About Reed Benkendorf


Life in the time of Orchids

If their is one song that describes my life, it is DBS out from the album Rogue Taxidermy by Days n Daze. To date, I have explored over 15,000 road miles in California (I mean since plants up), and collected all over the state. Let’s be honest, I need to get out way more but i’ve been working on grad school stuff. I’ve hiked over 1,000 miles, and up more than about 50,000 feet. Collected about 1,000 plants, and identified a few hundred more. It’s been a dream 🙂

“I wish we were leaving tomorrow you say
And I really can’t blame you
cause I hate to stay in the same place too long
I swear it drives me insane
The smell of the air, the roads and the people
Become too familiar
no longer exciting to me
That’s annoying I just want to get away

The monotony is killing me it’s killing you
So what to do
Jump in the car and drive away
We’ll worry about gasoline later
When we’re broken down on interstate ten west
Cause I just cannot stand it here for any longer….”

So anyways, what do  I do when i’m in town? Well I’ve switched over to the Cotini-Coast Dairies National Monument for the next four months. It’s a small (6000 acre) parcel, that was designated by President Obama in his last week in office! We don’t really have much (if any…?) funding so it’s all being dealt with pretty off the cuff- which means if their are plants i’m dealing with ’em.


I’m currently working on an assemblage of 20+ seed collections simultaneously, mapping insane amounts of weed, collecting every plant and identifying them, and writing up things all government like, while also surveying for rare plants. It’s alot of things to be juggling, It feels like I spend the majority of my time rummaging through my pack to grab out another thing I need to do one of the above tasks. Anyways. those seeds only go one way, so I gotta get outta town back out to the Coast.

By the way…. in one week: Piperia michaelii, P. elegans, and…. LAST ORCHID FOUND IN SISKIYOU…. It’s orchid time! WaHooo

Phlox hoodii


back here

Those are lichens, packets of lichens. Today I was staring at the Ocean, breakers roaring as I collected Bromus carinatus, Danthonia californica, Elymus glaucus, and Stipa lepida seed by seed in a prairie. It hearkens back to my college days. I passed my days running barefoot through the Thuja plicata, Pseudotsuga mensiezii, Tsuga heterophylla forests- and scraping lichens off branches. Collecting any plant I could to analyze it’s volatile’s with every minute I could spend on a GC mass spec. I lived on the water nearly the whole time. going out on midnight hikes through the woods on full moon nights, canoe voyages on moonless nights. Always watching the waves from the Pacific creep into the Southern stretches of the Puget Sound. Flipping side after side of LPs and cassettes, coz you’d better know the grass ain’t greener on the other side, but better than that Jerry’s there too!

Anyways, living in a college town again, with ecologists, working near the water and still screaming along to Pigpen is making me something like nostalgic. It makes me appreciate how fortunate I am that CLM ever put up with me and offered me an internship in the first place-let alone ths extension for the fourth time. It’s shown me how much i’ve grown. When I was a junior in college I never thought i’d be able to get a job as a botanist- I thought I was a hopeless case. Then I got one, then after my senior year I got another.

When I started as an ecologist my goal was to work in the wet wet forests of the West; and then my head got spun right around by heading to the Columbia Basin. After my second season in the desert i’d started to metamorphose into one of the infamous desert rats. I didn’t really think about coming back over the crest for long, but then well ya know life happens..

So yes, as mentioned i’m a 4th term intern now- I might finally be a CLM legend, although only Justin could verify this. So what am I up to? When not writing sub-par blog posts-despite my extensive experience, I am working on the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument collecting seed and surveying.

It’s a fascinating area to work. It’s small, only 6,000 acres. It’s composed of three main habitats, Coastal Prairie, Soft Chaparral, and Coastal Redwood, but their is some Oak Savannah and mixed forests in here too. It’s not open to the public yet, but it’s in a very urban area. It’s apart of what i’d almost call an endangered ecosytem-much like the San Joaquin Desert. It was designated in the last week of Obama’s presidency. It’s really unlike any experience or area I have heard about in BLM.

Anyways, i’d like to say it’s all relaxed, but it’s not quite yet. This extension here started kind of late, and so every day I find myself doing an insane amount of activities. I now carry a burlap bag full of envelopes to collect seed into- 19 types of envelopes, yes these woodland species, don’t produce much seed, and they are distributed at low density, so alot of my time is spent flipping through this accordion of envelopes looking for the right guy. Most of these collections are multiple (5+) day events! Not what i’m use to with SOS…

In between flipping through my purse-like bag i’m mapping weeds, collecting every plant, noting GPS of anything interesting, and collecting anything that I look at and go “yeah X genus, uhm but what species?” As you can imagine, I don’t cover a lot of ground.


CCMA, Sampson Peak. Radiolorian chert. Collecting lichens.

a millenia in the making

So I’m closing out my third month as an intern in Marina, California. Let’s see, I’ve been to the office twice, and spent the rest of my time in the field or working out of my bedroom/office; which looks far more like an herbarium, library, and backpackers crash pad. Stacks of dried tissue, seeds, specimens, cardboard, rocks with lichens on them, presses, and papers are building up around me and it’s becoming hard to navigate throughout the room. This is definitely how a room should look!

Joaquin Rocks

The winter and spring of 2017 were uncharacteristically wet for California. As a result the spring blooms have lasted much longer, and nearly all the species present are coming up. The higher precipitation allows for some weedier more mesic plants to displace some species; but in general everything is emerging- just not always in huge quantities. It seems the richness is here, but the diversity if skewed.

Most importantly this rain has prolonged the bloom in California, allowing me to see a lot more species than I would have been able to otherwise. It’s a total blessing for anyone who is very interested in the study of the flora of Western North America.

My mentor has well botanized the area we work in, so it’s a lot harder to make valuable contributions here than it generally has been in my previous internships. However, some of my highlights so far have been in developing understandings of some rare plants micro-habitats. In particuliar for: Phacelia phacelioides, Astragalus lentiginosus var. idriaensis, Allium howelli, as well as working through identifying slews of Eschscholzia hypecoides. Aside from this I have been continuing along my floristic mission of collecting all species in our field office. This has been fun and challenging, now most of my office work just consists of making hundreds of herbaria labels, which I guarantee you is not the most fun part. Additional activities have been making seed collection and traveling along on rare plant monitoring work.

Im my free time I have been traveling around California collecting Apioids for the PENA project, some Onagrads, and a couple other groups. I’ve also been working on collecting >95% of the flowering plants I see along my travels, which is pretty time intensive. It turns out I’m just kinda falling into being a taxonomist, which is strange because a few ecology professors always use to oftentimes liken me to  Gleason.

come for the waterfall, stay for the Carex

Recently I have still been reading Thompson’s “the Co-evolutionary Process” and assorted papers on genomics and desert ecology. Unfortunately not much time reading recently, I’ve been busy collecting and planning expeditions. I’ve been studying for the GRE too, which has got to be the biggest waste of time in my life. This feels like reading a dictionary to find a ton of fancy words to say at a party to impress people; rather than developing interesting ideas for their own merit and generally being a well rounded person.

“walk a simple path a simple way”

For my third and final CLM internship I am in our nation’s floristic gem. I’ve been reeling in excitement since spring’s arrival, so many plants and so little time! I was very worried about starting work in the California Floristic Province due to the number of plants, I felt pretty rough from not being able to botanize over winter. However, a lot of my fears have been allayed- and while I’m definitely not back at even close to full ability yet, I am on the upswing.

Vertic clay soil community, Panoche Hills

I am working in the Central Coast field office with botanist Ryan O’Dell. For the last month and a half we have largely been working in the San Joaquin Desert ecosystem. It is a rather interesting system and while a part of the CFP has a very strong Mojave desert (Dmoj) affinity. As I always like to think about it, why learn one flora when you can be a geek and work on learning two floras? The area has allowed me to start to learn about the hot desert, and annual plant life. I have actually had very little experience with the annual life cycle so this is very valuable experience. In particular I am very interested in inconspicuous low statute annuals, especially when they are ‘understory’ (of other annuals!). I’m finally seeing a lot of stuff I’ve been reading in Venable papers, especially about year to year co-existence dynamics. I have a whole slew of questions stemming from these topics now, but am having difficulties designing experiments to test them.

In principal our work tasks are simple, to survey and document the diversity of plant life across our field district. Our area, which is mostly in San Benito county is a pretty incredible natural laboratory. Their is a diverse range of geologies (e.g. Sandstone, Marine shale, and Serpentine) generating a number of soils which foster distinct edaphic endemic plant species. Due to a lot of this area being poorly accessible due to steep topography, private ranch ownership, and few roads, the area is shockingly under-botanized, for any Western state, let alone California. Accordingly, many of the plants which occur on these unique soils have been seldom collected historically and are believed by many to warrant some type of conservation status.

sandstone conglomerate ‘fin’, with marine shale in foreground

So we survey extensively, and share information regarding the number, location, and general size of the local plants and their populations. Fortunately, due to Ryan’s understanding of the relationships between geology, soils, and plants, we have been able to find many very large populations. Furthermore, what’s awesome is that due to their edaphic habitats these plants are not being encroached upon by noxious weeds, and their habitats are generally undesirable for human usage (eg. mineral or fossil fuel extraction, and cattle ignore them), and so the plants must only adapt in the face of climate change. In my budding professional opinion, a great deal of these species are safe for a long time to come! I anticipate that they may have rather infrequent above-ground showings for a couple hundred years, but will be fine. Fortunately knowing this will allow Conservation efforts to focus on other more deserving of immediate attention taxa.

Caulanthus inflatus (Brassicaceae), interesting study plant for mulling over water dynamics

This job is pretty incredible so far. We basically camp out and spend four days of the week botanizing all day. Then we both split up and spend the next three weekend days botanizing and then tell each other about it during the week. I’m learning a lot, I’ve already collected about 300 specimens for herbaria collections and keyed nearly all of them, and I anticipate that I will keep up to that rate of about 8 plants/day throughout the next few months. As you could imagine I am becoming pretty OK at identifying plants. Most importantly to me is developing my understanding of the relationship between geology, soils, and plant life; and being able to identify soil and minerals types for make astute botanical observations.

As always current readings: closing out on Crawleys Plant Ecology and starting up on John Thompsons  the Coevolutionary Process. I am reading a lot less these days, and well I guess doing science now. I am spending most of my free time collecting and studying specimens. I’m also getting a lot more into plotting, and graphing, my field observations and am slowly warming up on doing more theoretical matrice and mathematical modeling of them and hypothesis derived from these observations.

Assessing reproductive status of disjunct, and slowly recruiting Astragalus pachypus var pachypus

“Not to run away
Just to live a day
To carry my load on my back and walk
On the Crest running next to the sea
The Crest running next to the sea”

-the Crest by Hot Buttered Rum String Band

Desert Dawn

Hey world, greetings from Southern Idaho. I’ve been up to far too much to fit into the blog, but let’s take a stab at a recap anyways (I’m no J. Chappelle-loved the drones bud). My highlights have been: spending a day botanising with the BLM (super hero-legend) Roger Rosentreter, he was state head botanist for 35 years, is an exceptional lichenologist (and has written many books on the subject) and from that couple generations of crazy mountaineer, super fun, cool as courduroy botanists-folks like Dr. Ken Robertson who inspired me to do field work. I always love learning from people like this, so many pieces of information they take for granted and have never bothered to write down that may otherwise be lost.  Another social highlight was seeing the lovely Kendl Winters and extraordinary Palmer T. Lee play a show as the The Lowest Pair near Boise; after my banjo fix, I got to drive far into the Owyhee desert listening to someone play Dead on the community radio as the stars danced in a moonless night.

My trainings were really incredible and I’m very grateful for the opportunities. My first training was the Idaho Native Plant Society meeting, where I was able to explore the high precipitation refuge populations in central Idaho. These communities are very similar to the plant life of Western Washington and Oregon. The second training was the Idaho Botanical Foray.  The premise of these are that folks from each of Idaho’s four university herbaria show up to an underrepresented area in their collections and collect everything in sight. This was very fun and allowed me to study the local flora with a ton of incredible botanists. What I really loved about this is that I was able to meet a ton of botanists whose vouchers I have been staring at in Digital Herbaria for the last few years. Highlights were botanisng riparian zones with Mike Mancuso, collecting at a breakneck pace on mountain wind-swept slopes with Prof. Jim Smith. As well as talking the Owyhee flora, Onagrads, and Lomatium’s with Prof. D. Mansfield. It was fun to see everyone’s collection methods and philosophies, especially as I have been collecting largely from three groups here, the Onagrads, the Apioids, and the Boraginaceae for various projects.

pressing with co-worker Sam West, Scott Montgomery and Prof. J Smith in the background working on those waist high hay-bales. Idaho Botanical Foray 2016, Pahsimeroi Valley

pressing with co-worker Sam West, Scott Montgomery and Prof. J Smith in the background working on those waist high hay-bales. Idaho Botanical Foray 2016, Pahsimeroi Valley

Our field district was ravaged by several fires over the last decade and has been struggling to re-vegetate. I have been spending a lot of time thinking about restoration protocols for re-seeding and what physiological parameters of taxa may allow for quick re-colonization and prevent cheatgrass invasion.

Another project I have been working on aside form LEPA searching is adding content to a photo field guide of the plants of our district office. I have been working on writing dichotomous keys for Erigeron, Castilleja, Eriogonum, Crepis, PenstemonLupinus, and a couple others. Writing keys and making line-drawings has been a highly educational and challenging task. Part of my ambitions are for the keys to be usable by folks without formal botany training, as well as making them aesthetically interesting to the forthcoming generation of millennial botanists-they are both tough curve balls to try and address, but I’m on the homestretch. At the same time I have been working on reviewing the advance copy of Flora of the Pacific Northwest- I have dozens of notes in my old version about errors, but none in the new one! Giblin and all his associates are doing incredible work on this one (and inspiring me to step it up on my own keys!).

One of the great things about focusing on a singular plant in a season is learning, and conjecturing about the ecology that allows the plant to survive in its niche. The inorganic chemistry of slickspots gives us a lot to think about, and really drives home many themes of soil science, nutrient and moisture relations, population genetics, as well as temperature and climate dynamics.

I’ve been able to explore the mountains and deserts of Idaho in my space time. No pictures can do justice to the areas I have been. I’ve been infatuated with the Owyhee desert and the high mountains of central Idaho, as well as the ranges of Northern Nevada

Group shot! notice Evan of CBG fame leaning low. :-). i'm that kid back right with a press.

Group shot! notice Evan of CBG fame leaning low. :-). i’m that kid back right with a press.

“Desert Dawn, rise up early, lift your song….
Smell the scent of flowers dancing on the wind,
dancing on the wind!”

-Michael Kang of the string cheese incident

sorry loose, format and essentially devoid of original photos (both above photos taken by (Steve Martin, just as funny as the one your thinking of), but if you’re in the west you understand that pictures can’t do justice to anything you want to snap one of.

we walk in sines


Winter in Chicago, O’hare was shut down, so was Midway; I had a couple friends with tickets to New Years runs in their home of Denver and no way to get back there. I’d just bought a car, and realized I couldn’t take my preferred (treacherous!) route through beautiful Bozeman and Missoula, so the southern route it was. We spent the next few nights dancing around seeing bluegrass, before notions of the great west pulled me back into the Rockies. I woke up, after a short day of driving, on the border of Wyoming and Utah and traded in the 80 for the 84 to head Northwest towards home. After winding through the Uintah, to breakfast in Ogden, I reached Idaho, mountains in each direction with a sea of steppe bridging them and me. After a few hours into the drive I realized I absolutely had to move to Idaho; about two months later my CLM offer was for a job in Twin Falls-a town that’s flat, but with about 8 mountain ranges within a two hours drive-I accepted instantly. So anyways, why was I brought here?

It’s my incredible fortune that this is my second CLM internship, that I’m participating in a rare plant monitoring project, and I’m firmly rooted in the intermountain west. Our species of interest is Lepidium papilliferum, a somewhat succulent salt’n’pepper plant. It is restricted to these areas called “Slickspots”, supposedly these were formed during the Pleistocene by clay being washed down slight gradients and accumulating and forming a somewhat hard pan. The clay does several things, most notably: it retains considerable amounts of moisture, retains some cations such as Sodium, and provides a physical barrier to establishment for many species, which for many years have precluded these sites from extensive colonization by other species. Now, it’s habitat is being encroached upon by graminoid winter annuals (such as that, what’s it called again…oh yeah Bromus tectorum, and Taeniatherum caput-medusae) and there is concern that its population is on the decline. Its conservation status has wavered from Endangered to Threatened  (and back) many times, but due to interesting (e.g. unpredictable) seed bank dynamics its status is still up for debate because demographic trends have been hard to deduce with relevant power. So, along with three other interns we are going to walk prospective transects and search for habitat, as well as new populations so that they may be monitored in the future too, so that the species range, may be comprehensively ascertained. Yes I know what your thinking, “oh so they are using aerial photos to determine prospective habitat and then investigating on foot to determine whether the plants are actually there”- yeah that’s it (except the photo aspect has been done for us, and sometimes what may seem like a slick spot from above is just where a badger has kicked back dirt, or water washes through scrub leaving channels). To assess potential habitat, we walk through it on a meandering transect, which may be viewed as a wave (remember, a sphere has maximum surface area;  in terms of 2 dimensions by walking “half circles” you see a lot more space than walking straight- I’ll illustrate this mathematically next post, I need an illustration program I like to do this).

Anyways, I have so much to say I can’t even start or I won’t stop!

obligatory Balsamorhiza sagittata picture!

obligatory Balsamorhiza sagittata picture!  alt. 2134m, S* asp., N42*05.490″ W 113*43.458″, 4/29/16


I  will admit I have been hiking up into the melting (amidst quite a few snow and hail storms!) alpine climate, and walking throughout the desert, and making many observations and generating questions and refining hypothesis pertaining to dormancy release. I’ve become very interested in synchronization amongst populations and communities and which environmental cues are triggering physiological responses and how these may be affected by climate change. Of course, as always, I’ve been drifting around the wild thinking about the role of chemicals in plants, anyways there’s too much here to mention anything. Current reading: Physiological Plant Ecology-Larcher, Genes, Genetics, and Genomes, and Alpine Plant Life-Korner.  I recently finished Plant Physiology and Development 6th ed (the second ed. I’ve read lol!)-get this book!

Here are some pictures and here are some words to revel in, and to help see us on our journeys. Idaho is a land of impressions…

...things you may find crawling around the Owhyee desert... Chylismia scapoidea

…things you may find crawling around the Owhyee desert… Chylismia scapoidea


“i wore my boots out walkin’
poured my heart out talkin’
i felt the pain & i broke the chain
but i still got a long way to go

been on the road ‘til tomorrow
been through the joys & the sorrows
came through the flood
& i pulled through the mud
but i still got a long way to go

been in the back-room dealin’
been on a long hook reelin’
crashed in the shed
& i woke in a sunny bed
& i still got a long way to go

been on the rails & big muddy
i’ve crossed the trails rocky & rutted

been down the road a million miles
but i still got a long way to go

i’ve traveled near & traveled far
i beat a hole in my guitar
crawled with the zeroes
& i stood with my heroes
& i still got a long way to go

been in the rain & on the run
i worked a long day in the sun
i slopped the pails
& i beat the nails
but i still got a long way to go

i tried the a verse as the b verse
i took the c verse to the chorus
rewrote & changed it
then rearranged it
& i still got a long way to go

i lost my way in darkest night
i woke again & saw the light
opened the book & i . . took a look
but i still got a long way to go

tell me what . . . what is the soul of a man?
he’s got to reach up his hand
tell me what . . . what is the soul of a man?
he’s got to reach out his hand
& i still got a long way to go
still got a long way to go
still got a long way to go”

-railroad earth

unknown, will update. Notice the differentiation of cell types underground and subsequent elongation of stem.

unknown species, will update. Notice the differentiation of cell types underground and subsequent elongation of stem. cerca 2050m, growing alongside flowing vernal melt, under canopy.

back to the lab

serpentine and glacial refugia endemics galore!

Well, my internship has drawn to a close. It has been an immense pleasure to be able to spend the greater portion of five months in the field. The opportunities that avail themselves when living in the rural west are incredible.

I’m pretty happy with the work I was involved with. I think SOS is an awesome program, and I’ll be interested to see how it develops in the next decade. I’m very proud of the accessions I was able to add to their collections-and doing so was a very rewarding experience. I was able to make 24 collections; but they are sorely lacking in some vouchers and pictures-of the original 30 plants I took vouchers from and monitored the progression of only a handful were able to be collected-but opportunity can be found in any parched, scorched, ravine in the steppe, again…and again… I spent a bit of my spare time studying genetics, plant demography, plant communities, and reading other assorted things to help guide my collection techniques and choose/prioritize plants; I think that this was an incredible way to study this sort of material.  I’m also really happy to be able to feel like I’ve got a really good feel for the sage steppe flora.

sitting in the snow, a backdrop to krummholz junipers.

sitting in the snowfall.

I was enthralled to be in a ‘seasonal town’. For the last few years I’ve just been flat broke, that means only like 5-10 hikes a year. Having a job and basically already being in the mountains changed that! I’ve done a lot of the best hiking of my life this year. I still botanized a lot in my spare time too. Highlights looking back were: I went to this canyon (Swakane) to learn most of my sage-steppe plants early in the season, I recently learnt that the gentleman who wrote our flora (PNW-Hitchcock) use to do study weekends out there for decades with his friends. Another highlight were the endemic plants of the Wenatchee mountains. I think I saw about 20 endemics there this year- most of these rank in my (mental) top ‘most aesthetically appealing plants’ top 100. A final highlight was spending a lot of time in the sub-alpine and alpine and becoming familiar with those plant communities too. These are two groups of plants that I had no experience with until this year; and I’m very happy to now feel comfortable with my knowledge of the alpine, sub-alpine, east side forests, and sage-steppe areas of the PNW.

how is your senescent ID?

learn to ID dead things!

So I’ve learnt a lot about: plant ecology, orienteering, navigating, scheduling, planning, paperwork  (!),  dealing with people, keying a handful of new families, genetics, and monitoring. I’ve also cemented a lot of undergraduate knowledge that I would have probably ended up forgetting in a few years! I feel like a much more competent field worker now than I did five months ago, but I also still think I can grow significantly before pursuing formal instruction again.

So how does someone follow up something like this?

Well, easily discernible from the blogs is that most folks go to graduate school, right on! However, I’m not doing that, I’m going back to the analytical chemistry lab I work in as a phytochemist. I’m very excited to be able to reflect upon many of the interesting chemicals and their distributions throughout the steppe flora as I’m back at the bench. I’m also excited to hike the West cascades and Olympics for another year. I’ve also resolved to earn another bachelors as a part time student (I work in my old college town); this time in Plant Ecology (to supplement my B.S. in Plant Biology). I see how having a wider framework can be valuable for interpreting the natural world, and how a enhanced skill set can be an asset for various projects.

Thanks for opportunity Krissa, Rebecca & Molly.



hey Justin, the fifth stratovolcano!

hey Justin, the fifth stratovolcano!

“And the seeds that were silent all burst into bloom, and decay
And night comes so quiet, it’s close on the heels of the day”
-words by robert hunter of the grateful dead

From the sea to the sky


View of Mt. Baker & the Picket range en route to the Islands

View of Mt. Baker & the Picket range en route to the Islands

The last month has been pretty wonderful. I’m going try to keep this short n sweet but brevity isn’t always easy. I’ve had the great fortune of going from the archipelago of WA up to Mt. Baker, and the east slopes of the Cascades up in Okanogan county, and of course some butte, coulee, n plateau time was spent in that period to. My last month has been spent going from lush Westside forests, to dry Pondersa pine east slope mountain forests, to sandy beach maritime plants, back to the desert dunes, from sub-alpine and alpine back down to the steppe.

an Island in the archipelago near Lopez

an Island in the archipelago near Lopez

I spent a week out on the San Juan Islands helping SOS intern Jen McNew make some collections. Collected some Bromus….sitchensis! and several other plants, Jen’s doing great work out there collecting and helping with the monument transition. Highlights were hanging out on the beach reading after work, tromping through isolated islands covered in old growth forest to hunt for wetlands, and the highlight was Lichens! Yes, I was told to go get a familiarity with some of the rare lichens which occur at Point Colville.  I was definitely a bit dusty on them (hadn’t keyed a lichen for nearly a half year since I did this), but it was incredible.  There was very high species richness and diversity, with many species occurring on substrates that they don’t occur on anywhere else.

Piperia elegans

Piperia elegans

Afterwards, I spent another week in the step and finished up my quota for sage-grouse geared collections. Since then I’ve just started to collect anything that is abundant.  I can’t remember how many collections I’ve made now. Working on lots of things that are covered in native pollinators, drought tolerant Penstemons in the spotlight.

My mentor Molly, found a large population (c. 2000) of the sensitive Nicotiana attenuata. She taught me how to map maps in real time using our GPS units, and then how to edit them with GIS to provide important contextual information. I was also able to collect seed from this species for a rare species seed bank at the UW.

Nicotiana attenuata

Nicotiana attenuata

A condition of having finished up my grouse collections is that I can go into a different eco-type zone, the north north Washington that is in the Thompson Basin. This basin is Canada’s sagesteppe country, it also has lots of Pinus ponderosa forests due to the elevation. I’m able to collect a lot of forbs that grade in and out of the forest there and might be useful for forest wild fire restoration (areas within this ecotype zone have been burning real bad for the last few years). I love this land so much, it’s the Okanogan country, have always felt drawn to this area, and now I know why. Gorgeous.

mt baker
So, my final highlight is botany Washington conference (held by the Washington Native Plant Society) on Mt. Shuksan (adjacent to Mt. Baker)! “Jenjus” (my name for the Jenny B. & Justin C. duo), and I were able to all go up there for this 3 day spectacular. So the theme of the event was “Islands in the Sky”- an attempt to think about how forests encroaching due to climate change would effect the continuity of sub-alpine meadows, as well as how this would effect pollinators dependent on these nectar and pollen sources. It was really great to be able to brainstorm on themes like this with experienced botanists and entomologists. Other incredible highlights were of course the alpine Saxifragaceae, Cyperaceae, & Ericaceae and a plethora of flowers, the views, being in a cloud for a day, rain(!!!!!), and…..THE PTERIDOPHYTA. The biggest appeal of this trip to me, and what made me have to go.

Botrychium pinnatum

Botrychium pinnatum

This field-trips description promised we would see 30 ferns in one day and explore the effects of geology on plant community composition. I was skeptical, but it was DELIVERED! Our guide was incredible, he’s been a fern enthusiast since he was 14, and has found this ultra-mafic (and gneiss, and with calcium rich veins and more!) outcrop that (very likely) has the highest ferns species richness of any 100m area in US/Canada, furthermore many of the ferns are pretty to (very) rare, and and and there were many Botrychium spp.! While there were only a few representative individuals of the 5 species found up there (typically hundreds of each emerge each year, but ya know the drought story), it was incredible! My camera weird-ed out though so I only have one good pic. I was also able to get a much realer understanding of fern morphology than I had before.


"Can't talk to me without talking to you
We're guilty of the same old thing
Talking a lot about less and less
And forgetting the love we bring "

-Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead Continue reading

Fire on the Mountain


There’s a dragon with matches that’s loose on the town
Takes a whole pail of water just to cool him down

Lots of seed matured when in Chicago, so whence I returned to the field office I was pretty busy for a few weeks. Now, I have just about caught up on collecting the early season seeds and can breathe a little more slowly. Currently starting to collect more vouchers of some flowering plants that should have mature seed by the time I leave here. Some of these mid season bloomers I’m particularly enamored by are: Eriogonum elatum, and Calochortus macrocarpus. Next week will even have a few scouting days, I have some interesting rehabilitation plants in mind.

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the ‘stragal is real

“Lost now on the country miles in his Cadillac.
I can tell by the way you smile he’s rolling back.
Come wash the nighttime clean,
Come grow this scorched ground green,…”

Hello again from the steppes of the grand Northwest. While the Pacific Northwest (in the strict West of the Cascades sense) is notorious for it’s rain, these typically dry rainshadow leeward slopes of the Cascades have been soaking in precipitation on and off for the last three weeks. So much so that the roads to BLM land were in such a poor state I had to take nearly a week off (where I largely fretted about lost scouting time, but rejoiced about the speculative effects on the flora). However, this week the clouds finally cleared. The rain has been a blessing, the drought conditions were pretty bad-and a lot of sites were looking like scorched earth and not much else when I arrived.  However following the rain, the steppe (while some parts) has turned into a verdant lush paradise. Many taxa which have had their whole cohorts go to seed, now have a new cohort of seedlings to feast the eyes upon (and voucher specimens for my opportunistic collections! *evil chuckle*). While a few of the taxa which set seed quickly were unable to benefit from the moisture (and thus have a paltry amount of seed this season)- eg. Lithnospermum ruderale, which I have developed a keen fondness for- it appears to be a help with many other species.

When I showed up here I was initially a little flustered. By my April 20th start date many flowers had already faded, so I had to learn the local flora, and already be scouting candidate populations. Over the last few weeks I have caught up and have learned the “usual suspects of the flora” (ya know the plants that make up virtually all of the diversity in an area-except those uncommon treats).  A working knowledge of about 150 species is needed to feel comfortable here. These are more species than I have had to learn for a field position before. I enjoy it very much so and am now working on dialing in my field ID’ing of the Astragalus/Lomatium/Erigonum genera.

I was constantly berated in college by a certain professor for studying too many things, and too broadly. I have tried to take the advice to heed, accordingly now each season I try to become very familiar with a few groups. Last year I focused on Carex, Asteraceae, Poaceae, and other wetland graminoids (Sparganium, and Eleocharis bring back joyful memories). This year I have focused on Lomatium, and Astragalus, largely due to the West being the Lomatium center of diversity, and both of their prevalence amongst communities, and interesting secondary chemistry. It is always interesting learning the morphology of a very similar looking taxa, how distinct subtle differences can be!

I finished scouting the week of the 25th and during the week of the 1st, I finally started collecting seeds (I’m SOS). I have finished five collections so far (all Asteraceae and Lomatium) and I’m looking forward to getting more. While I was initially slightly intimidated by collecting, I now find it to be immensely pleasurable. Today I had to be particularly on my toes distinguishing different Lomatiums that intergrade (and hardly look different even in flowering) by dry and crispy senescent leaves.

Over the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of going to monitor with the UW’s ‘rare care’ team again. I participated in monitoring a couple large dune areas for Cryptantha leucophea– one site exceeded all hopes; at the other site not a single individual was found. Speculation regarding the factors causing this is interesting- I (and some others) most strongly suspect edaphic factors due to plants (dune stabilization) is the primary factor. This past week I had the fortune of seeing some Cryptantha interrupta (rare-but not quite as rare) in the Wenatchee Mountains.

Aside from my working hours I haven’t been able to get out botanizing as much as usual, due to moving houses, and various errands. Fortunately, my new residency is much closer to the Wenatchee Mountains and I can get out hiking in a fraction of the time I could before. Once back from Chicago, I cannot wait to get out there again habitually. Although, I have seen some real beauties in my few trips recently. A new book which I have been very excited about is “Plant evolutionary Biology” by Niklas- I always felt slightly odd about how glossed over our kingdom was treated in undergraduate biology curriculum in lieu of a focus on Animalia.  This is a wonderful lens to use to refresh and deepen my humble (partial and fragmentary) understanding of evolutionary processes. It’s exceptional in tandem with the environment here.

I’m in Chicago now and just had the fortune of visiting the CBG library, whereupon I had the pleasure of finally reviewing a fascimile copy of Vol 2 of Linnaeuss’ ‘Species Plantarum’.  I was able to partially translate the latin descriptors of several species, but had to borrow a Stearns text to complete them. After finishing a few, I was on the verge of tears of joy, and then the librarian let me see a second edition (1830 copy) of “Species Plantarum’ whereupon I started balling tears of joy, smiling wickedly, and laughing madly for the next several hours. Definitely my favourite part of this trip to Chicago! I was also able to snag an 8th edition of Gray’s “Manual of botany”- and the $5 it cost me will go towards the library acquiring more old rare texts. Finally, reading the texts of our forebearers is darn cool. I was also able to read excerpts of a text on seed biochemistry and physiology that emphasized some traits that are seldom mentioned in newer texts.

Uhm ok, so we all know why we really come to the blog. PLANT PICTURES!! So one final anecdote: my truck and I went through a struggle, and both came out unscathed (or “a stragal’ “- ok still not funny? I thought I’d try again). So I decided the bonding experience warranted a name for it, thus I have dubbed my gold dodge “Cassady” an homage to the notorious road dog of the western states. Without further ado PLANTS!

“fare ye the well, Let your life proceed by it’s own design, Let the words be yours I’m done with mine, fare ye the well, let the words be yours I’m done with mine”

Frasera albicaulis
Lomatium cuspidatum
Asclepias speciosa
Physaria alpestris