More work with E. angustifolia x E. pallida crosses

This January Stuart and Gretel kindly hosted me in Chicago and gave me the opportunity to spend a few weeks working in the Echinacea Project lab continuing my research from the summer. Here is my final paper with some interesting results.


Wednesday, August 15th

Today dawned slightly warmer than the past few days, and we spent a beautiful morning doing demography out at Staffanson. The west side of Staffanson was burned late this spring setting things back a little later than the east side and the remnants, and the big blue stem and indian grass are now in full bloom and about five feet tall. Dichanthelium is flowering, and I even saw a phlox, which I haven’t seen for weeks at any other site. The echinacea there have all finished flowering, but many still boast pink ray florets. The recent burn also removed all of the duff that we often have to dig through to find tags and check for nearby echinacea, and left everything greener and softer. One other result of the burn was this pencil that I found next to the last plant I demo’d. It looks like someone forgot to remove it from seedling searches…you can see the part that was sticking in the ground survived the flames.


It was Andrew’s last day today, he and Jill left after lunch to present their posters at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, and only Jill will return. To send him off we had rootbeer floats after a lunch which was also enhanced with bowls of delicious cucumbers, cantaloupe and grapes from the Wagenius gardens.

This afternoon we all had some time to work on our independent projects. Although we presented posters last Thursday I think all of us have plenty more that we could do. In some ways I feel like I have more work to do than when I started this summer, although much of it is still just ideas of new projects or parts of my project that I could build on if had more time. I did take the opportunity to get in a little more fieldwork, and Gretel drove out to Hegg Lake with me to help gather more data. We GPSed all of the plants for my crossing experiment again (the first time around the files got a little mixed up) as well as all flowering plants in my population of E. angustifolia. We also began developing a protocol to measure leaf pubescence for my characteristics study. From each plant we cut off the end of a leaf to be pressed and viewed under a scope, and then I painted a small patch of “new skin” (liquid band-aid) on the top of the leaf, waited for it to dry, peeled it off and mounted it on a slide also to look at under a microscope. While we were out there I completely lost track of time, and when Kelly called to see if we were done yet I was shocked to realize that it was already 5:30!

Saturday, August 11th

Saturday was a quiet day for those of us living at the town hall. Katherine biked in to the Hjelm house to work on her aphid addition and exclusion project and I spent a few hours at Hegg Lake repainting the last of the bracts from my crosses and harvesting the first pallida head. Kelly and Andrew were both away for the day, and everyone else took a needed break and spent the day relaxing.
In the evening we took out our instruments and all played together for the first time of the summer. I’m not sure how it worked out that we didn’t get around to playing together until Lydia’s last night, but somehow that’s just how it worked out. I’m glad we did get the chance to all play together.


Some of my painted bracts


playing music, photo courtesy of Jill

E. angustifolia and E. pallida crossing data- Shona Sanford-Long

Here’s all of my data from my crossing experiment and the R script that I used to analyze it! I’ll put up a metadata sheet soon.

final crossing script.txt

Shona’s Poster

Here’s the poster I will be presenting at the University of Minnesota on Thursday.
Shona Sanford-Long_compatibility poster_small.pdf

Tuesday, July 31st

Oops!! I had an entry written for Tuesday, just waiting for the obligatory photograph, but somehow my title was published and nothing else was saved. So here is the delayed version of Tuesday’s events, maybe the extra hindsight will shed a different light on our activities…
We started off the morning with an hour of rechecks (Stuart and Gretel have limited the amount of time we are allowed to spend on them to limit the frustrating and demoralizing experience of looking for plant after plant and rarely finding any trace). It’s not all bad though, because among the strings of can’t finds, there is, on rare occasion, a tiny, fuzzy, triple lined leaf of echinacea peaking through the grasses (or sometimes a large and blatantly obvious one), and finding one of those is always worth a shout of joy.
Later, Maria, Gretel and I returned to the common garden to remeasure a few other plants whose measurements didn’t quite seem normal. We searched in vain for a black head someone recorded a no twist tie as being on the same head as, removed a few staples where there had been no records of staples ever being placed, and remeasured a head whose height had been recorded as 95cm (normal for pallida maybe, but not angustifolia).
In the afternoon Katherine, Jill, and Stuart took the GPS out to finish demography at On 27.
The rest of the day we spent working on independent projects. We’ve found out that our posters need to be finished by 10am next Monday so I think we all appreciated a little extra time. I spent most of my time on R again, it would probably take me less time if Stuart just told me exactly what to do, but figuring out what I can on my own is more rewarding, and this way I actually understand what I’m doing and will be able to figure out R again next time I need it. Kelly and I did spend about two or three hours trying to figure out how to show the number of flowers that had started flowering by each day, and after a few premature high fives, and one or two nudges in the right direction from Stuart we eventually produced a beautiful graph. At least it will be once Kelly changes the axis labels from accumprop and sDints and makes it so those of us who don’t know what those mean can make sense of what it means.

Working out in the common garden recently the views have been changing. Goldenrod is in full bloom along the edges and Big Blue Stem and Indian Grass have sent up tall stems (culms) and begun flowering. Some of the culms reach up above my head and I makes me wonder what it would have been like to walk through a prairie full of them.
Indian Grass- Sorghastrum nutans

indian grass.JPG


Tuesday, July 24th

Tuesday morning marked the end of measuring in the common garden!!!! It was slightly anticlimactic with only one and a half rows left to finish but it is still rewarding to be finished.

It was a rainy morning so we didn’t get out to the common garden until about 10:30, but we had time to pull all of the thistles between measuring and lunch. Now there will be one less prickly plant to avoid when we return to recheck missing plants and contradictory records in the next few weeks.

While the rest of us were working inside or in the common garden Katherine and Jill spent a long morning at work in the remnants performing their aphid and any survey. They made significant progress, leaving only two small sites to finish on wednesday, and found Kelly’s sunglasses that she had lost at Staffanson.

We had been planning to spend the afternoon measuring in the common garden, but since we finished earlier than expected we had the rest of the day to work on individual projects. Many of us took the opportunity to prepare abstracts for submission to the University of Minnesota for the poster session we will be presenting at on August 9th. It turns out that abstracts become more challenging to write when you are still floundering through R endeavoring to analyse your results, but as Stuart reminded us, all (or most) of the other presenters are likely to be facing the same challenges.

I haven’t been very good about taking photos recently, but while I’m on the topic of individual projects here are two photos that relate to my work. The first one is E. angustifolia and the second is E. pallida. You can see how they have a slightly different appearance.


Friday, July 20th

Friday morning started out with a quick round of phenology in the common garden. Split between four or five of us it only took about 20 minutes each and it seems like flowering is just about done! From what every one who has been here in previous years, this year appears to be earlier than usual.
After phenology we all had a few hours to work on our individual projects. Although a few people are still doing fieldwork, most of us are done or beginning to wrap up, and moving on to data analysis. I transferred my first data set to R and started attempting to figure out how to organize it with some help from Stuart.

We had an early lunch to allow for a longer stretch of work in the afternoon and managed to finish measuring at Jennifer’s plot at Hegg Lake a few minutes after 5pm. We took a short and very welcome break halfway through for watermelon that Jennifer brought. And managed not to loose any surveying pins, despite me forgetting to pick up the pile I made and Maria’s attempts to hide one in her flag bag.

Monday, July 9th, A Dearth of Orchids

This morning most of us got a taste of Maria’s regular schedule when we arrived at the Hjelm house by 6am for a special trip. We drove three hours Northwest to the Pembina Trail Preserve to help Gretel count western prairie fringed orchids for her work with the Nature Conservancy.

Unfortunately it seems to be a bad year for orchids and we only managed to find one that wasn’t even in either of the grids we were searching (In previous years there have been as many as 2,000 in the combined grids). As we were searching we met another group that was surveying the entire preserve, and they reported that they had only found 23 flowering orchids, so I guess we were lucky to see any at all!
here is the one flowering orchid we did see:
Gretel isn’t sure exactly what has caused this sad state, but a few of her hypotheses are the late frost, a potential disease, or drier conditions than in previous years.

Although we were disappointed by the lack of orchids, we did see many new plant species and wildlife that we haven’t seen around K-town. Here are a few of them:

Spiraea alba
prairie loosestrife- Lysimachia quadriflora
Showy milkweed-Asclepias speciosa
Helianthus maximiliani
along with an insect that I have yet to identify:
I wasn’t able to get photos of any of the birds, but we saw northern harriers, red tailed hawks, meadow larks, king birds, bobolinks, a whole flock of sandhill cranes, an upland sandpiper, an american bittern (Stuart claims that they are also called prairie pump handles for the sound they make), and a dick cissel perched on a shrub near the path singing to whoever was listening.
On the way home, after ridding ourselves of as many ticks as possible, Gretel treated us all to delicious locally made ice cream, and dinner at a Mexican restaurant, in that order.

While we were all gone Katherine and Maria stayed behind to work on their projects.
Maria collected dichanthelium seeds and kept track of phenology at Hegg Lake, and Katherine cleaned and entered data.

Thursday, July 5

After three very hot days, the humidity dropped slightly today, to the point where we weren’t all sweating just standing outside, and there was even a nice breeze off and on.
As usual most of us spent the morning working on individual projects.
Kelly and Lydia helped Katherine and Jill with their projects and collected lots of ants.
Gretel and Andrew have teamed up to add a new piece to Andrew’s pollinator efficiency project where they will paint the bracts of pollinated styles, germinate seeds, and determine their genetic heritage to gain a better idea of how much pollen bees spread and from where (maybe one of them will explain more about that later).
Maria and I were out at Hegg Lake again, but it looks like I’ll be done with my crosses by the end of the week! So soon I’ll be able to start the next part of my project and help more with the main group work.
In the afternoon the whole crew went out into the common garden to work on measuring and we worked quickly enough that we even managed to finish a little bit early.
It’s only my fourth week here but I already feel like the colors of the prairie and the flowers I see are changing.
Here is a photo of one of my favorites that I’m beginning to see less frequently.
Lilium philidelphicum: