Final day at CBG

Friday was my last day at the Chicago Botanic Garden (sniff). I bid a final farewell to the wonderful volunteers and cleaned out all of the miscellaneous papers in my desk, including an article about the top ten bagel restaurants in Chicago.

One great Friday accomplishment was finalizing new driving maps with Lindsey. During the field season, we drive to many remnants, restorations, and experimental plots between Kensington and Hoffman, so a map is helpful for finding sites and plotting efficient routes. We crafted two versions, one with the Echinacea sites that we visit frequently and one more complicated map that includes all the sites for the ENRTF project. The previous version of the driving map was missing some remnant sites like Dog, so we made sure to include all of the places that we visit regularly. On the back, we listed the site abbreviations and full names. I think I’ve been to all of the sites on the Echinacea map, but I haven’t seen most of the newly added ENRTF sites. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to visit some of them next week in Minnesota!

Lindsey shares the secrets of lamination

Our crowning achievement was laminating the new maps. I had never used a laminator machine before, but fortunately Lindsey is an expert, and she taught me the tricks of the trade. We now have a stack of shiny new driving maps, and I’m very excited to try them out!

This past week, Lindsey and I have been organizing the lab so it will be easy for volunteers to find what they need during the summer. I’ve also documented the status of remnant Liatris and Echinacea harvested from 2020-2022. The locations of data, physical specimens, and datasheets are recorded in readMe files in Dropbox. I’ve also updated all of the demap protocols and saved them in the demap repo in a new folder called learnDemap. Hopefully, it will ease the learning curve for future demappers.

Status of remnant Liatris:

  • Dropbox\burnRems\remLiatris\harvestLiatris2021\readMeLiatris2021Status.txt
  • Dropbox\burnRems\remLiatris\harvestLiatris2022\readMeLiatris2022Status.txt

Status of remnant Echinacea:

  • Dropbox\remData\180_store\store2020\readMe.txt
  • Dropbox\remData\180_store\store2021\readMe.txt
  • Dropbox\remData\180_store\store2022\readMe.txt

Alex Carroll

Echinacea Project 2023

Biology and Environmental Science, University of Minnesota-Morris, graduated 2021

Pronouns: she/her

Here’s me with my friend Collins the GPS

Research Interests

I enjoy studying the effects of prescribed fire on plants. I’m currently investigating the influence of smoke on Echinacea angustifolia.


I’m from St. Paul, Minnesota, and in my spare time I like to climb trees, play board games about birds, visit new bakeries, and read books about dragons.

Smoke in many forms

Plants often flower vigorously after a fire, but what aspect of fire causes these increases in flowering? Today, we are one step closer to finding out if smoke is the culprit. In the fall, we applied liquid smoke to 110 plants, and today, we applied the remaining 110 treatments for the smoke experiment!

Last summer, we flagged all of the Echinacea plants for the experiment and assigned a number to each plant. However, we weren’t sure if any of our flags survived after the profusion of snow this winter. With help from El and Jan, we revisited all of the smoke plants using the GPS units. Surprisingly, most of the flags were still present, but we relabeled any illegible, faded, or ripped flags.

Next, Lindsey and I measured and mixed our 11 concentrations of liquid smoke. Thanks to Allen for supplying us with more empty jugs! Back in the field, we applied half of the smoke treatments in the morning and half in the afternoon, following the same protocol as in the fall. The ground was very dry after recent windy days, so the liquid rapidly soaked into the soil in most places.

Our experiment was not the only source of smoke today. There wasn’t enough wind to burn at prairie remnants near roads, so instead, we burned an area that Stuart is restoring nearing P1, called Center Field. There wasn’t a lot of fuel, but the grass and oak leaves were very dry and crispy, so the burn went much better than expected. We all got a chance to practice using the drip torch, and the plants will enjoy the fire, too!

Freezing remnant Echinacea

Congratulations, Team Echinacea! We are done processing all of the Echinacea heads that were harvested from prairie remnants in 2020, 2021, and 2022. On Thursday, I completed the final step of the ACE process: freezing. We want to preserve some remnant achenes for future experiments, so we stored them in the seed vault freezer at the Chicago Botanic Garden. They are now documented in the seed bank database. Here’s a summary of the remnant Echinacea stored in the freezer:

  • 2020 and 2021: X-ray sheets (random sample of informative achenes) for all heads harvested in 2020 and 2021. Envelopes (achenes not part of random sample) for paired samples only.
  • 2022: X-ray sheets and envelopes for all heads harvested in 2022.

With efficient packing, I was able to cram all of these achenes into two freezer bags. However, sealing the bags was definitely a two-person job. Echinacea from 2020 and 2021 are in one bag, and 2022 gets a bag all of its own. It feels very satisfying to wrap up these three years of data!

Taylor and Collins, our GPS units

Johanna with Taylor the GPS (photo: Geena Z)

During the summer, we use two high-precision Topcon GPS units to map thousands of flowering Echinacea plants. Our GPS units are named Collins and Taylor, after two inspiring female scientists.

Dr. Margaret S. Collins

  • first Black woman to hold a PhD in entomology
  • researched defense mechanisms in termites
  • nicknamed the “Termite Lady”
  • civil rights activist

Dr. Marie Clark Taylor

  • first Black woman to hold a PhD in botany
  • researched photomorphogenesis, how light affects plant development and flowering phenology
  • developed high school science curriculum now used across the US
  • her curriculum promoted the use of real plants and microscopes in the classroom

Dr. Collins and Dr. Taylor were friends in real life, just like our GPS units that are often in the field together!

Learn more:

O frabjous day: YPT pinning complete!

And hast thou pinned the pan trap bees? O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Today, Mike finished pinning all the bees that we collected in summer 2022 for the Pollinators on Roadsides (aka Yellow Pan Trap) project! We started out with seven coolers full of vials, and Mike has been diligently pinning pollinators since late September. In total, he pinned 789 insects! We are very grateful for his help.

The next step is to add informative labels to record collection date and location for each specimen. Then, we’ll send the bees to Zach Portman, the bee taxonomist at the University of Minnesota, for identification. Overall, we collected more bees than I expected based on the last three years. I’m very curious whether there are any differences in species diversity between years. Stay tuned!

year# bees collected# traps# collection daysavg # bees/trap/day

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The Trust Fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.

Drake presents at CBG

Today, Drake gave a great talk titled “Investigating the effects of parasitic plants in tallgrass prairies” for the Plant Science Department at the Chicago Botanic Garden. We enjoyed hearing an update on his research and peeking at some preliminary results! According to Lindsey, “The talk was pedicularily riveting and he really comandra’d the room. Drake is producing cuscuting-edge science. His research agalinis with broader conservation and restoration goals in the tallgrass prairie.”

Seed germination experiment

In fall 2022, we planted Echinacea within our study site for the seed addition experiment. In the lab, we are currently doing a germination experiment with the same batch of seeds to calculate the expected seed germination rates under ideal conditions. Following our standard germination protocol, we first treat the achenes with Florel solution and put them in a cold fridge with low light levels to mimic winter conditions. After 14 days, we transfer them to a warm, bright environment to germinate.

The seeds generally don’t start to germinate until they are in the warm environment. This year, however, I checked on the seeds a few days after they went into the fridge and discovered that they were already starting to sprout! The condenser on the fridge had broken, so it was no colder than room temperature. In spite of the unusual conditions, ~80% of the seeds germinated. This is very encouraging since it means that the seeds that we planted in the fall were viable.

After fixing the fridge, we are germinating a second batch of seeds following the standard protocol so we can replicate the experiment next spring. Lindsey planted the seeds that germinated, and we plan to grow them into plugs and transplant them this summer.

Smokin at the Botanic Garden

This February, Lindsey and I attended the Chicago Wilderness prescription burn training at the Morton Arboretum. This month, we put our burn training to good use and joined Jared and the burn crew at the Chicago Botanic Garden for a woodland burn. I participated in prairie burns in Minnesota last spring, but this was my first woodland burn, so I was glad to gain more diverse fire experience.

A member of the DuPage burn crew shows off prescribed burn equipment

We burned part of McDonald woods on the east side of the garden, and we needed an east wind to keep the smoke off of Green Bay Road. The wind was ~11 mph, but we were burning down in a gully which blocked the wind, so the fire crept very slowly. Overall, the woodland burn was much slower and patchier than the past prairie burns, but that was what I expected from the woods. I also got to use a drip torch for the first time, which was very fun!

Orchids Magnified

Orchids in a ball, orchids on a post, orchids in a spiral, orchids in the water, orchids in a pot, orchids through a lens. How many ways can you imagine displaying an orchid? This week, Lindsey and I visited Orchids Magnified at the Botanic Garden, and we saw orchids in all these orientations and many more. I was amazed by the orchids’ astonishing range of color and shape. It makes me wonder about their evolutionary history.

The orchid show staff night also included free food. Lindsey tried the ramen, and she reported, “It had many tasty vegetables and the teeniest mushrooms. However, it could have used some spice and they only had forks”. I sampled the salad, which contained an orchid flower. It felt wrong to eat one after looking at so many, but I had to try it. I expected a flowery flavor like jasmine, but it was rather bland and not much different in taste from a lettuce leaf. In short, I don’t recommend snacking on orchids if you attend the show.