Wrapping it Up!

Laurie and me after collecting Ceanothus seeds, we had a lot more then what is seen in the photo.

I have coined Laurie the Seed Queen because of her extensive experience with seed collecting, and she has coined me as the Lupinator because of my skills collecting Lupine seeds. These nicknames we’ve given each other are evidence to how great the CLM Internship was. After about five months of seed collecting I have learned a lot and have made some great friendships! Not just with the Seed Queen Laurie, but with several other colleagues!

Before I started at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research I had had some field experience, but it was different compared to what I’ve done over these last few months. It has been amazing foraging for San Diego native wildflowers, perennial shrubs, subshrubs, etc. When we do find a plant of interest we make herbarium vouchers of the flowers, which is another great experience I have gained through the internship. I learned how to make proper plant clippings for the plant press so that vouchers can be made for the herbarium. I was very happy to learn this, although I would have been even happier had I the chance to help mount the specimen in the formal way, but that is done at a later time when I wont be around. Anyhow, once we’ve made a voucher specimen we monitor the target population to keep track of when the seeds will be ready for gathering. I have enjoyed collecting seeds, so long as they weren’t plants from the Asteraceae family because those usually tend to be very small annuals that require lots of bending down to collect the seeds and that can be hard on the back. I prefer collecting seeds from shrubs because they usually don’t require too much crouching down. Even so, I liked getting experience collecting seeds from a variety of different plants, as well as a variety of different sites. San Diego County is believed to have the most diverse plant flora in the country! Meaning very diverse regions, which means exciting new things to see majority of the time.

I greatly enjoyed taking pictures of the flora we vouchered, as well as ones we didn’t. It reminded me of my love for photography and I have now taking up photography as a hobby of mine. I plan to submit some of my pictures to some science magazines, and will carry-on doing this when I travel for graduate school.

Calycoseris parryi with two flowers buds

Calycoseris parryi flower

Calycoseris parryi - I love the patterns on the sepals

  This internship exposed me to a new world of science and I loved it!

Penstemon centranthifolius flowers

Salvia mellifera - Black Sage with a bee feeding on the nectar

At the top of El Cajon Mtn. admiring the view

In the beginning of Spring we started to monitor our field sites more frequently just in case new flowers would pop up. These were the days I found most exciting because there’s no telling what Mother Nature will surprise us with. For example, a couple of months ago when we first started collected seeds from our San Vicente View site we were aware of what plants were and weren’t there, but one day I spotted a blue flower Laurie and I hadn’t seen before and neither of us knew what it was. Naturally we looked in our San Diego County Native Plants book to determine what it was, and it turned out to be a Delphinium! Either D. hesperium ssp. cuyamacae or D. parishii ssp. subglobosum, they are both on the California Native Plant Society Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants.

Delphinium sp. at San Vicente View site

Field days, although they usually were very long days, they were my favorite part of the internship! I also enjoyed the germination tests. Laurie would pick which seeds would be pulled out of storage for germination tests and which germ test would be used. Then the seeds would be put in the germinator for four weeks, and every Friday I would have to check on the seeds’ progress. There were data sheets that needed to be filled out that showed how the seeds progressed over the four weeks depending on if they germinated or not. I liked checking the seeds every Friday because I was able to see their progression.

Throughout my internship I have also been able to see cool things aside from the beautiful native flora, as well as help out with other projects related to wildlife restoration and conservation. I have learned how much hard work and people effort it takes into helping endangered species, be it animal or plant. I plan to continue to participate in conservation and rehabilitation projects when I move to Ohio for graduate school at Miami University. Thanks so much CLM, Chicago Botanic Garden, and the Applied Plant Ecology Division at the Institute for Conservation Research!

A moth of some sort.

This is a non-Native butterfly that was at the San Diego Zoo - Safari Park Butterfly Exhibit















Out in the Field

With the sun scorching the plants, seeds are  ready for collecting!

I haven’t had much time in the lab lately because we are constantly driving out to our field sites to collect seeds from our target plants. At times we get disappointed when we arrive at our site because the seeds are almost ready, meaning we have to leave the site empty-handed, but we always plan to go back to the site a week or so later hoping the seeds will be ready by then. Usually the seeds are and we can collect on our second trip out. Although on our second trip out we may run into other problems, such as no more seeds being left on the plant because of high winds or grazing from animals.


For example, at out McCain Valley site, we had two Lupinus species we were very eager to collect. When we went out one week hoping the pods would be ready to collect, they weren’t ready. So we estimated they’d be ready in about two weeks. Well, when the beginning of the second week came around, we decided to head out and check. When we arrived we were sadly disappointed, apparently Lupine’s are cream of the crop! Who would have thought? 😀 Of course the tasty pods had been munched on and we were unable to collect the seeds to make a complete seed lot. Aside from a few seeds that were still left in some pods, we decided to leave those for nature and marked Lupinus concinnus and Lupinus excubitus off our list. Laurie will keep an eye out for these two species next year when she monitors McCain Valley.


Lupinus excubitus - McCain Valley



Landscape for Lupinus excubitus - McCain Valley



Germination Tests

Germination tests are extremely important for seed collections because what is the point of storing a seed if one does not know how to make it germinate after it has been frozen? Once a seed lot has been processed it is put into a humidity controlled room. The seed lot is placed in such a room so the moisture content in the seed can be brought down to about a 5%. Once the seed lot reaches this percentage it is ready to be stored in the freezer. We place seed lots into the freezer for at least one month before performing any germination (germ) tests on it.

I’ll use Trixis californica as an example. When we pull it out of the freezer, we take 100 seeds to use for the germ tests. The seeds are put in a weigh boat with deionized water for 24 hours, which is called the imbibe step. The imbibe step is important because it allows the seed to uptake water, thus increasing its moisture content. The next step is to pick the proper germ test for the seed. I am still learning this part. More, once I’ve got it down!


Exploring a New Site

A couple of weeks ago, Lauren and I drove out to a new field site, Hellhole Canyon, to scout for new plants. Our first time out to this site was unsuccessful, we ended up at a locked gate. We could see beyond the gate, there was a dirt road, and that is where we needed to be. We decided we would go back to the Beckman Center to thoroughly study some maps so that we could figure out a way to get onto the part that is BLM Land. Once we devised a new plan for getting to the BLM part of the site, we went out again the next day. Lauren and I were both really excited because we were certain our new way would lead us on the right side of the gate, but it didn’t. Instead, the gate was unlocked this time because there were other government employees working, and they let us in so we could check out the site. We didn’t see any new species for vouchering, but the overall view of the site was beautiful!



In the upcoming week I will be going out here again to see if any annuals have popped up after the rain we’ve received since the first time out, I’m looking forward to what we will find!












A Step-by-Step Approach to Seed Processing

I want to share with y’all a simple step-by-step process for processing a seed lot. First things first, collect the seed from a field site and bring it back to the Seed Bank and put into a plastic container with a label.

Then this material will be rubbed on to different screens in order to separate out the seeds from the other plant material. I’ve attached a photo to show what the pods of a C. heterophyllus look like once they’ve been opened by rubbing it on a screen.

Once the seed has been separated from the plant by use of the different screen sizes, then an air separator is used to remove debris and unfilled seeds from the seed lot.

After the whole seed lot has gone through the air separator it is considered ‘clean.’ I write ‘clean’ because if it is a seed lot with extremely small seeds, there tends to be tiny debris as seen in the photo below. If this is the case, the seed lot will have to be hand-cleaned.

Hand-cleaning a seed lot involves a microscope and tweezers, and takes a lot of time. Since the seeds are so small, as well as the debris, one must look through a microscope in order to pick out the left over debris. Once this is complete the seed lot is officially clean!

Seed processing takes a lot more time than I had thought, but the end result is so clean and pretty!


The first two weeks…

I’m not sure where to begin writing about all that I have experienced so far in just the two weeks that I’ve been a part of the CLM Internship at San Diego Zoo Global, so I’ll just start from the beginning. It was not the usual first day, in that I was lucky enough to be able to go out in the field with my co-workers and assist with a current restoration project that was started two years ago. We went out to Lake Skinner County Reserve east of Temecula in Riverside County to water bunchgrass seedlings (10,000 of them!) that were planted one month ago. This season has been a dry one, so we needed to water the plants by hand. The bunchgrass, with its more open form, has been planted because invasive grasses have taken over the area. This has been problematic for Stephen’s Kangaroo Rat since the thick cover of invasive annual grass makes it difficult for the Stephen’s kangaroo rats to get around. After we successfully watered all the plots we were done with the field-work, for that week.

Then, back at the Institute of Applied Plant Ecology I began learning about the  processing of seeds, which is fabulous once you complete a whole seed lot! The process varies, depending on the species and the seeds. The overall take on processing the seeds is to first make a separation based on differences in size. This is done by rubbing the seeds through several different screens in order to divide out the debris from the seeds. Once this is done the seeds are put into an air separator, which further divides out the seeds from the debris, based on differences in weight. The air separator can be a tricky thing because you want to make sure you are getting rid of debris, not seeds. So one must be sure to check the debris canister under the microscope to make sure there aren’t any seeds. If there are seeds, then you have to check the seeds to see if they are full or empty. Sometimes the seeds in the debris canister can be full, that is why it is important to check by cutting them open under the microscope. Once the seed lot has been passed through the air separator, it is ready to be hand-cleaned. The air separator does a good job getting rid of small twigs, branches, etc, but it can’t get everything so that is why hand-cleaning is necessary for seedlots that will be stored for gene conservation. (Seedlots used for restoration generally are not hand-cleaned.  I’ve been hand-cleaning a seed lot for a few days now, and it is very rewarding seeing the clean seed lot increase in size!) After hand-cleaning the seeds are placed into a drying room where their moisture content is greatly reduced. We have to dry the seeds properly so they can be frozen for proper long-term storage. After the seeds have been in the freezer for a month, germination trials are done on the seeds, because what is the point of storing seeds if we don’t know how to “wake” them up, overcoming their dormancy mechanisms? I’ve also had an introduction to the theory behind the germination trials and the different techniques, but next week I will actually get to do one! I’m really looking forward to “waking up” seeds that have been in storage!

This last week I also did my first voucher on a couple Ceanothus species! It wasn’t as hard as I thought, but I’ve been told that Ceanothus’ are easier to voucher, compared to vouchering wildflowers. Afterwards, another intern and myself keyed out the plants to make sure what we vouchered was what we thought it was, Ceanothus tomentosus and C. crassifolius.