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Tuesday: Decapitating Echinacea pallida!

Today marked the second day that the team found Echinacea in flower! As we continue our hard work taking demo and survey on all of the plants that seem like they are going to flower this summer, we’re also learning what we’ll be looking for when we start phenology shortly.

An Echinacea featuring some anthers and the rays extended.

After lunch we had the best task of the day: Demoing and decapitating Echinacea pallida – which is a non-native species that we don’t want cross pollinating our neighboring experimental plots. We finally got to figure out why we’re not supposed to twist the Echinacea heads: they really do cause the head to fall off.

Lastly, Stuart hosted team dinner at the Hjelm house, and after having some great burritos, Jared got to use his fire-starting skills to create a bonfire for the team (the team just used our foraging skills to find the best marshmallow sticks).

Jo demonstrating how best to sneak up on a fire, so that you don’t get too hot as you roast your marshmallow.

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.

A Typical Tuesday: Data and Dancing

To start the day, Team Echinacea split into two groups – one group went to Loeffler Corner W and Yellow Orchid Hill to look for flowering echinacea heads, and the other went to Aanenson to collect demographic data on the flowering heads that they worked hard to find the previous day. Some of the Aanenson crew also got to communicate with the International Space Station as they learned to use the GPS unit for survey data.

Utilizing echinacea eyes

After lunch, Team Echinacea regrouped for a team data collection effort at P10, where the wind made it difficult to stand up straight. Squatting to measure the small echinacea planted in these plots was a little less difficult, but we still had to do some hat chasing throughout the afternoon. Despite the wind, we managed to find a record leaf measurement of 21cm tall.

(Let’s pretend like the pink flags don’t mean we couldn’t find a plant)

After measuring P10, the team headed to Andes where a deluxe team dinner of sweet potato tacos was to be served. But the tacos were only the beginning: Sophia made a pineapple upside down (right-side up?) cake that was sweet enough to fuel a Cotton Eyed Joe line dance, porch swinging, and hills exploring that followed. Legend has it that there’s even a bunker we could’ve gone to during the storms last night, but that’s yet to be discovered.

Alex surveying the hills
And finally, the video you’ve all been waiting for: Lindsey, Johanna, Joey, Emma and Alex demonstrating their line dancing skills

Joey McGarry

Echinacea Project 2022

Environmental Science and Learning Sciences, Northwestern University 2024.

Research Interests

I am interested in studying conservation ecology and plant biology. Most of all I am just happy to learn.

Statement

I grew up in central Connecticut but have since moved to Wilmington, NC. After a life on the east coast, I’m excited to experience the beauty of the midwest (outside of the Chicagoland area, where I attend school). I am happy to be able to work with such an amazing, friendly, and fun team of passionate folk! When I’m not working, I love to sail, write, listen to music, cook, bake, and enjoy some peace and quiet with my three dogs.

Johanna Steensma

Me and an American Toad

Echinacea Project 2022

Environmental Science major, Skidmore ’24

Research Interests

I am interested in studying Echinacea angustifolia (that’s why I’m here!). I also love insects and pollinators and plant-insect relationships. I am especially fond of milkweed. I want to learn more about doing science and also GIS.

Statement

I was born in Rochester, MN, but currently reside part time in Lincoln, Massachusetts and attend college in Saratoga Springs, NY. In my free time I like to catch frogs, toads, and snakes. I like to go swimming but I’m afraid of sea monsters. I also like to read, especially comic books, but occasionally real books.

Demo & Surv at LCE

Monday 6/20

Today, half of the team went to LCE to get trained in on Demo and Surv. A previous group had identified most of the flowering echinacea with blue pin flags. Some of the demographic information about the plants we logged using our visors included; how many rosettes, how many flowering heads, if it had ants and/or aphids, and what tag number. We removed the previous blue flag and used a neon flag to indicated that the information had been logged. Jared and Alex trained us in using the visors. Later, Emma and I worked with the GPS unit to survey the plants that were already flagged with neon and replaced it with a white flag. We also got to meet the newest member of the team, Joey!

Jared showing us the protocol for demo.
Daytona, Emma, Alex, Sophia, Jared, and Joey working on demo.
Emma and Britney using the GPS unit to Surv.

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.