Week 2 on the Echinacea Project

Last week I spent more time familiarizing myself with the process of collecting achenes from Echinacea heads. Its become a therapeutic practice once you know what your looking for and find the best method to get each unique achene to wedge out from its previously fixed place. Some achenes are large and chunky, which makes them much easier to extract. Whereas, other achenes can range down to an extremely small size, they can almost be mistaken for a floret if not for the color change. The achenes that surround the outer base of the head like a ring are know as ray floret achenes. They often share a darker color than the others. The ray floret achenes are also classified as having three sides, while the rest have four sides. Interestingly enough, this happens to be a very small description for identifying achenes, as they can range in color, shape, and size. I’ve even come across a few with a tiny hole through the center. We puzzle over the cause of these holes and think, perhaps certain critters enjoy some part of the achene, or possible seed that may have been inside, as a snack. One of the aspects I’m really enjoying as a result of working on the Echinacea project is the limitless array of questions we can pose. Creativity is encouraged. 🙂

After taking the time to observe the varying appearances of achenes my mentor Tracie felt it was time for my training on a different task. I next learned the process of counting the achenes per Echinacea head. As I mentioned the week before, we want to examine the amount of fertilized achenes, but we also want to count the achenes on each head for all the Echinacea collected for the year as well. The counting software was surprisingly simple and efficient. Each set of achenes, collected from a head, was scanned onto the computer after several rounds of cleaning. Once on the software, the image loads and can be zoomed in or out to several degrees. By using the mouse, I simply click on every achene I see and it leaves a blue dot-like image. Likewise, each blue dot is counted by the software. The same achene set is counted at random by three different people. The median of 3 counts is what we end up using for our final data. Now it ties together. The experience of cleaning the heads lead me to gain observations of all the physically-varying achenes, and all of this has led me to identify the achenes for counting. To no surprise, there are more tasks to come, each intriguing and methodical as I progress. 🙂 Until next time floggers, enjoy the scenery, wherever you find yourselves.




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