understand the allure of Alaska. So much can be accomplished under the summer sun, with days reaching 24 hours in length. Since the commencement of our field season, I have had the opportunity to see countless mountains, glaciers, river deltas and forests, both interior and coastal. Our primary goal has been the detection and management of exotic plant populations in the park. If you know anything about exotics in the lower 48, then 13,000,000 acres and with merely 4 people is completely ludicrous, but in Alaska, many of these infestations are only just establishing and can be controlled if detected early. And so we have set off to survey the most highly visited areas of the park, both road accessible and not, to search for these human-transported exotics.

The Copper River Basin with Mt. Drum hiding behind the clouds.

The Copper River Basin with Mt. Drum hiding behind the clouds.

One of our primary targets, Elodea canadensis, has led us to better understand a plant community that I was completely unfamiliar with before this season. Aquatics!

It’s not surprising an interest in the natural world has introduced to me an all-embracing appreciation for biological life, but I never expected to experience such beauty in submerged, freshwater plant life until observing 3-4 meter tall Potamogeton praelongus forests. How fascinating the plant kingdom, occupying such extremes as mountaintops, subarctic freshwater, and gravel fill lots.

A few of the lakes we surveyed had no prior submerged aquatic plant inventories. Being proud botanists, we happily took advantage of the opportunity to describe the flora as best we could. This task proved a bit more arduous than expected given the frequency of hybridization between freshwater aquatics.

A sample of lake bottom aquatic vegetation. Myriophyllum is common occupant of the freshwater floors in Alaska's lakes.

A sample of lake bottom aquatic vegetation. Myriophyllum spp. is common occupant of the freshwater floors in Alaska’s lakes.

Collecting E-DNA samples during the hunt for Elodea canadensis in the Alaskan backcountry.

Collecting E-DNA samples during the hunt for Elodea canadensis in the Alaskan backcountry. The answer is no, I have not bought Xtratufs yet.

Though we have found no Elodea in the 8 lakes surveyed thus far, other non-natives have been detected in areas of prior occurrence in previous seasons. To list a few, we have been conducting treatments to eliminated infestations of Melilotus albus, Melilotus officinalis, Crepis tectorum, Leucanthemum vulgare and Capsella bursa-pastoris.

Along with the search for Elodea, our surveys for terrestrial invasives, rare plant monitoring, and other miscellaneous tasks have led us to a few phenomenal places in the park. We are regularly left to survey in the backcountry, dropped off via bushplane, with the only barrier between us and densely grizzly-populated environment being a thin tent wall and can of bear spray. Sleepless nights aren’t uncommon, especially in coastal bear territory, but proper bear safety practices have prevented encounters so far. For now, we exist together in peace.

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Glassy waters and low turbidity make surveys quite enjoyable.

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Alpine tundra below a glacier in Iceberg Lake Valley. That lovely glacier above me was happy to wake us up in the middle of the night with thundering crack and cavs.

Identifying roadside plants during bike surveys is almost always accompanied with tourists in RVs inquiring our condition.

Identifying roadside plants during bike surveys is almost always accompanied with tourists in RVs inquiring our condition.

Of the most unforgettable experiences thus far, our trek across Root Glacier to monitor the northernmost recorded population of Cypripedium montanum in Alaska reigns supreme. Our target population resided on a 45 degree scree slope between Kennicott and Root Glacier. Upon finding the meadow of wildflowers, we quickly realized the extent of the population and the incredible color variation within it (see below photo). To see this rare organism growing so viciously with such abundance at its most northern extent was beyond exciting. It’s as if all the stars aligned, with every biotic and abiotic factor creating for this small moment in time a perfect environment for something to grow and thrive… It’s the improbable occurrences of the universe that make me laugh and smile.

Crossing Root Glacier in route to the orchid population. Smiles all around.

Crossing Root Glacier in route to the orchid population. Smiles all around.

Observed color variation in the dorsal sepals, lateral petals and tongue (staminode) of Cyprisedium montanum.

Observed color variation in the dorsal sepals, lateral petals and tongue (staminode) of Cyprisedium montanum.

***

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we not take a trip; a trip takes us.” – John Steinbeck

***

When I first accepted my internship with the National Park Service in Wrangell-St. Elias, AK, I immediately began planning for my return to the lower 48. Living in Alaska and experiencing its wilderness engulfed my thought and I was ecstatic about the opportunity. Yet, there was no doubt in my mind there was more for me below the Canadian border. As the summer unfolded I was quite intimately exposed to the awesome, humbling nature of the 13 million acre park and the life that inhabits it. Needless to say, I quickly fell into the enticing spell of the boreal forest and the alpine ecosystems extending beyond treeline. So intriguing is the ability to understand and utilize the resources provided by the waters and forests for food and medicine. In a land of such fruitful, dynamic summer season, fueled by the lengthened day, I feel I must experience the cold, unforgiving winter to truly respect life in this region.

Until next time!

Jacob DeKraai

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK

 

OH, almost forgot… the number one question of late summer is, “What is the correct ratio of blueberries to sugar?”

Ming is almost as excited about blueberry season as me!

Ming and Natalie are almost as excited about blueberry season as me!

No post about Alaska is complete with post-jammin' photos!

No post about Alaska is complete with post-jammin’ photos!

 

Canyon Country

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 3:45pm

Well…here I am more than half way done with my internship in Escalante, UT, just now posting my first blog. Sorry about that; I have no excuse, really, other than the fact that I’ve been so enthralled by the beauty and power of my temporary home that sitting inside at a computer typing about it somehow hasn’t cut it. But here I am either way, hoping to make up for some lost time. This post will be an overview of my life in Utah:

On Saturday, May 14th, 2016 I arrived in the small, rural town of Escalante (which I quickly learned is pronounced es-ca-lant, or es-ca-lant-ie, NOT escalante in the Spanish sense. Anyway). I’d driven some 2,000 miles from Michigan and arrived in a strange country of white slick rock and red canyon cliff faces–a world I’d only read about and never imagined I would see for myself, let alone spend half a year exploring. That’s why I took this job, really. I wanted a new adventure. So, I graduated college on April 30th, filled my car with all sorts of unnecessary things, and drove across the country towards the land of sun and dust.

I’ve traveled a good amount, really. I’ve spent time in Japan, Chile, Wyoming, Colorado, Louisiana…but nothing really prepared me for Escalante. Here, there are more cattle than people. My neighbors walk by my bedroom window every afternoon moving their horses from pasture to corral. There are no bars, only a couple of restaurants, and a single main road through the center of town. (We do have a grocery store and three gas stations, though, a big deal around here.)

We are surrounded on all sides by the 2,000 acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (the space in which I work as a CLM intern), some of the greatest and last wilderness in the American West. The land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and it’s a multi-use space, that means that the tourists frolic down the famous Hole in the Rock road right alongside roaming herds of cattle. The Monument isn’t a National Park; some ranchers still make a living off this land and some are trying to find ways to continue that lifestyle for as long as they can. If you want to come and climb through the slot canyons, explore the gulches, and see the desert stars, you’ll get a taste of rural life in Utah whether you like it or not–

In short, Escalante is a town on the edge of the world; two worlds, really, an old world of ranching, cowboys, and rodeos and a new world of tourism and land preservation. Lots of people have opinions about this, about the American West–what is was, what it is, what it could be. Lots of people like to sit at desks in air conditioned rooms and talk about places like Escalante as if they really understand what’s happening here. I used to be one of them. Now I know better.

Three months in, I’ve become accustomed to this place and have settled in to the slow lull of desert life. My mentor, Terry Tolbert, has been amazing; our first couple weeks here, he drove us all across the Monument and the Boulder Mountain to the north to get us acquainted with the area. I quickly learned that the desert is all about respect and preparedness. You have to respect the landscape in order to love it, and even when you come to love it, you have to be prepared for all that it’s able to throw back at you: Between the red clay roads and unpredictable weather, you can slide right off a two track or get stuck in ruts as deep as your truck tires. You can take a wrong turn on the mountain roads and realize an hour later you have to backtrack three hours to get where you wanted to go. You can hike into a gulch you thought would have water in it, and there’s nothing but dust.

I have never lived in a place of such stark, desolate beauty. There is a quiet out here that seeps into you bones, a quiet that hangs about the canyons and penetrates the rainbow sandstone. Some people try to block it out with music and car engines and heavy footfalls of hiking boots. But you really have to let it in to understand Canyon Country. I’m still getting there, but I’m loving every moment.

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More to come. -Kate

Escalante, UT; BLM

Weeds, wildfires, hawks & Häagen-Dazs

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 3:40pm

Hello from the BLM Mother Lode Field Office in El Dorado Hills, CA!

Much of my time in the last month has been devoted to pulling weeds and taking care of odds-and-ends in the office. The invasive species we have been hand pulling are yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) and stinkwort (Dittrichia graveolens). Though there are huge populations nearby that would take considerable management and effort to eradicate, hand removal of small populations is doable to prevent further establishment into rare plant communities.

There have been relatively small fires on or near BLM land within our field office recently. Rare plant populations do not appear to have been affected, and hopefully there is a seed bank of some rare plant species in the soil that will germinate in the burned area. In some of the areas of the Pine Hill Preserve that I frequently visit, there is such a stark contrast to be seen between adjacent plant communities that have differing fire histories. That has been one of my favorite things to observe during my internship.

Some other unique opportunities have arisen in the last month. I helped with a small construction project, using a soil auger for the first time and pouring concrete for a retaining wall. I recently had the opportunity to tag along with the botanist and wildlife biologist at my office for a raptor survey at the Cosumnes River Preserve. Though we only saw a handful of species on our route, I had fun and just spotting anything is good practice for an amateur like myself.

I visited the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis, a garden that supports bee populations and provides education about bees. It was great to see the garden promoting native plants to support bees and that many of the plant species we collected seeds from this year were represented at the garden. One coworker from my field office has been documenting and collecting pollinators found on species corresponding to seed collections. We must be a curiosity to many passersby, me collecting plants into bags and him wielding his net. I had the opportunity to help with the placing of Malaise insect traps, which when monitored over a sufficient period of time should provide a more complete list of the species present in an area and the relative abundance of each. Traps are being placed on gabbro soils associated with the rare plants within the Pine Hill Preserve, with other traps nearby but outside gabbro soils. Hopefully the results will lead to a better understanding of the endemic plant species and their associated pollinators.

John Woodruff

BLM Mother Lode Field Office

They taste like the impossible

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 3:29pm

Hi all!

Month #2 is officially over (what!?). We’ve only four months left of this internship (hopefully all of them will be less hot). Instead of recapping the entire month, I would like to write about a few points.

We made a collecting trip in the beginning of the month. In this trip we went to Civil War Land Trust, Seneca Creek State Park, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Gunpowder Falls State Park, Elk Neck State Park, Sassafras Natural Resources Management Area, Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Caledon State Park, York River State Park, Voorhees Nature Preserve, and the Vandell Preserve at Cumberland Marsh.  From these places, we made collections of Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis, Viburnum dentatum, Carex vulpinoidea, Danthonia spicata, Schoenoplectus americanus, Eleocharis fallax, Deschampsia flexuosa, Carex lurida, Bolboschoenus robustus, Juncus effusus. Woooo!

We were ecstatic about finding the D. spicata and D. flexuosa especially, as these were two species that were not collected last year! I cleaned the seeds last week of Danthonia and it took FOREVER. But they’re so cute to look at, so it was okay. By the way, Viburnum is absolutely terrible to clean. It looks like chili and smells like, well, let’s just say – gross. However, elderberry smells divine, like a fine wine in the making. OH! Something else that is cute to look at? Conoclinium coelestinum, blue mistflower. The most magical, perfect name for the most magical, perfect plant! I remember learning this plant at the UNC Herbarium, but this was the first time I saw it in person – and I fell in love. Amanda spotted this tiny lady on our way out of Caledon SP. Jake says we will be seeing it ALL over the place… I can’t wait!

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blue mistflower! :)

 

Another perfect thing about this trip – although not very plant related – is this adorable place. This, ladies and gentleman, is a little coffee shop in Chestertown, Maryland. It’s called Evergrain Bread Company, and they have anything from Nutella lattes to any pastry you could want. I got this perfect honey vanilla latte one morning for breakfast before we set out to Eastern Neck NWR.

The coffee shop in Chestertown!

The coffee shop in Chestertown!

My perfect honey vanilla latte

My perfect honey vanilla latte

While doing some herbarium research last week, I came across a species on our list – Spiraea tomentosa, steeplebush – and again, I don’t know what it is about steeplebush and blue mistflower, but MAN! I can’t get over them! If you aren’t familiar with this species, look it up! I don’t have any pictures of it unfortunately! Love love love. I can’t wait to see this out in the field!

 

Rubus phoenicolasius, wineberry – although invasive – is also so delicious.

wineberries!

wineberries!

Here are some pictures from our trip:

Jewelweed in bloom

Jewelweed in bloom

 

Right in front of where we collected a Carex species at Caledon SP

Right in front of where we collected a Carex species at Caledon SP

Caterpillars from heaven

Caterpillars from Heaven

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Some personal side notes:

I love summer, but I’ve been noticing myself thinking about fall and cooler temperatures while we are out collecting. It will be so nice!

Sitting in the grass on the side of the road while collecting Eleocharis in the rain and doing some mindful counting is probably one of the most refreshing and relaxing feelings ever.

Collecting Eleocharis in the rain. Sammy is fabulous as always.

Collecting Eleocharis in the rain. Sammy is fabulous as always.

Eleocharis seeds! So cute.

Eleocharis seeds! So cute.

I’m really good at not scratching bug bites now.

Thanks for reading,

Melanie

 

 

More Seed Collections, More Arm Muscles

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 3:26pm

Over the past two collecting trips we have almost doubled the amount of collections we make per week! It has been a whirlwind of activity and quite the learning experience. We have been traveling mostly throughout Maryland and Virginia and I have slowly figured out how to best seek out collection sites in the expanse of an entire state park or national wildlife refuge. This past trip we used kayaks to gather seed from a few species like Sambucus canadensis and to scout potential sites. I really enjoyed getting to use kayaks and being out on the water, but boy they do pose a few challenges when using to collect seed. A few times I made the terrible decision to try and get out of my kayak onto what appeared as land and just sank into the mud. Also, after our second day of kayaking, I thought I was going to awake to find two new arms the size of the hulk’s arms. This did not happen, but I was sore for a few days. Despite the challenges, kayaking was my favorite part of the trip, we got to see some beautiful vistas and scout out some great populations of one of my favorite species Hibiscus moscheutos. 

Views from my kayak at Tuckahoe State Park

Views from my kayak at Tuckahoe State Park

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Hibiscus moscheutos in bloom!

In addition to the many amazing new plant species I have been learning in our travels, we have seen some amazing pollinators, moths, and various insects. It has opened my eyes more to insect biodiversity and has encouraged me to keep a lookout for insects as well as plants when out in nature. Below are just a few of the beautiful insects we have seen:

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Furthermore, my team and I always discuss being opportunistic in if we see seed that is ready to collect on a plant that is not on our list to always try and key it out and collect it if possible. During our past trip we found this really awesome Schoenoplectus  sp.  that we later keyed out to be Schoenoplectus mucronatus. As none of us had ever seen this species before we got very excited and made a collection, however upon later research we discovered it is actually not native to the U.S. and had to begrudgingly microwave the seed (as to not spread exotic species around) and throw out the collection. Lesson learned! As exciting as it is to learn new species and be opportunistic where possible, I learned it is always important to do research on a plant and make sure you are not spreading an exotic species around. Overall, this past few weeks have been awesome and I hope we can keep up the momentum!

Rare gems in a sea of weeds

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 3:23pm

It can get pretty depressing spending every day of fieldwork searching for and mapping weeds. Monotonous as well, because (spoiler alert), we ALWAYS find them in abundance! Focus too hard on the knapweed, cheatgrass, and tumblemustard, and eventually it becomes all you see. That’s why I felt lucky the past few weeks to be introduced by Molly, our office’s botanist, to some Washington rare plants, and take a little time out in the field to focus on something more positive!

Long-sepal globemallow, Iliamna longisepala

Long-sepal globemallow, Iliamna longisepala

Ute ladies'-tresses, Spiranthes diluvialis

Ute ladies’-tresses, Spiranthes diluvialis

Coyote tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata

Coyote tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata

Having rare plants to search for while out mapping weeds is a nice distraction. Mostly, I’ve just confirmed that certain known populations of these three plants are still around, but last Thursday I had the excitement of discovering a previously unknown population of coyote tobacco! Because my fellow weed-mappers and I are either harder-working or more foolish than some of our other coworkers at the Wenatchee field office, we tend to hike the steeper parts of our BLM parcels than most people would probably categorize as inaccessible. (There’s a reason this internship has me in the best shape of my life!) While we were walking along a high ridge and bemoaning the fact that there was dalmatian toadflax absolutely everywhere, I found a clump of at least 20 coyote tobacco plants, and then more as we walked along further. I was thrilled, and even more so later on when I told Molly about it and she said no one had reported that population before. For once, I was able to give somebody in the office some good news, and it felt great!

Though the mild weather this summer held out much longer than I expected, we are finally experiencing the Wenatchee heat that everyone warned us about, and I’m learning how to survive fieldwork in hundred degree weather. The keys, I’ve found, are water and a good sense of humor!

Here are some more pictures from the past couple weeks:

We rode in a UTV for the first time! It was mildly terrifying.

We rode in a UTV for the first time! It was mildly terrifying.

Since I'm not an entomologist, I've decided to call this little buddy a unicorn caterpillar!

Since I’m not an entomologist, I’ve decided to call this little buddy a unicorn caterpillar!

Another day, another gorgeous, sweeping vista. I love my job!

Another day, another gorgeous, sweeping vista. I love my job!

Katherine Schneider, BLM, Wenatchee WA Field Office

July Recap

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 3:21pm

I can’t believe it has been a month since the last post, time sure flies around here. As usual, there are way too many items on the to-do list and not enough time to finish all of them. Recently, a lot of the staff members left for vacation or personal time off so Corey and I are the only interns left. Corey is an American Conservation Experience intern picked up by Harry (our preserve manager) to manage the Badger Creek restoration area. Since now I’m the person with the most experience about wetlands, I was left in charge of managing the water levels around some of our ponds. I’m starting to see species of waterfowl return to the area.

I’m also working with a volunteer who is a GIS expert. We’re trying to QA and QC (quality assurance and quality control) the location of all our valves, standpipes, air vents and water control structures. It has been a challenge to finish this little project due to lack of knowledge about the Citrix server and issues with the Trimble Juno handheld unit (battery discharge). However, after installing the proper background imagery and having a functional battery, I was able to finish that task this morning.

The YCC crew came back to our preserve after departing for the Pine Hill preserve several weeks ago. They were extremely valuable because they helped with weed wacking and moving rip rap, tasks that are really demanding in 100 F temperature. I really enjoyed meeting the crew members and hope them the best. I’ve attached a picture of me and the crew, not sure if that went through…

I’ve also been involved with pesticide applications this month. The water primrose is getting out of control around our sloughs, it is the worse that is has ever been. This could be attributed to the longer growing season, I think. We typically use Roundup custom in addition to Renovate to spray. The thing I find most tedious with pesticide applications is the clean up process.

We also had a move! Our center is going through some renovations, so we have to move all our supplies to another location. It took us several days to coordinate and move all our supplies. I can’t believe how much those giant folders weight. The heaviest thing I lifted alone was probably one of our printers. Probably not a smart idea now that I think of it.

I recently starting using the Kubota to mow some of our trails and ponds. Such a fun experience! Growing up in the city, I’m not really used to operating heavy equipment. This is one of the perks that I really enjoy about this job. I’m trying to work myself up to using a tractor to disc the ponds sometime in the future.

Chau

Pollinators, Plants, Milkweed, and Monarchs

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 3:19pm

Over the course of six weeks, I progressed the Mt. Pinos Ranger District initiative of creating a pollinator friendly garden at the Chuchupate Ranger Station. I surveyed Milkweed populations for evidence of Monarch reproduction, and made incidental observations about Monarchs and native pollinator and native plant interactions.

For the pollinator garden, activities included removing the noxious pepperweed (Lepidium sp.), researching planting and propagation methods for candidate plants in the garden, collecting seeds of native plants, and watering and measuring success of milkweed plants in the greenhouse. For the pepperweed, I performed one half day of removal on the property, filling a trash bag. However, the plant was back in full force within three weeks. I recommend aggressive removal and monitoring every two weeks. Collecting native seeds involved identifying healthy populations (>10 individuals) of pollinator-friendly, local plants, attempting to focus on those plants planned for the garden. In total, I collected 4,273 seeds, 2,204 of which are planned in the xeriscape garden (Seed Collection.xlsx). Seeds were collected in paper bags, counted in the office, and accessioned in a spreadsheet according to the quadrangle in which they were collected. Three times a week I watered the milkweed seedlings in the greenhouse at Frazier Mountain High School, measuring germination success at the beginning of each week. As of the end of July 2016, 44.1% of the seedlings have germinated and survived, 14% of the seedlings produced more than one shoot. I designed a straightforward data sheet for continued measuring of seedling success, corresponding to the layout of the greenhouse.

In addition to seed collection, I made observations of pollinator-plant interactions, Monarch adults, recorded milkweed populations, and surveyed for Monarch reproduction on Milkweed. I made 44 observations of pollinators, 25 of which included pollinated plants, and 22 of which were Monarch adults. I recorded the location, number, and behavior of Monarchs (Pollinators MPRD.xlsx). Milkweed observations were made incidentally within Mt. Pinos Ranger District (Milkweed MPRD.xlsx, Sheet 1). Each data point corresponds to a 1 m2 presence of one of three species of milkweed (Asclepias eriocarpa, Asclepias fascicularis, and Asclepias californica). Within the data sheet I included known populations of milkweed that were not recorded for GPS coordinates, elevation, and flowering status data. These locations may be visited at a later data for observations, field collection, or Monarch surveys (Milkweed MPRD.xlsx, Sheet 2). Four locations on the Mt. Pinos Ranger District were visited for Monarch surveys, following the protocol on mlmp.org, measuring the total area, estimate or count of milkweed plants, number of sampled plants, and number of Monarch eggs, instars, or chrysalis’. I designed a datasheet for these surveys. Over the four locations and five survey days (one site was surveyed twice) we observed 5 Monarch instars. Results of the surveys are located on “Monarch Data.xlsx” and are able to be registered on the mlmp.org but have not been registered at this time. The monarch survey results file also contains a sheet of all incidental observations of adults on the MPRD.

Other duties of the internship included removing cliff swallow nests surveys and removal to prevent avian window injury, designing and posting fire closure signs, surveying springs for water flow and use, collecting herbarium vouchers (Herbarium collections.xlsx), writing native plant newsletters for education and distribution in the MPRD, identifying and referring seed collection sites for an AT&T restoration project, and editing and participating in the production of a rare plants field guide for Mt. Pinos Ranger District by local botanist, Pam De Vries.

My recommendations for the pollinator initiative at MPRD are 1) Create a restoration-like plan for planting pollinator plants. Ideally, it would look like a hybrid of the AT&T Frazier Park to Pine Mountain Telecommunications Project: Habitat Restoration Plan and the USDA Technical Note: Plants for Pollinators in the Inland Northwest. The plan would apply to all candidate sites within the MPRD 2) Design a sampling method for population density of milkweed on the MPRD. 3) Design a sampling method for population density of Monarchs on the MPRD. Every year, record the first and last observations of Monarchs and make estimates of density. 4) Create an insect collection with an emphasis on pollinating insects, taking perfect note of the pollinated plants.IMG_2173 IMG_2159 IMG_2135 IMG_2123 IMG_2111 IMG_2071 IMG_2054 Twin Spring DSC_0359 DSC_0363

Week in the life of a NYC seed collector

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 3:16pm

I’m working at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on Staten Island, NY. Our small regional seed bank is working to make upwards of 300 collections of native plant seeds this year. These seeds will be used for restoration projects in areas damaged by hurricane Sandy. The first few weeks were filled with intensive training in plant identification and seed collection strategies. But now we’ve been loosed into the wild to do the work! We were assigned to teams in different geographic regions from which to collect. I’m working with my fellow intern, Laura, and we’re doing seed collection in the forests, dunes, and marshes of Long Island (which, in fact, is QUITE long, and quite a bit greener than I had expected). We have started to get into the swing of things, so here’s a look at what we did this week!

Monday: Every successful trip into the field starts with thorough planning in the office. Laura and I assess which species might be ready for collection and chose which new sites we want to scout. We book accommodation, plan meals, pick up our rental car, and contact park managers to let them know we’d be on site. We organize our tools: Plant press, clippers, GPS. rain gear, data sheets, collection envelopes etc. With (almost) everything accounted for, we head home and got an early night to prepare for the next day’s work.

Tuesday: I tote my backpack full of supplies through the subway crowded with commuters. I get some odd looks (my khaki field pants and and tie-dye t-shirt do not blend in with typical New York fashion) but I arrive on time at the subway station near Laura’s apartment in Brooklyn. We drive two hours until we reach our first field site: Rocky Point Pine Barrens Preserve. We spend a couple of hours hiking around, eagerly noting the abundance of bearberry (Arctostaphylus uva ursi) and wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria). After we’ve sufficiently scouted this site, we head to Brookhaven State Park. We find some nice populations around several small ponds, and along a powerline cut.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 11.44.06 AM
pondside Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)

Wednesday: Today we visit two new sites: Robert Cushman Murphy County Park and Sears Bellows County Park. Both are full of dried up pond beds, filled with interesting species. One of my favorite finds was a beautiful collection of Rhexia virginica growing happily in the mud of the dried up pond.

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Rhexia virginica

Around the main pond on site we find an abundance of a rush called Juncus effusus that is seeding. It takes a bit of bushwhacking through the surrounding thickets, but we collect from the entire population.

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We also find this little guy.

Thursday: We return to a site that we visited last week, Connetquot River State Park, to finish a collection of two grasses. We move swiftly through the roadside grasses, stopping to find another population of Juncus effusus around a stream that flows through the middle of the park. We finish up the day happy with our three completed seed collections.

Friday: Back in the office, we lay out our seed to dry in the lab, and plan for more botanical adventures ahead!

Halfway through the season

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 3:13pm

Can’t believe it’s already halfway through the season! It was a slow start in April but now it has been constant work outside. We had a nuisance bear at one of our campsites so no more picnic baskets for Yogi and Boo Boo.

One of the engineers welding for the bear proof garbage.

One of the engineers welding for the bear proof garbage can.

End product to keep the bears away from the trash.

End product to keep the bears away from the trash.

 

My cointern and I have also been on a mission to change out BLM road signs and so far have accomplished about twenty transitions from old and decrepit to new and refreshed signs.

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New sign

 

Old sign we replaced.

Old sign we replaced.

We have also been monitoring our WSA’s, which can be an interesting truck ride, considering some roads are not maintained. Monitoring consists of us pounding in carcinites and putting on stickers to mark the boundary, scoping for wildlife, and checking for intrusions from people not using designated trails.

Wild horses by one of our WSA's

Wild horses by one of our WSA’s

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Rocky Mountain Columbine in another one of our WSA’s

and here’s an encounter with a prairie rattlesnake in town.

He's a big one

He’s a big one

Until next time from the Rawlins Field Office.

Rebecca Radtke

Reforestation from the Ground Up

Garden Blog - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 10:47am

Experts in reforestation are concerned with the reasons why some replanted sites struggle. They suspect the problem may be solved through soil science.

The health of a forest is rooted in soil and the diverse fungi living within it, according to researchers at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Northwestern University, and collaborators at China’s Central South University of Forestry and Technology.

In densely populated places such as the Chicago area and Changsha, the capitol of the Hunan province, ongoing development and urban expansion frequently lead to the deforestation of native natural areas.

Collaborators tour a study site in China.

Research collaborators tour a study site in China.

“There has been a lot of deforestation in China and so there is interest in knowing how best to do reforestation, whether we’re using native plants or introduced plants in plantation settings,” explained Greg Mueller, Ph.D., chief scientist at the Garden. “Understanding who the players are both above ground and below ground helps us understand the health and sustainability of that above-ground plant community,” he added. “It’s analogous to restoration work being carried out here in the Midwest.” The climate, he explained, is similar in Changsha and Chicago.

A wide variety of fungi live in a symbiotic partnership with roots of trees everywhere. These fungi and trees are involved in a vital exchange of goods. The fungi deliver water and nutrients to the trees, and in return take sugars the trees produce during photosynthesis. Without this symbiotic relationship, the system would fail.

Not all tree species and fungi can team up for success, according to Dr. Mueller, who explained that it is essential for the partners to be correct if the tree is to survive. “The wrong fungi may actually be more pathogenic than beneficial,” he explained. Mueller is guiding research on this delicate soil-tree relationship as conducted by his doctoral student Chen Ning.

Ning is on leave from his position as a lecturer at Central South University of Forestry and Technology while he completes his studies with the Garden and Northwestern University. However, much of his work is taking place in China, where he has just completed the first phase of fieldwork.

After completing his master’s degree, Ning was keenly aware of the important role fungi play in the health of the natural world. He knew that he “wanted to ask some questions about the environment and how fungi influence the environment.” He added with a smile, “that’s why I chose to do some dirty work in the soil.”

IMG_2726

Chen Ning stands behind Dr. Greg Mueller and collaborating professors.

The bright scientist is using the latest technology available, next-generation sequencing, to examine the molecular composition of soil samples taken from locations where native or nonnative trees or both were replanted 30 or 40 years ago. Specifically, he is looking at the replanting of Mason pines, a native Chinese pine, and slash pine (Pinus ellitottii), a nonnative pine introduced to China from the tropical state of Florida.

Ning recently completed his first review of those samples, finding large numbers of fungi in each. In addition, he found that the three different habitats have very different fungal communities.

Mueller and Ning visited the university and collaborators in Changsha in February. Mueller was able to visit the sites Ning sampled during the first phase of research and see the setup for the second phase of research in the greenhouses. The level of disturbance in the natural areas was extensive, a point of interest for Mueller who said, “that again makes it interesting to look at some ecological questions about disturbance and how that impacts these systems.” The team also had time to discuss the importance of considering fungi in related research initiatives.

 Dr. Greg Mueller and Chinese collaborators.

Taking a break for a selfie and some sightseeing

Next up, Ning will examine his greenhouse plantings that use soils taken from his different field sites to determine if the fungi community changes in response to what type of tree is planted. When that is complete at the end of this summer, Ning will look at the enzyme activity in the soil to determine if fungi are functioning differently in the three different plantings (native forest, native tree in plantation, exotic tree in plantation). The study is on a fast track with a targeted completion date in late 2017 and is expected to add new understandings to the biology of plant-fungal relationships while generating important information on reforesting disturbed sites in south-central China.

After completing his Ph.D., Ning hopes to work as a professor to inspire students in China to pursue similar research. He also aspires to serve as a bridge between the United States and China for new research collaborations on topics such as climate change in order to help figure out the ‘big picture’ in the future.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Reforestation from the Ground Up

Plant Science and Conservation - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 10:47am

Experts in reforestation are concerned with the reasons why some replanted sites struggle. They suspect the problem may be solved through soil science.

The health of a forest is rooted in soil and the diverse fungi living within it, according to researchers at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Northwestern University, and collaborators at China’s Central South University of Forestry and Technology.

In densely populated places such as the Chicago area and Changsha, the capitol of the Hunan province, ongoing development and urban expansion frequently lead to the deforestation of native natural areas.

Collaborators tour a study site in China.

Research collaborators tour a study site in China.

“There has been a lot of deforestation in China and so there is interest in knowing how best to do reforestation, whether we’re using native plants or introduced plants in plantation settings,” explained Greg Mueller, Ph.D., chief scientist at the Garden. “Understanding who the players are both above ground and below ground helps us understand the health and sustainability of that above-ground plant community,” he added. “It’s analogous to restoration work being carried out here in the Midwest.” The climate, he explained, is similar in Changsha and Chicago.

A wide variety of fungi live in a symbiotic partnership with roots of trees everywhere. These fungi and trees are involved in a vital exchange of goods. The fungi deliver water and nutrients to the trees, and in return take sugars the trees produce during photosynthesis. Without this symbiotic relationship, the system would fail.

Not all tree species and fungi can team up for success, according to Dr. Mueller, who explained that it is essential for the partners to be correct if the tree is to survive. “The wrong fungi may actually be more pathogenic than beneficial,” he explained. Mueller is guiding research on this delicate soil-tree relationship as conducted by his doctoral student Chen Ning.

Ning is on leave from his position as a lecturer at Central South University of Forestry and Technology while he completes his studies with the Garden and Northwestern University. However, much of his work is taking place in China, where he has just completed the first phase of fieldwork.

After completing his master’s degree, Ning was keenly aware of the important role fungi play in the health of the natural world. He knew that he “wanted to ask some questions about the environment and how fungi influence the environment.” He added with a smile, “that’s why I chose to do some dirty work in the soil.”

IMG_2726

Chen Ning stands behind Dr. Greg Mueller and collaborating professors.

The bright scientist is using the latest technology available, next-generation sequencing, to examine the molecular composition of soil samples taken from locations where native or nonnative trees or both were replanted 30 or 40 years ago. Specifically, he is looking at the replanting of Mason pines, a native Chinese pine, and slash pine (Pinus ellitottii), a nonnative pine introduced to China from the tropical state of Florida.

Ning recently completed his first review of those samples, finding large numbers of fungi in each. In addition, he found that the three different habitats have very different fungal communities.

Mueller and Ning visited the university and collaborators in Changsha in February. Mueller was able to visit the sites Ning sampled during the first phase of research and see the setup for the second phase of research in the greenhouses. The level of disturbance in the natural areas was extensive, a point of interest for Mueller who said, “that again makes it interesting to look at some ecological questions about disturbance and how that impacts these systems.” The team also had time to discuss the importance of considering fungi in related research initiatives.

 Dr. Greg Mueller and Chinese collaborators.

Taking a break for a selfie and some sightseeing

Next up, Ning will examine his greenhouse plantings that use soils taken from his different field sites to determine if the fungi community changes in response to what type of tree is planted. When that is complete at the end of this summer, Ning will look at the enzyme activity in the soil to determine if fungi are functioning differently in the three different plantings (native forest, native tree in plantation, exotic tree in plantation). The study is on a fast track with a targeted completion date in late 2017 and is expected to add new understandings to the biology of plant-fungal relationships while generating important information on reforesting disturbed sites in south-central China.

After completing his Ph.D., Ning hopes to work as a professor to inspire students in China to pursue similar research. He also aspires to serve as a bridge between the United States and China for new research collaborations on topics such as climate change in order to help figure out the ‘big picture’ in the future.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Ruby-throated hummingbird migration begins

Garden Blog - Mon, 08/01/2016 - 9:11am

In August, when the jewelweed and cardinal flowers bloom, the ruby-throated hummingbird is migrating. It’s perfect timing, because the hummingbirds get energy for their journey southward by sipping nectar from the blossoms of these plants native to northern Illinois.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird photo © Carol Freeman

Ruby-throated hummingbird © Carol Freeman


The ruby-throated hummingbird is the August bird species highlighted by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Come #birdthepreserves with the FPDCC; there are two free upcoming walks at the Garden.

 A female ruby-throated hummingbird (males have the ruby coloring) enjoys a sip of salvia nectar in Circle Garden in summer.

A female ruby-throated hummingbird (males have the ruby coloring) enjoys a sip of salvia nectar in the Circle Garden in summer.

The ruby-throat is the only hummingbird to breed in eastern North America, and these tiny jewels are somewhat common nesters in Cook County woodlands. They become more numerous in late summer and fall, as those that nested farther north pass through on their way to their winter homes in Mexico and Central America.

The ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) wears emerald green on its back and crown, and in good light, the male reveals an iridescent red throat. (During fall migration, you’ll see males as well as females and young, both of which lack the ruby throat.)

They return to Illinois in April and May, seeking nectar from early blooming trees and shrubs as well as insects and spiders.

It’s at this time you might get lucky enough to observe the courting male as he flies in a U-shape and also buzzes in front of a perched female. Buzzes? Yes! Hummingbirds aren’t silent—you can hear their wings buzz and vocalizations from their throats when they’re defending feeding territory or seeking a mate.

The female builds a thimble-sized cup nest on a horizontal branch, adding grasses and spider webs, lining it with plant down and then covering the outside with lichens and dead leaves. The young hatch in about 15 days, and remain in the nest for another 20 days or so as the female brings them insects.

An aerial wonder, the ruby-throated hummingbird, can beat its wings 53 times per second, and can fly backward and upside down.

You can attract ruby-throated hummingbirds to your yard by planting the flowers they love—tubular and brightly colored in red hues—and by putting up feeders. Hummingbirds are fun to watch at feeders as they have spats in flight trying to hoard the food to themselves. 

To make hummingbird food, add ¼ cup white sugar to 1 cup boiled distilled water. Stir to dissolve, then cool before you put it into the feeder. It’s not necessary to put red food coloring in the water. Use a red feeder to attract the hummers. Hang out of direct sunlight, and clean and refill often.

Most ruby-throated hummingbirds are gone by the end of October in this area. You can put your feeders back up in April when they return.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Ruby-throated hummingbird migration begins

Birding - Mon, 08/01/2016 - 9:11am

In August, when the jewelweed and cardinal flowers bloom, the ruby-throated hummingbird is migrating. It’s perfect timing, because the hummingbirds get energy for their journey southward by sipping nectar from the blossoms of these plants native to northern Illinois.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird photo © Carol Freeman

Ruby-throated hummingbird © Carol Freeman


The ruby-throated hummingbird is the August bird species highlighted by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Come #birdthepreserves with the FPDCC; there are two free upcoming walks at the Garden.

 A female ruby-throated hummingbird (males have the ruby coloring) enjoys a sip of salvia nectar in Circle Garden in summer.

A female ruby-throated hummingbird (males have the ruby coloring) enjoys a sip of salvia nectar in the Circle Garden in summer.

The ruby-throat is the only hummingbird to breed in eastern North America, and these tiny jewels are somewhat common nesters in Cook County woodlands. They become more numerous in late summer and fall, as those that nested farther north pass through on their way to their winter homes in Mexico and Central America.

The ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) wears emerald green on its back and crown, and in good light, the male reveals an iridescent red throat. (During fall migration, you’ll see males as well as females and young, both of which lack the ruby throat.)

They return to Illinois in April and May, seeking nectar from early blooming trees and shrubs as well as insects and spiders.

It’s at this time you might get lucky enough to observe the courting male as he flies in a U-shape and also buzzes in front of a perched female. Buzzes? Yes! Hummingbirds aren’t silent—you can hear their wings buzz and vocalizations from their throats when they’re defending feeding territory or seeking a mate.

The female builds a thimble-sized cup nest on a horizontal branch, adding grasses and spider webs, lining it with plant down and then covering the outside with lichens and dead leaves. The young hatch in about 15 days, and remain in the nest for another 20 days or so as the female brings them insects.

An aerial wonder, the ruby-throated hummingbird, can beat its wings 53 times per second, and can fly backward and upside down.

You can attract ruby-throated hummingbirds to your yard by planting the flowers they love—tubular and brightly colored in red hues—and by putting up feeders. Hummingbirds are fun to watch at feeders as they have spats in flight trying to hoard the food to themselves. 

To make hummingbird food, add ¼ cup white sugar to 1 cup boiled distilled water. Stir to dissolve, then cool before you put it into the feeder. It’s not necessary to put red food coloring in the water. Use a red feeder to attract the hummers. Hang out of direct sunlight, and clean and refill often.

Most ruby-throated hummingbirds are gone by the end of October in this area. You can put your feeders back up in April when they return.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Birds, the Bees, and the Butterflies: Butterfly Mating Behaviors

Garden Blog - Sun, 07/31/2016 - 10:11am

On a typical day in the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition, you will see our butterflies flying, sunning themselves, or resting in the foliage.

If you happen to come to the exhibition just after a rain shower, and the sun is shining, it’s your lucky day, because love is literally in the air.

 Butterflies mating.

Warm temperatures after a good rain seem to encourage butterfly mating. Photo © Andreas Krappweis

I remember one day in the exhibition when the weather was lousy. It had been raining all morning. While the volunteers and I huddled around in our ponchos, the butterflies were fine, hanging out in the trees, awaiting the sun. Around noon, the rain finally stopped and the clouds parted, saturating the exhibition with hot, bright sunshine. The exhibition had become a steamy hothouse. At that moment, almost every one of our 200-plus butterflies started flying. They had been waiting all morning for this.

The air in the exhibition was laced with pheromones from many different butterfly species, driving the males into a frenzy. I looked around and watched as male butterflies slammed into one another as they were in hot pursuit of a lone female. Even when two butterflies paired off, there would be a jilted male who wouldn’t give up trying to separate them by trying to knock the pair apart.

I was stunned at the variety and complexity of the courtship dances and rituals being displayed. A pair of Junonia iphita, or chocolate pansy butterflies, would fly to about 5 feet, at which point they would descend in a perfect interlocking spiral, straight down until they hit the ground. They would repeat this courtship ritual over and over again. Another incredible display was the Graphium agamemnon, or tailed jay butterfly.

 Graphium agamemnon (Tailed jay) butterfly by Anne Belmont.

Tailed jay (Graphium agamemnon) butterfly by Anne Belmont

One tailed jay would fly in a straight line, while a second one (assumedly the male) would rapidly orbit around the first one, sort of like the moon orbiting the earth as it flies through space. This little trick just blew me away. I then noticed butterflies were mating in mid-air. One butterfly would do the flying, while the other would be hanging precariously below. This stunt was made possible by the male’s “claspers.” These claspers work exactly as they sound: they grab hold of the female, making sure that they remain together.

Papilio lowii (Great yellow mormon) butterfly by Anne Belmont.

Great yellow mormon (Papilio lowi) butterfly by Anne Belmont

 Cethosia cyane (Leopard lacewing) butterfly.

Leopard lacewing (Cethosia cyane) butterfly by Robin Carlson

There were many more amazing acts of nature going on during this incredible spectacle. Some butterflies would attempt to mate with a different species. Sometimes males would try to mate. I even spied a trio of butterflies interlocked, forming a tangle of wings pointing in every direction. Two were a pair of Papilio lowii, or yellow mormon butterflies, while the interloper was a Cethosia cyane, or leopard lacewing. Now I thought I had seen it all. These butterflies were making human relationships seem tame. Visitors were enjoying the show, too. They would say, “This is supposed to be a ‘family’ exhibit!”

Females who had already mated or just weren’t impressed by the males would sit on a leaf with their wings spread and their abdomens held high in the air. This made mating impossible.

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides)

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) by Bill Bishoff

Then, I saw something really baffling. To this day, lepidopterists know very little about the courtship of everyone’s favorite butterfly, Morpho peleides, the blue morpho. It started when one blue morpho clung to the netting of our enclosure.

Next, almost a dozen other morphos came over and began to form a very tight swarm around the morpho hanging on the netting. The group formed a writhing cloud around the butterfly on the netting, bumping into each other and circling around the individual. I did not see any of them pair off and mate. They just danced frenetically around the center morpho.

Was the center morpho somehow the only female, and all the males were simply trying to mate with her? I doubt it. We usually have an even ratio of males to females in the exhibition. Perhaps the center morpho acted as a beacon, releasing pheromones so that her kind would gravitate toward her designated “mating area” and mate with one another. She was the orchestrator of the ritual, silently sitting and directing her kin to carry out their biological imperative.

 Large tiger longwing (Lycorea cleobaea) butterflies mating in the exhibit

Large tiger longwing (Lycorea cleobaea) butterflies mating in the exhibit; photo by Jill Emas Davis

The moral of the story is this: run to the butterfly exhibition if it has recently stopped raining. You might get a chance to see some amazing butterfly mating behavior.

Butterflies & Blooms is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through September 5, 2016. Bringing the family? Our Summer Family Fun Pack includes parking and five tickets to Butterflies & Blooms and the Model Railroad Garden.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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