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60-Second Science: Prairies Need Fire

Plant Science and Conservation - Tue, 02/09/2016 - 9:50am

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

A dark, stinky plume of smoke rising from a nature preserve might be alarming. But fire is what makes a prairie a prairie.

A prairie is a type of natural habitat, like a forest, but forests are dominated by trees, and prairies by grasses. If you’re used to the neatly trimmed grass of a soccer field, you may not even recognize the grasses of the prairie. They can get so tall a person can get lost.

Prairies are maintained by fire; without it, they would turn into forests. Any chunky acorn or winged maple seed dropping into a prairie could grow into a giant tree, but they generally don’t because prairies are burned every few years. In fact, fossilized pollen and charcoal remains from ancient sediments show that fire, started by lightning and/or people, has maintained the prairies of Illinois for at least 10,000 years. Today, restoration managers (with back up from the local fire department), are the ones protecting the prairie by setting it aflame.

 Chicago Botanic Garden ecologist Joah O'Shaughnessy monitors a prairie burn.

Garden ecologist Joan O’Shaughnessy monitors a spring burn of the Dixon Prairie.

 New growth after a prairie burn.

New growth emerges a scant month after the prairie burn.

Prairie plants survive these periodic fires because they have incredibly deep roots. These roots send up new shoots after fire chars the old ones. Burning also promotes seed germination of some tough-seeded species, and helps keep weeds at bay by giving all plants a fresh start.

Read more about our conservation and restoration projects on the Chicago Botanic Garden website. Want to get involved in our local ecosystem conservation? Find your opportunity with Chicago Wilderness.

 Becky Barak.Becky Barak is a Ph.D. candidate in Plant Biology and Conservation at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University. She studies plant biodiversity in restored prairies, and tweets about ecology, prairies, and her favorite plants at @BeckSamBar.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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

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

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

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

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

Evolving Plant Structures

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

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

 tree roots.

Large roots anchor a plant in place.

 bulb with tiny bulblets and root hairs.

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

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

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

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

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Osprey Nesting Platform Installed at the Garden

Birding - Sat, 01/30/2016 - 8:48am

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

MAP

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

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

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

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

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

 Installing and osprey nesting pole.

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

 Installing an osprey nesting pole.

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

 Installing an osprey nesting pole.

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

 Installing an osprey nesting pole.

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

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

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

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

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

60-Second Science: Dormancy and Germination

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

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

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

 A tiny oak sprouting from an acorn.

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

Dormancy and Germination

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

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

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

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

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Search for Rare Oak Species Yields Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our expedition begins

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

 Talladega National Forest

Talladega National Forest

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

 Quercus boyntonii

Quercus boyntonii

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

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

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

 Bibb County Glades

Bibb County Glades

 Moss Rock Preserve at the habitat of Quercus georgiana

Moss Rock Preserve at the habitat of Quercus georgiana

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

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

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

 Little River Canyon

Little River Canyon

 Quercus ogelthorpensis seedlings in Jasper Country, Georgia

Quercus oglethorpensis seedlings in Jasper Country, Georgia

An expedition’s rewards

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

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

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Prints and the pursuit of knowledge in early modern Europe / edited by Susan Dackerman ; with essays by Susan Dackerman ... [et al.].

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Prints and the pursuit of knowledge in early modern Europe / edited by Susan Dackerman ; with essays by Susan Dackerman ... [et al.].
Call Number: NE625.P75 2011

Propagating Eden : uses and techniques of nature printing in botany and art : April 3 - July 25, 2010, Wave Hill Glyndor Gallery / organized by International Print Center New York ; curated by Pari Stave & Matthew Zucker.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Propagating Eden : uses and techniques of nature printing in botany and art : April 3 - July 25, 2010, Wave Hill Glyndor Gallery / organized by International Print Center New York ; curated by Pari Stave & Matthew Zucker.
Call Number: NE1338.P76 2010

Native plant resource guide Ontario.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Native plant resource guide Ontario.
Call Number: QH106.2.O6N38 2011

Wildflowers of Shenandoah National Park : a pocket field guide / Ann and Rob Simpson.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Wildflowers of Shenandoah National Park : a pocket field guide / Ann and Rob Simpson.
Author: Simpson, Ann Cary.
Call Number: QK191.S56 2011

Field guide to the rare plants of Washington / edited by Pamela Camp & John G. Gamon ; with the assistance of Joseph Arnett ... [et al.].

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Field guide to the rare plants of Washington / edited by Pamela Camp & John G. Gamon ; with the assistance of Joseph Arnett ... [et al.].
Call Number: QK86.U6F528 2011

International Garden Photographer of the Year : collection four.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
International Garden Photographer of the Year : collection four.
Call Number: TR662.I58 2010

Plants as persons : a philosophical botany / Matthew Hall.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Plants as persons : a philosophical botany / Matthew Hall.
Author: Hall, Matthew, 1980-
Call Number: QK46.H35 2011

The book of fungi : a life-size guide to six hundred species from around the world / Peter Roberts and Shelley Evans.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
The book of fungi : a life-size guide to six hundred species from around the world / Peter Roberts and Shelley Evans.
Author: Roberts, Peter, 1950 Mar. 27-
Call Number: QK603.R63 2011

The complete guide to saving seeds : 322 vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits, trees, and shrubs / Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
The complete guide to saving seeds : 322 vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits, trees, and shrubs / Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough.
Author: Gough, Robert E. (Robert Edward)
Call Number: SB118.3.G68 2011

Timeless landscape design : the four-part master plan / Mary Palmer Dargan, Hugh Graham Dargan.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Timeless landscape design : the four-part master plan / Mary Palmer Dargan, Hugh Graham Dargan.
Author: Dargan, Mary Palmer.
Call Number: SB473.D373 2007

Low-key genius : the life and work of landscape-gardener, O.C. Simonds / Barbara Geiger.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Low-key genius : the life and work of landscape-gardener, O.C. Simonds / Barbara Geiger.
Author: Geiger, Barbara.
Call Number: SB470.S56G45 2011

Lithops : Lithops werneri, Lithops fulviceps, Lithops vallis-mariae, Lithops optica, Lithops ruschiorum, Lithops hermetica, Lithops bromfieldii.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Lithops : Lithops werneri, Lithops fulviceps, Lithops vallis-mariae, Lithops optica, Lithops ruschiorum, Lithops hermetica, Lithops bromfieldii.
Call Number: QK495.A32L58 2010

Flower show and judging guide / [Ruth Cox Crocker, editor.].

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Flower show and judging guide / [Ruth Cox Crocker, editor.].
Author: Garden Club of America.

[60] vleesetende planten uit de Hortus botanicus Leiden / André Schuiteman ; foto's door Jan Meijvogel, André Schuiteman, Art Vogel ; tekening, Shirley Duivenvoorde.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
[60] vleesetende planten uit de Hortus botanicus Leiden / André Schuiteman ; foto's door Jan Meijvogel, André Schuiteman, Art Vogel ; tekening, Shirley Duivenvoorde.
Author: Schuiteman, André.
Call Number: QK917.S59 2010

Monographic plant systematics : fundamental assessment of plant biodiversity / edited by Tod F. Stuessy and H. Walter Lack.

New Book Arrivals - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:01pm
Monographic plant systematics : fundamental assessment of plant biodiversity / edited by Tod F. Stuessy and H. Walter Lack.
Call Number: QK14.5.M66 2011

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