Final Thoughts

Wind Farms along the PCT Trail

Having spent a full year working for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program in southern California, there are so many things I could write about in my final blog posting. However, I feel that the following four paragraphs, and their four corresponding points, are what I most want to pass on to successive CLM interns, along with best wishes for their internships and the future.

This internship year has been one of personal growth and many new experiences. Moving to California (from Connecticut) for a new job was a big step for me. The first few months were rough. Beyond my personal adjustments, I was part of the first SOS team to be stationed at RSABG (Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) and we were learning the ropes as we worked. It was stressful but, with practice and creativity, we created a smooth

Preparing for a Field Stop

seed-collecting process and, looking back on how we adapted and grew as a team, I feel proud of our work and what we were able to accomplish. With the arrival of a new set of SOS interns, I believe that the groundwork we established will promote a more coherent field season including more area covered and a greater number of species collected. Plus, our strengthened connection to the RSABG and its ever helpful and knowledgeable staff will continue to be a greatly appreciated and utilized tool for future improvement.

At a personal level, RSABG facilities and staff helped me gain valuable seed processing and herbarium skills to accompany what I was learning through SOS. Using seed material, I cleaned and prepped seed for storage and learned about some of the basics of germination trials. Using voucher material, I learned to create labels, mount and then file plant vouchers within our herbarium system. Experiencing what happens to plant material after it is brought in from the field created a positive feedback loop between my field work and my office work. What I did and learned in one area would impact and improve what I did in the other, allowing me to make better decisions in both areas and produce higher quality work.

However, the fact that I gained these skills and more informed viewpoint was serendipitous. In southern California, fieldwork begins in late March/ early April and can continue until early January. With a full, field-focused work schedule, I didn’t begin to

Barrel Cactus

look for other skill-acquisition opportunities until January. That was when I really gained a grasp on herbarium and seed storage work and it was at a point when my internship should have already been over for some months. Thinking back on this, I sincerely recommend that each CLM intern spend some time at the start of their internship really thinking about they want to gain out of their five months and then see how their unique job situation can support these goals. The flexibility of this internship is a perfect opportunity to expand your knowledge and skill set but you have to seek out the opportunities and make the time to take advantage of them.

Finally, as a parting note, I really want to thank Krissa Skogen and Marian Hofherr for all their hard work. They were a continuous source of help and support. Try to get to know them if you can; they are really wonderful women.

Branching Out; Moving into the Coniferous Forest

Let me start this blog entry with a huge thank you to Krissa Skogen and Marian Hofherr for a wonderful training week at the Grand Canyon. As part of one of the SOS teams with an early start date, it was questionable as to whether Drew and I were going to training week since we had received SOS training in March. But, I am really glad that we got the opportunity since there was a lot more to learn and really great people to meet. The Grand Canyon was gorgeous (of course!) and there were so many opportunities to hike, enjoy the sunset/sunrise, and spend time with fellow CLM interns. Plus, it was really helpful for job planning to learn about the various government agencies that commonly employ botanists and wildlife biologists.

Sunrise at the Grand Canyon

Back at work after the 4th of July weekend, seed collecting has become slim-pickings due to the heat and high speed winds that have been blasting the desert and its flora. There are only two collecting trips left before the August/September lull and we will be collecting Larrea tridentata, Krameria sp., and Eriogonum fasiculatum. By the end of these trips, our seed collection count will be around 100 collections, which isn’t too shady when our goal for the season was set at 50 collections. Later, in November, it will be time to monitor and collect some of the common Atriplex sp. that seed in the fall.

At the Iron Mountains with Tommy and Josh

With SOS collecting finishing up, the team is getting involved with floristic surveys that the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG) has been contracted to do in the San Bernadino Mountains. This means that the team will split up and get mixed in with ever changing small groups of garden staff that get sent out to the various locations under survey. It will be a great opportunity to experience floristic survey work, learn new plants in a new environment, and work with various RSABG staff and interns.

San Bernadino Mountains

– Jackie McConnaughy

SOS Intern at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont, CA

Traveling Through the Back Scrub of the Mojave

El Paso Mtns Area

El Paso Mtns Area

Approaching the middle of month four and this SOS crew has a solid routine down pat! Since most of our work is in the field, we decided that a four-ten schedule was best and Monday through Thursday is spent out in the field, typically doing overnight trips. Our driving routes incorporate previously scouted sites as well as new areas where our target plant species may be found. These evolving travel routes have taken me down many dirt roads and through plenty of small desert towns that I would not have seen on my own. Some of the towns are made of only a few rusted trailers, a collapsed house or two, and fields of junk vehicles! We still haven’t decided what so few people are doing with so many possessions on wheels but it sure gives the towns’ character and I really enjoy the look of the collapsing houses. The towns feel like modern versions of the old west.

With the daily temperature steadying itself in the upper nineties/low hundreds and getting up to 109 degrees some days, we have started to modify our daily routine to try and work around the heat. We rent motel rooms to escape from the heat, sometimes during the middle of the day and definitely at night. While I miss sleeping with the stars and waking up to the sun, it is blissful to get in to that air conditioning after a day in the heat and we all, definitely, sleep better. The heat also means that most of the annuals have already passed peak bloom and all that are left are skeletons to remind us that they were recently there in droves. We have moved on to collecting perennials, such as Larrea tridentata (Creosote Bush), that withstand the heat more effectively and are waiting for some of the late bloomers such as Eriogonum fasciculatum to be ready to collect.

Cylindropuntia ramosissima

Cylindropuntia ramosissima

Some of the highlights of recent weeks include getting to see the Cylindropuntia ramosissima (Pencil Cholla) in bloom, with the plants having either yellow or orange flowers. Very few botanists have seen this plant bloom and our original theory was that this was because the species simply didn’t bloom very often. Our new theory is that many botanists chose not to go out in the heat at this time of year so they miss it!

Cylindropuntia ramosissima

Cylindropuntia ramosissima

Another highlight was getting to explore Surprise Canyon, a location we have been trying to get to for some weeks now. My teammate Drew even made a mixed CD for the drive with a song called “Surprise Valley” on it. On the way there, we were trying to guess what the surprise might be, with guesses ranging from a new plant species to absolutely no surprise at all. What we actually found were two surprises that no one had guessed. First, there was running water rushing its way through part of the canyon, which is miraculous in Mojave at the start of summer, and, second, there was a small burn area that had consumed a small shack and the trees around it. All in all, it was a very surprising canyon.

In a nod to upcoming events, I am looking forward to training week at the Grand Canyon! It will be great to meet some of the other SOS teams and see what they have been up to and the Grand Canyon is a wonderfully scenic location in which to do this.

Can We Collect This?

Working in the Mojave Desert has been an eye-opener. When I was much younger, my family took a road trip in the southwest and I remember how amazingly huge the horizon was but how empty the desert seemed. Based on old western movies, I was convinced that nothing grew in the sandy soil except for tumble weeds, cacti, and those scraggly, branchy shrubs that seemed to be the only landscaping attempt in those hardened western towns. I have since learned that those scraggly, branchy bushes are Larrea tridentata and they are, though dominant, but one of many, many species of plants that do quite well in the dry, sandy soils of the Mojave Desert.

The start of my SOS internship at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in California was more of an indoor experience than my current, typical workweek. I learned how to database herbarium specimens using File Maker Pro 9 and refreshed my knowledge of mounting a specimen for herbarium cataloguing. As one of the first SOS teams to get started, Mary Byrne came in to give us our training and our target plant collection list though we are still, hopefully, going to go to the Grand Canyon for training as well. As the summer has progressed, our SOS team has been spending our workweeks completely in the field, identifying seed collection sites and even doing some seed collecting from some early ripening populations.

With the actual collecting part of my job, there has been a sharp learning curve. Temperature and weather play a huge role in seed dispersal and so there is a constant balancing act of getting to the seeds before they are gone but not so early that they aren’t ripe and won’t be viable to store. We are fortunate that the Garden where we are based does seed storage of its own and Michael Wall, who is the seed program manager, has taken time to talk with us. He has provided us with information about which plants can be collected a little early and which plants will hold on to their seeds, allowing us to make more productive site revisits.

Participating in this internship has been a great opportunity to expand my knowledge and meet intelligent and interesting people who do work in the fields of botany, entomology, and ornithology (to name a few). It has been an exciting two months so far and I believe it will just continue to get better!

pretty sweet