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)

A cupcake prairie to congratulate Anne!

Anne has counted over half a million achenes!

Today we celebrated Anne’s accomplishment of counting over 500,000 achenes with a prairie remnant made out of cupcakes. Anne has been a member of Team Echinacea for over 10 years and she has really put in the hours! We can’t thank her enough; it’s great having her in every Friday.

Notice the cupcake “soil” under the diverse cupcake prairie remnant – complete with Echinacea, Helianthus, bottle gentian, and grass!

Prairie cupcake remnant. Are these bare ground cupcakes good for solitary bees??


Prairie cupcakes detail.


Congrats Allen and Susie!

Last week, Allen and his wife Doris won an amazing award at the Volunteer Awards Reception! Congratulations Allen and Doris!

Allen and Doris were presented with the 2018 Kris S. Jarantoski Excellence In Horticulture Volunteer Service Award, an award that recognizes volunteers for “their dedication to nature, enthusiasm for education, and exemplary volunteer service in support of horticulture and plant collections at the Chicago Botanic Garden.”

We have been so happy to have Allen on our team. He is a long-term volunteer at the garden and has worked on a variety of different projects over the years. He comes in on Tuesday afternoons to work with Team Echinacea and is one of our critical achene counters! Thanks for all of your hard work, Allen- this award is well-deserved!

Allen counting achenes.


Susie, a member of Team Echinacea since 2011, was also recognized for volunteering over 600 hours this past year! That is quite an achievement. Susie would come in all day Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting out with randomizing or cleaning in the mornings and then working in the herbarium in the afternoon. Susie did so much great work for the Echinacea Project, always had a smile, and was always keen to learn about what the lab managers and grad students were working on.

Susie with all of her randomizing materials out.


Anne and Leslie rechecking Echinacea

Anne and Leslie are hard at work rechecking heads that have been cleaned from 2016. This is an important job in our ACE protocol as it makes sure that no achenes are left behind before they get counted and randomized!

Anne and Leslie rechecking Echinacea heads from 2016

Art is counting away

Art is spending the morning today counting achenes at the computer. One great thing about counting achenes is you can still tell stories while you’re doing it, and Art has quite a lot of funny and interesting stories about his earlier days volunteering at the garden.

Art counting Echinacea achenes in the lab

Char cleaning Echinacea heads

Today Char and Susie have been cleaning Echinacea heads from 2016. Char is interested in Art’s idea of using the seed counter to count out achenes once they have been cleaned. She wants to know if the seed counter will be able to count achenes that come from small heads that have tons of tiny achenes. An experiment is in the works!

My first day in Chicago

Hi flog,

Instead of posting from Kensington, I’m posting today from the lab computer at the Plant Conservation Science Center at the Chicago Botanic Garden. This morning, I met up with Lea (who devoted flog readers will remember from the summer) and Sam, an undergraduate Biology student at Northwestern who will be working at the Garden this Fall. Sam and I were able to bond over how the bike ride from Evanston was longer than we both expected. I also got to meet Chris and several of our excellent and expert volunteers for the first time. They taught me how to dissect heads and separate the achenes from other flower-parts (the “chaff”) and gave some helpful advice from years of their own experiences. After that, Sam and Stuart brainstormed some cool projects that Sam could get involved with. I then looked at some materials for counting and classifying achenes as full, empty, or partially-full in x-ray images using an informative tutorial that Danny wrote last year. These classifications are used to estimate seed-set size, an important part of quantifying Darwinian fitness, as well as assessing the amount (or quality) of pollen these flowers are receiving.

Volunteers show Sam, Lea and me how to dissect heads and count achenes. From left, Suzanne, Bill (in back), Char, me, Art, Aldo, Sam, Lea, Suzie.

Volunteers show Sam, Lea and me how to dissect heads and count achenes. From left, Suzanne, Bill (in back), Char, me, Art, Aldo, Sam, Lea, Susie.

Volunteer hours 2014

The Echinacea Project depends on a team of volunteers to process Echinacea heads collected in the field. In 2014, our 19 volunteers devoted 1915.25 hours to the Echinacea Project! Below is a summary of hours for 18 volunteers (I will update this post once I track down hours for the last volunteer).

Initials Hours
1 AA 164.00
2 LB 47.25
3 ACo 106.75
4 ACr 205.75
5 KE 72.00
6 SG 21.00
7 SH 38.00
8 LJ 130.00
9 SK 16.00
10 MK 26.00
11 ML 41.00
12 BM 219.50
13 LO 68.50
14 LP 105.50
15 NS 93.00
16 CS 230.00
17 ST 122.00
18 WW 171.00

We are so thankful for this incredible group of people, the Echinacea Project would not be possible without their hard work and dedication!