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Just when I thought I knew the plant

For the past 12 years I’ve been studying Echinacea angustifolia on this little part of the prairie and I thought I knew a few things about the timing of its flowering. Every year, I’ve started the field season before flowering begins, so that we have time to get settled in and trained before we start taking data. Just after solstice has been our typical time to start. This year, I had originally planned the first day of work to be 24 June. Ruth & I thought we would want a week to search for seedlings, so we decided 18 June. That start date fit in with Dennison’s summer schedule too. But we were a little worried that we may not have enough to do before flowering started.

Echinacea in the common garden started flowering a lot earlier than normal this year. Arg. We are behind in the sense that our equipment hasn’t all arrived, we don’t have all of out data collection protocols, the crew isn’t a well-oiled machine yet, we missed the first days of flowering phenology data for a few plants, our computers aren’t set up, reinforcements from Illinois (Gretel, Per & Hattie) arrived only hours ago, etc.

On one hand, I am bummed to feel behind and know that we need to catch up. This unanticipated stress, frantic rushing about, and sleeplessness is unpleasant. However, we will do the best we can, problem solving and thinking on the feet are the name of the game in field biology!

On the other hand I am exhilarated. The unknown is the raw material of science. Research is learning about things we don’t understand, gaining new knowledge, making discoveries! We have learned so much about Echinacea and from that new knowledge, we have gained insight into basic biological processes common to other species. But, there is still much to learn, even very basic things, such as what causes variation in flowering time.

Well, when I feel like a headless chicken running about, then I know it’s time to make a list. Hmm, a bummed, sleepless, exhilarated, headless chicken. I’ll write the list tomorrow.

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