Recently the New England SOS team and myself had the opportunity to travel up to a Bog. We headed to the Foster Point Bog, which was located near Waterville Maine. Our Mission was to survey plant populations and determine if plant populations are large enough to collect seed from. After you enter into a bog such as this, your life is changed! As we stepped onto the sphagnum mat, it felt as if we were stepping onto a floor of pillows. As we moved through the Bog we found ourselves surrounded by Pitcher plants with strange flowers towering towards the sky.
Before this experience the closest I’ve been to a bog was in my college biology classroom where we would study these unique ecosystems via power point slides and scientific papers. We learned about the carnivorous plant Sarracenia purpurea (Purple Pitcher Plant) and how they have modified their leaves to capture insects. Evolving these carnivorous pitchers allows the pitcher plant to thieve in nutrient poor ecosystems. Once insects are captured inside the pitcher of S. purpurea acidic serrations and enzymes are produced, which are accompanied by bacteria. This concoction inside the pitcher actively breaks down the captured prey into nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen, that can then be taken up by the plant.
Currently, I’m 2.5 months into my internship with the BLM in Burns, Oregon. I’ve learned life on the range is not easy; hot 80 degree days, chilly 30 degree nights (who can thermoregulate with these temperature fluctuations?), and a scarcity of water for miles. But perhaps more difficult than adapting to the physical struggles of living on the range, are navigating the politics of managing them. Trigger words such as “sage grouse” and “crested-wheat grass” cause a passion of emotions according to who you talk to. Some believe that “the sage grouse agenda is going to cause the destruction of the range” or that “the BLM’s preference to seed with crested hasn’t created a market that makes natives affordable to grow or purchase.” In reality, some of these assumptions and accusations are from more of an emotional than scientific standpoint. As a result, this often causes conflicts between environmental groups, policy makers,and range managers. Due to the nature of politics, influential lobbyists may direct law makers (who are not in the field) to issue (mandatory) ordinances that will not necessarily translate to effective management on the ground. The reality of land manager is that funding is limited and every penny matters if one wants to prevent a burned allotment from changing into a field of BRTE or medusa head (invasives). So, is it better to seed a monoculture of crested that will be able to establish itself and compete with invasives or to seed with native perennials that will likely be out-competed anyway? In this way resources and funding are wasted in the name of compliance.
Yes, the North Carolina Seeds of Success team is still making seed collections! This week, we travelled to Virginia to check out some National Wildlife Refuges on the coast. We visited four sites: Mackay Island NWR, Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, Mason Neck NWR, and Occoquan Bay NWR. All four sites had species on our target species list! We ended up making seven collections total over the course of three days.
We’ve started finding some species we have yet seen in the locations we’ve visited thus far. One such species was Cornus amomum. Unfortunately, C. amomum fruits only contain one seed per fruit, so it was a challenge for us to get upwards of 10,000 seeds, the minimum number of seeds we need for each collection we make. Luckily, we found a big patch of C. amomum along a roadside at Occoquan Bay, and we were able to collect approximately 10,000 seeds in the course of just 45 minutes. Pretty impressive. Some other collections we made included seeds of Cakile edentula, Mikania scandens, and Borrichia frutescens. We also found a large population of one of our favorite species (or at least one of my favorites), Asclepias syriaca, which we’re hoping to collect next time we’re in Virginia.
So there you have it! Our collections are slowly building up. Now we just have to find time to clean and ship all the seeds between all of our traveling…
Until next time,
Today it is raining in the desert. I feel it must be a sign of some sort; things are changing. The summer monsoons have begun. The once parched wash nearby now brims and glistens. Thunder booms.
Not only is the desert transitioning but so am I. Today is also the last day of the internship, of course it is a day like no other this summer yet! Like the rain, I’ll travel away from here, soaking in the landscape as I stream across the countryside.
Today though, I am still here, still and able to reflect.
My season here at USGS began as the spring annuals bloomed after the winter rains. I characterized juvenile desert tortoise forage in the Mojave, observing the phenology shift from one phase to another, and analyzed our data. My skills in ArcGIS markedly improved – creating random points, maps, buffers, polygons – the list goes on! My plant ID skills also improved, helped along by the tiny desert annuals here that are difficult, yet thrilling, to identify – even more so when senesced!
I dove deep in Utah, unearthing and exposing insights into the murky mystery of oil well vegetation regeneration. The project demanded sifting through site selection, soil, and data, rooting around perennial shrubs, and uncovering and bringing to light the story of oil well land disturbance in Black brush plant communities of eastern Utah. Unfortunately, these wells are not ones the rain can fill with sediment and erase from the landscape, even after decades. A quick glance at the survivors will tell you this. The real mystery of course is which species regenerate and under what conditions.
In all, my experience at USGS has been incredible. From a Pediocactus survey to Night-time Golden Eagle prey surveys, increasing my knowledge of tortoises and herps in general, discovering the marvelous Mojave; this internship has been phenomenal.
Thank you so much to everyone at USGS and CBG who played a part!!
USGS, Henderson NV
What great things will happen now, after the summer rains?
Howdy from Decatur, TX!
It has been an interesting couple of weeks, as I have began my journey with the CLM program with the National Forest Service at the LBJ National Grasslands. The LBJ National Grasslands are located roughly forty-five minutes from my home town. Meeting the crew has been an awesome experience as more of them pour in from fire details across the US. I have come to slowly realize that the world is a much smaller place than I had previously realized. Some of the crew are acquaintances of my recent professors at Tarleton State University, while others are related to friends of mine from my home town.
I am humbled that I was allowed to go to the field on my own on the first week. My mentor has guided me toward the direction I needed to begin with this project. Recently, I have been going to the field with a plant conservationist from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Foundation to add to my botanical knowledge and skills. Now, I am recording occurrences of local milkweed species on the National Grasslands, collecting their seeds, and monitoring for monarch butterflies and their larvae. Although I have not had any luck with monarchs, we found a queen larvae on a very sad looking Asclepias viridis. (no worries the little guy was given a better home on the neighboring plant) The milkweed target species include Asclepias asperula subsp. capricornu, A. engelmanniana, A. viridis, and A. viridiflora.
Until next time…
The night Spike blooms will thrill us all in the semi-tropical greenhouse, with its breathtaking flower…accompanied by a titanically rotten smell.
“Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch. The three words that best describe you are as follows— and I quote: stink, stank, stunk!”
“Titan Tim” Pollak here once again, with an update on Spike, our still-growing titan arum. Spike continues to get bigger, not only in height, but also in girth! What we’re really curious about, however, is the aroma.
The stench is one of the cool reasons to stay up late and come to the Garden that night—we’ll be open from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Here’s what to expect in terms of scent:
- As the spathe gradually unfurls, the spadix releases powerful odors meant to attract pollinators. The potency of the aroma gradually increases from late evening until the middle of the night and then tapers off as morning arrives.
- Analyses of chemicals released by the spadix show the “stench” includes dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), dimethyl disulfide, trimethylamine (rotting fish), isovaleric acid (sweaty socks), benzyl alcohol (sweet floral scent), phenol (like Chloraseptic), and indole (like mothballs).
- The titan arum’s odor has been described in many other terms as well: rotting flesh, rancid meat, rotting animal carcass, old dirty socks, and even the smell of death itself, which accounts for the plant’s common name, the corpse flower.
- In its natural habitat on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, the “fragrance” is used to attract the carrion-eating beetles, dung beetles, and flesh flies that pollinate the titan arum. The inflorescence’s deep red color and texture contribute to the illusion that the spathe is a piece of meat.
- During bloom, the tip of the spadix is approximately human body temperature, which helps the fragrance volatilize (turn to vapor) and travel long distances; the heat may also advertise that there’s a fresh carcass for insects to check out.
A different view of ewwww!
Carrion beetles, dung flies, and flesh flies aren’t responding to the call of the titan arum’s scent because they want to be pollinators—they’re responding because they want a good environment in which to lay their eggs.
In the wild, mama beetles and flies lay eggs on dead animals or animal feces knowing that the larvae that hatch will have an immediately-available, rich source of food.
In its natural rainforest habitat, the titan arum has adapted to that fact. Over evolutionary time, it has developed the right scent to attract those insects—and, like many scented flowers, to deceive them with scent into acting as the unwitting spreaders of their pollen.
Keep checking back for more on Spike’s progress!
©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
“Where does a titan arum come from?” That’s a question we heard a lot from Spike’s visitors this past weekend.
The titan arum, native to the rainforests of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, was first “discovered” by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in 1878. On August 6, 1878, he first observed the leaves and fruits of a plant (interestingly, August 6 is the date we put Spike on public view!). Several weeks later, Beccari saw a flowering plant for the first time. He sent a few tubers and seeds to Florence, Italy, but the tubers all perished; a few seeds, however, eventually germinated. One of those seedlings was sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in England. There, in 1889, 11 years after its discovery, a titan arum plant flowered for the first time outside its tropical home.
No one knows how common the titan arum is in the wild. Many suspect it is endangered. Its only known habitat is the rainforest of Sumatra, which is being steadily eroded by deforestation for palm oil production, by pollution, and by human encroachment. The corms are also being dug up for food—and by collectors or poachers.
Also contributing to their demise is the fact that many species in the genus Amorphophallus, including the titan arum, are highly endemic. This means that they are only found in relatively small, restricted geographical areas. If the rainforest home of these species is destroyed, we will continue to see their numbers decrease.
What can we do to help conserve the titan arum and similar plants? Start by learning more about tropical rainforests, and the impact of deforestation in these areas. Support your local botanic gardens, arboreta, and universities where scientists are studying endangered plant species and promoting the importance of plant conservation.
The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) is one of the plant kingdom’s most spectacular phenomena—and spectacular plants help us all to realize the incredible complexity and diversity of the natural world.
Become a Garden member and support the world’s spectacular plants, like Spike, at the Chicago Botanic Garden: We cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life.
We are getting closer to bloom time! Check our website, and #CBGSpike on social media to stay on top of bloom updates! When Spike blooms, we’ll stay open until 2 a.m.!
©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
This past month has been a busy one. Last week we attended the Compassionate Conservation Conference in Vancouver Canada. We were unable to attend the training at the Botanical Garden in Chicago, so this was our alternate. The conference was focused on how animal welfare and conservation interact. It was an eye opening experience, we got to hear from a lot of really interesting people, including someone from the Jane Goodall Institute in Canada. When we got back to Oregon fire season had started in full force. We had to circle above Medford for an hour before we could land because of smoke from a nearby forest fire.
The week after the conference we began work at the Fish Evaluation Station. This is a sampling effort of the irrigation canal, which is conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation. This year Fish and Wildlife are conducting a couple of studies, so we came out to help with that effort. The first objective is to determine if the same fish are being recycled over and over in the sampling process. To do this we did VIE tagging, which is where you insert a colored tag just underneath the scales of the fish. We also held suckers that will be introduced into net pens in the lake. The hope is that they can be raised for a few years and then released back into the system. This will help Fish and Wildlife meet the requirements for recovery set out in the biological opinion for suckers.
We are still monitoring the ponds as a potential place to rear suckers salvaged from irrigation canals (although fish from the FES will not end up here). It had been pretty quiet at the ponds, last month we began catching Sacramento perch, but we were only capturing a few at a time. This week we caught around 100 hundred Sacramento perch, 87 of them were caught on Tuesday. Then today we caught a sucker in the ponds! We are hoping to get some bigger traps soon and get some more suckers. Our boss is really interested in the growth rate of the suckers in the ponds. There were 93 suckers put in the ponds last winter. Over the next month we will be introducing more suckers into the pond from other projects in the Klamath Basin. Hopefully we will be able to add to the population!
At 12:30AM on a Friday morning, the Mother Lode Field office is a peaceful place. Coming back after a late-night survey, motion activated lights lit the way back to my cube in an otherwise dark and quiet office. Between the coolness of the outside air and the tranquility of the empty office, my coworkers and I agreed that the night shift really wasn’t so bad.
We had gone out to do a survey of California red-legged frogs, a federally endangered species found on the coast and in the Sierra Nevada foothills. As a plant person, I knew very little about the frog, and decided I should do some googling before heading to work that evening. I read up about the ecology and distinguishing features of the red legged frog. But what stuck with me most from my crash course was that the red legged frog is California’s official state amphibian. I hadn’t realized that official state amphibians existed in the first place, and there I was about to get a privileged glimpse at California’s own in its natural habitat.
As it turns out, 20 states have official state amphibians, and two have unofficial amphibians. The list is dominated by frogs and salamanders, with newts and toads making the occasional appearance. The momentum to give the California red-legged frog this distinction began with an after-school program at an elementary school where students learned about how bills become laws. They made posters and buttons for the red-legged frog, and initiated a considerable letter writing campaign.
On June 29, 2014, Governer Jerry Brown signed a bill into law designating the red-legged frog as the state amphibian. On January 1, 2015, the designation became official. On June 30, 2015, after a quick lesson in frog handling, I got to have a photo-op with one of California’s amphibian ambassadors.
As summer advances here on the Prineville district, my priority seed collections are shifting from sage grouse forbs to grasses and pollinator supporter species. The desert sagebrush steppe is home to target plants that are “crispifying” as I like to put it. A pair of brief but intense heat waves throughout the northwest region has brought this crispification on, and now we must let go of these too crispy to collect plants. So, leaving the crispy northern basin and range ecoregion for the E. Cascades and blue mountains I’ve spent several collection days on Dalea ornata at two different sites. I’m getting to know this plant really well now that we’ve spent so much time together. It’s a likeable plant being a nitrogen fixer, pollinator attractant native perennial. The seeds are encased in soft fluffy pillows, and it lends a very pleasant minty-floral aroma to the hands after collection. Little munching insects like it as much as me and the pollinators do though, so my collecting has been a bit of a struggle. I tried a tactic I’ve seen some teams use on species of lupin – tied little baby shower style mesh baggies over the seed heads, hoping to catch them before they dispersed or were consumed by hungry bugs. This backfired pretty good at the first site. I think instead of keeping bugs out, I locked bugs in the baggies, leaving them no choice but to devour all my seeds. At the second site I cut my losses to dispersal and insects, and decided to just way way overcollect to compensate for poor fill. My goal was to collect from more than 1,000 individual plants on my own. (sigh). Luckily, a youth empowerment Americorps group, the Heart of Oregon corps, stepped in to the rescue. Working with these recent highschool graduates was a lot of fun, and at the end of the day one of them even told me that he thought he’d like to become a botanist. Yes! I was happy that maybe my enthusiasm and babbling about the plight of native pollinators at the beginning of our day had a part in his declaration. I love turning people on to the natural world. The corps members helped me achieve my collection goals and I am looking forward to hearing back from BSE on our yield. Hopefully we added a great restoration plant to the Prineville seed mix.
I’m also contemplating native thistles. So much is talked about invasive thistles that I think some of our lovely native thistles may have gotten overlooked. Have you ever watched a thistle flower? It’s a pollinator smorgasbord! Unfortunately the bees and flies and other critters do not seem to make much distinction between native and non native nectar sources, so I hope that by seed collecting from the local yocals I can eventually “flood the market” with a better choice for them to dine. Collecting this year has taken me to some of Prineville’s more beautiful and sometimes more quirky sites. Pictures following! Good luck with your collections interns, I’m happy to report mine are going well. Remember your pollinator friends, and even if it is not top priority, perhaps try to get a few collections for their benefit.
It looks like summer has finally peaked here in New England! The latter half of July brought some brutally muggy days with the occasional downpour, but these have since yielded to mostly clear skies with temperatures in the low 80s for early August. The plants are responding well to the recent good weather, and our endeavors are finally beginning to bear fruit, which have to date comprised 15 collections; of these, nearly half are of the saltmarsh rush Juncus gerardii (which, unfortunately, has a tendency to play host to a parasitizing moth, Coleophora alticollela). The remaining eight collections include false beach heather Hudsonia tomentosa, the sedges Carex scoparia, Carex crinita, Scirpus atrovirens, and the delicious ericaceous shrubs Gaylussacia baccata and Vaccinium angustifolium x myrtilloides)
Over the course of our collections thus far, we have voyaged as far north as Waterville, ME, to scout out the maturity of seeds borne by black spruce (Picea maritima) and purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) in kettlehole bogs, east to Harwich Port on Cape Cod to collect Carex scoparia, and southwest to Stonington, CT to assess dam removal sites. As a result of our sojourns, we’ve gotten to see a wide variety of flora and habitats:
In addition, we have also seen quite a variety of wildlife too!
The New England Seeds of Success team has been traveling throughout the North East searching out ripening seeds that will be used in various conservation projects ranging from dune rehabilitation to stream stabilization. We are also collecting a wide range of common species that will be stored and become available in the case of future disasters and damage to plant communities.
Much of our time collecting in New England has been spent collecting salt marsh graminoides (grass-like plants), where rising sea levels threaten the delicate balance of fresh and salt water habitat. These systems are very important in keeping our coasts stable and act as a large filter as water makes its way to the sea. Despite being hugely important, these are not very diverse systems, often relying on only a few species.
There are no trees in the salt marsh, so sun beats down on us while we collect and the wind leaves us parched. The area is ruled by the tides and if one isn’t careful the water will quietly rise and leaving them stranded in a limited area of solid ground. It is also due to these factors that these areas are so beautiful and surprises abound when one takes a closer look.
It is partly due to the monotonous nature of these spaces that make the small things stand out. Watching the breeze roll across the huge open landscape can be memorizing. Spartina alterniflora, the salt marsh cord grass, glistens in the summer heat as it exudes salt directly out of its leaves. Small treasures can be seen throughout the marsh, from the dessicated shells of crabs that were deposited during a high tide to watching a horse shoe crab feeding the mucky bottom of a canal.
Salt marshes have so much to offer to both the function of an areas as well as to provide a beautiful landscape. We are fortunate to spend our days in such amazing spaces and to have the presence of mind to notice the things that are often overlooked.
“Titan Tim” Pollak here, with today’s update on Spike, our first-ever corpse flower.
Spike just keeps on growing at the Semitropical Greenhouse, and visitors are loving it. As they learn more about the coming bloom from the docents posted there, one of the most frequently ask questions is, “How could you tell this time that Spike was a flower?”
How could we tell that Spike was going to be a flower? It’s tricky. Even the most experienced botanists have a hard time determining whether a titan arum shoot is a flower or a leaf at first. But soon enough, the clues start to add up.
- Spike is 12 years old. We know from other botanic gardens and conservatories that titan arums take a decade or more to send up their first flower shoot. We’ve been tending to this corm for about 12 years, so the timing was right.
- Is the corm big enough? The smaller the corm, the less power it has stored to send up the titan’s huge flower. This corm is about the size of a beach ball—definitely an appropriate size for flowering.
- A bulge at the base. It’s subtle, but a slight swelling at the base of the newly emerged shoot signaled something different than a leaf.
- A little off center. At 18 to 20 inches tall, we noticed a telltale sign: the tip of the shoot was off-center. While leaf shoots are true to center, we knew that a flower shoot powers up in a slightly different way. Again: it’s subtle but telling!
- Horticultural intuition. Both Deb Moore—our indoor floriculturist who tends to our nine titan arums—and I felt that the overall look of the shoot was different than what we’d experienced before with shoots that become a leaf. (While the titan’s non-bloom form may look like a stalk with multiple leaves, it is actually a single, giant leaf!) Like every gardener, you develop a sense for what’s “normal” and what’s not when it comes to your plants. We both thought that this shoot was somehow different, and it was!
Our final “sign” was to ask the experienced titan growers from other institutions. We called upon the folks at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California; Smithsonian Gardens in Washington, D.C.; Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri, for their opinions and expertise. Their final confirmations gave us the thumbs up to go public with the big news that Spike would soon blast into bloom!
Like first-time parents, we are learning as we go. I can’t tell you how excited we all are in the production greenhouses—it’s a thrill to watch a plant that you’ve tended for so long finally get ready to flower! Visitors’ anticipation is rubbing off on us, too—we’ll be standing right next to you as the titan arum heads into its big night of bloom!
I’ll keep you posted…
©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
Greetings again from Cedarville!
Over the past few weeks me and my co-intern as well as the interns from “over the hill” have had the opportunity to see the Seed of Success program in action. We got to visit the Lutz’s farm, where they grow native seeds to be used by the BLM for reseeding projects. On their farm they have Needle and Thread (Hesperostipa comata), Thurber’s Needlegrass (Achnatherum thurberianum), Bluebunch Wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), Basin Wildrye (Leymus cinereus), and a type of sage growing. The Basin Wildrye was started from seeds that were collected by CBG interns in 2010!
The first week that we were there we got to help in some of the routine maintenance that is required to keep the farm going. The Lutz irrigate and fertilize their plants, which helps them gain optimal yield. But before irrigation can happen the plots need to be rogued, which entails removing the unwanted plants with either a hoe or a hand hoe. They do not want unwanted plants taking away nutrients from the desired species. After we were finished with that we got to watch them irrigate. Water is pumped from a well using solar power and stored in a reservoir. When it is time to irrigate the water is pumped through pipes using a gas pump to the desired plot. The plot is flooded and the water is slowly absorbed by the plants and the soil.
The next week that we were there we got a chance to help transplant some Thurber’s Needlegrass seedlings that they were grown in a greenhouse. The first thing we did was get the plot all set up for the seedlings, it had been irrigated a few days before we got there to ensure that the soil contained enough water. The seedlings are planted 18 inches from one another in rows that are 4 feet apart. We could get about 20-25 seedlings per row and there were 5 rows per plot. We had pieces of wood to help us make sure that our spacing was right and the seedlings would be uniform. We planted the seedlings in holes with a slight berm around it . We also put a rabbit cage around the seedlings and then added some more water. We returned the next week and almost all of the seedlings in the 2 plots we planted survived the transplant and were growing!
Overall, I had a great time at the Lutz. It was really awesome to see how seeds collected by interns 5 years ago have been taken and grown and were able to be collected this year to return to the Seeds of Success program. It was also really interesting to see the whole process of native plant growing from beginning to end. We are hoping to be able to go back in the future when they are going their soil sampling to learn about what that entails and the test that need to be done.
Spike is about halfway up the expected height chart (we’re thinking 6 to 7 feet, ultimately), so the big question now is, “How do you know when it’s going to bloom?”
Titan arums don’t give up their secrets easily. Just as it’s difficult to distinguish a leaf bud from a flower bud (we talked about that in our last blog post), it’s hard to know when the bloom cycle has actually begun.
Once again, our titan-experienced friends at other botanic gardens and conservatories have offered up a few helpful hints.
- Growth slows. Spike is powering up 4 to 6 inches per day. As a titan gets ready to open, that growth rate slows noticeably. It’s a rather obvious clue, but by the time the plant is 6 or 7 feet tall, you start to marvel at the overall size and forget about incremental daily growth. We’re posting our measurements daily here, so heads up when you notice the numbers getting smaller.
- Bracts fall. What? Look down at the base of the spathe. Two modified leaves called bracts encircle the spathe. As Spike gets taller, these protective bracts shrivel and dry up. About a day before full bloom, they fall off—first one, then the other. That’s a sure sign that bloom is about to happen.
- The spathe loosens. Tightly wound around the towering spadix as it shoots up, the frilly leaf called a spathe starts to loosen its grip as bloom time nears, revealing the crazy-beautiful maroon color inside.
So those are the clues we’re watching for—now you can watch for them, too! How long will it be before the big night? I’ll keep you posted…
©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
Our crew seems to have gotten the hang of seed collection. We have made several collections since my last post. The hardest aspect of the collection process continues to be the locating of population sizes that are large enough to yield 10,000 seed. It never fails that a seemingly vast population of a species with an unlimited amount of seed quickly decreases in size once we start collecting. Regardless of this sometimes discouraging fact however, we continue to search and eventually seek out enough individuals to reach our quotas.
Aside from seed collection, I had the opportunity to attend an Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health training course. The course was a week long and covered several topics. It started with a crash course in the AIM (Assessment Inventory and Monitoring) methods. I was given detailed instructions on how to perform each method such as line point intercept, soil stability analysis, canopy gap intercept, and soil profiling. After a day of instruction, we were able to head out into the field and perform the methods on our own. The rest of the week took all of the AIM methods we learned and connected them to components of rangeland health. To asses a site’s health, we used evaluation sheets with 17 indicators of rangeland health such as percent bare ground, litter amount, presence of water flow patterns, functional/structural groups, and reproductive capabilities. As we worked our way through each indicator, we cross referenced the site’s current conditions with the site’s historic reference conditions. For example, we compared data collected from line point intercepts to compare a site’s current percent bare ground to the site’s historical reference percent bare ground. We then gave the indicator a rating in regards to how closely the current site’s condition matched the site’s reference condition. If the percent bare ground greatly increased or decreased, we noted that the site had greatly diverged from reference conditions. If the numbers were fairly close or the same, we noted that the site did not depart from reference conditions. After assessing several sites on our own, we learned how the data collected and analyses made while performing these methods could aid a land manager in making sound future management decisions based off of carefully gathered quantitative data.
Outside of work, I have taken the opportunity to backpack in some of the many wilderness areas scattered throughout northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. I have now successfully summited three 14ers this season, and I hope to summit a few more before the season is over.
Greetings again from North Carolina! Over the past few weeks, I have spent a whole lot of time traveling and getting to explore the southeastern coastal plain. Since I last wrote, the crew first spent a week scouting SOS collection sites in Maryland, mostly on the Delmarva Peninsula, off the mainland coast. We traveled to several sites that we have obtained permits for, however they tended to be heavily forested or swampy area. We are searching for some species that live in these habitats, but didn’t find a suitable population of any of these to collect. Many of the species we saw were either past fruiting, had not yet bloomed, or were in insufficient numbers to be collected. It was a bit demoralizing to do so much scouting (and SO much driving), only to find so little to collect, but we did get some collections made in the more marshy places that we found. We also made note of good sites to collect some of our swamp/forest species like Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper) in the future, when the seeds are mature.
At a certain point in our scouting and collecting, we reached a place where the seed cycle was at a sort of natural break, between early-ripening species that we have already collected and later-ripening summer species that were in full bloom at the time. We took the opportunity to spend a week at our headquarters, the North Carolina Botanical Garden. We used the time to process, package, and ship all the seed collections we have made up to this point. We also continued our efforts to research all the species we are targeting for collection. Our target list contains about 160 species, and because we are not familiar with all these species off the bat, we wanted to be prepared to encounter these in the field. Our research has included learning the families and blooming/fruiting periods for the species, as well as looking up photos and, in some cases, drawing certain diagnostic characteristics like the shape of leaves or fruits. I have also been looking at how the species may be grouped together according to habitat. This part of the work has been interesting for me. Because I recently moved to North Carolina from the west coast (Washington State and northern California), my main goal in this internship has been to learn more of the Southeastern flora, which I certainly have been.
The next week, when the crew traveled to the North Carolina coast again, our research immediately paid off. We were able to quickly identify many of the species that have begun blooming and/or fruiting since our last trip to this area, several weeks ago. It was also helpful to be able to quickly find out that some of the species we encountered were not on our list, and that we did not need to spend any more field time trying to identify them to species. When we got to our first sites, it was clear that our timing was good and there were species maturing that we would have the first opportunity to collect. These included Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) and Typha latifolia (broadleaf cattail), which we collected at Buckridge Preserve and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Preserve respectively, on our first day of traveling. We went on to make several more collections throughout the week, with one of the most interesting being of Cakile edentula (searocket), an edible member of the Brassica (cabbage and mustard) family, which grows on and around sand dunes right along the coast.
As late summer comes on, the pace of our collections is picking up. I can already tell we will have to prioritize what we go after as many species at different sites will be reaching maturity around the same time. As we continue into the next several weeks, can see that I need to take more photos so I can share my experience with everyone. Until next time, happy collecting!
Wow!!! Hello everyone! The last month had been crazy with all sorts of activities that kept the CLM interns in Wenatchee, Washington busy! Fire season started out with a bang in the beginning of July. After the Wenatchee fires, fires were developing all over the state! The very warm weather, the high winds, and the low humidity created the perfect red flag conditions. Fortunately for the other interns and myself, we were able to proceed with our jobs and continue working out in the field. Our main goal for Jenny and I for this month was to do NISIMS. We would travel to areas that were impacted with fires in the past and record data points and polygons of various invasive plant populations that were present. This information would be used in ESR reports to help with future restoration efforts in terms of treatments and bio-control.
Most of the areas we have monitored or spent our time looking for golden eagles in the past have burned. For those who read my previous blogs, you may know Douglas Creek and Sulfur Canyon. These areas had wildfires recently. Thankfully, it occurred during the time when the juvenile golden eagles fledged their nests. The helicopters and smoke would not be good for young eaglets. O:
Smoke from various fires have filled the valleys during the month. The Wolverine Fire up near Chelan had been a real pain to deal with. The smoke from the fire had steadily moved throughout Wenatchee, Brewster, and Entiat area. We would have to wear a mouth guard to help us do our jobs! Despite all the smoke, Jenny and I have been to different post fire sites such as R-Road, Foster Creek, Burbank Creek, Mills Canyon, Sulfur Canyon, the Wenatchee Complex Fire, and the Carlton Complex Fire. Each of these areas have been fascinating and native plants have been making a comeback…somewhat…^_^;; There were some weeds that were taking the opportunity to settle in the exposed landscapes such as various bromes (Bromus), Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica), common mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and various tumble weeds such as tall tumble mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum) and Russian thistle (Salsola kali/tragus). Walking amongst the burned areas have been very interesting to see, even with some invasive plants!
We went to a recent fire area in the Douglas Creek area. (No worries, Krissa and Rebecca! There were no active fires in the region and we were with trained professionals from the BLM to look at burn severity and intensity.) Some areas were charred black with areas of white-gray spots where the shrubs used to be! The valleys and the steep, wooded terrain developed really severe fire conditions. The basin wild rye (Leymus cinereus) looked like they were recovering!! Some areas that we have visited had pink and red fire retardant all over the landscape!! It felt like we were on Mars, it was so red!! The BLM along with other Government agencies in the central Washington area have been dealing with severe fires lately and they have developed plans to help with the restoration of the landscape. Determining on the severity and intensity of the burn, the landscape could become fully functional again within 5-10 years with treatments and seeding based on various federal agency reports!!
Chasing the Whirling Dervishes
Some of the coolest things I have seen on this internship were the massive dust devils that twirled around the landscape between Waterville and Sulfur Canyon. (I jokingly call them whirling dervishes because they whirl very fast and there would be many of them in the landscape.) The dust devils were massive and were way bigger than the smallest of tornadoes I have seen on my travels. Some of these dust devils could be seen from miles away, reaching half way to the cloud layer above!
These dust devils were normally brown, but if they were shaded by clouds, they could look like a fire. O_o Normally, dust devils would spin for about 15-20 minutes. Their peak activity was around 3:00 to 4:00pm. Jenny and I would drive through some very large dust devils. They may look massive and very threatening, but they were lightweights. They would only shake our truck before moving onto the next barren field. Most of the farmers were worried about their crops burning from the fires, so they harvested most of the crops leaving behind barren soil fields. The dust devils would then pick up the top soil and carry it elsewhere. Some of the dust devils traveled at speeds over 70 mph. Few of the large ones had multiple vortices!!
A few times out in the field we have encountered smaller dust devils. They loved to go after our hats or throw tall tumble mustards at us. We just braced ourselves and continued monitoring. (On a side note, never chase one, they are too fast if you are chasing them on foot.)
(Here is a video of one of the larger dust devils I saw near Bridgeport, Washington.)
The Journey Through Ancient Lakes
One day I went with Reed to an area called Ancient Lakes located near Quincy, Washington. This place was very interesting! They had a lot of unusual plants growing in the sagebrush steppe! We saw a variety of Asters, Astragalus, and blazing star (Mentzelia laevicaulis??). When we got to the basaltic outcrops, we saw a very nice view of the Columbia River!! Near the cliffs, we saw a lot of hedgehog cactus (Pediocactus nigrispinus). These cacti were amazing to look at!! They were bunched up and held very colorful needles. I took many pictures of these species of cacti… ^_^;;;
One of our main goals for seed collection was to collect from the blazing star. These plants were found in rocky areas like quarries or on the edge of lithosols. They were easy to gather seed from, but you had to watch out. Their foliage is extraordinarily sticky and some of the seeds were infested with larvae. You had to be careful when selecting the seed from each plant.
On our way back to the car, we saw a few buffalo/ American bison (Bison bison) in the field next to us. One was on a hill of apples. It was like the bison was on top of its treasure and no one was able to approach it. It was funny to observe. There was even a mischievous coyote trying to take a few apples for herself from the treasure hill. Overall, the day was successful and we were able to collect a decent amount of blazing star seed for the next S.O.S. collection.
NISIMS in the Mist
Recently, Jenny and I visited the Carlton Complex Fire area. This was the area where one of the largest recent fires in Washington history occurred. NISIMS was a priority in this area. When we were in Brewster and Pateros, the Wolverine Fire was very active!! The smoke was so thick, it created a dense fog in the Columbia River Basin. Jenny and I used masks to help us deal with the smoke. The masks were not really effective, but they did help negate some of the smoke from entering our lungs. Most of the area looked like southeast China and had an eerie vibe to it. When we were doing NISIMS, we recorded all of the brome, tumbleweed, and Dalmatian toadflax populations. Along by Brewster, there was a large amount of Dalmatian toadflax. This might be a good area for future bio-control introductions. (They would release a weevil insect that would eat and reduce the toadflax population significantly.) When moving between sites, the day looked overcast with the smoke and some clouds. It permanently looked like it was 6:00pm the whole day!! Jenny and I recorded various populations and headed back to the Wenatchee BLM.
Moment of Zen
We’re just getting through the dog days of summer, with hopefully only a few more weeks of days so hot and humid you feel like you’re swimming underwater and not just because you’re drenched! Down a few hours away from the city where I’ve been travelling to in Delaware to collect the fruit and berry season is starting to wind down. We’ve made a few huckleberry and black cherry collections, but after the beach plums ripen we’ll be mostly done with fleshy fruit. It’s getting a bit slow with many of the early grassy species being empty by now, especially since I’m collecting farther south than the other NY interns. Lately it’s been a lot of scouting to prepare and plan for what is shaping up to be a crazy fall season. It’s fascinating to watch what we’ll be collecting ripen as the weeks fly by! We won’t be collecting any nuts, but I’m really excited to see what ripe wild hazelnuts look like. I couldn’t help but take a picture of this ripening American hazelnut (Corylus americana) in Brandywine Creek State Park and tease my mom who’s a huge hazelnut coffee freak. Dunkin Donuts of course, we’re from Massachusetts after all!
Recently I went on a collection trip with my collection partner, Lucy, to northern Delaware. After weeks of spending time in southern Delaware on the ocean, we were beyond ready to explore some new territory in the shade of the forest in search of some freshwater wetland species, notably a few Carex (sedge) species that were ready and waiting. What a shock it was to us when we got there to find a landscape absolutely overrun with invasive species! We’re talking entire riverbanks that we were hoping to be covered in our freshwater list species instead covered in mats of Japanese hop vines. Not only that, but most areas were thick with stinging nettles! Sadly, there wasn’t much to see besides some interesting invasive species. One of my personal favorites were the osage orange trees (Maclura pomifera). Is it just me or do they look kind of like tree brains!
The trip was far from hopeless however, as we ended up making a fantastic Carex lurida collection as we fortuitously walked through what we later determined was the only wetland area when looking as USGS topo maps and vegetation survey maps. Like they say, hindsight is 20/20, so from now on topo maps and vegetation surveys are our best friends. Thirty minutes of extra research is much less painful than thirty minutes of waiting for the nettle stings on your hands to stop burning!
Scouting is always a great adventure, not just to see what native plants on our collection list are there, but also to see what surprises Mother Nature has in store for us! Lucy and I have found all sorts of natural marvels, from stunning Turk’s Cap Lilies (Lilium martagon) to dead Luna Moths to the exotic looking fruits of Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). Of course I’m not one to turn down a photo op of nature’s curiosities!
So here’s to enjoying the last summer has to offer in the unexpected beauty of the tiniest state in the Mid-Atlantic. Fall is just around the corner, as this field in Brandywine Creek State Park turns the familiar shades of yellow as goldenrods (Solidago juncea here) start to bloom and milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) pods start to ripen.
CLM Intern with SOS East at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (MASRB)
In the early part of July I spent some time at a mining reclamation site. Here I learned a little bit about the process of what goes into mining reclamation and I was also able to participate in that process. I helped out by spreading seeds of grasses that are native to the area, spreading straw over those seeds, and planting sedges to help prevent soil erosion. I also had the opportunity to talk with the folks who had been on the project throughout its entirety. They described what it was like when they first got to the mining site and showed us what changes had been made to help return the site to a natural area. While we were at the site we were told that a mama black bear and her cubs were in the area. Although we didn’t see the bears we did come across an osprey tending to its nest.
I spent the later half of the month prepping for my next trip out to check on the bat detectors. Hopefully the data cards that we will be collecting will have something exciting for us!