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: Native Parasitic Plant Seed Collection and Planting

Throughout the summer, I designed and collected materials to establish an experiment in experimental plot 1 to study parasites and their impact on the community of host plants they live in. Parasitic plants are plants which absorb nutrients from neighboring plants. Parasitism is an important part of nutrient cycling in many ecosystems and parasite scientists hypothesize it to be an important part of prairie ecosystem maintenance.

This summer I collected seeds from five parasitic plant species which are native to the prairie. I also collected the seeds of over 100 species that can be commonly found in Douglas County, Minnesota and I have begun experimental germination of them and will continue to do so in the future. I developed a plan to plant Comandra and Pedicularis throughout exPt 1 and establish communities of 40 host species around them to address questions about the impact native parasitic plants have on plant community members. In late October I harvested biomass from the proposed parasite planting locations to understand the species diversity and abundance present before planting.

Start year: 2019

Location: Douglas County, Minnesota; exPt 1

Overlaps with: Experimental plot management, Hesperostipa common garden experiment

Materials collected: Parasitic plant seeds (Cuscuta glomerata:18,000 across 6 individuals in 4 locations; Agalinis aspera: ~8,000 across 81 individuals in 3 locations; Agalinis tenuifolia: ~4,500 across 41 individuals in 1 location; Pedicularis canadensis: ~14,000 from 1 location; and Comandra umbellata: ~1,800 from 3 locations) and host plant seeds (500+ seeds per host species, numbering approximately 100 species). Seeds are stored at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Additionally, 216 .1 x 1m strips of dried biomass are stored at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Data collected: Find data related to this project including the proposed planting scheme in the cgdata repository in ~cgdata\summer2019\Hemiparasites

2017 Update: Hesperostipa Common Garden Experiment

This summer we found 52 basal Stipa plants and 209 flowering plants! The flowering Stipa plants had a median of 15 fruit per plant. Our largest flowering Stipa plant had 301 fruits and 31 culms. We harvested around 5000 fruits from experimental plot 1! These Stipa plants, or porcupine grass (Hesperostipa spartea) were planted as seeds in 2009 and 2010.

A Stipa collage created by Anna with collected fruits, a flowering plant, and Will and Wes searching for stipa.

Start year: 2009

Location: Experimental plot 1

Physical specimens: Fruits from the 209 flowering plants were broadcasted in experimental plot 2.

Data collected: There are currently 3 datasets in the Stipa folder in CGData (~Dropbox/CGData/Stipa/225_measure/measure2017/)

  • 20170628StipaSearchData.csv: 50 records from 28 June 2017. We searched for basal and flowering Stipa and recorded row and position, culm count, fruit count, aborted fruit count, missing fruit count, and notes.
  • exPt1StipaSearch20170705.csv: 200 records from 28-29 June 2017. This csv includes rows with position 859 and status “Other (Note)”, indicating the row was searched but no stipa was found. When Stipa was found, status, row, position, culm count, fruit count, aborted fruit count, missing fruit count, and notes were recorded.
  • 20171109StipaSearchData.csv: 69 records from 2 August 2017 and 9 August 2017. In this csv, predetermined rows and positions (where Stipa were found in previous years) were searched and the same information was collected as the other csvs. Since this was later in the season, all fruits had already dropped–but they could still be counted.


  • Josh Drizin’s MS thesis included a section on the hygroscopicity (reaction to humidity) of Stipa awns. View his presentation or watch his short video.
  • Joseph Campagna and Jamie Sauer (Lake Forest College) did a report on variation in Stipa’s physical traits within and among families in 2009

You can find out more about Stipa in the common garden and links to previous flog posts about this project on the background page for this experiment.

2016 Update: Hesperostipa Common Garden Experiment

James counts the fruits!

Counting the fruit of a flowering plant.

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, 10 cm north of Echinacea plants. Between 2010 and 2013, each position was checked, and the plant status recorded. Since 2014, we have only searched for flowering plants. This summer, 143 flowering stipa were found, with a median of 24 fruit per plant. We also checked for living plants in positions where stipa was observed in 2011 or 2014. In these additional 492 positions, 89 plants were found alive, with 19 of those plants flowering.

The following table shows how many plants have been found alive in each year.

Year Found Flowering Full Fruit
2010* 702
2011 483
2013 442 4
2014** 32 32  199
2015*** 26 1 9
2016**** 208 143 4391

(*) only one cohort (2009) included, (**) only searched for flowering plants, (***) only searched prior year’s flowering plants, (****) only searched flowering plants + subset of positions


Start year: 2009

Location: Experimental plot 1

Physical specimens: Fruits from 127 flowering plants, currently stored at the lab in Chicago. These may be used in a future study on traits of stipa‘s awns.

Data collected:

  • Culm count and number of fruits recorded on visors (backed up to CGData)
  • Fruit harvest information recorded on paper (stored at Hjelm house)
  • Status of 2011 basal plants recorded on visors (backed up to as “2016stipaRecheck2011positions” in CGData)


  • Josh Drizin’s MS thesis included a section on the hygroscopicity (reaction to humidity) of stipa awns. View his presentation or watch his short video.
  • Joseph Campagna and Jamie Sauer (Lake Forest College) did a report on variation in stipa’s physical traits within and among families in 2009


You can find out more about stipa in the common garden and links to previous flog posts about this project on the background page for this experiment.

x-ray images

While looking for some information about the establishment of the Stipa experiment, I encountered an x-ray image of a few Stipa propagules (Hesperostipa spartea). Check it out…


An x-ray image of a Stipa propagule (Hesperostipa spartea)

An x-ray image of a Stipa propagule (Hesperostipa spartea)


I also found some x-ray images of Echinacea angustifolia achenes. There are higher resolution images than the ones we now take for data analysis.

An x-ray image of achenes & other stuff from an Echinacea angustifolia head with higher magnification

An x-ray image of achenes & other stuff from an Echinacea angustifolia head with higher magnification


An x-ray image of achenes & other stuff from an Echinacea angustifolia head

An x-ray image of achenes & other stuff from an Echinacea angustifolia head

An x-ray image of achenes & other stuff from an Echinacea angustifolia head

An x-ray image of achenes & other stuff from an Echinacea angustifolia head

Project status update: Hesperostipa common garden experiment

The Stipa Project — studying the effects of habitat fragmentation on the ecology and evolution of Stipa, a cool-season grass. In 2009 & 2010 we planted over 4,000 Stipa seeds in exPt 1. We’ve been put to the test trying to find our Stipa plants in a matrix of other grasses, but once they flower they are easy to spot. While we collected seed from Stipa in our common garden in 2014, our 2015 search for flowering Stipa plants was fruitless!

Read more about the Stipa experiment.
Read more about the natural history of Stipa.

Start year: 2009

Location: exPt1


Studly Stipa and my first tagged Echinacea!

This morning started with Jared and I doing an inventory of the Hesperostipa spartea (porcupine grass) in experimental plot 1. We are interested in determining the fitness of each H. spartea. We went to each plant found during a systematic search. We determined how many seeds were present on each culm of each plant. We counted the number of full (having a viable seed), inviable (having a seed that would not reproduce), or unknown (a glume that was empty, or peduncle that had no glume) seeds for each plant and harvested ripe seeds for later plantings. We found one studly plant that had 14 culms and 58 seeds that were ready to harvest! After experimenting with several methods of tying the immature awns together (to make sure we could find the seeds once they are mature and drop), we determined the most effective way to retain the seeds is to tie the awns together with twist ties. We hope the twist tie method allows us to harvest seeds before they disperse. We tried several other methods for tying the awns together (tying the awns to the stem, tying the awns to a red flag, and tying the awns together) but twist ties appear to work the best. In the afternoon I tagged my first Echinacea (plant 1980)!

Another Thursday on the beautiful prairie

Today the team accomplished a variety of projects. The morning began by searching for grasses in the common garden. A decent amount of grasses were located and the garden was resounding with choruses of “woots” shouted out when the grasses were located. The rest of the morning the team worked on individual projects. Throughout the day, Pam and I measured the Amax, transpiration, and conductance of echinacea plant leaves in the hybrid garden within the common garden. We managed to measure 42 plants before Helga (our fabulous machine) needed to take a rest and recharge until tomorrow. In the afternoon, more grasses searches were done. The team also ventured out to Hegg Lake to help Kory find echinacea plants about to flower in common garden 2 and to help Davis find flowering echinacea pallida plants. Overall the day was beautiful to be outside, and it was a very productive day! -Reina


More defending your thesis

I defended my thesis on May 16th, presenting the results of my research on the hygroscopic motion of big bluestem and indian grass. I’ve attached the presentation to this post, though the presentation is a bit light on text. I’m putting together a section on my website with more text, which I’ll link when it’s ready.


Hesperostipa spartea search protocol

Attached is the “weather-tested” search protocol. While my partner found more than a dozen out of 75 or so, I found two out of 100. Maybe I am not the right person to write a protocol about finding these plants.?!

It is very neat to think about these things being seedlings a year or two ago and now they are 20+ cm tall? plants that will produce seed…….sometime.
Hesperostipa spartea Search Protocol.docx

This is the 3rd summer in a row that I have taken part of the Echinacea project! I teach 9-12 sciences (10th grade Biology)at Great Plains Lutheran High in Watertown, SD. Conducting summer research is the best way to incorporate real science into my classroom! While I was a pollen collector and image maker the first summer and a pollen crosser last summer; this summer I am going to collect insects that may or may not be moving pollen. Following the floral neighborhood study of 2009, I will collect and categorize insects from different sites to make an inventory of insect life. I hope it will shed some light on exactly which insects can be found and relate it to the diversity of the plants at sites. It will also be a useful collection for my students in the future.