The Great Corn Disaster of 2022

This week, the weather looked promising in Minnesota, so Stuart, Jared, and I drove up to Minnesota on Wednesday to prepare sites for burning. On Thursday morning, Jared and I mowed burn breaks at the Andropogon pilot plot and remnants waa, mapp, and nwlf. After lunch, we were loading up the vehicle with more supplies at Hjelm when we heard a loud crash in the direction of Highway 27. We wondered what it was, and when we drove down the road, we discovered that a semi-truck full of corn had tipped over just south of p8! Three people had stopped to help, but the driver was still trapped inside the cab. Fortunately, he had been wearing his seatbelt. Stuart and Jared stayed to help while I drove back to Hjelm to find a ladder. By the time I returned, they had broken the front window and helped the driver out. Soon, lots of emergency vehicles arrived, so we continued on our way to Landfill.

The spilled corn was no ordinary cargo – it was worth $8 a bushel! The truck had dumped several thousand bushels, so a clean-up crew was sent to salvage the wreckage with a corn vacuum. They sucked up the corn and transferred it to new semi-truck. By the end of the day, they retrieved most of the corn, but there is still a glimmer of yellow in the grass.

On a brighter note, the pasqueflowers are blooming at Loeffler’s West. We ended the day on Thursday by mowing breaks and cutting brush at South of Golf Course. There is about an hour of work left at that site. Overall, it was an eventful day – and we hadn’t even started burning yet!

It’s spring at the Garden!

Are more words necessary?

The Echinacea Project is now the Lilium Project!

As much as we love Echinacea angustifolia, we’ve decided it is time to move on. After 25 years of data collection, we have more than enough data to answer all of our long-term research questions. We’re still planning to analyze and publish the data we have, but we won’t be collecting any new data on Echinacea. Instead, we’re excited to announce that we are starting fresh as the Lilium Project! We’re looking forward to answering our burning questions about the reproductive biology of Lilium philadelphicum and the impacts of habitat fragmentation on this gorgeous prairie species.

Here’s our new logo!

Editor’s note: this was posted on April 1

Orchids Untamed:

Here is a recap of the Orchid Show if you missed it this year! The annual orchid show at the Chicago Botanic Garden displays a wide collection of orchids. This event celebrates the beginning of spring with the unique and vibrant colors that orchids have to offer. After hearing great reviews from friends that visited the exhibition, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to be mesmerized by orchids myself. Roaming through rooms filled with orchids was a magical experience. Your environment is transformed into a tropical paradise of thousands of blooming orchids. Some of them hang from the ceiling and others grow from patches of moss positioned on a man made tree. Every turn of the corner and you will see a unique combination of colors. The variation amongst different species is incredible. One of my favorites reminded me of a sunset, she had the perfect gradient of yellow, peach and pink. I was surprised to find an orchid that happen to match my hair color, which is an aqua mint green. The beauty of orchids will truly take your breath away. The orchids had my undivided attention and I enjoyed spending time to appreciate their beauty. Sometimes we all need an afternoon to look at nothing but pretty flowers 😉 If you missed the orchid show this time, be sure to come back next year for a mesmerizing experience!

Roadkill Birthday

Hi Flog

Yesterday was my birthday, this is the second birthday that I have celebrated out here in Western Minnesota. The work day started with some sling (seedling re-finds), Alex and I did sling at Steven’s Approach and then we set off to Nessman. We quickly discovered that part of the site was mowed, and we had to go back to Hjelm to get the GPS to re-find the circles we needed to visit. We were driving away from Nessman at the corner of Dairy drive and 27 I saw something on the road. I asked Alex what it was, and she peeked out the passenger side window and said, “it’s a zucchini!” As we drove back to get the GPS, we contemplated whether we should rescue the zucchini or not. Once we saw the zucchini again, we knew we had to rescue it. After we finished at Nessman, we set of to procure our roadkill! We decided that it was most likely fell of a truck and then was run over. We scooped it up and removed the ant and millipede then buckled it into the back seat.

We then set off to Staffanson to visit two more sling circles, the two circles are on complete opposite ends of the prairie preserve. Neither circle was fairly straight forward so after we finished the last circle Alex flopped down onto the ground, I quickly joined her, and we just laid there for 10 minutes staring up at the sky taking it all in. We eventually decided that we should probably head back for lunch, and after a bit of a hike back to the car we were shocked to see the zucchini since we had forgotten all about it.

After lunch I set of two experimental plot 1 to try and sort out some issues with the measuring data. Alex and Jared worked on sorting out some demo problems. It got up to 84 degrees Fahrenheit which might be the record high for September 28th (or at least it is based on my working memory).

For dinner Jared made spring rolls, he even had ripe avocados! Spring rolls have been a staple/highlight of the summer meals. After a yummy dinner Alex and I set out to turn our roadkill into cake. We quickly determined that the zucchini was in fact not zucchini but some other sort of squash. We decided out of impatience to not peel the squash. After making the cake and very patiently waiting for it to cool, we tasted it and it was surprisingly slightly crunchy. Overall it was a wonderful day, spent in a great place, with good friends, and good food.

Moral of the story: Always peel the roadkill

Escape the heat: goats on the run

Today the crew started out the day like all MWF’s with phenology, phenology has droped down to only 822 flowering heads so the crew swiftly crushed all of the phenology routes. At lunch we celebrated Kennedy’s birthday that was on Wednesday, Happy birthday Kennedy!

After lunch the crew split up to do various tasks including rechecks in the hybrid plots, finishing measuring experimental plot 6, and completing a through search for aphids in experimental plot 1. The team has done an amazing job at expediently finishing measuring every plot I throw at them. Next week we will start measuring experimental plot 2 which should be fun! Since it burned they plants will be easy to see. Overall it was a good hot July day!

Now I want to rewind back to Monday, also another hot and humid July day. It was a little after 5 I was walking to my car. I look North on Tower Rd and I see a few goats. It took me a few seconds to realize that seeing goats on Tower Rd was not a usual occurrence, did I mention that it was a hot and humid July day. Once I registered the goats, I jumped into action and ran back and told the crew that the goats had escaped. Stuart and Miyauna were in a zoom meeting and could not join us in our chase. But Peter cut a large branch of buckthorn to use as a lure, and a heard of Team Echinacea went running down tower. As we got to the bottom of the hill we started to look around wondering where the goats were and we looked to the west of the road and we saw a 6 goats happily munching away at soy bean plants. Peter decided that we need to take both a carrot and a stick approach, so he ran in front of the goats and the rest of us ran behind the heard of goats chasing them. We ran the goats back up to the driveway and down towards the pastures. Along the way the goats ran behind Miyauna who was still on her zoom call with the National Geographic Society. Reports are that the goats were in full view of the call and stopped right in frame to pose for the camera. Once the goats were fully returned to the pen, we assessed what happened and it turned out that they had run out of water and thrown a prison break. So for future note when it is 90 degrees its important to make sure that the goats don’t run out water, and to always record zoom calls cause you never know when a heard of goats will go running by with a heard of Team Echinacea members.

Planting a new experiment in P1*

* well, adjacent to P1.

This past Friday I planted the seeds from the inter-remnant crossing experiment I completed over the summer. The goal of this experiment is to understand how the distance between plants that live in little fragmented remnants and the difference in their timing of flowering influences the fitness of their offspring. The expectation is that if plants that are close together and/or flowering at the same time are closely related, their offspring might be more closely related (i.e., inbred) and have lower fitness than plants that are far apart and/or flowering more asynchronously. If this is true, then it would suggest that individuals in small, fragmented habitats would benefit from reaching more distant or dissimilar mates, such as by introducing seeds from faraway populations to remnants, creating corridors that promote pollinator movement, or managing habitat to increase heterogeneity in flowering time.

Plot location & layout:

The plot is located directly to the east of P1, spanning 12 m east to west and 30 m north to south, between positions 860 and 890. See Mia’s flog post from September for more information about how we prepared the plot by clipping the grass and treating the sumac with Garlon. Mia also used Darwin to shoot points within and along the edges of P1 so that I could generate coordinates for each position in my planting that aligned with P1’s crooked grid. This was a good exercise in geometry. I figured it out, but not before googling how to find the intersection of two lines. Oh well!

When I laid down the meter tapes based on the end points of the rows in this grid, it matched pretty well (the rows were supposed to be exactly 30 m long), but they were off a bit due to topography and the vegetation keeping the tape from laying perfectly flat. It was right on for row 58 and off by ~5cm in rows 62 and 65. We lined up meter sticks with the flags placed ever two meters and positioned achenes relative to according to the flag positions, rather than the tape. We placed 4 achenes per meter in positions 860-889.75.


Based on the number of seeds I had, and the expectation that I might want to plant more for this experiment in the future, I randomly chose three rows (58, 62, and 65) to plant out of the twelve total rows that fit in the area that we prepared. I randomly assigned positions to all of the full achenes, based on their weight. Prior to planting, I placed each of these achenes into a 1.5mL microcentrifuge vial and labeled it with its planting position (1-360). I sorted the vials in order of planting position and placed them in vial trays that we brought into the field.


It was a dry and unseasonably warm day. This is lucky because there was 10 inches of snow where the plot is located a week and a half earlier. I was able to convince Matthew and Gooseberry to come along to help. Matthew was extremely helpful, but Goose mostly ate deer poop all day and threw up on the way home. Very yucky! To set up for planting, I staked to the end points for the rows we were planting, set up a meter tape, and then staked to and placed pin flags at positions every two meters along the rows. I started by placing pin flags every meter, but this was time consuming and a pin flag every two meters gave us a sufficient reference point for each meter.

We liked breaking the actual planting into two steps, and working in a pair, because it meant that we had fewer items to fumble around with and it was easy to catch and fix each other’s mistakes, such as accidentally skipping positions. I do not believe we made any actual goofs, which is a first for me with planting! For the first step, one person cleared the duff, and the other placed the corresponding vial. For the second, one person placed the achene and collected the vial, while the other placed the toothpick and carried the clipboard, making any notes, e.g., if the achene was planted a few cm off the row to avoid placing it on a rock or in bunchgrass. The first step took about 10-12 minutes per 50 positions. The second took about 8-10 minutes per 50 positions. We set the achenes on top of the soil so that they had good contact with the soil, but weren’t buried. We finished around 4 PM and were grateful that we did not have to plant in the dark.

I hope the seeds have a good winter and I look forward to seeing them in the spring!

Rematriation 2018

During the summer of 2017, Lea and I carried out a project we called “Rich Hood” (richness of floral neighborhoods). This involved setting up 2 x 2 m square plots around Echinacea plants in the remnants, and getting cover class estimations for all species present. We also harvested flowering Echinacea heads, and there is more specific information in the flog post about reproductive fitness in the remnants. Nina Denne, a student at Carleton, completed an externship project comparing the floral neighborhood with the seed set of the collected Echinacea heads.

On May 6th and May 7th, 2018, I returned achenes to the remnants that were not sampled for the x-ray. I returned achenes to all the remnants that were in our study except for Landfill and SPP, which will hopefully be rematriated later this spring. At each site, I staked to points where heads had been collected (using stake file stakeReturnRichHood.csv), found the matching tags within the plot, and spread achenes in about a 20 cm radius around last year’s stalk. In some cases, if I couldn’t find the tag within a reasonable time of searching, I spread the achenes around the point I staked to.

It was nice to see what the remnants looked like in the spring, but I didn’t see any tiny Echinacea rosettes yet. Some of last year’s heads out there had dispersed all of their achenes, but many were still holding on to a few.

An Echinacea head with a few achenes left to disperse.


July 4th Festivities

Team Echinacea worked a half day this morning, with most of us working on our individual projects. Then we headed back to Andes to gear up for an afternoon celebrating July 4th. We got our bathing suits on, finished up our potluck items, and headed over to Elk Lake.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and we had a lot of tasty food. At least half of the picnic table was covered in desserts. Following tradition, the Declaration of Independence had to be read, with each of us taking turns. There was a small debate about whether this should happen before or after eating, but that decision-making was pretty easy.

Eventually the heat got to us and we took the canoes out. Some splashing battles between the Wes-Ashley canoe and the Alex-Anna-Tracie canoe ensued. A few close calls, but no one fell in. After that, we spent the rest of our time swimming, hanging out, and watching Blue eat watermelon rinds.

The Andes crew is planning to climb up the nearby hill to watch some fireworks from the surrounding towns tonight. Should be an exciting ending to our day.

Everyone gathering around for a July 4th lunch at Elk Lake.

Lemon squares, fruit pizza, brownies, peach-plum pie, and oreo-peanut butter pie.

Lea, Will, Stuart, Per, Gretel, and Alex enjoying some food.

Team Potluck

We had a great time at our annual lab potluck on Tuesday. We celebrated all the people in the lab, including all of the undergraduate interns. Scott told us about the smoke experiment. Then Amy explained the pollinator study from 2016. Lea talked about her projects on flowering phenology. We reviewed some of our many accomplishments in the lab, including: 1) cleaning and randomizing all 1233 heads from exPt2 in 2015, 2) counting 478,069 achenes from 3078 heads, 3) scanning 1710 images, 4) assembling 198 xray sheets. This year Lois, our reigning “achene queen,” counted her 800,000th achene and Sam counted his 250,000th! This summer we have ambitious plans for the field and lab. It was a lot of fun and the food was great–an incredibly diverse spread of tasty dishes.

We took a group photo:

First row (L to R): Lois, Art, Leslie, Amy, Laura; Second row: Susie, Char, Gretel, Anne, Stuart, Allen, Mike, Ivy, Lea, Scott, Shelley. Not pictured: Aldo, Susan, Michele, Marty, Naomi, Sam, Kathryn, Lou, Suzanne, Nicolette, Sarah.

Thanks for a great year!