burning nice island 2022

After navigating uncertainties about weather and electricity, we ventured up to western Minnesota for a promising burn window. Steady northwest winds, dry fuels, and suitable conditions left us eager to burn on Monday, May 16. Alex, Per, Stuart, and I worked all morning to ready burn breaks in preparation for the afternoon. We were joined by Brad D., Dwight, and Ed C.

Our first unit of the afternoon was the ironically named “nice island.” This unit comprises an eggplant-shaped peninsula of grass extending into an agricultural field. We are studying Green Milkweed and Rough Blazing Star reproduction at this site. After taking weather, discussing the burn plan, and orienting new crew members to their tools, we ignited a test fire in the southwest corner of the unit. The crew then split in half. One group secured the eastern burn break while the second group ignited and secured the western burn break. Once sufficient black had been established, Brad ignited west along the northern edge of the unit while I ignited east along the southern edge. Our hope was the fire would close on itself rapidly but this burn was much slower and smokier than expected (probably owing to the higher relative humidity and the abundance of brome that had greened up after rain and warm temperatures). Slowly but surely, the flames came together leaving a uniformly black burn unit. We are excited to see a nicer post-burn version of nice island this summer.

Temperature: 64 F
Relative Humidity: 44 %
Wind Speed: 11 mph
Wind Direction: NW
Ignition time: 1:32 PM
End time: 2:29 PM
Burn Crew: Jared, Stuart, Alex C., Per, Dwight, Brad D., Ed C.

burning nwlf 2022

Continuing our May 6 burning adventures, we departed mapp and drove west to nwlf. Our goal was to burn nwlf when conditions were most extreme to maximize burn coverage at nwlf.

After arriving at the site, staging equipment, and taking weather, I ignited a test fire in the NW corner of the unit. We were pleased with fire behavior and went ahead with securing the north edge of the burn unit. After rounding the tricky northeast corner, I tried extending the black in the ditch with little success. The fire did not carry well in the bottom of the ditch. We decided the best course of action was to ignite along the eastern edge of the unit before igniting in the ditch. I used a lot of fuel in the bottom of the ditch. This generated a lot of smoke but didn’t dramatically improve burn coverage in the bottom of the ditch at the north end of the unit. I ignited one more line along the western edge of the unit for good measure. The smoke soon subsided and we were left with a sufficiently charred ditch to leave us proud of our work. We packed up and departed for our last remnant burn of the afternoon.

Temperature: 69 F
Relative Humidity: 31 %
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind Direction: SE
Ignition time: 3:30 PM
End time: 3:58 PM
Burn Crew: Jared, Stuart, Alex C., Trygg

What we need in a data collection system:

Our current data collection system software is pendragon forms run on Handspring Visors. This system works well, we love the visors, they are cheap and do the job. However, the Visors are 2000’s technology and the system is starting to become somewhat precarious. So we are starting to consider alternative systems. Gretel looked into potential new systems in 2016 with minimal luck.

We are hoping in the past six or so years that technology has devolved that will allow us to potentially replace the visors!

What we need in a Data Collection System:

  • allow for pre-loading data (list of positions to be measured)
  • allow for fast and efficient data entry (including ability to switch between records using a back or next button)
  • allow for parent-child form relationship (plant — heads)
  • auto-repeat of child form
  • safeguard against data loss
  • allow viewing of form/data entry in record view vs. field view
  • include dropdown, multi-selection boxes
  • ability to hold more than 250 records without slowing down
  • physical hardware is backlight making it easy to read in the field

Week 7: X-ray Time

This week I continued to make progress on cleaning and scanning for the lilium project (Figure 2). All the pods have been cleaned and we have established a scanning protocol for lilium pods. These protocols allow for others to replicate our methods in future projects with lilies.

Jared and I conducted a couple trials with x-raying the lilium seeds. We will experiment with adjusting the settings on the x-ray and after effects for the images. Further experimentation is necessary to generate high quality x-ray scans in order to classify the seeds. In the x-ray images, the seeds that contain fertilized embryos will appear bright white (Figure 1). We use this to classify which seeds contain fertilized embryos and which ones are empty. The contrast of appearance in the x-ray is due to the increase in density of the fertilized embryos.

Week 6: Scanning Wood Lily

This week I was able to clearly define the research question for the L. philadelphicum project. My research question is focused on investigating pollination and reproduction success in wood lily. Specifically, does seed set increase with the proximity of neighboring flowers. If lilies have closer proximity to neighboring flowers, then the proportion of fertilized seeds will increase as well. We will be able to test our hypothesis with the collected seed data and recorded GPS location of each individual plant. Additionally, I made progress on cleaning lilium seeds and started writing the scanning protocol. We found that using an ionizing bar will help prevent static which causes the seeds to be difficult to handle (See Fig 1). 

Furthermore, I was able to create a graph representing the progress of the lilium project with the help of Alex (Fig 3). Similarly, to echinacea, the lilium project will also go through the main steps of cleaning, scanning, counting and x-raying. This graph allows us to visualize the progress being made in the ACE protocol for L. philadelphicum. Stay tuned for next week while we experiment with methods in counting and x-raying lilium seeds!

Week 3: All About Wood Lily

This week, I have decided on my independent project for the rest of my internship! I will be working with Lilium philadelphicum, wood lily and investigating questions surrounding its pollination and reproduction. I felt more informed on the past research by the Echinacea Project after hearing presentations from Stuart and Jared. Jared further taught me the benefits of fire on prairie ecosystems. Prairie plants are fire dependent and thrive after burns. This is due to the natural landscape and indigenous traditions. It was very interesting to learn about the natural history of our region and how plants grew before impacts of modernization. Results from past research in the lab has shown benefits from prescribed burns on the reproduction of echinacea. This applied conservation method could potentially benefit other fire dependent prairie plants as well! I hope to observe patterns and variation of pollination success in L. philadelphicum. I am currently developing a hypothesis for this project. Later on I will analyze the data set collected by Jared over the summer. 

We have already completed inventory of the data set and started on the cleaning process of L. philadelphicum. The fruits of L. philadelphicum can be seen in the picture below. It contains many seeds, some of which are large and dark, others small and lighter in color. We hope to find interesting information through the variation of these seeds. Stay tuned for next week, as I will be working on developing the protocol for cleaning, scanning and counting these seeds.

Growing Green Milkweed

This summer we harvested seed pods from 25 Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) plants in the study area. Green Milkweed is uncommon and seems to be declining in our study area. This species prefers similar habitat to Echinacea. Plants tend to be sporadically distributed across dry prairies on steep hillsides, sandy soils, and well-drained gravelly areas. Our experience has been that flowering plants often fail to produce seed. We rarely find more than a handful of plants that produce pods in a given year.

After harvesting and drying seeds, Jared cleaned seed by removing their fluffy coma. Jared then counted all the seeds and randomly selected a minimum of 30 seeds for x-raying. X-rays revealed variation. Some ovules lacked an embryo , others had whole, intact embryos. Many ovlues fell somewhere in between. They contained embryos that were undersized, shriveled, or fragmented. There was no external evidence of seed predation. The proportion of full ovules ranged from 0 to 100 percent. We are not sure whether “partials” reflect resource limitation and seed abortion, a form of late-acting self-incompatibility, or something else entirely. We are doing some research to help us interpret the biology underlying these patterns.

After cleaning, counting, and classifying, Jared prepared a subset of Green Milkweed seed for germination. CBG’s production greenhouse will germinate and grow 392 milkweed seedlings representing 15 maternal lines. We will plant these seedlings in an area south of P8. Although these plants grow slowly, our hope is that they will be an excellent resource for investigating milkweed pollination in a couple years. We also hope to harvest seed from these plants and include Green Milkweed in our seed mixes for restoration!

Week 2 Flog: Introduction to the ACE protocol

In the first two weeks of being at the Echinacea Project Lab, I have become well acquainted with parts of the ACE protocol. I have done counting, cleaning, re-checking, randomizing, and scanning. In my first week, Alex showed me how to clean echinacea heads. During the cleaning process, we press the dried echinacea head into a glass pyrex tray. Usually, the achenes will fall out. However, i’ve gotten some really tough flower heads where the achenes were firmly attached to the bracts and other parts of the head. Alex taught me a good method to gently grab onto the achene with tweezers and wiggle them out of the head. After adapting that hack, things went much smoother. The contents of each head get separated into two envelopes. The achenes are stored in the achene folder and the bracts and dust are stored in the chaff folder. The achenes are ready to be scanned after a round of rechecking to ensure all achenes are accounted for!

I found it fascinating that there is so much variation in achenes between different echinacea heads. On the other hand, there are many similarities between achenes from the same flowering head. I also realized that handling achenes is a very delicate process because they have a tendency to fly away. I was very impressed with the organization system of all the achenes going through the ACE protocol. Different boxes and labels indicate which stage the achenes are currently at in a certain box.

Next week, I will be developing some questions for my own research project. I am excited to start my journey to uncover the secrets of echinacea!

Caitlin McWilliams

Echinacea Project 2021

I am part of the Class of 2025 at Carleton College and I plan to major in Environmental Studies.

Research Interests

In general, I am interested in helping to conserve natural prairie areas through networks and corridors so that they can become more resilient to climate changes. I am also curious about how to connect with stakeholders and landowners to make this happen, but also how to combine my interest in GIS with prairie restoration.


I am from Rochester, MN, but my home away from home is our cabin near Lanesboro, where I help to restore the surrounding native prairies, forests, and savannas. I also greatly enjoy hiking the bluffs there with my family and dogs.

Collecting seed with my dad at our cabin for Project Wingspan

Wrapping up the field season

It has been a hectic couple weeks for the Echinacea Project. Last week we braved fog, wind, and rain to wrap up the 2021 field season. Mia and Alex drove up from Chicago to help finish planting and pick up flags in the remnants.

On Thursday and Friday, Mia, Alex, and I sowed Echinacea seed in the 76 transects that comprise our seed addition experiment. This experiment will help us quantify the effects of fire and other environmental variables on seedling emergence and survival.

The planting went smoothly, we averaging approximately 2 minutes per transect. Prior to sowing seeds, we located transects and found nails designating the start and end of focal 1-m segments. We laid a meter stick on the ground stretching from start nail to end nail. We then spread seeds evenly between the 5 and 95 cm marks of the meter stick in line with the transect. Once empty, each seed envelope was given one last flick to dislodge any stubborn achenes and we gently tapped the meter stick against the ground to ensure any achenes that landed on blades of grass or other vegetation were not catapulted across the prairie when we picked up the meter stick.

Barring a shift in the weather that brings more favorable conditions for burning, Team Echinacea has moved indoors for the winter.