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!

A Full Lab

Hi Flog,

It’s business as usual here at CBG, and we’re hard at work trying to finish counting the achenes from heads that were harvested in 2015. It may sound like we’re a little behind on counting, but that’s only because there’s simply so many achenes to count! In 2018, volunteers at the project counted over 800,000 achenes, and we’re certainly striving to beat that in 2019.

Tuesdays are particularly fun in the lab because it is far and away the most full time. Marty and Allen count achenes while Laura classifies. Shelley is randomizing and Naomi is cleaning. All in the name of progress! Hopefully as some of our volunteers return from their winter getaways we’ll start grinding through some of the 2016 counting, and we’ll certainly start cleaning all the heads from 2018 within the month.

Our full lab!

Look for more updates soon on how our counting and cleaning is going!


all quiet on the eastern front

Hi flog,

I’m still here! In Chicago, that is. Hilary, the volunteers, and I have been quietly and methodically catching up on lab work for the last month. An update on our progress:

  • Earlier this week, Art completed counting the last achenes from 2014! Now we have estimates of seed set for every plant harvested in 2014. He and Aldo will now count achenes from one of the inbreeding experiments, before moving on to P2, which Lois has been working on since March.
  • Anne has finished scanning qGen_a in 2015. These have been uploaded and are ready to be counted.
  • Thanks to Char, Susie, Suzanne, Shelley and Laura, we are almost done randomizing qGen_a in 2015. These guys finished randomizing the massive P2 experiment last month. I think they are randomizing so quickly I am going to have to ask some of them to switch to cleaning soon.
  • Speaking of cleaning, there are only 31 heads left from 2015 to clean. Wow! That is less than 1% of that year’s massive harvest of over 3200 heads. Soon, they will start the much smaller and more manageable harvest of 2016, which had only 1060 heads. Naomi, Allen and Susie have done a lot of the cleaning recently.
  • Leslie and Kathryn have been rechecking very efficiently and providing good, clean achene packets for scanning. They are currently rechecking qGen_b from 2015.
  • Art and Anne have picked up in assembling sheets for x-raying in the Fall. All of 2013 and 2014’s sheets have been assembled, so they are assembling sheets from P2 in 2015. Today Anne assembled over 10 sheets! In her words it was, “kinda meditative”.

Echinacea is only starting to flower in Minnesota, but it has been flowering here at the Botanic Garden for a few weeks now. I’ve taken some pictures of some of the pollinators I’ve seen!

Just a reminder that it’s not just bees that feed on pollen! Here is a fly I saw sitting directly on an anther . Interestingly, I didn’t see it move around the head — I wonder how much pollen it was actually transferring.


This bumblebee was going to down on this Echinacea pallida outside the Rice building! This surprised me because Stuart said he has only once ever seen any type of bumblebee pollinating angustifolia.

In other exciting news, today we had a power outage at CBG due to construction! This meant that I worked for part of the day in the dark. Anne and Shelley came in later to keep me company and we moved to a room with big windows to enjoy the ambient light. We were so inspired by this day without electricity that Shelley took me to Stuart and Gretel’s house, where I harvested some of the lettuce from their garden. I was happy for the lettuce, but sad because today was my last day of working with both Shelley and Anne. Hopefully I will see them again some day.

Me living off of that rich Highland Park soil! Thanks Stuart and Gretel!

Team Potluck

We had a great time at our annual lab potluck on Tuesday. We celebrated all the people in the lab, including all of the undergraduate interns. Scott told us about the smoke experiment. Then Amy explained the pollinator study from 2016. Lea talked about her projects on flowering phenology. We reviewed some of our many accomplishments in the lab, including: 1) cleaning and randomizing all 1233 heads from exPt2 in 2015, 2) counting 478,069 achenes from 3078 heads, 3) scanning 1710 images, 4) assembling 198 xray sheets. This year Lois, our reigning “achene queen,” counted her 800,000th achene and Sam counted his 250,000th! This summer we have ambitious plans for the field and lab. It was a lot of fun and the food was great–an incredibly diverse spread of tasty dishes.

We took a group photo:

First row (L to R): Lois, Art, Leslie, Amy, Laura; Second row: Susie, Char, Gretel, Anne, Stuart, Allen, Mike, Ivy, Lea, Scott, Shelley. Not pictured: Aldo, Susan, Michele, Marty, Naomi, Sam, Kathryn, Lou, Suzanne, Nicolette, Sarah.

Thanks for a great year!

Lois counted her 800,000th achene today

Lois Jackim, citizen scientist working on Team Echinacea since 2009, counted her 800,000th Echinacea achene this morning around 9:30 AM. Scientists from the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University were present as Lois was presented with a giant check thanking her for her dedication to plant science and conservation. Lois wore her “Achene Queen” crown, which she earned in 2015 after surpassing the half-million mark. Lois was not aware she was so close to the 800,000 milestone.

Counting fruits, also known as achenes in Echinacea, is a critical activity for scientists measuring reproductive fitness of plants. The Echinacea Project conducts experiments to assess environmental and genetic factors that influence plant fitness. Echinacea Project research contributes to basic ecological and evolutionary science in addition to informing conservation of perennial plants and prairies.

Other citizen scientists present this morning were cleaning and preparing seedheads and making digital images for counting. Each year the Echinacea project harvests heads from experimental plots and volunteer citizen scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden count all achenes from each head. Citizen scientists also x-ray samples of achenes from each head to count how many of the achenes were pollinated.

Team Echinacea celebrates Lois counting 800,000 achenes

Stuart presents Lois with a giant check to thank her for counting over 800,000 achenes.