Burn and Bust Industry

This weekend Team Echinacea had nothing short of an adventure. Expecting good burn conditions on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and maybe even Wednesday, we packed our bags and headed northwest from CBG. After the quintessential falafel stop in the Twin Cities, we arrived at Hjelm around 9pm. Before we could hit the hay, however, we had one important issue to resolve: the farmhouse didn’t have any running water. We’d picked up some jugs of drinking water along the way, but we decided that it might be nice if everyone also got a turn to flush the toilet. So without further ado, we went and collected water from the roadside in 5 gallon buckets to have around for filling the toilet tank. This operation looked totally normal and chill.

After eating breakfast and topping off the septic tank with pond water the next morning, we prepped for a burn at the hulze site. This involved filling water packs/buckets/tank, raking and mowing burn breaks, prepping radios, etc..

Once we finished our prep work, we returned to Hjelm and had a hearty chickpea meal. Yum! A classic! I like to add salt and pepper and paprika and olive oil and spinach and hot sauce to mine. This is also when our reinforcements arrived. This was a bigger burn relative to most of our sites, a whole 15 acres, so help was appreciated. Thank you Amy and Brad and Amy and Colleen! Jared briefed us on the mission, and we got to hear the frustrating tale about how we’ve been skunked at this unit two years in a row. Every time we’ve tried to burn it, it’s been called off last minute for one reason or another. Last year there was allegedly too much smoke from Canadian wildfires and we were told no go. Will this year be different? Third time’s the charm, right?

Wrong. Once again, after all of our prep work was complete and we were ready to light a test fire, Stuart called in the permit and was told to hold off. The county was concerned about gusts over 25 miles per hour, though that’s not what we were measuring at the site. We waited hopefully for over an hour for a call back giving us the go-ahead, and eventually gave in to the fact that there would be none. So we packed up and headed back to Hjelm. There’s still hope for burning this unit later in the spring, but needless to say we were slightly grumpy.

To raise our spirits, we took a walk around the Wagenius property to scout out areas to burn the next day and check up on places we had burned in the fall.

Abby, Blue, Jared, Stuart, and Gretel walk through the southeast corner that we burned in November. Hope you like galium! They were plentiful here (as was brome).

For dinner, Abby, Ian and I made Abby’s chili recipe (the secret ingredient is farro (and paprika) (and dark chocolate) (and love)) and Stuart and Gretel made their cornbread. Yum again! I mixed my cornbread and chili together with butter and hot sauce and honey and, upon Abby’s recommendation, apple cider vinegar, which is now an essential chili condiment in my book.

I do something cooking related while Ian stirs the pot.

Having full tummies and hearts, we went to bed with the knowledge that Jared and Stuart were excited about burn conditions tomorrow, and thus, so were we. But you know who wasn’t? The state of Minnesota. That’s right, we woke up bright and early to find that the DNR had placed burning restrictions on much of the western part of the state, including the counties we conduct our burns in. That means another day with no burns. And we thought Sunday would be perfect! ARG. This forced us to take a step back and consider our options. We didn’t have a ton of other stuff to do in the field, and the forecast for the next few days was getting more dicey. So, with great reluctance, we made the call to head home early. We put away burn equipment, packed our vehicles, and were on our way.

Stuart helpfully supervises as Abby caries a 40 pound water pack down a flight of rather unforgiving stairs to store until next time.

Not wanting to end our trip on a sour note, we stopped by Staffanson Prairie Preserve on our way out to see who was flowering.

We stopped in the Twin Cities for lunch, donuts, and to drop off Stuart’s truck at his parents’ place for them to have handy. For those of you keeping track at home, that means we have a 7ish hour journey to make in one vehicle that will be carrying 7 souls (one of whom is a dog). This made for a tight squeeze, but we made it work.

I tried to take a selfie to capture the coziness of the moment, but failed. Ian and I are prominent in the front, and you can spot Blue and Stuart in the back. Behind me are also Gretel and Abby, and Jared is in the passenger seat next to me

By midnight, we’d all made it back to our homes safe and sound. While we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do on this trip, perhaps, as Ian suggested, the real burns were the friends we made along the way.

Project Assistantship First Check-in: Data Exploration

An R file on my initial exploration of the various data files that make up experiment 7 can be found here:

The goal of this initial data exploration was to determine questions and hypotheses that I will be exploring with aster models. To do this it is important to see what groundwork has been laid. Nicholas Goldsmith is the one who laid most of the groundwork on analysis for this project and it can be found here:

Initial question: How does pedigree effect reproductive effort (i.e. flowering)?

This is of interest because 61 plants in experiment 7 have flowered since 2018 (this may not be 61 unique flowering plants but instead 61 unique instances of flowering across those years [2018 – 2023]).

Update 2: Andropogon Awesomeness!!

Hello one and all and welcome back to my (India’s) research progress! This week I’ve made a lot of progress: I finished cleaning all the Andropogon samples and weighed about 100 samples today. I also have learned a bit of R! I now know how to make a histogram, a bar graph, a scatter plot, a box plot, a density plot , and learned much more about coding formatting and different statistical visualizations! I’m having a surprising amount of fun with it– my dad’s a programmer, so I guess coding is in my blood… or so I hope. I think my daily bagel intake helps significantly. Still recovering from a mild head injury and I am also allergic to my study species (that’s some gallows irony right there…) so things aren’t perfectly smooth, but I’m having a great time here at the gardens and am super excited to continue with my work!

Tune in next week for part 3! I will be done with weighing by then!

India’s Project Update!

Hello dear readers… today I am updating everyone on my new project on Andropogon gerardii, or Big Bluestem! I finally have a direction that I would like to go in, which is studying the black smut fungus (Sorosporium provinciale) and whether plants that have been exposed to controlled burns have greater resistance to the fungus, as monitored by reproductive effort! Today I also started learning R, which is something very new to me, as I’ve never coded before. I’m excited! I’ll be using the homework assignments of our dear team member Lena, thanks to her fall quarter stats class. I’m almost done with cleaning all of the Andropogon samples, and then will move on to weighing. I look forward to updating everybody next week!

Spring sprungs again at CBG

Today marks the first day since that frighteningly warm week in February when Abby and I have eaten our lunch outside. We celebrated this landmark day with a meander around some other parts of the garden, where blooms were abound.

A pollinator (I don’t know anything about bugs) visits a magnolia in bloom
The pollinators aren’t the only ones getting all up in the magnolia’s business.

“Sweet and springy and full of hope and longing and wistful and… I’ll leave it at that,” Abby said, when asked to describe how she interpreted the flower’s aroma.

If you take a look below the magnolia in that photo, you’ll see a bunch of green stuff on the ground. Here’s a pic of it up close:

I also don’t know who these are. But aren’t they neat? They look so kind. Each is about the size of a fingernail.

Hopefully this spring is like a garage door spring and not a clicky pen spring. I’m ready for it to hit hard.

India Wade

Hi all!

My name is India Wade, and I am a Junior at Northwestern University in Evanston. I’m studying Biology with a concentration in Ecology and Conservation. I’m working with the Echinacea project to complete a 398 independent study course, hopefully culminating in my own research project!

I’m from Sebastopol, California, which is about an hour north of San Fransisco, so I’m intimately familiar with wildfire ecology from a first hand perspective. While with the Echinacea project, I’m interested in learning more about fire ecology in a prairie environment, and am also interested in studying big blue stem (andropogon gerardi) as well as pollinator interactions (so, a little bit of everything).

I’m excited to get to know everybody here and learn more about prairie ecology, and hopefully make a difference in our conservation efforts!

See you soon!

Brian Lovejoy Introduction


I’m Brian Lovejoy and I have the pleasure of joining the Echinacea Project for my spring quarter project assistantship. I am a PhD Candidate with Northwestern University’s Plant Biology and Conservation program. While working as a project assistant is a requirement for my program, I was ecstatic when I saw the description for this project! It is not often that I get the opportunity to work on pollinator studies, and I am greatly looking forward to the experience.

My research involves understanding the connections between human behaviors and perceptions and urban development practices with a focus on lawn ownership and cultivation. I get to work with an incredible team of scientists to find different alternatives to traditional lawn applications in order to find potential solutions to urban ecological issues as well as addressing urban restoration goals. My project specifically focuses on understanding how lawn alternatives might impact urban flood frequency, and the scale at which lawn alternatives might be implemented to have an impact. This work involves interviewing homeowners, a pilot-scale hydrology experiment, and lots of GIS (Geographic Information Systems).

My contribution to the pollinator study will be to use GIS as well as other mapping software applications like google earth to characterize the landscape in which the experiment is taking place in order to shed light on the diversity and abundance of pollinators within the project area. I look forward to working with the team on this project and continuing to learn and grow as a scientist!

From fire, glory?

It’s burn season in the Chicago area and prescribed fire has gotten lots of attention in the media recently! Check out this front pager in Thursday’s issue of the Chicago Tribune focusing on prescribed fire at Nachusa Grasslands.

Stuart prescribed some light reading today.

There was also a Sunday feature on prescribed burns in Kane County. It’s a lot less wet and snowy here than up north, and for those of us that burn in western Minnesota, we are used to waiting our turn. But we are antsy for our season to start!

Wyatt wonders when she will next be able to step onto the fire line as she reads these articles. Soon, Wyatt. Soon!

new radiographs of Echinacea fruits

For our seed addition experiment, we want to know exactly how many seeds we planted in each 1 m transect. Each transect got seeds from one envelope. Before planting, we took xrays of the fruits in the paper envelopes. With minimal processing, the radiographs look good! We have a batch of 251 images to classify. This sounds like a job for Allen Wagner aka “the Count” (of Achene County).

We used the column blower and other techniques to remove empty fruits. We aimed for about 50 seeds per envelope. How many do you count?

CBG Science Fair

Chicago Botanic Garden has a new logo! To celebrate its launch, we got to relive the good old days of science fairs. Stationed in the atrium of the plant science center, Wyatt, Stuart, and I chatted with all kinds of people about the work we do!

“Is this prairie healthy?” “How would we know?” These questions helped us engage visitors with discussions on reproductive fitness of populations in fragmented habitats. As Wyatt and I participate in more events like this, we are learning a lot about how to be more effective communicators and how to engage others.

Many curious eyes perused a case of bees from our yellow pan trap experiment

This event was also a great excuse to pull out the column blower, a crowd favorite. Wyatt, donning a t-shirt with our department’s new logo, demonstrated how we use it to separate full and empty achenes.