A Tale of Flora and Fauna

Today the team learned about Hesperostipa spartea (Stipa) which is affectionately known as porcupine grass. After reviewing the protocol for collection, we made our way down to experimental plot p01 where we received a lesson on identifying flowering Stipa and counting the fruits (imagine a long seed with a tail). We documented the number of culms (stems) and fruits as well as missing fruit in our field notes. This was only the first step but the information collected will help determine how the fitness – an organisms ability to survive and reproduce in an ecosystem – of Stipa grown in experimental plots differs from Stipa growing in prairie remnants.

Dr. Wagenius teaching team Echinacea how to identify Hesperostipa spartea in experimental plot p01.

Later that afternoon, a small team retrieved and deployed emergence traps. The contents of the traps were examined and the specimens were prepared for classification.

Ian straining the contents of an emergence trap.
The contents of an emergence trap. That’s a big bee!

June 21st

Today was a busy Friday full of many activities! It is officially the first day of summer! Ning, Liam, and Maddie worked in P1 today fixing flags that might be out of place or not in line and also putting signs for positions so it is easier to know where you are. They also checked the flags in the 99 garden. Zach and Emma headed out to P8, where they watered the prairie turnips planted yesterday and planted extra plants. An interesting thing they noticed was that the prairie turnips seemed eaten across the first 3 rows. The team hypothesized that it might be hungry rodent. Ian helped Elise learn how to use the GPS and how to shoot some BB points. 

At lunch, the team had a discussion about their ABTs (And, But, So), which are goals for what each person wants to research or study further this year. There were many great ideas and lots of feedback in our discussion.

In the afternoon, Liam and Zach shot some more BB points. Ian, Maddie, Elise, and Emma and placed some more emergence traps! 

Zach with an emergence trap placed yesterday(6/20/2024)

Day in the Life

Today was a full day for team Echinacea! Not only is it Elise’s first day on the team, but it’s also summer solstice. This morning Brittany and I went out to Staffanson Prairie Preserve West to finish shooting bb-points. While another team started flagging/planting P8 for a new experiment. The new common garden experiment being added to P8 involves planting prairie turnip to learn how to grow and measure the species while establishing a basis for future studies.

This afternoon was busy finishing up planting in P8 while a handful of others went out and set the first emergence traps for the season! Woot woot!

Many more updates to come, along with daily posts from other members of the team.

Hailey (left) and Maddie (right) flagging in P8.

Wyatt (left) and Elise (right) standing with some prairie turnip plugs.

Brittany (left) and Emma (right) planting some turnips in P8.

first day of field season

Today begins the field season! We had many activities planned to get everyone off to a good start for a productive and learning-filled summer.

  • introductions
  • safety training
  • getting gear
  • visiting sites
  • lunch
  • mapping orientation
  • directed observations & flogging
  • scheduling rest of week

We wrapped up with watermelon and a group photo:

First row: Ning, Hailey, Abby, Liam. 2nd row: Emma, Jared, Ian, Wyatt, Maddie, Brittany. Not pictured: Zach & Elise will start next week because their schools run late. Ruth will come up Thursday or Friday. Stuart took the photo.

Observations at LCW and YOHW

  1. LCW- The study plot sits at the intersection of two roads, one of which is fairly busy. There were copious amounts of tall Brome grasses (cool season plant), and Lead plants (legume). These plants were observed throughout the study plot. There were also prairie roses lining about 5 feet of the roadside. We also observed one Echinacea angustifolia plant near the roadside. The study plot also contained trees and shrubs. It is suspected that this area was not involved in a recent burn. My group came to this conclusion based on the presence dried plant matter under the living plants. If there were a recent burn in this area, this would not be observed. There were not many flowering plants in this area. I hypothesize that it may be too early in the season or there is a lack of pollinators in the area.
  2. YOHW- The study plot is located in an area with less observed vehicle traffic. There were no tall grasses or dead plant matter. We observed very few identifiable plant species. I hypothesize that this area was burned in the spring. In conclusion, these sites were vastly different. We observed far more plant species at the LCW study plot likely because the area had not undergone a recent burn.
Ning and Liam making observations at YOHW.

ALF West vs ALF East

For our first day we did direct observations with the goal of practicing your observational skills along with plant ID for our four plant groups of focus: C3 grasses, C4 grasses, legumes, and forbs. The group I was placed in looked at sites ALF East and ALF West. 

ALF West was our first stop. This site featured a fence line and natural hills that has been cut through by a gravel road. The site consisted mainly of C3 grasses. In the ditch and closer to the road we were able to see a handful of different legume and forb species, but the site lacked diversity in general. Due to this lack of diversity and over taking of C3 grasses the site appears to have not had a prescribed fire for a few years. Fortunately, we were able to see some emerging coneflower which is always exciting! 

ALF East was very different in diversity in comparison to ALF West. Based on visual observations diversity was a lot higher and most of the plant species found belonged in the legume and forb plant groups. With diversity being so much higher, and the plot featuring several plants that have appeared to have been scorched by fire it was our assumption that ALF West had experienced  prescribed fire in recent years. The landscape of ALF West not too visually different other than it featuring a corn field behind the prairie area unlike on ALF East. 

First day

Hello everybody,

My name is Liam Poitra and I am excited to be joing team echinacea for a second consecutive year. This summer I am hoping to deepen my knowledge further about the plant and animal interactions that make our prairies such dynamic ecosystems. For the first day with the whole team back, we spent the morning touring sites with Stuart and learning about common plants on the prairie. In the afternoon we worked as small groups setting out to remnants to familiarize ourselves the outcomes of burning on the prairie. Brittany, Ning, and I set out to observe 2 prairies 1 burned (yohw) and 1 unburned (loefflers corner). Yohw burned this spring was very short still all the plants were ankle height or lower and the soil was completely exposed without a thatch layer to cover it. However several plants showed great growth such as the heart shaped Alexander which seems to have already put out many leaves and was by far the plant to return the most vigorously at the site. Loefflers corner on the other hand showed plenty of brome and a thick thatch between plants. Both places seemed to have similar species however the forbs were easier to pick out at yohw

ALF West and ALF East Site Observations

Today we explored two prairie sites, one which had been burned recently and one which had not. It was startling to see the dramatic difference in the plants inhabiting each site, and the mosaicism that shows in the landscape of the burned site.

ALF West, the site that hadn’t been burned, was overwhelmingly dominated by non-native brome grass, while at the site that had burned, ALF East, we observed more diversity in grass species, as well as a very noticeable absence of the brome grass where it looked like the site had burned. We also noticed the impact of the fire on shrubs and trees in ALF East, and compared that to the new saplings coming up in ALF West. There were two Echinacea angustifolia plants that we observed in ALF West, growing in the gravel on the side of the road.

The shiny heads of the brome grass in the ditch bordering the road, with the burned area behind it

Observations from YOHW and LCW site-Ning Zhang

After reviewing the LCW site, I noticed lots of brome near the road, but not necessarily in the site. There were clustered lead plants and low grasses in the middle of the site. There were a few trees scattered throughout the site. I spotted 2 echinacea plants. The LCW site is on lower ground near a ditch and on the left side, there was a large hill. I could also see dry plants covering the soil. My group came to a conclusion that this site was not burned in the spring.

At the YOHW site, I noticed there was less plant diversity than at the LCW site. At this site, there were no tall grasses at all. The grasses and plants were very short. I saw one echinacea tag. There were medium sized shrubs that looked burnt or dried out. There was also no dry plants on the soil, which leads me to believe that this was burnt in the spring. On one bush, I could see the part near the stem was burnt or dried out, but the part near the leaves had growth. Also, at the YOHW site, I could see the soil more clearly becuase the grasses were more spread apart.

The YOHW site has much shorter grasses and plants than the LCW site. At the YOHW site, I could see the soil much clearer than at the LCW site. I suspect this difference is due to the fact that the YOHW site was burned this spring. 

Maddie Sadler

Echinacea Project 2024

I graduated from Alaska Pacific University in 2022 with a B.S in Marine and Environmental Science with a concentration in Ecology and minored in Mathematics for Environmental Science. Currently I am an incoming graduate student at Northwestern University / Chicago Botanic Garden, pursuing a M.S. in Plant Biology and Conservation starting this fall.

Pronouns: She/They 

Research Interests

I am very much interested in restoration ecology and land management. Prairies have always had a special place in my heart as my mom worked to restore the 20 acres of prairie surrounding my childhood home. My biggest interest is looking into plant-pollinator resources post fire. 


I grew up in southeast Iowa, but have been living in Illinois for the past year and half. While there I worked for a land management company specializing in prairie restoration, invasive species removal, commercial herbicide application, and prescribe fires with many of the projects being contracted by Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

When I’m not working I love to be paddle boarding, hammocking, cooking a large meal, reading with my toes in the grass, or snuggling my 5-year-old tuxedo cat named Mo.