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. ūüôā

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.

POV: An Echinacea during demo and surv

As I watch the sun rise, I wonder what type of day it will be. Will I have ants crawling on me, or will I have a shield bug perched upon my head? As the sun grows higher, I see a group of large animals walking on two feet, carrying lots of brightly colored items. I watch as they come closer to me and my other plant friends. They start marking all the other plants that look like me, I wonder what they are doing. I even get a blue flappy thing of my own. They finally leave, but soon after these big creatures return. They take their time looking at each of us, recording strange data and replacing the flappy thing for another colored one. I wonder what is going on. Finally they get to me, I am the only one left with a blue flag, the others all have a neon. First the creature bends down and places something around the base of my head. I feel pretty, like I was accessorized. Then I feel them dig around near my roots and they find something sharp and metallic. It was placed there years ago and had grown into the dirt around me as time had passed. They dig it out and look closely at it, talking to the other creatures as they examine. Then they start to prod at me, feeling my rosettes and counting my heads. It feels weird, why am I getting all of this special attention? And what do they want from me? Will I be okay? Finally, they stand up, but I see the creature reach around their back to grab something. I fear the worst as they bend down with a sharp pin, but they don’t hit me. Instead, they replace my blue flag with a neon one like the rest had received, and walk away.

I start to relax, thinking it is all over. The creatures had gotten what they had come for. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be done. A group of two of them started working their way through all of us who were marked, along with a tall stick they seemed to keep looking at. I worry what they are doing. I think that it may be the end. When the group arrives at me, I can feel the stick being placed next to me, nearly on top of me. I fret that I will be squished. One of the creatures bends down, again looking at the foreign metal object which seemed to be assigned to me. The two creatures talk for a moment, then my flag gets replaced again, this time I get a white one. I can’t relax, not when they seem to be coming back so often. But as the sun dips below the horizon, I think that the normal hush of the prairie may have finally returned, and I can again grow to my hearts content.

Morning Float

Andes crew (Johanna, Geena, and Sophia) and Elk Lake house (Lindsey and Mia) headed out at 9am this Sunday morning to beat the heat by tubing down Long Prairie River. A balmy 99 degree Fahrenheit was the high for the day, but we kept it cool in the water. Our 2 mile lazy-river ride clocked in at an average speed of 1.7 mph, and on the way we saw red-winged blackbirds, dragonflies, fish (both dead and alive), dogs, and sea monsters.

Ultimate Pictionary

Andes Crew decided to stay in after a wild night of street dancing on K-Town Friday night. Mia and Lindsey representing Elk Lake house competed in the pictionary tournament against the Andes Crew, Sophia, Geena and Johanna. Andes won, however the competition was neck and neck. Check out some of our fan favorite and winning art pieces includes, canary, buffalo, foul line, Marx brothers, paper back, parade. See if you can guess from the pictures! Stay tuned and join the next pictionary tournament hosted by yours truly, Andes Ski Hill and Friends. 

ALF and NWLF Observations

Daytona and Emma visited Around Landfill (ALF) and Northwest of Landfill (NWLF) today. Each site was visited for around 15 minutes and was observed from the side of the road.

ALF did not look burned and contained a lot of shrubs and brome. We also noticed the warm grass big blue stem, as well as the forb dandelion and the legume veiny pea. This concluded all 4 plant communities within this site. We discussed how the shape of the land, namely the hill and the ditch, were both naturally occurring and man-made. Among the site we saw trees, some fences (one of which was electric), and a few cars passed us, which we made sure to wave to! We managed to spot some echinacea as well as the veiny pea at this site, which was exciting.

NWLF did looked burned. We agreed upon this because of the lack of previous years’ growth and the lack of brome in the area. We found lots of plants in each of the 4 plant communities, some being brome, silver leaf pea, big blue stem, and dandelion. At this site we saw echinacea plants, but did not find any veiny peas.

Loeffler Corner E/W¬į

East side of the Loeffler plot

Pulling up to these two “empty” fields after crossing Highway 55, I think that everyone in our group immediately felt let down by what seemed to be a run-down patch of farmland split by an equally run-down gravel road. It took about 5 minutes of investigation which, aided by our Visors, encouraged us to paint ourselves’ a picture. What jumped out to me initially was that the West side of the plot housed significantly shorter plants as a whole compared to the East. With a little bit of prompting from our Visors, this led us to the conclusion that the West field had been through a burn in the recent past. We did end up finding a few Echinacea plants, as well as other plants we were introduced to earlier in the day, namely; Panic Grass, Lead Plant, Brome Grass, and Golden Alexander. (Our unknown plant was an orange flower we found on both sides of the plot)

West side of Loeffler Corner

After completing our Visor document and map (pictured below) for the West plot, we turned to the East. The East plot clearly hadn’t seen fire in a long time. It was overgrown and we quickly were able to identify many of the same plants we found on the West corner. Echinacea, Big Blue Stem, Lead plant, Hawkweed, and a bunch of Army Worms. I thought this was a better test of our skill to pick out the plants in an environment with more competition between producers. After finishing the other section of the map, we walked up and down the gravel road to explore the farthest reaches of the fields. Overall I think we all enjoyed working in a new place, and got the chance to flex our foraging skills.

Geena’s artistic masterclass
Our Unknown plant a.k.a. Hoary Puccoon.

burning nice island 2022

After navigating uncertainties about weather and electricity, we ventured up to western Minnesota for a promising burn window. Steady northwest winds, dry fuels, and suitable conditions left us eager to burn on Monday, May 16. Alex, Per, Stuart, and I worked all morning to ready burn breaks in preparation for the afternoon. We were joined by Brad D., Dwight, and Ed C.

Our first unit of the afternoon was the ironically named “nice island.” This unit comprises an eggplant-shaped peninsula of grass extending into an agricultural field. We are studying Green Milkweed and Rough Blazing Star reproduction at this site. After taking weather, discussing the burn plan, and orienting new crew members to their tools, we ignited a test fire in the southwest corner of the unit. The crew then split in half. One group secured the eastern burn break while the second group ignited and secured the western burn break. Once sufficient black had been established, Brad ignited west along the northern edge of the unit while I ignited east along the southern edge. Our hope was the fire would close on itself rapidly but this burn was much slower and smokier than expected (probably owing to the higher relative humidity and the abundance of brome that had greened up after rain and warm temperatures). Slowly but surely, the flames came together leaving a uniformly black burn unit. We are excited to see a nicer post-burn version of nice island this summer.

Temperature: 64 F
Relative Humidity: 44 %
Wind Speed: 11 mph
Wind Direction: NW
Ignition time: 1:32 PM
End time: 2:29 PM
Burn Crew: Jared, Stuart, Alex C., Per, Dwight, Brad D., Ed C.