Flannel Friday

Today was a very busy day at the Plant Science Center!

We started the day rechecking our echinacea heads, to make sure we had picked out and counted every achene. Soon after, we had a meeting with Leah, who presented her research paper outline on the comparative success of a number of prairie plants in relation to burnings. It was very interesting to think about the restorative nature that fire can play in these ecosystems, and we spent a lot of time discussing her methods of presenting data as well.

Leah discussing her paper outline

Next up, we heard from Fabiany about his work in conifer fossils, their evolutionary significance as well as how they connected to his home country of Columbia.

One of the plant fossils that Fabiany passed around to the audience

Before lunch, we went through training and began working on classifying achenes through X-ray scans. After lunch, we brainstormed ideas for our individual (or group) projects that we’ll be focusing on for the next two weeks. We all have a lot of different areas of interest, from the impact of inbreeding to limiting factors on plant growth to flowering based on climate change. In addition, we all plan to work on our data processing/analysis skills through learning “R” and more. We spent the rest of the day doing some background research on our project ideas and more discussion of the scope and general plan for our projects.

Overall, it’s been a productive day! We are excited to hit the ground running next week on our projects.

Flog out,


Extern update

The sun’s going down at the CBG, and Jack, Eli, and I are wrapping up sorting the Echinacea heads for Pulse-Steady! We’ve been pretty focused on it the last few days, with some breaks for learning about the project and meeting people around the lab. Erin, Riley, and Stuart have been good about showing us the ropes and giving us chances to get exposed to what’s going on with Echinacea project and other researchers in the building. Earlier in the week we got to meet a volunteer who sets pollinators (mostly different types of bees) to send to the University of Minnesota for identification, which was really cool. We’re also working on ideas for small independent projects we get the chance to do, and we’re looking forward to tomorrow’s lab meeting where we’ll get to participate in a discussion of a CBG scientist’s research paper in progress, focusing on the effects of fire on the reproductive success of several different prairie plants. It’s been cool to see the lab side of prairie research so far, and to be exposed to so many people studying it! And now that cleaning heads is wrapping up, I’m excited to see what we do next in the process.

Above: an Echinacea head before being taken apart very carefully! We’ve all been able to get into some music/podcasts while cleaning seedheads, so here are some recs––Emma: I’ve been listening to some podcasts––mainly Nancy and a new season of Limetown; Jack: Drilled, a true-crime podcast; Eli: some Radiolab podcasts and Earl Sweatshirt.

Day three at the Echinacea Project!

The first three days of our time here have been great! We’ve been oriented with everything in the lab, and most of the building. On Monday we went out to lunch at the garden cafe with Riley, Erin, and Stuart. The walk over there let us see some awesome parts of the garden, and Stuart shared with us some cool history about the garden. The last two days have been filled with lots of Echinacea head cleaning by counting and sorting achenes for the Pulse Steady experiment. This process is a bit time consuming, but quite satisfying once finished!

Setup for cleaning Echinacea heads- sorting and counting achenes

This morning Erin and Riley showed us and talked about the many experiments occurring at experimental plots P1 and P2 all of which are quite interesting! These experiments may end up guiding some of our individual research in the coming weeks.

The rest of the week holds more head cleaning, maybe beginning to X-Ray the achenes, some discussion about research ideas, and attending a lab meeting and seminar on Friday!

Until next time-


Carleton College Extern Eli Arbogast

Hi Flog,

My name is Eli Arbogast and I am a sophomore at Carleton College. I am a potential (more and more likely) Bio major and am very excited to be joining the Echinacea Project. I want to study biology with a focus on ecology, environmental systems, and plant science, so this externship is the perfect opportunity for me. Past research/environmental-focused internships have included rebuilding trails in the Rockies, measuring agricultural impacts on water quality in rural Costa Rica and working on outreach/fundraising for wild salmon in Alaska. I have a foundation for my environmental interests as a result of being raised on an organic blueberry farm and being a beekeeper (albeit very much a beginner).

Outside of the lab, I am a big music person (playing and listening), love hiking, climbing, and most outdoor activities. I am big into exercise, like to read confusing books, mess around with computers, and play video games when I can find the time.

I’m very excited and grateful to be working on this project this winter, and I look forward to learning a lot!

Carleton College Extern Jack Schill

Hello! My name is Jack Schill and I’m a junior at Carleton College. I’m excited to be part of Team Echinacea for the next three weeks as a research extern. I am an Environmental Studies major at Carleton, and I am very interested in many aspects of environmental science so I don’t really know exactly what I want to explore going forward in my education. However, I have really enjoyed and learned a lot from the ecology courses I have taken so far, so I’m hoping this will build on those interests! Furthermore, by growing up and going to school in the upper midwest (I grew up in Milwaukee, WI) I have a special interest in prairies and prairie restoration. I also hope my time here will allow me to meet a lot of interesting people doing cool work, and understand how people got to this position to maybe try to help me figure out what areas of environmental science I want to explore!

In my free time at Carleton, I’m on the varsity soccer team, I’m a member on climbing staff at the rock wall, I’m an active member of the ski club, and I enjoy doing crosswords. Away from Carleton, I enjoy spending time with family, and skiing as much as possible. I’m really excited for the next few weeks to work with Team Echinacea!

Frozen Lake Superior!

Winter Break Extern Introduction!

Hi! I’m Emma Greenlee, a junior biology major at Carleton College, here with the Echinacea Project as part of Carleton’s winter break externship program. I’m interested in ecology, conservation, and I’m excited to learn more about prairie research at the Chicago Botanic Garden the next few weeks, where I’ll be helping with a pollination experiment and conducting a small project of my own! I grew up in Aurora, MN on the Iron Range in a more forested part of the state, but I’ve come to love the prairies of southern MN and the Dakotas as I’ve attended Carleton and through summer jobs with The Nature Conservancy and at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. I love fieldwork, but I’m excited to round out my understanding of prairie ecology and research by working with the Echinacea Project this winter! 

At Carleton I’m on the cross country and track teams, and I’m hoping to minor in Spanish. I like reading, and love spending time outside and exploring in nature or in the city. I’m looking forward to spending time in a new city, learning from grad students and scientists, and exploring the lab side of prairie research the next few weeks!


Hi Floggers!

Friday was a fun day in the lab! After the morning lab meeting, where Erin presented her study proposal on quantifying the correlation between Echinacea spatial isolation and flowering intervals, I continued weighing biomass samples. I was able to get through about half the Day 3 samples and I am hopeful I will be able to finish the rest by November 14th.

Half of the Day 3 samples

 I brought a few friends along to the lab today from Goose Lake Prairie down in Morris, IL. A small spider I found nuzzled in a Grey Dogwood branch and a rather sizable praying mantis who was picking fights with cars in the parking lot. The mantis was a bit slow in the morning which made her easy to handle. The spider was also very cooperative even allowing itself to be put under a microscope. At this level of detail, one can see the spider’s heart beat in its abdomen. Fun fact spiders do not have a classical circulatory system but rather a heart that pumps haemolymph into sinus surrounding its internal organs. After thoroughly examining both specimen I released them back into the wild so each could go back to living their lives having learned a valuable lesson about hairless apes and glass jars.

Prairie Spider

Spider heartbeat
Released to hunt birds and mug garden patrons

end of the field season

It’s been a long summer field season. Plants started flowering late (and they persisted), we aimed to accomplish a lot (and we did), and the weather stymied our fieldwork efforts (we avoided lightning). Nonetheless, it is time to say good-bye to MN and fieldwork and hello to Illinois and labwork. Riley, Erin, and Drake finished up the last of the big projects, backed up the computers, cleaned up the Hjelm house, packed up their cars, and drove to Illinois for the upcoming adventures in our lab at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Riley, Erin, and Drake wrap up field activities in Minnesota (for now).
…and just in time to avoid the snow in the forecast.

Rare and Precious Drill-bits

The seasons have finally begun to shift here at the Garden with the last heat waves of summer breaking onto crisp October shores. Friday morning, I continued my working weighing biomass, adding 88 new samples to the data set. There are still many samples to be weighed but I believe I have now passed the halfway point.

Friday morning’s samples weighed and entered

In the afternoon I returned to counting seeds. Stuart explained that the seeds I was counting were no ordinary seeds, but in fact ones that were very rare and difficult to collect, and that my counts would play a pivotal role in determining whether they were to be preserved or propagated. I felt proud that I was contributing to prairie conservation in such a direct and meaningful way. It was also fascinating to see firsthand the multitude of designs and strategies plants have for seed dispersal!

Hesperostipa spartea seeds (the spiral ends twist at different rates depending on humidity)
Hesperostipa spartea seeds + hand for scale
Looks can be deceiving, there are close to 880
Carex seeds in this small pile!

Un Buro™ Muy Terco

Howdy-Ho Floggerinos!

Today I was challenged to count seeds from a few different species of plants. The intention behind this assignment I believe was to teach me how to utilize the Lab’s SeedBuro™ 801 Count-A-Pak® using a variety of seed types. However, the seed-counter had other plans, absolutely refusing to count in spite of our sweet pleads and gentle coaxing. Without the mechanized aid of the SeedBuro™ I was forced to improvise. First, in classic American fashion, I tried brute force, emptying each pack into a Pyrex dish and counting every seed by hand.  This worked well for the first few packs of 50-60 seeds but I soon found myself overwhelmed as the seeds began to number into the hundreds. For the large seed packets, I decided to deduce a count by dividing the total mass by that of a single seed mass (SSM). I found the SSM by taking 5 random samples of 10 seeds from the packet in question, weighing them, and averaging those masses. I then divided that average by ten which gave me my SSM. Finally, I took the total seed mass and divided it by the SSM which gave me a seed count. This procedure allowed to me to count a 2,390 Carex seed sample in just a few minutes.

Seeds from two different plant families (Poaeceae on the left and Cyperaceae on the right) to be counted
The seed counter adamant that there are no seeds in the tray

After an afternoon of seed counting I returned to work weighing biomass and finally completed weighing the contents of the second Day 4 cardboard box. I have now collected the biomass data from over 420 plants. I am very excited to begin learning how best to process and analyze all this data!

The clear tub is filled with all the newly weighed samples from the box on the right.