Liatris Project Update #6

We made it to the third batch for the cleaning procedure! After completing the first batch for randomization last week, we needed to pick things up on cleaning, and we hit another promising milestone. Ultimately, we wanted the cleaning process to stay well ahead of the randomization process, and we did manage to get ahead of ourselves some on randomization last week. We made much more progress in that department than I had envisioned, and we caught up a little too much concerning cleaning progress. We focused on cleaning all this week, and now here is where things stand. There is still much more to go, but we are steadily getting there.

Smoke Experiment Updates

Last Thursday, a group of us returned to Kensington with the hopes of a successful prescribed burn. While we were up there, Alex and I also implemented the beginning of the smoke experiment. I believe this is the first flog entry solely about the smoke experiment this year, so I will give you a little rundown of what it entails!

We know that Echinacea flowering rates increase after fire, and we also know that smoke can stimulate plant germination. Smoke has been found to increase flowering rates in a few select species (Cyrtanthus ventricosus and Watsonia fourcadei). But, we don’t know if smoke increases flowering rates for Echinacea! We also are unsure what mechanism of fire (increased light, added nutrients, chemicals in smoke) increases flowering in Echinacea. Therefore, we are applying liquid smoke treatments to both basal and flowering Echinacea plants during the fall of 2022 and measuring their reproductive output during the summer of 2023.

Our smoke operation began this summer, by mapping out ~ 300 plants on the Hutchings’ property just north of the landfill. We recorded if the plant was flowering, number of heads and number of rosettes and marked the plant with a flag and a unique three-digit identifier. Throughout the summer, there were many deliberations about the methods and for this pilot study. Before leaving for Minnesota, Alex and I cleared the shelves of distilled water containers from the local Woodman’s, gathered measuring equipment from two other fellow CBG labs (thank you!) and packed up the back of the Silverado. Finally, we were ready to smoke.

We had two roles during our smoke implementation, one being a “mixer”. This person would measure an accurate ratio of smoke to water to reach our desired concentrations. We have 11 smoke concentrations in our experiment: 40%, 20%, 10%, 5%, 2.5%, 1.25%, 0.625%, 0.31%, 0.16%, 0.078% and no smoke. For each plant, we are applying approximately 1 liter of liquid. This became tricky in the field, as the back of our truck was not always level surface and the wind kept trying to steal our graduated cylinders!

The second role was being the “pourer.” Gretel and Jared came out to help us pour, which was greatly appreciated! The pourer would locate the plant that received the desired treatment and pour the liter of liquid on and around the plant within a half meter diameter.

During our trip, we were able to apply smoke treatments to 110 Echinacea plants! We hope to return to Minnesota once more this year to apply another 110 treatments, this time with improved methods and efficiency. On our first day back in Illinois, Alex and I pre-filled ~60 jugs with our desired concentrations, so we are ready to pour once we return. The next question is, how long will our hands smell like Wright’s Hickory?

Stay tuned for more smoke-related updates in the future!

Lots (and Lots) of September Updates

It’s been pretty busy here as we begin to wrap up the summer field season. We’ve been slowly chipping away at all the tasks that need to be completed before the end of next week. I hope you’re ready for a jam-packed flog post!!

1. Remnant echinacea harvest is done! We have harvested every single focal echinacea plant at each of our remnant sites. Now we just have P1 left…

2. Liatris harvesting has begun and is in full swing! Just like with Echinacea, Liatris has to be harvested at the exact right time – wait too long and all the heads on a stem may already have dispersed. We’ve been visiting our Liatris sites every 3-4 days to try and ensure we catch all of our focal plants right on time. We snip off the stalks and put them in a labeled L-bag. 

A Liatris plant that’s ready for harvest!

3. Total demo is all done! This week we finished up our very last total demography site. Pictured here: Lindsey, Alex, and I at Hegg during what was our foggiest (but prettiest!) total demo experience. 

Me and Lindsey at Hegg, Featuring Taylor the GPS in her little raincoat
Alex recording demography at another total demo site
Beautiful bottle gentians!

4. Andropogon update! Last week we collected and counted lots of remnant and pilot Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). At each randomly selected point, we used a meter stick to count the total number of Andropogon culms within a 1m radius and then harvested all the inflorescences. Counting and harvesting can take quite a while – especially if you get a particularly dense plot like this one that Alex and I counted which contained almost 200 culms (higher than last year’s record!)

The hydra Andropogon plot in question – the more heads we cut the more seemed to appear

5. We also enjoyed a little rainy day time indoors learning how to clean Asclepias seed pods from Jared – a very fun and relaxing activity. 

And here is Lindsey using the metal detector to locate nails in one of the recruitment plots. We found the nails and beat the storm – a success! 

It’s been an exciting and productive week with lots done and lots more to do! Thanks for reading 🙂

It’s September!

It’s the first week of September and despite only four days of work (thanks to Labor Day) we’ve gotten a lot done. This week in the field we went out to find and shoot Liatris neighbors! We use the GPS to record the four closest neighbors of each focal Liatris plant, and on Friday we finished every single site! Now we just wait until they’re ready to harvest…

A bumblebee spotted visiting Liatris!

We have also been harvesting a lot of Echinacea heads and have been working our way through all the plots. Some of the things we look for to determine if a head is ready for harvest are visible or loose achenes, crisp upper leaves, and a brown stem. If a plant is ready, we snip its head off and put it in an H-bag! 

Lindsey teaching me how to harvest Echinacea heads at P1

On Thursday we had a lovely dinner together and made a huge bonfire. We ended our delicious meal with 3 desserts (Alex’s chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream, AND s’mores), after which we came to the very scientific conclusion that eating dessert does in fact expand your stomach. 

We also made two goat visits this week!! Here they are enjoying their favorite snack (buckthorn).

I’ve had such a great first week meeting the team and being in the field! I’m so excited to be out here and am really looking forward to learning even more as the month continues. Thanks for reading!

Flog Post

Hello Flog-beasts! We’ve been busy here at the Echinacea project. This Tuesday we finished measuring P1, which was the final big hurdle in our quest to finish measuring. That’s right: we’ve now visited every position in our experimental plots at which we’ve found a plant in the last three years! Very exciting.

The other two big tasks we’re working on finishing is finding Liatris and harvesting Echinacea heads. We’re making great progress on both! Every few days we revisit Echinacea in our plots and in the remnants to see if they’re ready to harvest. Once we harvest the heads, we put them into an H-bag which goes into a G-bag which goes in the seed drier which goes in G-3. That reminds me of a certain song about a bog…

This summer there’s been an unprecedented amount of Liatris flowering, so it’s been a huge task to map it all. We’ve had to put in transects at certain plots because there’s just too many to surv!

Spiral staircase Liatrus!

One other thing we’ve been spending a lot of time doing is total demography. This is when we use the GPS to revisit every location where there’s been a flowering plant in the past. When we find flowering plants we also surv(ey) them. Geena, Daytona, and I had lots of fun at Hegg Lake today surving plants…and also serving looks!!

One thing we are all about at the Echinacea project is innovation. Which is why I am happy to share some cutting-edge creativity Geena demonstrated today by using a Capri Sun straw as a Visor stylus:

It works!

See you next time, flog-fanatics!

Mid-week Shenanigans Update

Hello all you flog-readers! We’ve had quite a fun week at the Echinacea Project, and it’s only Thursday!

This past Tuesday, we had the team social at Hjelm. The highlights of the dinner were fresh corn on the cob and S’mores- thanks, Stuart! We also finally got to see the fruits of our tree-hauling labor as we (Jared) ignited one of the bonfire piles (which we stacked less than 20 feet tall, as per regulation).

The team has spent a lot of time this week measuring P1, our nearest and dearest plot. We are definitely making progress! My favorite pastime during P1 measuring is catching grasshoppers and katydids, and unleashing them on other team members. We also got some help measuring today from Team Echinacea alum Riley and our favorite recurring guest star Ruth!

P1 resident biting me so bad.

One great interpersonal disagreement we must overcome at Team Echinacea is differences in opinions on field clothes. Some people are never seen outside without their wide-brimmed hat with sun flaps. A few prefer long sleeves and long pants for sun protection to avoid cuts from grass. Many enjoy t-shirts and long pants. Some even wear shorts (as I did, once, but was quickly deterred). However, I truly believe this may be a first for Team Echinacea: Geena braved P1 with no shoes! “Socks are just enough protection for me,” she told us.

Geena goes primal.

On a more bittersweet note, our beloved team member Kennedy had her second-to-last day of work today. This was Kennedy’s second summer with the team, and we loved hearing her talk about aphids, dust, goats, and her cow Ollie. Alex baked a delicious cake to commemorate Kennedy’s leaving. Thanks Kennedy for being such an awesome, sweet, kind, and funny person to work with this summer! We wish you the best of luck in South Dakota 🙂

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. 🙂

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!

A Feature: Mad Aphids

Did you know that Echinacea angustifolia has a unique specialist aphid called Aphis echinaceae? These aphids are tiny green insects that suck carbohydrates out of the stems and leaves of echinacea. If you are lucky, you can spot them congregating on the underside of leaves, stem, or under the heads of echinacea plants. Pay more attention and you will see busy ants running up and down the plants. We have observed that ants farm and tend to these aphids in order to consume their sugary secretions. Ants and aphids maintain a symbiotic relationship. However, the range of effects that aphid habitation has on echinacea is uncertain.

Recently, I’ve noticed many echinacea plants with Aphis echinaceae at a field site with sandy soil. I wondered if aphids are more present on those particular echinacea plants because sandy soil might be more favorable for ants. I hypothesize that aphid presence on E. angustifolia increases when E. angustifolia grows in favorable conditions for ants. Could echinacea plants in sandy soil provide aphids closer access to be farmed by ants? Many intreiguting questions on the interactions between echinacea, aphids and ants have yet to been uncovered. Stay tuned for our aphid exclusion project this summer, investigating the effects of aphids on echinacea. 

Magical Monday: cool sightings and fun measuring

Happy Monday! We found out this morning that some of our echinacea plants in the remnants had a great weekend: they started flowering! This means they have developed male styles and started to produce pollen.

Today the team continued demo and surv in the morning. We are making steady progress and are continuing to check off completed sites on our list. Several sites have flowers that flowered today or yesterday. Emma and I saw one echinacea that was the designated party spot: 6 stink bugs were hanging on to the head!

The party bus.

In the afternoon, most of the team headed to P7 and P9 to measure. This was lots of fun because the plants there are much larger than any we have measured before!

Mia showing us how to measure a flowering plant.

There were a lot of cool things to see at these plots. We saw a bobolink (in his backwards tuxedo) on a date with his bobolink girlfriend (fun fact: bobolinks are polygamous-multiple wives- and polyandrous- multiple husbands) We also saw a couple of mutant flower heads:

Sideways head…where is he looking?

And lots of cool bugs:

Red Milkweed Beetle mid-flight.
Small White Grass-veneer: a moth with a snout.