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First Steps, Extremes Project

Howdy Flog Followers,

I spent the past two weeks diving into the initial process for the ‘Extremes Project’: cleaning as many seed-heads as I can get my hands on. I’m sure that all of you seasoned flog followers are familiar with this process. To clarify, cleaning a seed-head consists of extracting all of the achenes. An achene is a white ‘case’ that contains the seeds (seen under the magnifying glass in the photo below). There is a range of 50 – 400 achenes found in a single seed-head. However, specifically for the extremes project, it is important to extract the achenes based off of their location on the seed-head: top, middle, and bottom.

Top, Middle, Bottom, Other, Chaff. There are five separate envelopes that need to be filled for the Extreme extractions. I have been able to develop a method of satisfying all the categories as precisely as possible. First, I start by extracting a minimum of 30 achenes from the top, followed by at least 30 achenes from the bottom. However, the bottom is tricky because of the sterile ‘ray achenes’ found along the bottom edge of the seed-head. These ray achenes, along with unknown / runaway achenes are placed into the ‘Other; category. Then, all of the remaining achenes on the seed-head are put into the ‘Middle’ category. Lastly, all of the chaff, the leftover ‘flower guts’, is collected into its own category envelope.

The small seed-heads that I have encountered require an even more delicate approach than the others. This is based on the fact that they do not have a full 30 top nor full 30 bottom achenes that could be extracted individually. So, as a compromise, I would extract five achenes from the top and then five achenes from the bottom. While alternating, I would continue until I had a maximized amount of equal top and bottom achenes.

It has been an interesting experience working with the Extreme seed-heads. I have found lots of variation in the Extreme seed-heads. For instance, there is a great difference in sizes between all of the seed-heads. There was even a seed-head that did not have any achenes, zero. Additionally, there are more frequent occurrences of running into dead larvae and cat frass (caterpillar poop, that looks like a spiderweb-like structure) on the heads, which keeps things interesting.

Now, on to the next step: Scanning! This step allows for me to be able to count all of the seeds in all of the categories while also documenting everything digitally. Tune in next week for more details on Scanning.

The flowers on these heads bloom from the bottom to the top. We can use this information to gather at what point the flower was being fertilized by pollinators. For example, if only the bottom achenes are fertilized, then that tells us that the particular seed-head was an early-bloomer or was fertilized early in it’s blooming process. This is the reason why it is important to isolate the top, middle, and bottom achenes. Plus, isolating the achenes into these categories allows for data comparisons and individual interpretations down the road.

By the end of my analysis, I hope to use the data that I have collected to help the echinacea team find positive fertilization patterns for this plant, in order to help to conserve their populations.

‘Till next time!!

Nicolette McManus

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