Lois Jackim, citizen scientist working on Team Echinacea since 2009, counted her 800,000th Echinacea achene this morning around 9:30 AM. Scientists from the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University were present as Lois was presented with a giant check thanking her for her dedication to plant science and conservation. Lois wore her “Achene Queen” crown, which she earned in 2015 after surpassing the half-million mark. Lois was not aware she was so close to the 800,000 milestone.
Counting fruits, also known as achenes in Echinacea, is a critical activity for scientists measuring reproductive fitness of plants. The Echinacea Project conducts experiments to assess environmental and genetic factors that influence plant fitness. Echinacea Project research contributes to basic ecological and evolutionary science in addition to informing conservation of perennial plants and prairies.
Other citizen scientists present this morning were cleaning and preparing seedheads and making digital images for counting. Each year the Echinacea project harvests heads from experimental plots and volunteer citizen scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden count all achenes from each head. Citizen scientists also x-ray samples of achenes from each head to count how many of the achenes were pollinated.