Saturday adventures of the townhall and an update on my research

So, I have decided to break my flog posts in two so that readers can be updated on the goings-on of the team and my personal research.

Town Hall

Saturday started off with breakfast and everyone cleaning up the mess around the place that had accumulated all week. However, most of the cleaning was done while I showered. I did many of the dishes and emptied the dishwasher but when I got out to the living room I was blown away by how quickly 7 people can clean a kitchen, dining room, and living room.

After cleaning, some people (I believe Ren, Avery, and Miyauna) went grocery shopping and others (Erin, Jay, and myself) went to a coffee shop and then bought groceries for the week.

Jay and Erin at Starbucks.

When we returned to Townhall, Erin, Jay, Julie and I started a new game of Sundew Valley together. We had some trouble with it crashing in the beginning but we eventually got it going. Jay and Erin’s characters were accidentally wearing the same outfit (talk about a fashion faux pas…) and since I had never played before I spent ~15 minutes playing the fishing mini-game only to catch on herring and some seaweed. Despite Sundew Valleys innocent appearance the game is a lot more involved than I anticipated.

Not pictured is Julie who was sitting across from Jay… Sorry!

After some videogames, the whole gang watched the 2005 blockbuster hit and should-have-been-oscar-winner-for-best-picture movie, Sky High. Which some might describe as, “A clever hybrid of Harry Potter and The Incredibles”. Which I had purchased at an Alexandria gas station for $9.00.

Erin, Avery, Ren, Miyauna, Jay, and Riley watching Sky High.

Julie and Amy watching too!

At the end of the night some of us relaxed by watching Jeopardy episodes from the year 1999-2000. We were all amazed to see our work equipment as a part of the second place winner’s prize package.

Graffiti help anyone?

Then everyone went to sleep because everyone minus me had to get up for a 6 am adventure to check out orchids!

Personal Research Update

For our readers that are unfamiliar, I am Stuart’s incoming Ph.D. student starting in the Fall. So, this Summer has been a lot about me exploring the tallgrass prairies and beginning the research that I will be doing for the foreseeable future.

Here is a brief-ish research statement for what I am doing this Summer:

“Parasitic plants are keystone species in many environments they’re found in and they act as keystone species by playing a role in nutrient cycling and in prairies they are hypothesized as being keystone species by keeping dominant grasses in check by suppressing their growth. However, it is unknown if parasites are keystone species in prairies and if they are, it is unknown which species serve this role. Therefore, I aim to collect seeds from many common species that could possibly serve as hosts. I will do this in order to conduct an experiment in which I grow parasites and hosts together in order to determine the effects of parasites on common plant species.

Common potential hosts I aim to collect seed from are:

Asclepias, Solidago, Poa, Bromus, Hesperostipa, Liatris, Ratibida, Rudbeckia, Artemesia, Cirsium, Galium, Carex, Viola, Dalea, Amorpha, Amphicarpaea, Gentiana, Gentianopsis, Astragalus, Lathyrus, Geranium, Lotus, Phlox, Medicargo, Melilotus, Pediomelum, Trifolium, Vicia, Calylophus, Boechera, Rosa, Heuchera, Silene, Oenothera, Geum, Achillea, Apocynum, Delphinium, Erigeron, Helianthus, Koeleria, and more.”

Here is me with one of my parasitic plant species, Pedicularis canadensis.

P. canadensis was the first plant I collected seeds from this summer.

P. canadensis flowering stalks have already gone to seed and dispersed all of their seeds. Luckily they produce a ton of small seeds and I was able to quickly collect them all with the help of Julie, Riley, and Ruth earlier in the Summer.

I also collected seeds from Hesperostipa spartea (Porcupine Grass) and a handful of other host species. I have been struggling to finish collecting seeds from the parasitic Comandra umbellata (Bastard Toadflax) because many of its seeds have been eaten by some pesky granivore.

Some eaten C. umbellata fruits.

Luckily, I have been able to collect 1700 C. umbellata seeds and I am only 100 shy of my goal. Even luckier, some of the C. umbellata are beginning to flower again!

This is just one of many. Many haven’t even opened their buds yet! I hope they produce fruits I can collect.

This summer has already been a fun one and full of exciting events and challenges I’ve had to overcome. Here is to many more weeks in Minnesota and me accomplishing my fieldwork goals!

Also, I watched someone get airlifted when I was collecting C. umbellata fruits. Crazy… Hope they are doing alright!

Phen Fun!

Today was Phenology Phriday! Much of the team recorded flowering progress in P1, P2, and P8 this morning, where Erin found an adorable nest of baby Field Sparrows!

Amy and I split off to check on the plants in the remnants. Near East Elk Lake Road, I also practiced collecting Heliopsis helianthoides pollen for my upcoming pollen interference experiment. Excited to start my crosses next week!

The other teammates were also making progress on their projects. Jay finalized details for data collection for the Ash Annihilation experiment. Drake continued collecting seeds from parasitic Comandra and a variety of host plants. Meanwhile, Jennifer and Miyauna tried dipping bees in fluorescent dye to follow their activity around the plots. I must say, their new costumes look lovely!

In the afternoon, Shea, Miyauna, and Jennifer pinned the bees they caught earlier this week, while much of the team returned to P8 for a full afternoon of leaf measuring. We’ve nearly canvased the whole plot of basal plants with fresh toothpicks, so thoroughly that we almost ran out of toothpicks! Overall, a productive day in the field.

The Perfect Summer Day

Hey flog!

After a long few days of dreary weather, today was bright, sunny, and breezy. It was beautiful. Everyone got outside and worked on personal projects in the morning and we worked hard in P8 in the afternoon. and The team also got a visit from a local beekeeper today! We ended the day with a delcious watermelon and a trip to the beach- and an amazing sunset this evening.

Miyauna and Jennifer found a handsome green eyed bee in the field this morning
The team was visited by a local beekeeper who even let everyone partake in the honey straight from the comb.

Would you rather pin or leash a bee?

This chilly Wednesday morning started off in P2 where we completed yet another round of flower phenology. It won’t be long until we are going over end flowering protocol. There are over 1,000 heads in P2 alone this year and we have our hands full trying to keep up with their flowering rate. It rained on and off all day long, but we’re cultivating grit, and the fieldwork must carry on!

John and I have been very grateful to have Jennifer Ison and the Wooster students around this week. Jennifer taught us a lot of helpful tricks today for pinning the bees that we’ve collected in the yellow pan traps. John will attest, however, that old eyes and shaky hands that come as we get older, don’t make pinning any easier.

In other bee news, today Jennifer and Miyauna attempted to attach a string to a bee so they could watch it fly and attempt to recapture it. The idea of putting a bee on a leash was enough to get us laughing, but in the end, the attempt failed. We’ll have to wait and see what tomorrow brings.

Many of us ended the day in P8 where we continued our measuring of Echinacea seedlings. We have yet to find any more flowering plants out there, but we’re hopeful. The search for toothpicks and measuring of leaves went very well and the plants are looking great!

Until next time Flog, stay dry, and just know that we aren’t:) – Shea Issendorf

Wet weather and weeding wars

Today commenced with a group photo, now featuring the eastern contingent of Team Echinacea!

“Now a silly one!” was met with a chorus of “Umm…”s and blankly staring at one another, trying to remember how to be silly. Luckily, just about every other photo we took today was extremely silly.

The rainy weather limited our activities in the morning, but Stuart gave Jay, Julie and I a crash course in weeding sweet clover and bird’s foot trefoil, two weeds invading P1. The rain softens the soil and eases removal of tough tap roots. A little too much rain soaked me as I dug up my first trefoil, and after wrenching it free we fled back to Hjelm House for computer work and lunch.

After lunch we played an icebreaker game which, depending on whether you ask me or Riley, is called either Trainwreck or Shoe Game. We ran back and forth trading spots in a circle like a demented game of musical chairs and learned fun facts about one another, like who prefers to wear socks with sandals and who hates fishing.

Afterwards we trooped out to P2 to check twist ties and make sure we know where to find and how to identify every flowering Echinacea angustifolia head. We visit these plants about every other day and record every change in their condition. We write down their afflictions and celebrate their reproductive success. In short, we cherish them.

This is not the case for their close relatives, Echinacea pallida. The vigorous plants are The Enemy, and we advanced on them with gardening shears to smite their reproductive efforts. E. pallida is not native to Minnesota and could threaten the future of our familiar friend E. angustifolia through competition or outcrossing. We found that the severed heads are quite handy for fencing and flinging across the prairie.

Miyuana gleefully executes the interlopers while Riley stoically documents the slaughter
Ren cheerfully strews the corpses across the battlefield

Upon returning to Hjelm House Jay, Julie, Stuart and I took arms against a sea of trefoil and by opposing, ended them—hopefully? It’s tough to tell whether our efforts  will be sufficient, as trefoil has a nasty habit of snapping off at the shoot and leaving behind taproots from which new growth springs.

Jay brandishes trophies of war

Julie and I battled side-by-side with a root growing horizontally around a stone and the mother of all trefoil. I dug about 7 inches deep in the soil trying to extract the typically threadlike root system, but when it ultimately broke in my hands it still had the circumference of about a dime.

I taunt the trefoil with its monstrous and maimed comrade

Being plant scientists doesn’t mean we love every plant, and today was a better lesson in that than I’ve ever had before!

Monday Blue(skies)

It was a lovely day here in Minnesota! Echinacea East finally arrived to join the rest of the field team and what a great day for it!

We had a lovely outdoor lunch together before we went out in teams into the field for the first time. We met many cute little friends across the way.

Our next assignment was to make a quick journey to a different plot to remove some nonnative flowers. Stunning views were abundant and I was super excited to see a bumblebee, as usual.

We concluded our awesome day with some fresh watermelon, sweet and unsweet. Overall, it was an amazing introduction for Echinacea East into the all the fun we’ll be having in Minnesota. We can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds! Until next time 🙂


Welcome to MN, Team Echinacea East!

Today was an exciting day at Town Hall! This evening, we got to welcome the wonderful Ren, Miyauna, and Avery from Ohio’s College of Wooster, headquarters of Echinacea East. We’re all so excited to show our new fieldmates around the sites on their first day tomorrow, especially considering they got here just in time to see the gangbuster flowering in Experimental Plot 2!

Welcome to Town Hall!

While we waited for our new fieldmates to arrive, the Minnesota team was fairly busy. Jay and Riley returned from their trip to Gustavus Adolphus, and Amy drove back up from the Twin Cities. Drake had a particularly productive Sunday, gathering hundreds of Comandra seeds from around Hegg Lake in preparation for some exciting experiments examining prairie parasitism.

That’s a lot of seeds in a lot of coin envelopes…

And for those who were following our puzzling progress, I am pleased to announce that the 1000-piece prairie puzzle has officially been completed!

The finished prairie puzzle in all its glory

Saturday Adventures

Saturday started with the three present townhallers (Erin, Julie, and myself) heading out to the field with John and Stuart in order to collect phenology data from one of our experimental plots. Jay and Riley decided to take a trip back to their undergrad institute for the weekend and Shea had prior commitments too.

Julie taking phenology measurements
Pollination or just visitors? How do we assess the quality of species interactions?

Erin and I stumbled upon a mutant floret on an Echinacea. Typically the ray florets (the long pink ones people usually think of as petals) are sterile and have unforked stigma but this one has a forked stigma! Question is it receptive to pollen?

Mutant floret

Once we finished up our phenology data collection we headed back to town hall to relax. However, I decided to take a trip out to Staffanson to work on some poems and found that someone had driven through the remnant prairie!

The scene of the crime…

I have no idea who did this or why but it made me fairly disappointed. Nevertheless, I had a productive afternoon in Staffanson.

A Rainy Day of Stipa and Phenology

Hey flog,

After a wonderful 4th of July celebration the team was back at it for a day of work before the weekend. We started out the day finishing stipa rechecks which went smoothly. We had hoped the rain would remain south of us so that we could get all the flowering plants documented in our visors before the day’s end, but it became apparent as we were collecting phenology data that it wouldn’t. But it was really nice to get to see the first flowering heads looking so good!

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4th of July Picnic!

Hello flog readers! Today was a special day for Team Echinacea in that we had the day off for Independence Day! Stuart figured we were so productive the past week that we deserved to spend some time on the beach instead of in the prairie. Thus, the Town Hall crew (Myself, Amy, Drake, Julie, Erin, and Jay) joined the Wagenius family at Elbow Lake to engage in 4th of July Festivities. We were graced by the presence of Amy’s partner, Matthew Gullickson (a Gustavus graduate just like me), Stuart’s parents Jean and Dwight, and Stuart’s brother Peter and his family.

One of the highlights of the day was participating in the Wagenius family tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence. Although the Declaration is old and has some rather questionable phrases by today’s standards, it was very cool to engage with such a historical document with such a cool group of Americans. Following the Declaration reading, we ate an ultra-chocolatey fudge-coated mega super picnic lunch of fresh, homemade foods that was good for both the body and soul. In our leisure time, many people swam, canoed, skipped rocks, or just sat in the sun (I did that – I just sat in the sun). Nonetheless, the afternoon was filled with interesting conversations and loads of laughs. At one point we discussed starting a reality TV show for Town Hall… Here’s to hoping Stuart can write a grant for that.

We work tomorrow, but I know for a fact that I feel refreshed and recharged to pound out a ton of high-quality and efficient field work tomorrow. Happy 4th!

The group reading the Declaration of Independence
A nice view of Elbow Lake
Matthew and Amy’s dog, Gooseberry