Happy Spring!

Happy Spring! Yesterday was the equinox, so now it’s officially in spring. It has been an unseasonably warm winter in Chicago, so it has felt like spring for several weeks here already. Lindsey and I spotted snowdrops flowering at the Morton Arboretum back on February 18. Here at the Botanic Garden, the winter aconite and crocus plants and are currently in bloom. The skunk cabbages are also looking spiffy.

In contrast, Minnesota has experienced the eighth snowiest winter on record, and our field site was buried under >1 foot of snow all winter. The snow still hasn’t all melted, so it will be a few weeks before the spring ephemerals make an appearance. Hopefully, we’ll get to experience spring twice: once in Illinois and once in Minnesota!

Liatris Project Update #6

We made it to the third batch for the cleaning procedure! After completing the first batch for randomization last week, we needed to pick things up on cleaning, and we hit another promising milestone. Ultimately, we wanted the cleaning process to stay well ahead of the randomization process, and we did manage to get ahead of ourselves some on randomization last week. We made much more progress in that department than I had envisioned, and we caught up a little too much concerning cleaning progress. We focused on cleaning all this week, and now here is where things stand. There is still much more to go, but we are steadily getting there.

Liatris Project Update #2

After cleaning Liatris plants for a week, I am happy to say that the first of five batches are now finished. Now that the first batch is completed, the project’s next step is ready to begin. The process of randomization will be the next step in the project. This step will involve the random selection of achenes from each plant to avoid bias and separation of achenes that are either qualified for being x-rayed or not. Luckily, both groupings will have a role in the project’s studies. X-rayed achenes will inform us about pollination and reproductive outcomes for each head of a Liatris plant. On the other hand, non-x-rayed achenes can be assessed for why they cannot be x-rayed, including what types of damage the achenes have and if any predation occurred toward those achenes. My research question will focus specifically on seed predation, so using the non-x-rayed achenes will be essential. I am still working on a finalized research question relating to seed predation, but seeing the progress made so far has me excited about what will come next in the project and toward finalizing my research question.

Liatris Project Update #1

I am happy to say that the Liatris Project is off to a good start. After taking inventory of all the Liatris plants this past week, I got to start the cleaning process. A total of 293 Liatris plants have been counted in the inventory, and all have been sorted randomly into 5 different batches. Today, I got to start cleaning the ones in the 1st batch, and while cleaning, I noticed several similarities and differences compared to cleaning Echinacea plants. Overall, I found that Liatris achenes were much easier to extract from the plant than Echinacea achenes, but counting them proved much more challenging. To make things easier, random selection sheets of different numerical ranges were arranged that listed random numbers from left to right down the sheets. Using these sheets, I could randomly pick out a flower head and count the number of achenes associated with that head. I also had to observe if any achenes were missing from each head on a Liatris plant. I recorded the total number of heads per plant and the number of heads with no achenes, some achenes, or all achenes missing. After taking these recordings, I removed all the other achenes present on the Liatris plants and sorted them into an envelope. Any chaff leftover got put into a separate envelope labeled as “chaff.” So far, a handful of plants have been cleaned, but there is still a long way to go.

Beginning of “The Liatris Project”

Today will mark the beginning of a new project that I will conduct analyzing Liatris aspera (Rough Blazing Star). Like with the Echinacea Project, this project will look at reproductive quantities of Liatris and the potential factors for influencing plant reproduction. At the moment, a specific research question is still in the works and the actual project requires some introductory steps that need to be completed. In the lab, I conducted inventory checks for the Liatris plants that have been harvested and made sure their were not any errors in what was taken into inventory. While doing the checking, I had Leah help me make sure everything was accounted for. Trying to do this alone would have been frustrating so I send my absolute thanks for helping me out with this part. As for the next steps in the project, I hope to begin cleaning the Liatris plants next week and start to come up with a potential research question in the near future. Very exciting things to come!

Planning a land acknowledgment

As Native American Heritage Month draws to a close, it’s a good time to post an update on our land acknowledgment process. Last year, our lab group met to discuss writing a land acknowledgment for the Echinacea Project study area. At the beginning of November, we revisited this discussion at lab meeting. We reviewed the Chicago Botanic Garden and Cook County’s land acknowledgment for the area where our lab is located. Our main conclusions from the meeting were: 1) we need to educate ourselves more and 2) having a land acknowledgment without taking actions to support Indigenous people is counterproductive and disrespectful.

We brainstormed ways that we could support Indigenous communities and concluded that inviting Indigenous people to join the summer team, whether as teacher-researchers (RET) or undergraduate researchers (REU) would be a good first step. Once we know more about the history of our study area and have taken some action, we’d like to write land acknowledgment and post it on the Echinacea Project website, along with a list of the actions we are taking.

At the lab meeting, we made action plans for moving forward:

  • Sophia and Wyatt are researching the history of our study area and the Indigenous groups who are still present today
  • Drake and Lindsey are contacting Indigenous speakers about the PBC seminar
  • Alex is emailing professors at tribal colleges and at Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and tribally controlled high schools to advertise the RET position and later the REU and field assistant positions
  • Lab members will send a more personal follow-up email to these contacts
  • Before reviewing applications, we plan to revisit our rubric for scoring applicants to ensure that we are scoring applicants from groups underrepresented in science fairly
  • The lab group is planning a field trip to the Field Museum’s new exhibit, Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories

Applications for the RET position opened this month. So far, I have sent an initial email to professors at numerous tribal colleges across the U.S. who have partnered with NSF in the past. Now, I’m searching for contacts at BIE and tribally controlled high schools.

We are currently seeking applicants for RET position, so if you know any educators, especially from groups underrepresented in science, please encourage them to apply!

Smoke Experiment Updates

Last Thursday, a group of us returned to Kensington with the hopes of a successful prescribed burn. While we were up there, Alex and I also implemented the beginning of the smoke experiment. I believe this is the first flog entry solely about the smoke experiment this year, so I will give you a little rundown of what it entails!

We know that Echinacea flowering rates increase after fire, and we also know that smoke can stimulate plant germination. Smoke has been found to increase flowering rates in a few select species (Cyrtanthus ventricosus and Watsonia fourcadei). But, we don’t know if smoke increases flowering rates for Echinacea! We also are unsure what mechanism of fire (increased light, added nutrients, chemicals in smoke) increases flowering in Echinacea. Therefore, we are applying liquid smoke treatments to both basal and flowering Echinacea plants during the fall of 2022 and measuring their reproductive output during the summer of 2023.

Our smoke operation began this summer, by mapping out ~ 300 plants on the Hutchings’ property just north of the landfill. We recorded if the plant was flowering, number of heads and number of rosettes and marked the plant with a flag and a unique three-digit identifier. Throughout the summer, there were many deliberations about the methods and for this pilot study. Before leaving for Minnesota, Alex and I cleared the shelves of distilled water containers from the local Woodman’s, gathered measuring equipment from two other fellow CBG labs (thank you!) and packed up the back of the Silverado. Finally, we were ready to smoke.

We had two roles during our smoke implementation, one being a “mixer”. This person would measure an accurate ratio of smoke to water to reach our desired concentrations. We have 11 smoke concentrations in our experiment: 40%, 20%, 10%, 5%, 2.5%, 1.25%, 0.625%, 0.31%, 0.16%, 0.078% and no smoke. For each plant, we are applying approximately 1 liter of liquid. This became tricky in the field, as the back of our truck was not always level surface and the wind kept trying to steal our graduated cylinders!

The second role was being the “pourer.” Gretel and Jared came out to help us pour, which was greatly appreciated! The pourer would locate the plant that received the desired treatment and pour the liter of liquid on and around the plant within a half meter diameter.

During our trip, we were able to apply smoke treatments to 110 Echinacea plants! We hope to return to Minnesota once more this year to apply another 110 treatments, this time with improved methods and efficiency. On our first day back in Illinois, Alex and I pre-filled ~60 jugs with our desired concentrations, so we are ready to pour once we return. The next question is, how long will our hands smell like Wright’s Hickory?

Stay tuned for more smoke-related updates in the future!

Lots (and Lots) of September Updates

It’s been pretty busy here as we begin to wrap up the summer field season. We’ve been slowly chipping away at all the tasks that need to be completed before the end of next week. I hope you’re ready for a jam-packed flog post!!

1. Remnant echinacea harvest is done! We have harvested every single focal echinacea plant at each of our remnant sites. Now we just have P1 left…

2. Liatris harvesting has begun and is in full swing! Just like with Echinacea, Liatris has to be harvested at the exact right time – wait too long and all the heads on a stem may already have dispersed. We’ve been visiting our Liatris sites every 3-4 days to try and ensure we catch all of our focal plants right on time. We snip off the stalks and put them in a labeled L-bag. 

A Liatris plant that’s ready for harvest!

3. Total demo is all done! This week we finished up our very last total demography site. Pictured here: Lindsey, Alex, and I at Hegg during what was our foggiest (but prettiest!) total demo experience. 

Me and Lindsey at Hegg, Featuring Taylor the GPS in her little raincoat
Alex recording demography at another total demo site
Beautiful bottle gentians!

4. Andropogon update! Last week we collected and counted lots of remnant and pilot Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). At each randomly selected point, we used a meter stick to count the total number of Andropogon culms within a 1m radius and then harvested all the inflorescences. Counting and harvesting can take quite a while – especially if you get a particularly dense plot like this one that Alex and I counted which contained almost 200 culms (higher than last year’s record!)

The hydra Andropogon plot in question – the more heads we cut the more seemed to appear

5. We also enjoyed a little rainy day time indoors learning how to clean Asclepias seed pods from Jared – a very fun and relaxing activity. 

And here is Lindsey using the metal detector to locate nails in one of the recruitment plots. We found the nails and beat the storm – a success! 

It’s been an exciting and productive week with lots done and lots more to do! Thanks for reading 🙂

It’s September!

It’s the first week of September and despite only four days of work (thanks to Labor Day) we’ve gotten a lot done. This week in the field we went out to find and shoot Liatris neighbors! We use the GPS to record the four closest neighbors of each focal Liatris plant, and on Friday we finished every single site! Now we just wait until they’re ready to harvest…

A bumblebee spotted visiting Liatris!

We have also been harvesting a lot of Echinacea heads and have been working our way through all the plots. Some of the things we look for to determine if a head is ready for harvest are visible or loose achenes, crisp upper leaves, and a brown stem. If a plant is ready, we snip its head off and put it in an H-bag! 

Lindsey teaching me how to harvest Echinacea heads at P1

On Thursday we had a lovely dinner together and made a huge bonfire. We ended our delicious meal with 3 desserts (Alex’s chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream, AND s’mores), after which we came to the very scientific conclusion that eating dessert does in fact expand your stomach. 

We also made two goat visits this week!! Here they are enjoying their favorite snack (buckthorn).

I’ve had such a great first week meeting the team and being in the field! I’m so excited to be out here and am really looking forward to learning even more as the month continues. Thanks for reading!

Flog Post

Hello Flog-beasts! We’ve been busy here at the Echinacea project. This Tuesday we finished measuring P1, which was the final big hurdle in our quest to finish measuring. That’s right: we’ve now visited every position in our experimental plots at which we’ve found a plant in the last three years! Very exciting.

The other two big tasks we’re working on finishing is finding Liatris and harvesting Echinacea heads. We’re making great progress on both! Every few days we revisit Echinacea in our plots and in the remnants to see if they’re ready to harvest. Once we harvest the heads, we put them into an H-bag which goes into a G-bag which goes in the seed drier which goes in G-3. That reminds me of a certain song about a bog…

This summer there’s been an unprecedented amount of Liatris flowering, so it’s been a huge task to map it all. We’ve had to put in transects at certain plots because there’s just too many to surv!

Spiral staircase Liatrus!

One other thing we’ve been spending a lot of time doing is total demography. This is when we use the GPS to revisit every location where there’s been a flowering plant in the past. When we find flowering plants we also surv(ey) them. Geena, Daytona, and I had lots of fun at Hegg Lake today surving plants…and also serving looks!!

One thing we are all about at the Echinacea project is innovation. Which is why I am happy to share some cutting-edge creativity Geena demonstrated today by using a Capri Sun straw as a Visor stylus:

It works!

See you next time, flog-fanatics!