Demo and a dog

This week we began gearing up for staked demo, where we use Darwin to search locations in the remnants where mature Echinacea have been found in the past. The team has tackled lots of flowering demo this summer, but now it’s time to take on new challenges like no tag no pl and equivloc records.

Anna M. and Emma contemplate the maps and scenery at EELR

Emma and I were challenged in a different way when we found this monstrosity of a plant at South of Golf Course. It’s newly flowering this year, though we kind of wish it wasn’t, since its bushy leaves and rogue “armpit tooth” florets are uncomfortable to behold. It seems to have a cousin at Loeffler’s Corner with a similarly demented growth habit.

Fearful asymmetry

After all the lake excitement on Friday afternoon, we had a comparatively quiet Saturday. Gooseberry is in town, so Allie and I took her for a walk to the park where she drank puddles and sniffed everything within reach. In return, Goose kept me company as I worked on reconciling demap.

In the evening we enjoyed takeout from Mi Mexico and a rousing discussion of what the world would be like if society was reorganized into five sects, each with their own physical limitations, like having clams for hands or being perpetually confined to an Olive Garden. Goose did not contribute much to the discussion but did partake in some heavy belly rubbing action.

That’s the stuff

Get wise on NEOWISE

Hey star children, last night Amy, Allie and I adventured out at 11PM to check out NEOWISE, the once-every-6000-years comet currently zooming within naked eye spotting distance of the Earth. Out here in the field we have the advantages of few trees and limited light pollution to aid in spectacular views of NEOWISE! The comet is visible in the northwest sky, under the Big Dipper. Here are the resources we used to plan our trip– we found them super useful and we learned a lot about amateur astronomy!

The Clear Dark Sky website houses clear sky charts which include forecasts for weather, darkness and other factors influencing celestial body visibility.

The Clear Dark Sky website also has a light pollution overlay that you can use to determine areas of high light pollution to avoid during stargazing. You can adjust this in the map view of all clear sky charts in an area using the light pollution slider just over the map. Check out how dark the intersection of 27 and 54 is, 10 miles west of Hoffman– that’s where we went last night!

We also used Stellarium to determine when and where the comet would appear over the horizon.

Here’s a guide to measuring distances in the sky with your hands.

Happy stargazing!

Flying through phenology

Today we were back at it again in the remnants, well-equipped with knowledge of both the phenology protocol and the phonetic alphabet for our radio chatter. John and Mia cruised to Wiley in the Bombusmobile, the New A Team of Anna, Anna and Amy stomped Around the Block, Emma and Riley teamed up in the Big East and Stuart, Allie and I chugged through Choo-Choo Corner. We were all back around 11:30, setting a land-speed record for 2020 rem phen!

chugga chugga buzz buzz

On Wednesday I wrapped up the first round of surv this season, so now every site has a map of flowering plants that the team can use during phenology. Though we’ll keep shooting through the season as we find more plants, the major surv push is over! Now I have time on my hands to help with phenology, so Allie gave me a brief tutorial and then it was off to the races this morning.

I started on Yellow Orchid Hill West, which threw just about every possible problem at me. I had new plants, old plants without phen records, mutant heads and two-small-plants-or-one-big-plant? questions to ponder.

The pollinators were out and about this morning, with a bold augochlorella coming in for a landing on an echinacea I was examining for style persistence. Maybe I should have checked back in a bit to get a more accurate assessment of shriveling! While doing phenology I also interrupted mating beetles and accidentally knocked a goldenrod crab spider off its hiding place on a flowering head, so today I guess I was bugging arthropods instead of the other way around.

In observance of July 3rd, that fateful day preceding the day when soon-to-be ex-British-colonists signed the Declaration of Independence, we ended work at noon. Lunch proceeded with a reduced crew and a lively discussion of all the different kinds of fruit preserves we could think of. It turns out that the good folks at Wikipedia have already made a list which seems to be a lot more comprehensive than ours (did anyone come up with fruit butters or curd? I sure didn’t.)

I’ve kept myself busy this week making memes. Emma and I are cooking up some hot new lingo that we’re excited to unveil to the rest of the team in the next few days, but until then enjoy this biting commentary on the West Central Minnesota Arsonist (still at large?)

Happy 3rd of July, y’all!

Bees, ‘bees and bureau drawers

We had a pretty quiet Sunday here at the Hoff House, except for the constant rumbling of the washer and dryer. Stuart, Emma and Mia all paid us visits to do their laundry. The sun finally came out in the afternoon and I joined Mia in the yard, where we watched a bee which she identified as Bombus imaptiens trundling around clover patches.

Allie, Riley and I took advantage of the sun to throw a frisbee around the yard. The winds were gusty and occasionally carried the ‘bee way over our heads! Afterwards we deliberated about making crop circles in an un-mowed field of grass adjacent to the lawn, but if you see anything about aliens on the news this week, it wasn’t us!

UFOs have been reported in the area

Our Bombus friend returned and Riley and I chased her around the yard. We’ve named her Biggio for the MLB player and her enormous length. There seems to be several Biggios hanging out in the yard, though, and hopefully there will eventually bee enough for a pickup ball game.

Biggio! This doesn’t seem to be the Biggio who Mia orginially identified, as this one seemed a little smaller.

The Hoff House is largely unfurnished, so I was really excited to rescue a dresser from the side of the road yesterday. The former owners of the dresser drove up and said hello as I heaved it into my trunk, which briefly terrified me into thinking I was robbing them. Today Riley helped me haul it upstairs and I have now transitioned from a floor-based organizational system to a drawer-based one.

Not pictured: The antique framed photo of a church that the former owners of this dresser asked me to take as well

Let me know if you see any large bees or spare furniture on the roadsides of West Central Minnesota! The Hoff House has a vested interest in both of them.

Erin Eichenberger

Echinacea Project 2020

Biology and Environmental Science, the College of William and Mary, 2019

Headed to the Applied Ecology department at North Carolina State University

Research Interests

My main interest is in how natural populations of plants respond and adapt to changes, such as habitat fragmentation, pollinator decline and invasion by other plants. With the Echinacea Project I have primarily worked on managing our database of the demographic characteristics and spatial positions of Echinacea angustifolia in remnant prairies. This summer I’m excited to help collect and add the 26th year of data to this database. I’m hoping to continue cleaning and improving our dataset in order to understand how plants’ spatial positions are related to their flowering efforts. In my graduate work I’m looking forward to learning more about pollination biology and North Carolina’s own prairies!


I’m from Raleigh, NC, and I’m headed back there this summer to begin a PhD at NCSU! I love to draw and bird, and I’m hoping that Stuart will let us take the canoes out again this summer because that’s another one of my favorite things to do. On the weekends you’ll find me traipsing through the prairies chasing birds, soaking up the sun in a hammock or feverishly farming pumpkins in Stardew Valley, which the team introduced me to last summer. On Bach Night you can catch Riley and I watching The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, Listen To Your Heart or old seasons of these shows (for when a global pandemic has halted their production.)


Me and my favorite member of Team Echinacea, Chekov!

Wrapping up at the CBG and heading out to the field

At the Echinacea Project Evanston Outpost Riley and I have been chugging along with our work for the past two and a half months. We’ve had countless remote meetings, surrendered precious square feet of floorspace to binders of datasheets, migrated the infallible sticky-note kanban to our walls (me) and online (Riley,) and begun coordinating with our summer team to prepare for the field season. Expect to see some new faces on the flog in the coming week!

We started on the northwest corner of P1 and split into two groups to work around the plot. The burn was long and slow!

As we approach the field season, we’ve gotten the chance to stretch our legs outside our apartment. In late May a team dashed up to the field site to capitalize on a narrow window of perfect burn conditions. Changeable winds made our burn of the 99-south plot a little more exciting than we had hoped, but we took the burn low and slow and very safely across experimental plot 1.

Drake headed up to our field site several weeks ago, where he’s been germinating seeds for a parasite competition experiment he’ll conduct this summer. When we return to the field in a couple weeks we’re looking forward to seeing the hoop houses he’ll have set up to house his plants!

Drake is planning to germinate some 40 plant species this summer, but he forgot our favorite species in Illinois– Echinacea angustifolia! Riley and I have gotten special permission to return to the Chicago Botanic Garden to start a pre-germination treatment of Echinacea achenes in the lab. I’ll bring Drake the achenes when I drive out to the field site in the next couple weeks– what are the odds that radicles start emerging in my car?

It’s been exciting to get back to the garden, though we may look a little different from the last time we were here!

The garden will start a limited reopening next week, when visitors will be allowed to walk the perimeter of the grounds. We took a peek outside when we were preparing the pre-germinants, and it looks like the grounds crew have been doing a beautiful job maintaining the garden. We’re excited to see more before we head back to Minnesota!

Sadly, Riley and I have also made use of our visits to the garden to clean out our desks. Access to the plant science building is limited and we will not be working full-time there again, as we are headed off to graduate school following the field season. This will be the first time Riley and I have lived apart since meeting last June! However, we’ll only be a few states apart– Riley is headed to the University of Georgia in Athens, GA and I’ll be at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC.

Once a team member, always a team member

As the field season gears up, we will return to our daily summer flogging schedule. We’re all very excited to get out to the field and to meet the new team members!

Team Echinacea COVID-19 Update

Welcome to the CBG’s Evanston outpost!

In conjunction with the CBG’s current policy, the Echinacea Project’s base of operations has moved out of the Plant Science building and into our living room! The lab is closed to volunteers and staff through the month of March and potentially longer as the situation develops. Despite this hiccup, we are continuing with our work and we’re looking forward to the productivity the next few weeks will offer!

All three species are represented in this tray

Over the last few months we’ve been germinating E. angustifolia, pallida and purpurea for our investigation into Echinacea ploidy. Elif, Riley and myself have been caring for the seedlings and will be working with people at the CBG to determine how we can maintain an appropriate watering schedule and safe social distancing practices.

Fingers crossed the little guys can hang in there til we get a schedule worked out!

Though our ACE head processing protocol is on hold for the foreseeable future, our excellent volunteer force has made great progress in 2020. We’re about 3/4s through cleaning the 2018 heads. Our counters are overflowing with cereal boxes of achene envelopes and with help from the volunteers, Riley cleared up some space by moving our 2015 achenes into the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank (fancy title for “that big freezer on the other side of the building.”) We’ll be moving 2016 in there too when we return!

There’s plenty of work for us to do outside of the lab, so fear not our idle hands! Riley’s looking ahead to the 2020 field season by preparing for measuring in our common gardens. He’s working on a snappy measuring field checks function to hopefully streamline a process which took us a lot of time in Fall 2019.

Currently I’m working on uniting our 2019 demo and surv records in demap. First I tackled our largest 2019 flowering site (Aanenson,) and now I’m working through sling sites to hopefully have maternal plant data ready for our collaborative sling project.

The superteam of Team Echinacea members and alums working on sling in 2019/20 is hopeful about making some great progress in the coming weeks. Perhaps this cross-country collaboration was the original social distancing initiative? Video calls are the hip new quarantine hangout these days, so we were ahead of the curve on that front!


Since we’re now the masters of the office dress code, we’ve been stretching our fashion wings. I’ve busted out my favorite slippers and jeans, and Riley’s switching up his hat game from baseball to brimmed. Check back in with us in a few weeks– we’re working on getting our Spring 2020 collection ready for debut!

Public lands containing Echinacea Project study sites

Some of our remnant prairie and recruitment plot study sites fall entirely or partially within public lands. The two agencies we intersect with are the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which manages wildlife management areas (WMAs) and duck refuges, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages waterfowl production areas (WPAs.)

For the purpose of writing reports to the DNR, the USFWS, and other bodies which may be more interested in the publicly-accessible names of our study sites instead of the names we use to refer to them by, here is a table associating our site names with their official names as they appear on this MN DNR tool.

EELRRolling Acres WPA NE unitUSFWS
NWLFRolling Acres WPA SW unitUSFWS
RKEKensington WMA/Duck RefugeDNR
RKWKensington WMA/Duck RefugeDNR

This table is also available in Dropbox at ~\Dropbox\remData\200_siteInfo\remnantGovernmentNames.xlsx

Team Echinacea, now and then

This weekend I traveled to the University of Georgia for a graduate student recruitment event (“Go Dawgs,” as they say,) and stumbled upon Echinacea Project alum Laura Leventhal! We rode on a shuttle from the ATL airport to campus in silence for 2 hours and then, having realized our connection, terrified the other passengers in the last 5 minutes of the journey by jabbering about Team Echinacea, the Hjelm House, goats, phenology and more.

We thought we’d seen the last of each other when we split up at TSA, and then coincidentally reunited while contemplating whether or not to buy airport mac and cheese (verdict: not.)

Laura was on the team in 2016 and worked at the Chicago Botanic Garden through the CLM program. Currently she works at UC Davis as a lab manager and is currently interviewing for PhD programs in biology. We had a great time getting to know more about each other in person than we could from reading old flog posts. I found out that Laura heard my undergraduate PI Dr. Joshua Puzey speak at a conference, and that my friend is currently applying to work with a PI at UC Davis whom Laura knows! The world of ecology is, occasionally, delightfully small.

Best wishes to Laura as she continues interviewing and I’m crossing my fingers for more Team Echinacea reunions in our travels!

2019 Update: Pulse-steady pollination experiment

In 2019 Team Echinacea conducted a new experiment called “Pulse-Steady,” with roots in Ashley Barto’s 2017 REU project. The experiment investigates whether flowering Echinacea plants which received a resource pulse (pollination every three days) set seed at a different rate to Echinacea which received a steady flow of resources (pollination every day.)

Shea expresses frustration with the bees who beat us to the pollen—bagging flowering plants to ensure we had pollen sources became critical at the end of flowering!

Stuart and Gretel selected 48 flowering Echinacea with single flowering heads and assigned 24 to the pulse treatment, and the other 24 to the steady treatment. The team placed pollinator exclusion bags on the heads of all plants prior to the beginning of flowering to ensure that humans were the only pollinators. The team returned to exPt 2 every day from July 16 to August 7 to count anthers and styles and hand-pollinate the 48 heads, though rain caused pollen to present at strange times or not at all on some days. The team collected pollen from other flowering plants in exPt2 as well as bagged heads around Hegg Lake. Pollen samples included a minimum of four sires to ensure that compatible S-alleles were present in the mix. Pollinators collected additional pollen from heads in the experiment after pollinating the styles, to prevent self-pollen from clogging the styles and to replenish dwindling pollen supplies. Human pollinators frequently competed with insect pollinators, as pollen was scarce at the end of the flowering season, and had to wave off bees from taking pollen from experimental heads and pollen donors in the plot.

In December, Carleton externs Jack, Eli and Emma worked on a modified ACE protocol to process the harvested pulse-steady heads. They cleaned the heads and carefully separated the achenes based on their position in the head so that we can investigate whether seed set differs at the beginning, middle and end of flowering between the treatments, as well as whether seed set differs based on style “freshness” in the pulse treatment. They also scanned the heads with achenes separated out by location in the head.

Start year: 2019

Location: exPt 2, Douglas County, MN

Overlaps with: Flowering phenology in experimental plots, common garden experiment

Data/materials collected: The team harvested 48 heads in the experiment which have been cleaned and are ready to be randomized and x-rayed at the CBG. Each head has 8 envelopes associated with it (7 envelopes of achenes and 1 of chaff.)

Maps and datasheets for the field experiment are located at ~Dropbox\teamEchinacea2019\pulseSteady

The cleaning protocol and datasheets relevant to cleaning are located at ~Dropbox\CGData\150_clean\clean2019\inb2PulseSteady