The competition concludes

Greetings floggers!

The interspecific competition has offered the following results:

  • Interspecific competition of growth rate is greater for Bromus kalmii with Elymus canadensis compared to intraspecific competition of Bromus kalmii at this stage of growth.
  • The growth rate of interspecific competition for Elymus canadensis with Bromus kalmii demonstrated a negligible change compared to intraspecific competition.

*To view the full write up click here: Interspecific comp.

Fig 1: Vertical black line on each histogram indicates the mean value for each treatment (E. canadensis vs B. kalmii, E. canadensis vs E. canadensis, B. kalmii vs E. canadensis, or B. kalmii vs B. kalmii) of interspecific competition and intraspecific competition. (F) indicates the focal plant.

Likewise, my spring semester internship has concluded as well. This experience has been an amazing and immersive learning opportunity. Within the past week, since the end of my internship,  I’ve noticed a shift in the way I think. I’ve started observing plants, not just for their beauty, but also for their seed composition and amazing structures. I have found  an appreciation and curiosity for the conservation of our native species and the ecosystems they take part in.

The CBG is a wonderful place that cultivates the excitement of science. Whatever the future holds, I will maintain the same attitude as I have during this experience. From day one, I knew I was in a special place and needed to absorb every moment of it. This internship has truly exceeded my expectations.

In closing, I’d like to thank Stuart and Tracie for their guidance, support, and exposure to a fascinating study of plant science. I also would like to thank them for transplanting my grasses to the prairies of Minnesota, where they can grow to their full potential 🙂

E. canadensis transplanted to the MN prairie by Tracie Hayes and Stuart Wagenius. Grown from seed by Danielle Oilschlager 🙂



The competition continues..

Over the past few weeks, Elymus canadensis and Bromus Kalmii have taken to the plots for a battle of resources. When I initially began this experiment, I hypothesized that Panicum virgatum would take the lead, since it develops a ribosomal root system and is known to be an aggressive prairie species. However, out of 500 seeds, only 1 P. virgatum has germinated and sprouted. For that reason, I’ve decided to eliminate P. virgatum from the data analysis. Although, I have planted the lonely P. virgatum so that it can later be transplanted to the prairies of Minnesota. I later suspected that E. canadensis would take the lead in sprouting. However, B. kalmii has currently overthrown the number of germination/sprouting. There are still a few weeks to go with this experiment before analyzing the data collected on height. With that said, it could go either way. The grasses are growing taller and faster than any of us expected. I take measurements weekly and can already conclude that competition is occurring. The leading height in each treatment varies, indicating that one of the species is achieving more resources than the other. More updates and photos to come!



Competing species – 2 seedlings to a cell

Bomus Kalmii germinating/sprouting in the agar-petri dish

The one and only germinating/sprouting Panicum virgatum


Status update on the interspecific competition experiment!

The seeds were pulled out of their pre-treatment and were moved into the growth chamber for germination to take place. After 5 days, a handful of E.canadensis were germinating, along with B. kalmii at a close behind rate. P. virgatum has yet to germinate, though at this time it’s still early. After filling three 20×10 flats with soilless soil, prior to removing the seeds from cold stratification, the cells (tiny plots on flat) where numbered in preparation of seed transport. By choosing soilless soil I can ensure a uniform system of adequate water retention and proper drainage. As a method for watering, my mentor Stuart has suggested to bottom-water the plants to avoid dampening one area of soil more than another area, which can occur when watering from above. By using sterilized tweezers, I carefully selected a germinating seed from a randomly ordered petri dish. Once the radical was successfully extracted from the agar, the seed was planted into its designated cell. Before transportation took place, I created a few randomizing sheets on an application called R. The sheets randomized the petri dish order, as well as the treatment (species vs. species) placement. The reason we want the order of everything to be randomized is to avoid any biased decisions. This also helps to yield accurate results. I was able to plant over 100 treatments this past week for E. canadensis and B. kalmii. I’m hoping this week P. virgatum will begin germinating.

With that said, the next phase has begun- measurements of growth. To reiterate the purpose of this experiment, I will observe the growth of each species in relation to the species it’s competing with for resources such as water, root space, and light. I will do this by measuring their height on a weekly basis. I want to determine which species will be the most dominant in this early stage of development. On Friday, I started measuring my little sprouts. The tallest I have observed so far has grown to 70 mm. 🙂

This process is very exciting, as I’ve mentioned before. To be able to plan something out so specifically detailed and to watch the process actually happen is nothing short of magical 🙂 It’s really fascinating to watch these little seeds germinate into such beautiful green sprouts!

Elymus canadensis germinating

Bromus kalmii germinating

Carefully transporting germinated seeds into their randomly assigned cell

sprouting and reaching for light 🙂



Interspecific competition between prairie grass species

Greetings floggers!

This past week steered off the E. angustifolia path for an exciting development on related research. I am beginning my experiment by researching two c3 prairie grasses- Elymus canadensisBromus kalmii, and one c4 prairie grass- Panicum virgatum. In the weeks to come, I will randomly plant two differing species in a plot and observe their competition for resources. To begin this process, I have prepared a pre-treatment of cold-stratification to help break seed dormancy. Pre-treatment consisted of filling fifteen 150 x 50mm petri dishes with agar, bleach treating seeds (to prevent growth of any possible bacteria or fungi), plating the seeds on the solidified agar, and refrigerating for two weeks. Each species filled five petri-dishes (1oo seeds per dish). After their pre-treatment of  cold stratification, the seeds will stay in their dishes and be transferred to our grow chamber for germination. Once germination is observed, they will find their home in the soil. 🙂 This is very much a summery of the experimental process. However, it’s exciting news and relates to the Echinacea project on the grounds of prairie restoration. Upon completion of the experiment, the prairie grasses will be transported to our common gardens in Minnesota, which each species happens to be native to. Stay tuned for more exciting updates!



Weighing out agar


Heating agar mixed with deionized water

Agar solidifying into gel under UV light to assist in sterilization

Moving seeds (after bleach treatment) to petri dish on top of agar gel

From left to right- B. kalmii, E. canadensis, and P. virgatum – ready for cold-stratification in the refrigerator

Randomizing and identifying achenes

On to another job of the Echinacea project!

In recent weeks, I was trained in the process of randomizing the achenes collected from each Echinacea angustifolia head. After a thorough count is taken of all achenes per head, the measurement of seed count is also preferred. For clarification, the achenes are the fruit and if they have been fertilized then they will contain a seed. We measure seed count by taking a sample size of randomized achenes from each head to eventually be X-rayed. To begin the randomization process, I was given a chart that was divided into several sections. I took one of the labeled achene envelopes and scattered the achenes evenly over each section. I then used a computer randomizing application to generate two sections from the chart containing achenes. Once I moved the randomly selected achenes onto a separate sheet, I then examined each one and decided if they were informative or uninformative. An uninformative achene would either be shredded, contain a hole – which we believe is do to some sort of critter who may enjoy the achene or seed as a snack, or a ray-floret achene. The ray-floret achenes are three sided and infertile. These achenes surround the outer circle of the E. angustifolia head and hold the ray leaves, also known as the petals. The informative achenes are four sided and may possibly contain a seed. Once I  determined informative versus uninformative, I re-enveloped the achenes and labeled them accordingly. The randomized achene samples will then be re-checked for conformation of informative versus uninformative achenes and later x-rayed. 

The process continues with informative lessons on accuracy and precision of an unbiased experimental design. As I continue my exposure of important aspects on the Echinacea project sequence, I eagerly look forward to lessons awaiting my discovery. 🙂

Until next time floggers,


From left to right: dried floret, uninformative ray-floret achene (3 sided), informative achene (4 sided), uninformative achene with a whole, siding of a shredded achene, and a seed!

Randomizing setup. -Notice the the two empty sections which were randomly selected. Those achenes are found on the right-hand sheet. The informative achenes are counted at the top and will be placed in the clear bag for X-ray. The uninformative achenes are counted at the bottom and will be placed in the white envelope.

Week 2 on the Echinacea Project

Last week I spent more time familiarizing myself with the process of collecting achenes from Echinacea heads. Its become a therapeutic practice once you know what your looking for and find the best method to get each unique achene to wedge out from its previously fixed place. Some achenes are large and chunky, which makes them much easier to extract. Whereas, other achenes can range down to an extremely small size, they can almost be mistaken for a floret if not for the color change. The achenes that surround the outer base of the head like a ring are know as ray floret achenes. They often share a darker color than the others. The ray floret achenes are also classified as having three sides, while the rest have four sides. Interestingly enough, this happens to be a very small description for identifying achenes, as they can range in color, shape, and size. I’ve even come across a few with a tiny hole through the center. We puzzle over the cause of these holes and think, perhaps certain critters enjoy some part of the achene, or possible seed that may have been inside, as a snack. One of the aspects I’m really enjoying as a result of working on the Echinacea project is the limitless array of questions we can pose. Creativity is encouraged. 🙂

After taking the time to observe the varying appearances of achenes my mentor Tracie felt it was time for my training on a different task. I next learned the process of counting the achenes per Echinacea head. As I mentioned the week before, we want to examine the amount of fertilized achenes, but we also want to count the achenes on each head for all the Echinacea collected for the year as well. The counting software was surprisingly simple and efficient. Each set of achenes, collected from a head, was scanned onto the computer after several rounds of cleaning. Once on the software, the image loads and can be zoomed in or out to several degrees. By using the mouse, I simply click on every achene I see and it leaves a blue dot-like image. Likewise, each blue dot is counted by the software. The same achene set is counted at random by three different people. The median of 3 counts is what we end up using for our final data. Now it ties together. The experience of cleaning the heads lead me to gain observations of all the physically-varying achenes, and all of this has led me to identify the achenes for counting. To no surprise, there are more tasks to come, each intriguing and methodical as I progress. 🙂 Until next time floggers, enjoy the scenery, wherever you find yourselves.



The start of a new internship

Hello fellow floggers!

Danielle cleaning a head for achenes

My name is Danielle. I’m excited to announce that I’m the new research intern at The Chicago Botanic Garden and I come from Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, IL. I’m currently a junior majoring in Biology and minoring in Environmental Science. My focus is Botany which brings me to my next point… interning here is nothing short of a dream come true! My work begins with taking part on the Echinacea project. 

This week I was shown around the plant science building, where I will be spending the duration of my internship. I was tasked with cleaning and collecting achenes from the dried up heads of Echinacea angustifolia. The achenes are tiny seeds, also known as fruit, that are attached to the florets, which are the tiny flowers that make up the composite head of the Echinacea plant. After collecting the achenes by wedging them out with tweezers, they were placed inside a labeled envelope for further examination. The purpose of this step is to accumulate all the achenes so they can be counted as well as to formulate a random sample which can then be x-rayed to determine Echinacea fitness with regard to their pollinators. We want to understand the basis of successful reproduction via pollination for each Echinacea plant. The heads were harvested in 2016 from one of the experimental plots. By measuring the fitness of the Echinacea head we can get a better idea of how well pollinated they are.   

My first week has been nothing short of wonderful. Each day that I have walked into the plant conservation science building I have felt immense joy for what I am taking part in. I trust that this feeling will not steer me wrong as I zone in on my true career goals. Stay tuned, as I’ll be making weekly posts throughout these next three months! 🙂

visible achenes on an Echinacea head

separating achenes from the chaff