2020 Update: common garden experiments

Since 1996, members of Team Echinacea have walked, crawled, and ~sometimes~ run next to rows of Echinacea angustifolia planted in common garden experiments. Although protocol varies depending on the experimental plot, every year team members record flowering phenology data, measuring data, and harvest the heads of the thousands of plants we have in common garden experiments.

Note that these experiments are not really gardens. “Common garden” refers to the experimental design. Most of our experimental plots are prairie restorations, a few are abandoned ag fields that are manged as grassland habitat. Some plots have multiple experiments within. The Echinacea Project currently has 10 established experimental plots:

exPts01-10. To avoid repetitiveness of reports on yearly phenology, measuring, and harvesting, this project status report will include updates on all experimental plots 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8. Reports for the others will be elsewhere: Amy Dykstra’s plot (exPt03), the hybrid plots (exPt06, exPt07, exPt09), and the West Central Area common garden (exPt10).

exPt01: Experimental plot 1 was first planted in 1996 (cleverly termed the 1996 cohort), and has been planted with nine other experiments in subsequent years, with the most recent planting being Amy Waananen’s inter-remnant crosses. It is the largest of the experimental plots, with over 10,000 planted positions; experiments in the plot include testing fitness differences between remnants (1996, 1997, 1999), quantifying effects of inbreeding (inb1inb2), and assessing quantitative genetic variation (qgen1). There are also a number of smaller experiments in it, including fitness of Hesperostipa sparteaaphid addition and exclusion, and pollen addition and exclusion. In 2020, we visited 4,340 of the original 10,622 planted and found 3,258 alive. Only 484 plants were classified as “flowering” in exPt01 this year. This is a drastic increase from the nearly 70 plants that flowered in summer 2019 – perhaps it is a testament to the benefits of controlled burning (we burned in spring 2020 but not in 2019). In summer 2020, we harvested ~815 total Echinacea heads in exPt01 (I have not finished the reconciliation process). In the fall, we added 484 staples to positions where plants were gone for three straight years, however, we ran out of staples, so 130 of these positions have “flaples” which are bent pin flags.

exPt02: Heritability of flowering time is the name of the game in exPt02. Planted in 2006, exPt02 was planted to assess heritability of flowering start date and duration in Echinacea. In summer 2020, we visited 2,010 positions of the 3,961 positions originally planted. We measured 1,638 living plants, of which 444 were flowering. In the fall, we harvested ~626 heads from exPt02. We do not have an exact number of heads harvested from exPt02 yet, as we have not had time to complete head reconciliation. Location: Hegg Lake WMA

exPt04: Experimental plot 4 was planted to gauge whether Echinacea from small remnant populations could be genetically rescued via an outcross to larger, more genetically diverse populations. Caroline Ridley and other members planted this plot in 2008. We did not measure exPt04 this year. Location: Hegg Lake WMA

exPt05: The only experimental plot planted at Staffanson Prairie Preserve (SPP), exPt05, was planted to compare progeny of maternal plants from burned and unburned sections of SPP. There were 2800 plants planted originally, but high mortality made it impractical to visit the plot row-by-row. Now, we and treat the plot like demography. We use our survey-grade GPS to find plants in exPt05 that have previously flowered and add more plants to the stake file if new plants in the plot flower. In 2020 we found 11 living plants, two of which were flowering! There was only one head to collect, since one of the flowering plants exhibited only vertical development (no head). Location: Staffanson Prairie Preserve

exPt08: Team Echinacea established quantitative genetics experiments to quantify additive genetic variance of fitness in Echinacea, with the idea that we can estimate evolutionary potential of study populations. The maternal parents of qGen2 and qGen3 are plants in the 1996, 1997, and 1999 cohorts. These plants were crossed with pollen from plants in remnants to produce seed for qGen2 and qGen3, which now inhabit exPt08. Originally, 12,813 seeds were sown in the common garden. Seeds from the same cross (shared maternal and paternal plants) were sown in meter-long segments between nails. A total of 3,253 seedlings were originally found, but only 562 plants were found alive in 2020. There were 5 flowering plants in 2020, and 5 heads. Note that there were an additional 2 heads collected from transplant plot.

Plot management: To ensure that the common garden environment is as similar as possible to the prairie environment we must actively manage it. This management includes removing foreign species and supplementing with natives. One of our main management methods is through fire. We were unable to burn plots this fall however we hope to burn p8 and p1 this spring. We also collected seed to spread after burns including Schizachyrium scoparium, Bouteloua curtipendula, along with multiple species of Solidago and quite a few Asters.

Asclepias viridiflora in p1: In 2019, plugs of an uncommon prairie milkweed, Asclepias viridiflora, were planted in Experimental plot 1. The purpose of this experiment is to assess the survival and fitness of A. viridiflora. Assessing vitality will also provide a frame of reference for species conservation across modern prairies. In 2020 a protocol was developed to identify and measure A. viridiflora. These data are waiting to be entered and analyzed.

Hesperostipa demography:  In 2009 and 2010, porcupine grass (Hesperostipa spartea, a.k.a. “stipa”) was planted in experimental plot 1. In total, 4417 seeds were planted, 1 m apart from each other and all 10 cm north of Echinacea plants. Between 2010 and 2013, each position was checked, and the plant status recorded. Since 2014, we have searched for flowering plants. The data from this summer can be found here cgdata/summer2020/stipaSearch, these data have not been processed yet.

Inb1: The INB1 experiment investigates the relationship between inbreeding level and fitness in Echinacea angustifolia. Each plant in experiment INB1 originates from one of three cross types, depending on the relatedness of the parents: between maternal half siblings; between plants from the same remnant, but not sharing a maternal or paternal parent; and between individuals from different remnants. We continued to measure fitness and flowering phenology in these plants. In 2020, of the original 557 plants in INB1, 111 were still alive. Of the plants that were alive this year, 30 (27%) were flowering. This is up from the 4% that were flowering last year. All individuals were planted in 2001.

qgen: The qGen1 (quantitative genetics) experiment in p1 was designed to quantify the heritability of traits in Echinacea angustifolia. We are especially interested in Darwinian fitness. Could fitness be heritable? During the summer of 2002 we crossed plants from the 1996 & 1997 cohorts of exPt01. We harvested heads, dissected achenes, and germinated seeds over the winter. In the Spring of 2003 we planted the resulting 4468 seedlings (this great number gave rise to this experiment’s nickname “big batch”). In 2020 we assessed survival and fitness measures of the qGen1 plants. 1,642 plants in qGen1 were alive in 2020. Of those, 17% flowered in 2020. All were planted in 2003.

Stuart and John measure Echinacea plants in exPt02 under a gloomy sky

For more information on survival in common garden experiments, see this flog post about survival in common gardens.

Start year: Various, see individual listings above. First ever planting was 1996.

Location: Various, see above

Overlaps with: Pretty much everything we do.

Data/ materials collected: Measure data for all plots. All raw measure data available in cgData repository. Processed data should eventually be available in SQL database; ask GK for status of SQL database. GPS points were shot for the exPt09 flowering plant. Find the GPS jobs containing the exPt09 corners here: Dropbox/geospatialDataBackup2020/convertedASVandCSV2020/EXPT9_20200917_DARW.asv The stake file to find exPt5 plants is here: Dropbox/geospatialDataBackup2020/stakeFiles2020/exPt05stakeFile.csv Products: Many publications and independent projects.

2019 Update: Flowering phenology in experimental plots

            Each year, we assess flowering phenology in experimental plots to determine mating potential for individual plants and see how a number of factors may affect flowering phenology. Some of the factors we have investigated in the past include heritability, burning, and climate.

2019 was truly a special year for Echinacea flowering phenology in experimental plots. There were flowering plants in four – yes FOUR – experimental plots. We had the usual flowering plants in exPt1 and exPt2 at Hegg Lake. We also had a flowering plant in exPt8 (qgen2 and qgen3) and exPt9 at Hegg Lake. Unfortunately, we did not see the flowering plant with an E. pallida dam at exPt9 until late in the season, so we did not take phenology in exPt9.

This Echinacea head is mid-flowering. It has more than 2 rows shedding pollen and more than 11 immature florets.

This year, we visited the three other plots and followed the usual Echinacea phenology protocol. We recorded first flowering day and subsequently recorded dates of “mid” and “late” flowering. Finally, we recorded the final flowering date of each plant.

In addition to the single flowering plants in exPt8 and exPt9, exPt1 had 63 flowering heads we tracked for phenology and exPt2 had a whopping 1207! The first flowering head in exPt1 started on July 3rd, while the first head in exPt2 started flowering on July 1st. The last day of flowering in exPt1 and exPt2 was August 21st. What a long summer of taking phenology data!

Start year: 2005

Location: exPt1, exPt2, Heritability of fitness-qGen2 & qGen3, exPt9

Overlaps with: Heritability of flowering timecommon garden experimentphenology in the remnants

Data/ materials collected: phenology data (start date, mid flowering, end date, etc…), harvested heads for the ACE protocol. All phenology data can be found in the cgData repository in the subfolder p1p2Phenology.

Products: Jack Schill’s externship project (jack-schill-climate-and-phenology-report), multiple publications

Past team members who worked on this project: Jennifer Ison, Will Reed, Amy Waananen

Sunday and Monday Update

Hello, flog followers!

This is going to be a joint flog post for Sunday and Monday (mostly Sunday…).

Sunday was a travel day for me. I woke up at 5:30 am and hopped on the Amtrak train in Dearborn, Michigan and headed back to Chicago, Illinois.

While on the train I worked on revisions for my Master’s thesis and worked on a poem while I drank my coffee.

Thank you Amtrak Employee for the coffee.

When I arrived in Chicago, I had two hours to kill before my next train. So, I grabbed lunch at Chipotle and hung out in the main hall of Chicago’s Union Station.

These statues at Chicago Union Station are supposed to represent Night and Day.

While on the train from Chicago to Minneapolis, Minnesota I worked on my Master’s thesis some more.

My Amtrak trek from Dearborn, MI to Minneapolis, MN.

When I arrived in Minneapolis I had to take the Green Line to Stuart’s brother’s house. This is where I left my car while I was out of town. So, here is a thank you to him and his family for that!

No tickets or tows
There went my remaining woes
I am so thankful

Finally arrived in Kensington, Minnesota around 1:15 am and in bed by 2 am.

Woke up Monday and got to work with Team Echinacea after my week away! We went out to Experimental Plot 2 and took phenology data and administered our pulse/steady pollination treatments.

Julie found a toad.

After work in P2 I went out to Riley and collected seeds.

2017 update: Flowering phenology in experimental plots

This year, the number of flowering plants in our main experimental plot (exPt1) dropped in half compared to last year. This might be due to the lack of a burn in the prior fall or spring. Plot 2 (exPt2) had about the same number of heads in ’16 & ’17.

In exPt1, we kept track of approximately 72 heads. The peak date was July 19th. The first head started flowering on July 2nd and the last head finished up on August 21st. In contrast, we kept track of 1076 heads in exPt2, about 140 more than last year! The peak date for these Echinacea was a bit earlier, July 13th. exPt2 heads also started and ended earlier (June 22 – August 19).

We harvested the heads at the end of the field season and brought them back to the lab, where we will count fruits (achenes) and assess seed set.

Flowering schedules for 2017 in exPt1 and exPt2. Black dots indicate the number of flowering heads on each date. Gray horizontal line segments represent the duration of each head’s flowering and are ordered by start date. The solid vertical line indicates peak flowering, while the dashed lines indicate the dates when 25% and 75% of heads had begun flowering, respectively. Note the difference in y-axes between the two plots. Click to enlarge!

Start year: 2005

Location: Experimental Plots 1 and 2

Overlaps with: Heritability of flowering time, common garden experiment, phenology in the remnants

Physical specimens: Harvested heads from both experimental plots are in the lab at CBG. The ACE protocol for these heads will begin soon.

Data collected: We visit all plants with flowering heads every 2-3 days starting before they flower until they are done flowering to record start and end dates of flowering for all heads. We managed phenology data in R and added it to our long-term dataset. The figures above were generated using package mateable in R. If you want to make figures like this one, download package mateable from CRAN!

You can find more information about phenology in experimental plots and links to previous flog posts regarding this experiment at the background page for the experiment.



2016 update: Flowering phenology in experimental plots

Every year we keep track of flowering phenology in our main experimental plots, exPt1 and exPt2. Fewer plants than usual flowered in exPt1 in 2016: 149 plants (179 heads) flowered between June 24th and August 7th. The population’s mean start date of flowering was July 5th and the mean end date was July 18th. Peak flowering in 2016 was on July 10th, when 143 heads were in flower. For comparison, peak flowering in 2015 was on July 27th, when there were nearly 10x as many heads flowering as on this year’s peak. The earlier phenology and low numbers of flowering we observed this year relative to 2015 is likely due at least in part to the plot burn schedule (2015 was a burn year and 2016 was a non-burn year), but there were still many fewer flowering plants than any season, burn or non-burn, in the past 10 years.

We kept track of 934 flowering heads in ExPt2, where the first head started shedding pollen on June 22 and the latest bloomer ended flowering on August 8th. Peak flowering was on July 7th, when 810 heads were flowering. ExPt2 was designed to study the heritability of  phenology—you can read more about progress of that experiment in the upcoming 2016 heritability of phenology project status update.

At the end of the season we harvested the heads and brought them back to the lab, where we will count fruits (achenes) and assess seed set.


ExPt1 and Expt2 flowering schedules from 2016. Dots represent the number of flowering heads on each date. Horizontal line segments represent the duration of each heads flowering and are ordered by start date. The solid vertical line indicates peak flowering, while the dashed lines indicate the dates when 25% and 75% of heads had begun flowering, respectively. Click to enlarge!

Start year: 2005

Location: Experimental Plots 1 and 2

Overlaps with: Heritability of flowering time, common garden experiment, phenology in the remnants

Physical specimens: We harvested 177 heads from exPt1 and 870 from exPt2. Attentive readers may note that we harvested about 64 fewer heads than we tracked for phenology. That’s because before we could harvest many seedheads at exPt2, rodents chewed through their stems and ate some fruits (achenes). We recovered most of the heads that were grazed from the ground and made estimates of number of fruits lost due to herbivory, but we couldn’t find some heads. Arg. We brought the harvest back to the lab, where we will count fruits and assess seed set.

Data collected: We visit all plants with flowering heads every three days until they are done flowering to record start and end dates of flowering for all heads. We managed phenology data in R and added it to the full dataset. The figure above was generated using package mateable in R. If you want to make figures like this one, download package mateable from CRAN!

You can find more information about phenology in experimental plots and links to previous flog posts regarding this experiment at the background page for the experiment.



Project status update: Phenology in experimental plots

Every year we keep track of flowering phenology in our main experimental plots, exPt1 and exPt2. Summer 2015 was a big year of flowering in both plots, especially in exPt2, where 1233 heads flowered between July 4th and August 26th. ExPt2 was designed especially to study phenology—you can read more about the team’s monitoring of phenology in the 2015 heritability of phenology project status update.

In exPt1, we kept track of 1212 heads on 649 plants (we left out the qGen_a ‘big batch’ cohort). The first head began shedding pollen on July 2nd and the latest bloomer shed pollen on September 2nd.  Peak date in exPt 1 was on July 27th when there were 1034 heads flowering. At the end of the season we harvested the heads and brought them back to the lab, where we will count fruits (achenes) and assess seed set.

Read previous posts about this experiment.


A plot of the 2015 flowering schedule in experimental plot 1 made with the brand new R package mateable–available now on CRAN!

Each horizontal gray line segment on this plot represents the flowering time of one head. From bottom to top they are sorted by start day. Black dots show the number of heads in flower on each day. The vertical lines show the peak day (solid) and the days when half of the plants have started flowering and half have ended (dashed).

Start year: 2005

Location: Experimental plots 1 and 2

Overlaps with: Heritability of flowering time, common garden experiment, phenology in the remnants


These papers report on investigations of flowering phenology of individuals in experimental plot 1 in 2005, 2006, and 2007:

  • Ison, J.L., and S. Wagenius. 2014. Both flowering time and spatial isolation affect reproduction in Echinacea angustifolia. Journal of Ecology 102: 920–929. PDF
  • Ison, J.L., S. Wagenius, D. Reitz., M.V. Ashley. 2014. Mating between Echinacea angustifolia (Asteraceae) individuals increases with their flowering synchrony and spatial proximity. American Journal of Botany 101: 180-189. PDF


Project status update: Phenology and fitness in experimental plot 1


Experimental plot 1 (P1) encompasses 11 different experiments originally planted with a total of 10673 Echinacea individuals. These experiments include long-term studies designed to compare the fitness of Echinacea from different remnant populations (“EA from remnants in P1”), examine the effects of inbreeding on plant fitness (“INB” and “INB2”), and explore other genetic properties of Echinacea such as trait heritability (“qGen”). In 2014, Team Echinacea measured plant traits for the 5409 Echinacea plants that remain alive and followed the daily phenology of 567 flowering heads. Echinacea began producing florets on July 1 and continued flowering in P1 until August 24. The data collected in 2014 will allow us to estimate the heritability of various traits and assess the lifetime fitness of plants from the numerous experiments.

Experiment Year planted # alive # flowering # planted
1 1996 1996 314 115 650
2 1997 1997 270 57 600
3 1998 1998 32 3 375
4 1999 1999 542 106 888
5 1999S 1999 297 37 418
6 SPP 2001 318 14 797
7 Inbreeding 2001 221 15 557
8 2001 2001 170 11 350
9 Monica 2003 2003 28 3 100
10 qGen 2003 2501 122 4468
11 INB2 2006 716 41 1470

Start year: 1996

Location: experimental plot 1


Overlaps with: aphid addition exclusion, Pamela’s functional traits, pollen longevity, pollen addition exclusion

Monday June 25

Last week was a busy and fun one for Team Echinacea 2012; no two days were the same. We wrapped up some of the first summer projects and started to transition into the second phase of the summer. We completed evaluating the recruitment plots, began to record their GPS locations, conducted demography and phenology observations in the common garden, and perhaps most notably, completed round one of seeding searches with the west (and recently burned) section of Staffanson prairie with help from Amy Dykstra, who came to visit on Friday. In addition to all the progress made on the long-term projects, we also spent multiple rainy mornings working on our individual research projects, the proposals for which have been recently, or will soon be posted here on the flog. IMG_1746.jpg Stuart Instructs us on the proper field techniques for cross-pollination, pollinator exclusion, and painting flowers so we can keep track of what we’ve just done.

After a short weekend, we started up working again this Monday with a morning dedicated to our independent projects, time which we all used to get out in the field and get our hands dirty. Ruth stopped by today and lent a hand and some very welcome advise, and joined the crew in the afternoon to do some weeding in the common garden. We clipped, pulled, and trimmed Buckthorn, Ash saplings, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Sweet Clover, and Sumac.

Phenology in Common Garden & 1st Day of Dichanthelium Seed Collecting!

Hi everyone, Maria here again. Today was a particularly happening day in my opinion. Everyone had something to do. Amber E. is back from Alaska with Ruth! Karen arrived from Evanston in the afternoon!

In the morning those of us who hadn’t finished our Stipa searches in the common garden finished that! (So Stipa is done! – we scaled back though and only searched for the 2011(?) cohort). After that Gretel, Ruth, Amber E and I put Position/Row signs in the common garden and made the signs face East/Westwards so now it’s so much easier to read the signs while you are walking in the common garden. Then we got started on looking at the phenology of Echinacea in the common garden. We systematically walked through each row, looking out for flowering Echinacea with emerged anthers and pollen, twist-tying the heads and recording them in our visors. Josh joined us when he finished his Stipa searches. We found quite a few flowering heads – bet there’ll be more soon.

While we were looking for flowering Echinacea, we saw Stuart, Callin, Amber Z and Nicholas crowded around ‘Joe’ – the pet name given to the prominently flowering Echinacea at row 28, position 860. As described by Callin in the previous post, they were practicing bract-painting for their independent projects on Joe.

When we finished looking at all the rows, it was time for lunch and short presentations of our projects. It was good to hear about everyone’s projects and talk about my own projects and get feedback. After lunch, we got started on our independent projects or worked on the New Media Initiative.

Gretel and I headed to Hegg Lake to look for Dichanthelium (Panic Grass) seeds for my second project. This summer I will be collecting seeds from Dichanthelium plants from different remnants, including Hegg Lake and Loettler’s Corner (I might not have spelt that right – sorry). My plan is to collect seeds from 30 individuals from each “site”, as there are several places at Hegg Lake that seem to have a lot of Dichanthelium. After collecting the seeds, I will be bringing them back to Chicago Botanic Garden and do more work on them in the fall/later.

Click here for the
Google doc of my summer project proposals

I am super super indebted/thankful/grateful for Gretel. Without her guidance, I’d probably be in a big mess/not knowing what to do/still be at Hegg Lake as this is my first time doing independent field work.

When we reached the place at Hegg Lake (it was near the road, area with ditch, south of the parking lot), a lot fo the Dichanthelium seeds had already fallen off the culms. It was quite disheartening. We walked a little north and found a patch of Dichanthelium with most of their seeds intact, then we laid out the tape measure for 20m in a roughly north-south direction (I kept thinking it was 2m while Gretel patiently corrected me ^^;;). Initial plan was to do every plant within arm’s length from transect, or every other plant if population was dense. However, that was not quite possible given the circumstances. After Gretel and I collected seed from the first plant and did all the measurements, she continued measuring/collecting while I picked ~30 plants near the transect (more than my arm’s length) that had at least one culm with 8 or more seeds to collect from and flagged them with a blank flag. I started measuring/collecting after I finished flagging. Around 4pm, Lee called – reinforcements were coming! Ruth and Lee arrived with Karen and they helped us finished the rest of the plants (by that time Gretel had completed 17 plants (!!) and I was on my 6th plant). It turned out that we had 31 flags so 31 envelopes with data and samples! We also collected some “random” samples – ie seeds from various random plants away from transect. Finished around 5pm – thanks to Gretel, Lee, Ruth and Karen! Really excited to get the first 30 done!

Take a look at the simple data entry for today’s collection for more technical details if you’re interested. I might also do the seed count for today’s samples just to see how many seeds we can get from 30 plants using the ‘8 or more’ rule. (I just need to be rreally careful not to lose any seed >.<)


We left 11 flags (labelled with sample number) at the site that we will return to later to collect more seeds from.

Now that I have more experience, I’ll definitely be more systematic+efficient about it.
Notes to self for tomorrow/next time:
– “just-in-case” extras (extra equipment, envelopes, pens, sharpies, flags) do come in handy! Meter sticks are probably more efficient than tape measures. More flags would be good. Maybe use a different color for “done” or for extras.
– Extra samples are good too. Maybe do 32 plants per site?
– Bring a plastic bag/something to put a plant specimen in – I need to get a sample of the other Dichanthelium species (“hairy leaved”) to press and identify.
– Equipment list would be useful esp when I have more than 5 things to remember.

Lesson of the Day: Having an experienced person around and helpers is always always always helpful! =D

Thanks again to Gretel and everyone who helped!

2010 Echinacea Common Garden Flowering Status

This graph summarizes the First and Last Day of Flowering for Echinacea plants in the common garden. It looks like peak flowering was July 8, 2010.