Friday: Stormy Staffanson (& more!)

This morning the crew split up, heading out to work on various tasks: remnant phenology, p7&9 phenology, and p2 measuring. P2 was peaceful, and measuring is like a game of I-spy: can you spot the echinacea in this picture?

Echinacea hidden in the grass, likely around position 47

After lunch and a successful goat herding (they love a new pasture!), the team got to head to Staffanson, where we got to see how the rolling prairie has changed since we first visited in early June. One of my favorite plants to see was Allium stellatum, or the prairie onion! The team spread out across the prairie, searching for flowering echinacea and following speedy Emma as she staked to a subset of the plants for total demo. Staffanson was stunning, and even more fun was watching the afternoon storm roll in. Eventually, we had to head back for fear of getting soaked – but we didn’t made it, so we got a quick shower before heading home for the day.

Overall, Friday was a breeze, and filled with beautiful prairies and as usual, lots of echinacea. đŸ™‚

Beez in the Trap(s): A YPT Update

As July comes to an end, today marks the fourth time that Alex and I have put out 39 yellow pan traps, all at randomly selected locations. This project is a continuation of previous years of data collection on pollinator abundance along gravel roadsides, and I’ve had a great time observing both the specimens we collect and the floral resources surrounding the traps. The beginning of this project required some manual labor, as each location needed to have a stake pounded into the ground.

Each week, the traps go out once. I also visit every trap and take note of the floral resources that surround the trap, so that later on we can determine if there’s any correlation between the amount and types of floral resources (if any) and the amount of bees we collect. Many of the traps are adjacent to corn and soybean fields, and besides brome, there is little plant diversity. I see a lot of alfalfa and thistle, and there’s soon to be a lot of goldenrod. However, I’ve seen plenty of cool bee species, from little black bees like Lasioglossum, as well as green bees, like Augochlorella.

It’s been great so far seeing how each trap differs in the specimens we collect and thinking about how this may be influenced by the surrounding area as well as the gravel road. I’m excited to see where the summer goes and how the floral resources and bees we collect might change!

Fun fact: This project is so intriguing to scientists across America (and the globe), that Nicki Minaj herself wrote her iconic song, Beez in the Trap, about it!

(Well, not really. But I listen to it every time I go out to collect the traps.)

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

Cake and Bugs!

This morning, the crew headed out to do phenology as usual, and we found that we were able to finish phen in record time. Because much of the flowers in the remnant plots are finishing up the flowering portion of their lifecycle, we were left wondering: what could we do in the extra time before lunch?

The answer: bug hunt.

(Actually, we headed to do phen in experimental plots 7 & 9 while the rest of the crew headed to do total demo.)

During the bug hunt, instead of us finding the bug, the bug found us. The recent cicada hatch has turned the tables for us, with cicadas often deciding that we are the best tree sized object to land on in the fields. Today a cicada landed on me, so naturally, a photoshoot ensued.

After the exciting insect of the morning, lunch brought an even better surprise: a Team Echinacea cake brought by Britney. The cake presented the crew with their second challenge of the day: Were the flowers also made of cake? (No, but don’t worry, it was Echinacea purpurea, not angustifolia.)

So pretty, and even tastier than it looks!

After lunch, we headed out to P2 to start our measuring journey. This meant we got to use the biggest measuring tape that G3 can fit. It also doubles as a very high fashion scarf (so camp!), demonstrated here by Daytona.

While measuring, we also discovered several gopher holes (discovered is synonymous with fell into, depending on who you are). These gopher holes had the capability of shrinking people, so we decided to shrink Joey.

To end our afternoon of measuring, we had another insect photoshoot. This time, a katydid came to visit!

Oops, All Brome: Experimental Plots!

Today, most of Team Echinacea spent their morning and afternoon in the experimental plots P1 and p8, measuring phenology. Alex and I also went and placed the yellow pan traps out for the day – this is now the second day that we’ve put the traps out, and we got a lot of flies again, but some pollinators as well. Phenology in the plots included a lot of echinacea, but also included a lot of other organisms, like the ants and their aphid farms we observed on the echinacea! The brome grass is getting pretty tall in P8, but this didn’t stop us from finding the echinacea plants hidden beneath.

After work, the crew headed to the Elk Lake House, where Mia, Alex and Lindsey made some great curry for everyone to enjoy. We also played several rounds of the game Empire, where we had to remember nicknames we made up on the spot, and if we could figure out what people’s created nicknames were, we could expand our empire!

Last, but not least, the echinacea project team is pleased to announce we are collaborating with Captain Crunch to bring you a new spin on Captain Crunch: All Brome (Created by our very own Johanna)!

Featuring the brome we see so much of in the plots

Saturday Camping at Big Stone Lake

This last Saturday, Alex, Mia, and the Andes Crew packed up for a mini camping trip at Big Stone Lake, a state park right next to the South Dakotan border.

The Campers

When exploring the park, we found lots of critters, including the resident skink of the fallen tree at our campsite.

Later, we played Catan – and Joey and Alex won, but Mia and Geena are determined to win in a rematch.

Lastly, before heading back, we were determined to find a South Dakota sign, just to prove we went there (Jo walked there but didn’t find a sign, so we needed some evidence).

We made it to the land of great faces and places!

An Orchid Expedition

Today, Team Echinacea became Team Platanthera. Heading 2 hours north to Fertile, MN, the team visited Pembina Trail Scientific and Natural Area (we made sure to stop for donuts). This area is part of a bigger project called the Glacial Ridge Project, a prairie and wetland restoration project run by the Nature Conservancy.

Once the team arrived, rather than the dry tallgrass prairies we’ve become accustomed to, we were met with plants that thrived in the standing 6in of water that covered much of the prairie. Tromping through the water, we also soon met our plant of the day: Platanthera praeclara, the Prairie Fringed Orchid. With their famous fringe and long corollas to match the long proboscis of their Sphingid pollinators, these flowers stand out in the prairie – and we got to spend our day searching and surveying them!

Finding just over 80 orchids, the team had a ton of fun in the field, and it wasn’t just orchids that caught our attention. We also found a vole (see slideshow), plenty of frogs, some other great plants (including lots of Asclepias incarnata), and overall had a great time!

Before heading to get tacos for dinner, the team also got the chance to explore Agassiz Dunes Scientific and Natural Area, where we saw even more cool plants, my favorite being Delphinium. Overall, the team had a great time learning about even more prairie plants and restoration projects, and exploring more of the ecosystems of MN!

After all this, and after a great team dinner, I don’t think anyone on Team Echinacea (Team Platanthera?) will have trouble sleeping tonight.

Tuesday: Decapitating Echinacea pallida!

Today marked the second day that the team found Echinacea in flower! As we continue our hard work taking demo and survey on all of the plants that seem like they are going to flower this summer, we’re also learning what we’ll be looking for when we start phenology shortly.

An Echinacea featuring some anthers and the rays extended.

After lunch we had the best task of the day: Demoing and decapitating Echinacea pallida – which is a non-native species that we don’t want cross pollinating our neighboring experimental plots. We finally got to figure out why we’re not supposed to twist the Echinacea heads: they really do cause the head to fall off.

Lastly, Stuart hosted team dinner at the Hjelm house, and after having some great burritos, Jared got to use his fire-starting skills to create a bonfire for the team (the team just used our foraging skills to find the best marshmallow sticks).

Jo demonstrating how best to sneak up on a fire, so that you don’t get too hot as you roast your marshmallow.

A Typical Tuesday: Data and Dancing

To start the day, Team Echinacea split into two groups – one group went to Loeffler Corner W and Yellow Orchid Hill to look for flowering echinacea heads, and the other went to Aanenson to collect demographic data on the flowering heads that they worked hard to find the previous day. Some of the Aanenson crew also got to communicate with the International Space Station as they learned to use the GPS unit for survey data.

Utilizing echinacea eyes

After lunch, Team Echinacea regrouped for a team data collection effort at P10, where the wind made it difficult to stand up straight. Squatting to measure the small echinacea planted in these plots was a little less difficult, but we still had to do some hat chasing throughout the afternoon. Despite the wind, we managed to find a record leaf measurement of 21cm tall.

(Let’s pretend like the pink flags don’t mean we couldn’t find a plant)

After measuring P10, the team headed to Andes where a deluxe team dinner of sweet potato tacos was to be served. But the tacos were only the beginning: Sophia made a pineapple upside down (right-side up?) cake that was sweet enough to fuel a Cotton Eyed Joe line dance, porch swinging, and hills exploring that followed. Legend has it that there’s even a bunker we could’ve gone to during the storms last night, but that’s yet to be discovered.

Alex surveying the hills
And finally, the video you’ve all been waiting for: Lindsey, Johanna, Joey, Emma and Alex demonstrating their line dancing skills

Geena Zebrasky

Echinacea Project 2022

Biology and Geography, Gustavus Adolphus College 2023

Research Interests

I am interested in studying anything related to the interactions between plants and insects, as well as humans. Ecosystem studies and trophic interactions are fascinating to me, and I’m particularly interested in how humans fit into this and shape these interactions. The study of pollinators in altered habitats combines all of my interests quite nicely, from plant communities to nearby habitat to insect diversity!


I am from Forest Lake, Minnesota. In my spare time I like to read (particularly nonfiction, but I’ve been trying to read more fiction as of late) and listen to music – I love new music, and listening to recommendations from friends is one of my favorite things to do. I also like to be active, whether that’s lifting, walking my dog Jupiter, or hiking. I also enjoy knitting and cooking – I love to try out new recipes!

Lastly, here’s a photo of me!