Seed counting milestone

Chicago Botanic Garden volunteer and community scientist Allen Wagner just counted his 1,500,001st Echinacea fruit today. Allen counts fruits of plants from science projects that shed light on pollination of purple coneflowers in experimental plots and in natural prairies. Allen has collected data for the Echinacea Project research initiative since 2017 to help us learn about the effects of prescribed fire on plant reproduction and about the magnitude of inbreeding depression in fragmented prairie populations.

Thank you Allen for your dedicated service to the Echinacea project, to advancing science, and to the conservation of prairie habitat!

Alan has been a volunteer at the Chicago Botanic Garden for 19 years and has been working on the Echinacea project in the plant reproductive biology lab at the Chicago at the plant conservation sign center since 2017. For his dedication, and speediness, Allen has been invested as the Count of Achene County and CEO of Echinacea Inc. What’s next… President of the Echi-nation?

NB. ‘Achene’ /uh-keen/ is the technical term for an Echinacea fruit.

Enthroning the Empress Of Echinacea

On the final Tuesday of March, the Echinacea Project honored our most recent inductee to the Achene County royal court. One of our loyal volunteers, Char Schweingruber, was crowned the Empress of Echinacea! This is a prestigious title reserved for a citizen who has demonstrated a longtime dedication to the lab, a mastery of cleaning Echinacea heads and a passion for conservation and restoration.

Char has been a volunteer at CBG since 1993. She began much of her volunteer career outdoors doing restoration work in the natural areas of the garden, especially in our beloved prairie ecosystem! She has been involved in the Echinacea Project since its inception when Stuart began at the garden in 2001. She joined a small group of volunteers that spearheaded our ACE protocol where Echinacea seeds are cleaned, counted and assessed for pollination rates. These days, Char is an expert at cleaning Echinacea heads and is essential in keeping our lab process moving. We appreciate our volunteers, like Char, who dedicate their time to the Echinacea Project!

The ceremony involved a speech from Stuart, the conferring of the royal sash, and a delicious strawberry layer cake baked fresh by Alex! As Tuesdays are the day where we have the most volunteers in the lab, it was great to celebrate all of Char’s hard work with a large group of volunteers and CBG staff members.

If you see Char walking in the halls of the Plant Science building, don’t forget to congratulate her on her new title (and maybe give a proper bow or curtsy, if you feel inclined)!

Allen’s Investiture

Hear ye, hear ye! On December 14th of 2022, members of Achene County celebrated volunteer Allen Wagner for his service. In 2022 alone, Allen has worked over 683 hours and counted over 52,653 achenes thus far. However, Allen has been an essential member of Team Echinacea for many years and has been a volunteer at the Chicago Botanic Gardens for 17 years! The celebration began with an official proclamation from Stuart, our town crier. Allen was given the honorific of “The Count of Achene County”.

No noble is complete without their regal garb. Along with the title of “The Count”, Allen received his black and purple royal mantle and an all-powerful Echinacea scepter. Now everyone in the county will recognize our royal member.

There was quite the crowd for this special coronation! All great celebrations involve some sweet treat, so Alex made a delicious chocolate cake for the occasion. The cake was frosted so when you cut it into slices, the slices looked like achenes!

Allen is just one of the many volunteers who keep this village running. We are so thankful for all their hard work and dedication!

Remnant 2022 harvest summary

This summer, we harvested 330 Echinacea angustifolia heads from 23 prairie remnants. Remnant harvest started on August 16th and ended on September 14th, when we finally collected the last 4 heads, 3 at Steven’s Approach and 1 at Landfill West. We harvested the most heads on August 23rd, a total of 109 heads in one day. The heads are located in 15 gbags labeled RA-RP (there is no gbag RJ).

We only visited sites where we recorded phenology this summer, so we harvested from fewer sites than last year. We did not harvest from Aanenson, East Elk Lake Road, Near Town Hall, On 27, Riley, Railroad, or Town Hall.

Volunteers Luk and Sue clean rem2022 heads in the lab

After Manogya and I completed data entry on the harvest list, I inventoried all of the bags that we brought back to the lab. There were a few mysteries to solve. We had several extra heads, but they mostly turned out to be heads that were supposed to be harvested, but someone forgot to check them off on the harvest datasheet, so it looked like they were missing. However, there was one perplexing puzzle that took some sleuthing to unravel. Two different people claimed to have harvested a head with a black twist tie from plant 18066 at Landfill West. In the lab, I found two heads with black twist ties labeled 18066, but I knew that they couldn’t both be the same plant. I donned my Sherlock hat and examined all the available evidence: survey, demography, and phenology data. From the survey data, I figured out that plant 18066’s neighbor, plant 27711, also had a head with black twist tie, so one of the duplicate heads was likely from the nearby plant. The phenology data revealed that 27711’s head had white gunk on it during the summer, and it had more rows of achenes than 18066’s head. Sure enough, one of the heads was larger than the other and had a speck of white on it. Mystery solved! I removed the imposter from the bag of heads to clean.

The volunteers started cleaning the 2022 remnant heads on October 11th. They are currently working on gbag RE, bag 5 of 15, so they are making great progress.

Congrats volunteers and students!

It’s been a busy spring at the lab: 11 volunteers and 6 students from Northwestern and Lake Forest College contributed to the Echinacea Project. We are currently wrapping up before field season starts, and we want to celebrate everything they accomplished in the last few months! Since January, volunteers and students:

  • Finished cleaning cg2018 (4 bags)
  • Cleaned 9 bags from cg2019 (only 4 left!)
  • Finished scanning rem2020 and rem2021 (359 heads)
  • Counted 194 heads from rem2020
  • Finished randomizing rem2020 (221 heads)
  • Randomized 227 heads from rem2021

And that’s just Echinacea. People also worked on several other prairie species: Liatris aspera, Lilium philadelphicum, and Andropogon gerardii.

In total, volunteers and cleaned ~1,014 Echinacea heads, scanned 359 heads, counted 194 heads, and randomized 448 heads. Citizen science at its best!

There are 106 heads from rem2021 left to randomize. Can we finish by next week???

Cleaning 2018 is done!

On Friday, volunteers Marty and Mike finished cleaning the last batch of heads from the 2018 common garden experiment. Huzzah! The volunteers had been working on the 2018 heads back before the pandemic started, and after a long break, 2018 is finally done. Many thanks to all the volunteers who made this possible, especially the 2021-2022 crew: Allen, Char, Elif, Laura, Luk, Marty, Mike, and Suzanne! Now, we have a lot of rechecking to do.

ACE progress update

So far this year, we have sadly not been able to have volunteers in the lab due to the continuing threat of COVID-19. However, over the last few months, we made quite a bit of progress on the remnant Echinacea harvests from 2020 and 2021. In the fall, we had help from volunteers, students from Lake Forest College, and externs from Carleton College. Thanks for your help! In January, Sophia finished cleaning the last head from 2021, which was an exciting accomplishment.

To track our progress in the lab, I created an R script to visualize the various steps of the ACE process for each batch of Echinacea. The figures for rem2020 and rem2021 are included here. Hopefully, this method will work for the cg harvests as well.

The ACE stages are listed along the x-axis, and the number of Echinacea heads are on the y-axis. The light blue shows how much we have completed, and the dark blue shows what remains to be done. The small numbers on each bar indicate the corresponding number of heads, and the width of the bars is roughly proportional to the amount of time each step takes. Along the top, the dates indicate the last day that the totals for each stage were updated.

The script to create these graphs can be found here: echinaceasandbox/oop/trackAceProgressTest.R

Busy time in the lab at CBG!

Since Stuart and Team Echinacea have started summer field work in Minnesota, you might guess the lab at CBG slowed down- but you would be wrong! Last week we finished cleaning another bag of Echinacea heads, and this week we’ve gone through over half of the next bag! People counting achenes and classifying x-rays have also been super productive, and some of the newer volunteers finally got their official CBG badges. So even though there’s a lot going on in Minnesota, we’re still busy back in Chicago. Stay tuned for more lab updates throughout the summer.

From right to left, Char is cleaning, Aldo and Alan are counting, Tessa is cleaning, and Art is chatting because he was actually working outside this morning!

Welcome Priti!

Hi Flog!

As I’ve said before, here at the Echinacea Project we rely pretty heavily on the work done by our volunteers. That is why I am so excited to introduce you to the newest member of Team Echinacea: Priti!

Priti has been working in the seed bank here at the Plant Conservation Science Center, but has just started working our lab today. Priti will be joining us on Fridays to clean heads — the first step to processing echinacea heads, and one of the most important.

Priti cleaning a head

We’re thrilled to have Priti as part of the team!

Allen hits the 250,000 achene landmark

Here on the flog, we like to talk about how much of the important work around the lab is done by our volunteers. Last week Allen, one of our long-term volunteers, hit a huge milestone and showed us just how much he does for the project.

Allen has officially counted a quarter of a million achenes.

Allen reached this number faster than usual, counting up to his quarter million in just a bit over two years. We’re super thankful for all of the work Allen has done for the project. And of course, what better way to show our thanks than a big check?

Allen, Stuart, and a big check

In the future, Allen will continue to count achenes and hopefully hit many more large milestones in his counting.

Thank you Allen!