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!

E. pallida heads 2020

A note to future Team Echinacea members: Are you still wearing masks all the time? Are you still 3 years behind on cleaning Echinacea heads or have you caught up a little bit?

Anyway, in the summer of 2020 there were 18 heads of Echinacea pallida that were harvested. 11 of these heads were a part of Anna Meehan’s hybrid compatibility experiment. All of the pallida heads are NOT going through the ACE process; they are in the lab all together nice and neat. These 18 pallida heads will not be a part of hh2020.

Cleaning 2018 is done!

On Friday, volunteers Marty and Mike finished cleaning the last batch of heads from the 2018 common garden experiment. Huzzah! The volunteers had been working on the 2018 heads back before the pandemic started, and after a long break, 2018 is finally done. Many thanks to all the volunteers who made this possible, especially the 2021-2022 crew: Allen, Char, Elif, Laura, Luk, Marty, Mike, and Suzanne! Now, we have a lot of rechecking to do.

Amy visits CBG!

On Friday, grad student Amy W. paid a visit to the lab at the Chicago Botanic Garden to x-ray Echinacea achenes for several of her projects including the Dust Project, interremnant crosses, and gene flow experiments. We’re thrilled to have a functional x-ray machine once again. Amy noticed lots of variation in her samples, so we’re excited to learn about seed set for these experiments!

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.

ACE progress update

So far this year, we have sadly not been able to have volunteers in the lab due to the continuing threat of COVID-19. However, over the last few months, we made quite a bit of progress on the remnant Echinacea harvests from 2020 and 2021. In the fall, we had help from volunteers, students from Lake Forest College, and externs from Carleton College. Thanks for your help! In January, Sophia finished cleaning the last head from 2021, which was an exciting accomplishment.

To track our progress in the lab, I created an R script to visualize the various steps of the ACE process for each batch of Echinacea. The figures for rem2020 and rem2021 are included here. Hopefully, this method will work for the cg harvests as well.

The ACE stages are listed along the x-axis, and the number of Echinacea heads are on the y-axis. The light blue shows how much we have completed, and the dark blue shows what remains to be done. The small numbers on each bar indicate the corresponding number of heads, and the width of the bars is roughly proportional to the amount of time each step takes. Along the top, the dates indicate the last day that the totals for each stage were updated.

The script to create these graphs can be found here: echinaceasandbox/oop/trackAceProgressTest.R

Externship Presentation and Reflection

Today is the last day of the externship and we presented our findings.

After a really intense afternoon of learning to use R and working with data on Thursday, we made some graphs and did some statistical tests on the data we have been collecting (as well as spatial data that Jared and Alex got ready for us). It was really hard because I didn’t have that much experience in R, but it was really rewarding as I learned how to make the graphs I want and do statistical tests.

I was interested in looking at tradeoffs plants make in reproduction in the first place, but then I realized that I couldn’t directly quantify resources plants put into different aspects of reproduction with the data I had. I decided to change things a bit and focus on limitations to reproduction. I set up scenarios of plant’s reproductive effort under different conditions in terms of resources and tried to clearly explain it by having hypotheses and visual aids. Another potential limitation I considered was limitation in pollination, which I quantified by looking at level of isolation based on distance to neighbors. I made a lot of assumptions which I hope are true – for example that plants really would put all the resources into reproduction, and that distances from other conspecific plants are a predictor of pollination.

I didn’t find strong evidence for any of my hypotheses except that there is a negative relationship between the distance to 3rd nearest neighbor and seed set in liatris. It was interesting but also expected – isolation seems to be negatively impacting pollination and thus seed set.

The presentation went well and these are the slides I used for it.

Overall, this externship has been a really great experience. I learned so much about the processes of doing science, about what scientists do on a daily basis and how a research group functions. I’m really glad that I got to participate in the lab meeting, explore in the Garden, be a part of many processes of research and eating lunch with the lab group everyday!

I also learned that studying plants is a lot harder than I imagined. It’s a really long process, and there are many biases that could happen. Organizing a lab takes a lot of work, and making a standardized ‘assembly line’ to process hundreds of plants every year is incredibly hard. The results or findings sometimes are not what you expected, or don’t seem to make sense at all. These are all things that I never imagined to be a part of studying plants and ecology. I feel like now I have a much better idea of what the field is like and what to expect moving forward from here. I am really grateful for this experience and for everyone who made it possible.

Externship Day 13: Finishing Randomization and the Introduction of Classifying!

I can’t believe our externship is almost over! Just yesterday we finished randomizing Liatris, so today we started randomizing Echinacea. The procedures were similar, except we used a circle (which looks like a carnival spin-the-wheel) instead of a grid when scattering achenes. The total achene numbers were also unusually small in 2020 and 2021 compared to the previous Echinacea collection years, so we actually had to alter the randomization protocol in order to get a minimum of 25 achenes that can be classified for pollination.

Here’s me, Cassie, and Wanying randomizing Echinacea by scattering the achenes on the circle (lower left) and using the letter randomizer on the project website to select achenes to be put onto the counting sheet (right of the circle)

We also x-rayed the rest of the Liatris today and learned how to classify achenes that have been x-rayed. These x-rays are meant to look at the seed status of the achenes in order to determine which achenes were pollinated. We used the Echinacea classification training module on the Echinacea Project website and created specific criteria for Liatris in order to mark the achenes as empty, partial, and full. We should be able to finish x-raying and classifying the Echinacea we randomized tomorrow morning!

The achene classification training module, which includes an interactive practice classifying session

However, the best part of my day was meeting with one of the Ph.D. students doing research in the lab, Drake, and learning about their current work with parasitic plants. Drake and Lea, who is another Ph.D. student that we met earlier in the week, gave valuable insight about preparing for grad school and Ph.D. programs. They especially gave great advice about not being afraid to cold email people we want to connect with as well as how to take advantage of our unscheduled time for research, especially in the latter Ph.D. program years.

I’m also excited for tomorrow, which is when we will finally get all of our data processed! With this data, we’ll be able to answer our research questions and input the results into our presentation for Friday’s lab meeting. I can’t wait to not just get the results, but also to discuss them and their implications with the project team!

wrap up internship with LFC students

Alondra, Connor, Maeve, and Marina finished their mini-internships with us. It was a great experience for them and us. We appreciate their contributions to science and conservation and they gained valuable experience. As part of their plant biology class, Alondra, Connor, Maeve, and Marina, who are juniors and seniors at Lake Forest College, worked on two projects to assess effects of prescribed fires on reproduction in Echinacea. In the lab, they gained hands-on experience in seed biology over three Wednesday afternoons, including cleaning, scanning, counting, developing hypotheses, and data management. To test their hypotheses, they developed a dataset and summarized their results. In class they presented posters and they are attached here. It was a wonderful mini-internship–thanks to Alondra, Connor, Maeve, and Marina, as well as Prof. Westley!