Year-to-year changes

We all know how the situation goes. You get home from a long day of work, take off your shoes, flop down on the couch, and think to yourself “There’s no way that there’s very much variation in echinacea flowering from year to year. ”

I know, we’ve all been there.

I’m here to tell you that, despite what you might think, there is HUGE variation in echinacea flowering from year to year. When these punctilious perennials decide that it’s time to flower, they really seem to go at it as a group.

And if you’re still sitting there thinking “Well a small amount of year to year change is to be expected” then let me hit you with some visual proof.

Here is a picture of ALL of the heads from Experimental Plot 1 in 2017. They fill up about 1 grocery bag total. Not a bad haul!

Our plot 1 heads from 2017

Now, let’s take a look at 2018. I spy just a few more bags than in 2017:

Our plot 1 heads from 2018 in many bags

Now it’s time for the real question: why? What is it that makes echinacea flower in these large groups? They cant phone a friend and say “hey dude, you gonna flower this year?” They must respond to signals or communicate chemically or do any of a hundred other things to flower in groups like this. All I know is that we’ve got a lot of 2018 cleaning in our future.

Achenes, Assemble!

Hello Flog!

I know you’ve all been sitting on the edge of your seats waiting for your most recent update on our push to xray our achenes. Wait no longer! I’m here to inform you that as this is being posted the last of the 2016 achenes are being assembled. 2016 is the most recent year for which we have every head cleaned and randomized, and marks the beginning of the end for our backlog. Very soon we will be seeing some 2016 seed sets. Exciting!

Implied above, this also means that 2015 is fully assembled. 2015 was the largest year of flowering ever for the project with over 3000 heads. Not to fear: they’re all cleaned, randomized, xrayed, and ready to be classified.

All of our assembled 2015 achenes

Tune in next week for an update on the status of the polLim experiment xrays. expect good news!



341 samples later

After processing soil samples for two weeks (341 to be exact!) I was able to analyze some of the results and, along with the trusty functions of R (and of course T-Swift music) graph my data. I have included my poster down below and a pdf link.

The results provide evidence that shows soil in western Minnesota contains large percentages of sand and silt, with little clay. Between each of the 8 locations, some variation was present in the amount of sand, but not with clay. The results also showed that sand and silt may have no influence on the nesting locations of native bees. When compared, the graphs of sand and silt percentages from where a bee was found and not found were quite similar. So the question remains- What are the factors that influence where bees build their nests?

Throughout my entire time working on Team Echinacea and this soil project,  I have gained valuable knowledge and experience about data collection, project development, and different research methods. And not to mention the amazing lab group and individuals I have gotten to work/collaborate with! Since my college career is just beginning, the future has a lot in store for me- I can’t wait to see what happens in the next couple of years.

But one thing is for sure, I can officially cross “eat deep dish pizza in Chicago” off my bucket list!





R You Ready For It?

Hello flog!


Unfortunately for all you T-Swift fans out there, I will not actually be devoting much of this blog to her… Instead, I am going to talk about the fascinating world of R, a statistical analysis coding program that allows you to organize and graph your data.

Since my time at the garden is coming to an end this week, I have begun to learn how to analyze my data within R. R can be a little complicated because often times even a Blank Space can mess up an entire line of code. However, with lots of help (like lots, from R genius Michael) I was able to organize and even plot some of my results! An important lesson- if your code doesn’t work the first time, Shake It Off and try again!

For my project, I am aiming to create two different graphs, a series of histograms and soil texture triangles. A histogram will show the amount of sand, silt, and clay within each of the 8 sites. Then to understand the texture differences, a soil triangle will plot the percentages of sand, silt, and clay in what type of soil they correlate to. For example, 45% sand, 40% silt, and 10% clay might fall at the bottom of the triangle in the sandy loam portion.  Who knows maybe I’ll have Fifteen graphs by Friday!

A preview of my graphs!

Even though R can be a pretty Delicate program, it is extremely helpful! But being able to efficiently code has always been one of my Wildest Dreams. So, for now, there’s no Bad Blood between R and myself.


T-Swift out, till next time!

How to Make Soil Pies

Hi Flog!

So, remember the micro- pipette method I mentioned a couple days ago? Well, as the name implies, everything is micro- the sample size, the vials, the pans, and the numbers.  The process begins by weighing out 2 grams of each soil sample. Each sample is put in individual “tornado tubes” AKA vials filled with 20 ml of both water and sodium hexametaphosphate (try saying that ten times!). Vials are then shaken for approximately 30 minutes to create a uniform solution. Then, drum roll please…., comes the macro part of the process, the settling time. A 1 hour and 45 minute settling time… But this wait means I have time to write to all of you!

After the wait, comes the final part of the micro-pipette process that involves separating the clay and sand components of each sample into two different miniature pie pans. That means that 10 samples = 20 pans, 20 samples =40 pans, and 25 samples = 50 pans, etc etc etc… Guess how many samples I did today??!! 50! That’s 100 mini soil pies! Sometimes I feel like a professional baker making this many pies!


Anyway, as my first week at the garden comes to an end, I’ve developed more efficient methods and routines to help me be as productive as possible .I might even get close to finishing all 300 samples by the end of next week.  I’ve also been introduced to an amazing community of scientists and can’t wait to learn more about their research!

Till next week!

New year, new x-rays

Hello flog!

For those of you who read all of my flog posts (I know there’s a solid number of you out there!) you’ve probably figured out by now that I love posting about numbers. So what’s today’s number?

Why, it’s 1948 of course!

Now this is the point that you might furtively look at wikipedia and say “I don’t understand what 1948 has to do with Echinacea. Everyone already knows that 1948 was a leap year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar, the 1948th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 948th year of the 2nd millennium, the 48th year of the 20th century, and the 9th year of the 1940s decade.” To which I would say that we are dealing with the number 1948, not the year.

No, 1948 is the number of seed packets of echinacea we x-rayed at the garden this week: and it’s only Wednesday! Through the combined efforts of many volunteers we are making some headway into the daunting task of figuring out which achenes have seeds in them and which do not. Look for updates soon about these number for our pollen limitation heads!


p.s., here’s a small sampler of what the xrays look like

A look at our qGen_a xrays from 2013. There’s almost 900 images total in this folder (not nearly that many are shown here)

The Adventure Begins!

Hey hey hey! My name is Anna and I was a summer intern on the Echinacea Project in high school. Now, as a college freshman, I am currently exploring another side of the project at the Chicago Botanic Garden lab! For my two weeks in Chicago, I will be working on the soil component of Kristen Manion’s project. Her study considers numerous elements of native bees’ habitat in hopes to determine their nesting preferences.

Over the summer, soil samples from 8 sites were collected and each site had three different land uses: old field, native prairie, or restoration. In total there are 328 samples to be analyzed through the micropipette soil texture method! The micropipette method involves separating the soil into its clay and sand components and then calculating the percentage of sand, silt, and clay for each 2-gram sample. By the end, I am aiming to create two soil triangles and answer these questions :

  1. Does the soil type differ between bee presence/absence?
  2. Does the soil type differ between land use types (remnant and prairies and old fields)?


My other goal is to simply gain experience in a lab by being exposed to a variety of techniques through Kristen’s and the Echinacea Project’s methods. However, I also have a couple of personal goals… like eating deep dish pizza, taking my picture in front of the bean, figuring out public transportation, and did I mention deep dish pizza?!

My adventure here in Chicago is just beginning and I can’t wait! 


Cameo spent the fall with Team Echinacea!

This fall we had the wonderful opportunity to work with Cameo Chilcutt, a student of Northeastern Illinois University. Cameo spent the fall working in the lab and conducted her own growth chamber experiment with seeds from Selena’s summer REU project. Cameo was a great addition to the lab and asked some cool scientific questions about how water stress and maternal competitive environments affect germination in Lasthenia californica. Check out her final report posted below. We’ll miss having Cameo around but wish her luck in her future scientific endeavors!

Cameo Final Paper


Carleton Externs – Julie’s Final Update

Hello Flog!

This has been an exciting last week for the Carleton externs in the Echinacea lab! We had the incredible opportunity to not only analyze our collected data in R, but also to develop posters about our findings and present our results to the resident members of Team Echinacea. Tris’s project examined the effects of pollen limitation on future growth, survival, and fitness in Echinacea. Check out Tris’s flog entry for more! Meanwhile, Sarah and I determined that previous prairie burning and plant characteristics like flower head count may interact to differentially affect reproductive success in some Asteraceae. See Sarah’s post for the details!

It has been a pleasure working with the Echinacea Project over the past three weeks, and though this is our last day in the lab, I am excited to bring all that I have learned here with me into the future. Working up-close and personal with specimens as we carried them through data collection, analysis, and the presentation of results was a gratifying experience that introduced me to some of the joy of science. Thank you to Dr. Stuart Wagenius, Lea Richardson, and Michael LaScaleia for your mentorship and guidance! It was a pleasure to be a part of Team Echinacea.

Bye for now, Flog!


Carleton Externs – Sarah’s Final Update

Hello flog, one last time!

Today marks the end of my three weeks here on Team Echinacea, and I’m certainly sad to say goodbye! Nevertheless, it was exciting and rewarding to culminate this externship with a week of data analysis, poster creation, and presentation of findings to the team. While Tris chose to analyze data from Michael’s Echinacea pollen limitation experiment, Julie and I decided to delve into the worlds of Liatris aspera and Solidago speciosa, two other Asteraceae common to prairie ecosystems. Lea has been working with these species for her PhD project over the past few years, studying how timing and location of flowering influences reproductive success, so she was a great help as we commenced our analysis!

After having meticulously cleaned, counted, and classified innumerable Solidago and Liatris flowering heads, Julie and I wondered how the vast differences in head count between these two species may impact each plant’s fecundity (when Liatris plants generally have 10-20 heads, and many Solidago plants have hundreds or even thousands) . Further, knowing that human populations have largely suppressed the occurrence of natural fires in today’s prairies, we were also interested in analyzing the effects of prescribed burns on these common prairie species. We put these two questions together in our data analysis by forming a statistical interaction model–one in which the effect of fire would interact with the effect of flowering head count to influence reproductive success–and fitting it to our Liatris and Solidago data. Interestingly, we did not uncover the same results for these two closely-related plants! For Liatris, the interaction model was highly supported by our data: the head count of plants seemed to have more effect on seed set (a measure of fecundity) in plants that had not been recently burned than in plants that had been recently burned. Yet, for Solidago, this pattern was not present. Our findings suggest that prairie management strategies, of which prescribed burns are an integral part, should carefully consider the species composition of a prairie before burning, because different species may react to burn treatment in different ways. Check out our poster, attached here, for a more detailed analysis, as well as plots of our models!

Before I sign off, I want to send a huge ‘thank you’ to every member of Team Echinacea! This opportunity was incredibly influential for me–this was my first real research experience, and I learned so much about ecology, networking, career paths, data collection, statistics, and more. I had an amazing time, and I hope to see some team members again someday!

Thank you again,


PDF version below:

Soliatris2018 Poster