July 23: Phenology and Cross-pollinating

The days and weeks are starting to fly by as we get into the busy part of the summer. Nearing the end of July, it seems like we’re hovering right around the peak of the flowering season for Echinacea angustifolia. In addition to keeping up with the phenology for our flowers (roughly a couple thousand across our remnants alone!), we’re also making timely progress on independent projects and getting important work done on the q3 experiment.

We got off to a quick start this morning sending half the crew out to do phenology at a handful of sites while Danny and Amy continued their work assessing compatibility across remnant flowers and still a few others collected pollen at Staffanson for q3. While phenology is proving to be quite the time commitment right now, we’re slowly (and satisfyingly) starting to be able to check the “Done flowering” box for more and more of our flowers. The flowering season is tapering off much faster than I had expected!

A cross-pollinator's eye view of a well-organized team carrying out crosses in p1.

A cross-pollinator’s eye view of a well-organized team carrying out crosses in p1.

The bright and breezy afternoon had most of the team out in p1 doing pollen crosses for q3. Stuart debuted a new system for keeping us organized in the field as we share, swap, switch, and track down the right vials of sire pollen to be applied to the p1 dams. While the fits of wind that persisted for much of the afternoon were a nice way to cool down, it was not very much appreciated when the breeze swept away the valuable bits of pollen we were trying to apply to our flowers!

The day ended with a visit from some of the parents of the crew members and local science teachers (these two groups actually had quite a bit of overlap). These visits were timed excellently for our guests to appreciate the Echinacea in all their peak flowering glory.

Bagged and painted Echinacea ready to be cross-pollinated.

Bagged and painted Echinacea ready to be cross-pollinated.

Happy Friday!

My beautiful bracts!

My beautiful bracts!

Ben, Gina, & Matt practice  precise painting

Ben, Gina, & Matt practice precise painting

Today was another successful day with the team! We had a morning filled with phenology at half of the sites and later everyone divided to get many things accomplished. After lunch, some of us practiced painting the bracts of Echinacea; this wasn’t too hard, it was actually very pleasant. Using toothpicks, we had to be sure to paint the tops of bracts as well as the bottom while making sure not to get paint on the florets or apply too much.

Two heads are weirder than one

I see absolutely nothing wrong here.

Here, Lea and I were at p2 collecting phenology data in the afternoon. There are 80 rows in this plot and it took us almost the whole day to get the job done! I’m from the south and it honestly takes a lot for me to confess that a place is hot, but the way the sun was blazing today, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it out of the prairie to deliver this flog post to you! It was so “warm” today I was seeing double headed Echinacea…….. sheesh.

To conclude a week full of accomplishments, Stuart sliced up the best watermelon ever. One shouldn’t argue this watermelon’s caliber; I know this was the best watermelon ever because it replenished all the sense I lost in p2 today. I’d say that everyone else enjoyed this glorious melon as well! Today was a good Friday!

Watermelon after work!

Watermelon after work!

First look at P2

After our day was delayed by rain, we started off the morning with remnant phenology. Groups headed to the landfill site, Staffanson Prairie Preserve and other remnants. We shot several points at Landfill, East Elk Lake Road and Around Landfill. We got a lot done in the morning!

We had a late lunch and then headed back out into the field. Three of us went to Hegg Lake and put twist ties on flowering plants in Jennifer’s plot. there is a ton of flowers out there and we are almost a quarter of the way done! I will be doing a project involving the plants in Jennifer’s plot (p2) looking at the heritability of flowering phenology in Echinacea angustifolia. It is great to have a lot of flowers in p2!



Here is Ben after twist tying about 70 flowering Echinacea heads in p2, Thanks for the help Ben!

Project status update: Phenology and fitness in experimental plot 1


Experimental plot 1 (P1) encompasses 11 different experiments originally planted with a total of 10673 Echinacea individuals. These experiments include long-term studies designed to compare the fitness of Echinacea from different remnant populations (“EA from remnants in P1”), examine the effects of inbreeding on plant fitness (“INB” and “INB2”), and explore other genetic properties of Echinacea such as trait heritability (“qGen”). In 2014, Team Echinacea measured plant traits for the 5409 Echinacea plants that remain alive and followed the daily phenology of 567 flowering heads. Echinacea began producing florets on July 1 and continued flowering in P1 until August 24. The data collected in 2014 will allow us to estimate the heritability of various traits and assess the lifetime fitness of plants from the numerous experiments.

Experiment Year planted # alive # flowering # planted
1 1996 1996 314 115 650
2 1997 1997 270 57 600
3 1998 1998 32 3 375
4 1999 1999 542 106 888
5 1999S 1999 297 37 418
6 SPP 2001 318 14 797
7 Inbreeding 2001 221 15 557
8 2001 2001 170 11 350
9 Monica 2003 2003 28 3 100
10 qGen 2003 2501 122 4468
11 INB2 2006 716 41 1470

Start year: 1996

Location: experimental plot 1


Overlaps with: aphid addition exclusion, Pamela’s functional traits, pollen longevity, pollen addition exclusion

Peak Week: The Beginning

Today marked the first weekday of the peak week of flowering for Echinacea. We are working on phenology at all the remnants as will as P1. Several flowers are already on their last day of flowering. Despite the cold and blustery conditions of today the team did crosses for the compatibility project at Loeffler’s Corner and set up the project at East Elk Lake Road. Cam and I worked on my exhaustive crossing project at Yellow Orchid Hill. We weren’t able to collect pollen and cross until after lunch, but fortunately the pollen was not blown away by the wind! Tomorrow will be more phenology and compatibility!

Flowering is Finally Finished in CG1!!

The last flowering plant in CG1 put out its last anthers today (August 27, 2012). It had been flowering over a week longer than any of the other plants we monitor! This marks the end of the flowering season for Team Echinacea, but we’ve still got lots of work left to do!

Monday June 25

Last week was a busy and fun one for Team Echinacea 2012; no two days were the same. We wrapped up some of the first summer projects and started to transition into the second phase of the summer. We completed evaluating the recruitment plots, began to record their GPS locations, conducted demography and phenology observations in the common garden, and perhaps most notably, completed round one of seeding searches with the west (and recently burned) section of Staffanson prairie with help from Amy Dykstra, who came to visit on Friday. In addition to all the progress made on the long-term projects, we also spent multiple rainy mornings working on our individual research projects, the proposals for which have been recently, or will soon be posted here on the flog. IMG_1746.jpg Stuart Instructs us on the proper field techniques for cross-pollination, pollinator exclusion, and painting flowers so we can keep track of what we’ve just done.

After a short weekend, we started up working again this Monday with a morning dedicated to our independent projects, time which we all used to get out in the field and get our hands dirty. Ruth stopped by today and lent a hand and some very welcome advise, and joined the crew in the afternoon to do some weeding in the common garden. We clipped, pulled, and trimmed Buckthorn, Ash saplings, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Sweet Clover, and Sumac.


Hello all! A lot has happened since my last post, so here is a brief update!

After returning to school with my phenology data and experimental seed heads in the fall of 2011, I began work on my senior thesis using that data as a foundation. In April of this year I defended my thesis, “Flowering Phenology and Seed Set in Fragmented Populations of the Prairie Plant Echinacea angustifolia” and was awarded Distinction by my committee! Stuart and I continued to work on my data after my defense and are planning to continue the project and potentially incorporate data from this summer in the hopes of publishing it! Here are some of the very interesting results that we’ve gotten so far:

> aggregate(ss ~ nndist + pdtime, data = mm, mean)
nndist pdtime ss
1 far early 0.1637403
2 near early 0.2690535
3 far late 0.2947009

4 near late 0.1802392

We found that there’s a relationship between seed set (ss), peak flowering date (pdtime), AND distance to the 6th nearest neighbor (nndist). Seed set was higher in plants that had a combination of close 6th nearest neighbor (near) and early peak flowering date or far 6th nearest neighbor (far) and late flowering date. Very interesting!
(table is categorical and matches glm model which looks at pd & nn6 as continuous)

If anyone has any questions, is interested in continuing this exciting project this summer, or would like a copy of my thesis, feel free to contact me! (Amber Zahler at

Flowering in Jennifer’s Phenology Experiment

We found 147 flowering plants in Jennifer’s Phenology Experiment during a thorough, but not exhaustive, search on Friday. Most of these plants have buds only and will start shedding pollen later. I posted a map of locations of all plants to flower this year.

c2Phenology2011initial.png Click on thumbnail to see a larger map.

Jennifer planted this experiment to investigate heritability of flowering timing (phenology) in spring 2006.

Last year eight plants flowered and about 2700 plants were alive. Read about measuring last year.

Assuming that almost all of those plants are still alive and that we didn’t find all the flowering plants, then about 6% of surviving plants will flower this year (>147/2700).

For kicks, I made maps of the paths of data enterers. We usually worked in pairs and used one person’s PDA to enter data. Here are the paths…

Josh D’s visor, Amber E’s, Nicholas G’s visor, Gretel K’s visor, Lee R’s visor, Callin S’s, Stuart W’s visor, Maria W’s visor, Amber Z’s visor. For the record Katherine M’s visor had only one record and we didn’t use Karen T’s visor.

Phenology in Common Garden & 1st Day of Dichanthelium Seed Collecting!

Hi everyone, Maria here again. Today was a particularly happening day in my opinion. Everyone had something to do. Amber E. is back from Alaska with Ruth! Karen arrived from Evanston in the afternoon!

In the morning those of us who hadn’t finished our Stipa searches in the common garden finished that! (So Stipa is done! – we scaled back though and only searched for the 2011(?) cohort). After that Gretel, Ruth, Amber E and I put Position/Row signs in the common garden and made the signs face East/Westwards so now it’s so much easier to read the signs while you are walking in the common garden. Then we got started on looking at the phenology of Echinacea in the common garden. We systematically walked through each row, looking out for flowering Echinacea with emerged anthers and pollen, twist-tying the heads and recording them in our visors. Josh joined us when he finished his Stipa searches. We found quite a few flowering heads – bet there’ll be more soon.

While we were looking for flowering Echinacea, we saw Stuart, Callin, Amber Z and Nicholas crowded around ‘Joe’ – the pet name given to the prominently flowering Echinacea at row 28, position 860. As described by Callin in the previous post, they were practicing bract-painting for their independent projects on Joe.

When we finished looking at all the rows, it was time for lunch and short presentations of our projects. It was good to hear about everyone’s projects and talk about my own projects and get feedback. After lunch, we got started on our independent projects or worked on the New Media Initiative.

Gretel and I headed to Hegg Lake to look for Dichanthelium (Panic Grass) seeds for my second project. This summer I will be collecting seeds from Dichanthelium plants from different remnants, including Hegg Lake and Loettler’s Corner (I might not have spelt that right – sorry). My plan is to collect seeds from 30 individuals from each “site”, as there are several places at Hegg Lake that seem to have a lot of Dichanthelium. After collecting the seeds, I will be bringing them back to Chicago Botanic Garden and do more work on them in the fall/later.

Click here for the
Google doc of my summer project proposals

I am super super indebted/thankful/grateful for Gretel. Without her guidance, I’d probably be in a big mess/not knowing what to do/still be at Hegg Lake as this is my first time doing independent field work.

When we reached the place at Hegg Lake (it was near the road, area with ditch, south of the parking lot), a lot fo the Dichanthelium seeds had already fallen off the culms. It was quite disheartening. We walked a little north and found a patch of Dichanthelium with most of their seeds intact, then we laid out the tape measure for 20m in a roughly north-south direction (I kept thinking it was 2m while Gretel patiently corrected me ^^;;). Initial plan was to do every plant within arm’s length from transect, or every other plant if population was dense. However, that was not quite possible given the circumstances. After Gretel and I collected seed from the first plant and did all the measurements, she continued measuring/collecting while I picked ~30 plants near the transect (more than my arm’s length) that had at least one culm with 8 or more seeds to collect from and flagged them with a blank flag. I started measuring/collecting after I finished flagging. Around 4pm, Lee called – reinforcements were coming! Ruth and Lee arrived with Karen and they helped us finished the rest of the plants (by that time Gretel had completed 17 plants (!!) and I was on my 6th plant). It turned out that we had 31 flags so 31 envelopes with data and samples! We also collected some “random” samples – ie seeds from various random plants away from transect. Finished around 5pm – thanks to Gretel, Lee, Ruth and Karen! Really excited to get the first 30 done!

Take a look at the simple data entry for today’s collection for more technical details if you’re interested. I might also do the seed count for today’s samples just to see how many seeds we can get from 30 plants using the ‘8 or more’ rule. (I just need to be rreally careful not to lose any seed >.<)


We left 11 flags (labelled with sample number) at the site that we will return to later to collect more seeds from.

Now that I have more experience, I’ll definitely be more systematic+efficient about it.
Notes to self for tomorrow/next time:
– “just-in-case” extras (extra equipment, envelopes, pens, sharpies, flags) do come in handy! Meter sticks are probably more efficient than tape measures. More flags would be good. Maybe use a different color for “done” or for extras.
– Extra samples are good too. Maybe do 32 plants per site?
– Bring a plastic bag/something to put a plant specimen in – I need to get a sample of the other Dichanthelium species (“hairy leaved”) to press and identify.
– Equipment list would be useful esp when I have more than 5 things to remember.

Lesson of the Day: Having an experienced person around and helpers is always always always helpful! =D

Thanks again to Gretel and everyone who helped!