Tips for Seeds of Success interns.

From collecting seeds and touring a conservation plant facility to monitoring endemic plant species and eradicating weeds, this summer I really feel like Captain Planet’s right hand woman! This is my second season with Chicago Botanic Gardens and you’ve read a lot about my experience here, on the CLM blog. As I wrap up the season, I’d like to take a few moments to give some advice to incoming Seeds of Success interns.

The key to a successful season is timing! Key to life though right?! Timing is crucial because there are some species that take longer to mature and some that take less; the trick is to catch them when they are ripe and ready but not overly ready and have fallen off the plant because then it’s harder, nearly impossible, to collect enough seed. Varying seed maturation is good because if all plants seeded at the same time, we would need to plan a lot more in advance and we’d need a lot more people collecting, decreasing our chances of making big collections. The bad thing is that you need to figure out when the best time is to collect from the desired species and a lot of time there isn’t much information available on those details. Even if there were more information, external factors like weather and pollinator influence play a major role on the progress of seeds from one site to the next. Some species have a large widow of time that they will produce seed, while others will only produce seed for small periodic pockets of time. The key is to closely monitor how fast the plant is maturing and be there at the right time. Some species, like Pseudoroegneria spicata, just don’t have good seed seasons or the window for seed is so short that we never saw enough seed to collect from any of our abundant populations. Some species like Bouteloua gracilis, will produce seed at the same time for the same grass bundle but vary in maturity from grass to grass. That results in shoots of grass that are still in flower while others hold mature seed that is ready for collection. Some species vary in maturity within the same plant like Cleome does; One seed pod was green and under ripe while the pods on the flower next it were fully mature and on the verge of falling off the pod. For collections like those, we went through the same site twice and collected seeds where we could, always making sure not to collect more than 20 percent of the total population of course. Just as important as timing are patience, persistence and mindfulness. Throughout this season I’ve learned that if one of these actions is missing, success falls down to bare bones zero, and your project is bound to become Seeds of Failure! Don’t let that happen to you!

As Scientist, we all know how important it is to keep and regularly update a journal in order to have a record collection of research and findings. SOS definitely requires the constant use of a journal to keep all field data in order. I forgot to write a couple of times and had trouble figuring out what was found or collected if I didn’t document it. It takes less time to sit with my journal for a couple of minutes a day than to spend a whole day trying to figure out what, when and where something happened so just do it.

When in doubt, head to a scenic site! Sometimes we didn’t have a clue where a plant would be, the only lead being the seed zone boundaries! When that was the case, we would go to coordinates that seemed scenic or had some type of attraction that made us want to go there. About 80 percent of the time we would find the species there and/or another plant on our target species list and to top that off, we’d have s killer view for out lunchtime break, win-win!

I’ve been pressing plants since my ethnobotany course as an undergrad student but this season I’ve pressed more plants than ever before. Patience really comes in handy here when you’re working with species that have long and fibrous roots! Sometimes there is more life underground than above! Good luck fitting it all mess in standard press size. I found that roots snap more easily than bend and I snapped a couple of them but a snapped press specimen is better than no pressed specimen right?! It’s nice to know that the pressed plants will be preserved at various institutions including the Smithsonian. I can’t imagine they update their herbarium display very often (or if they even have a display) so you probably won’t find our samples there but either way it’s nice to know that my botanical contributions will be preserved in time.

This season, the Vernal Field Office has made a total of 29 collections consisting of 13 different species, most of which were sent to Bend, OR for cleaning and further processing. Smaller collections and requests were shipped to the appropriate organizations. I started the season a little late so I can’t take credit for contributing to all of those collections, but contributing to most of them is still a great accomplishment. We’ve also compiled a list of at least 15 collection sites for next year’s CLM interns at the Vernal Field Office, you could thank us later J.

Although I completely understand the goals of SOS, there seems to be data lacking support of successful rehabilitation sites from recent SOS collections. We have clear data, maps, and protocols so I’d imagine that it’d be easy to implement follow up protocols on the effect that native seeds are having. As far as I know, there isn’t much published or researched on the aftermath of SOS collections. If there were a clear outline of the benefits of seeding native, then native plants may have greater success being grown in their native land. Many people would benefit from this information for example, people with grazing permits would have a greater incentive to seed native if there were a list of benefits, even if it were a little more expensive. Data could also motivate future projects to replace all non-native plants with native ones (perfect world scenario, I know). I’d also find it interesting to investigate how sites that we collect from are affected by our collections. There seems to be loads of energy used on the collection side of this project but it seems just as important to investigate how we are affecting areas we are collecting from and continually support the fact that SOS is making a positive impact by attaching positive fool proof results and thorough analysis to the equation.

I hope that some interns will find these short tips useful out in the field. Aside from gaining more navigational and data collecting experience, this internship has also helped me gain confidence in this vast field of Botany and I hope you have a similar experience. Earth depends on the continual brainstorming of conservation tactics and techniques in order to preserve the bits it has to offer, I’m grateful I have the capacity to contribute towards its protection. Botany is a lifelong continually changing subject and I’m privileged to contribute my understanding of it in efforts of protecting and maximally benefiting from the study of plants.

Botany Rules! Boys drool (JK! Except for Trump the Frump he definitely drools!!!)!!



Time’s wings

Time flies when you’re engaged! Flying is an understatement as to how fast it’s zooming past, I can’t believe I’m at the tail end of this internship. This season has been fun, scouting and collecting seeds has been a success thus far and we’ve checked off most of our priority species collections and are currently waiting for some late bloomers to produce seed. A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity of touring the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center (UCEPC) in Meeker, CO. Their main goal is to develop and provide plants that will improve land conditions and enhance wildlife habitat. Being a part of the Seeds of Success (SOS) program, it was fun to see where our seeds could end up for cleaning and further processing. This facility was established in 1975 and is a whooping 269 acres! Upon arrival, it didn’t seem so big but it’s huge! We rushed through some portions in order to get to others during our short ~5 hour tour.

The oldest cleaning machine at UCEPC. Classic!

Did you know that old school machines are still used to tackle seed cleaning? The methods to clean seeds have been mostly the same since long before you and I were born! Good ol air is crucial for cleaning “fluff” off of seeds, add some mechanical vibrations a voila, clean seeds! OK, maybe not that simple. The seed size and weight need to be taken into consideration so that you don’t loose seeds in the cleaning process so it definitely requires some skill and experience, but that’s the gist of it. Once they clean the seeds they either ship them to various locations to be seeded in the field, or they plant them at that facility for further research and re-vegetation efforts. My favorite project is their effort to help out the endangered Penstemon harringtonii. They went to Battlement Mesa, Co where it is rather common and transported harringtonii, including soil, in efforts of making it more abundant by collecting its seeds and growing it in a controlled environment. I really enjoyed the tour of the facilities and feel as though my job is really making a positive environmental impact.

I also had the privilege of attending the 14th Biennial Conference of Science & Management on the Colorado Plateau & Southwest Region at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. The major focus was on climate change and how it’s affecting land management. There were also various presentations on archaeological sites and genetic variation that were very interesting. Some of my favorite presentations included a common garden study where 4,000 Fremont cottonwoods (Populus fremontii) were planted at different elevations and they found that mid elevation cottonwood were the most resilient in comparison to low and high elevation cottonwood. Another study showed that temperature restricts high-elevation bee pollinator communities and assessed the bee to fly transition along an elevation gradient. Over 700 species were imaged to measure darkness and it turns out that there is stronger selective pressure for bees to be darker. Bee’s dominate as pollinators at lower elevations and flies dominate at higher elevations and they found that the darker bodied pollinators had a higher heat absorption and larger bodied pollinators had higher thermal regulation. At higher elevations you find an increased size in pollinators as well as a darker body and therefore bees are more sensitive to temperature changes than flies are. The long term effects of this predict that biodiversity of pollinators will decrease as species move in to higher elevations. Winona LaDuke was the keynote speaker on opening day and welcomed the week with a somber yet optimistic note on our current environmental crisis. She is a powerful presence and leading activist for tribal communities with wise words of wisdom. It’s tough to add humor to such a sensitive subject but public speaking comes naturally for her and she managed to combine the two in a robust presentation. She spoke about the injustice that our land has overcome and the priority of water over oil as well as details on her tribe and the importance of community engagement. It went longer than anticipated but time seemed to be on her side since I didn’t notice how much time had passed until I looked at my phone while I was walking out. Time grows wings and flies when you’re engaged!




Rafting the Green River

Clipping Teasel Heads. (Photo by Jessi B.)

What I like most about this internship is that it has given me many opportunities to learn various aspects associated with the subject I love most, Botany. It’s sometimes tedious dirty work but i’m more than happy to be the one doing it. Last week, we took a two day break from SOS collections in order to make a positive influence on our Green River by eradicating some weeds invading the native habitat along the Green River in Utah. Seven of us floated and made frequent stops to trim down and spray various invasive species but the target species was Teasel (Dipsacus follonum). Teasel is an exotic plant native to Europe but was introduced to the Americas by its earliest settlers and has since escaped cultivation and become an invasive species. It can grow as tall as seven feet as it does here along the Green River. This baby is gnarly looking with spines and spikes growing from every inch of the plant making it virtually untouchable. It has pointed bracts that grow just under the egg shaped flower and curve up and around the flower. I’m going to be completely honest and admit I kind of like the look of this punk rocker but I didn’t admit that to the crew and just got to work. The best way of eradicating it is by cutting the flowering heads and disposing of them in a secure bag to prevent them from spreading any further, since the flowers reseed so easily. In addition, we sprayed the leaves with a mild solution of glyphosate to block photosynthetic activity and kill it. Poor punk rocker! There were relatively large zones of healthy habitat throughout the Green River but at the zones where Teasel nested, it REALLY nested and was very prolific.

After a full day of weeding we nestled at a campsite along the river. My first priority was to get into the water and cool off so that’s exactly what I did. After drifting for a bit we feasted on tacos and settled by the campfire. When I closed my eye to sleep all I could see were teasel heads! What a day!

The following day was very similar to the first but we were better skilled and the day went by super fast with all the teasel in the area. I never thought it’d be so fulfilling to eradicate invasive but I really felt as though we made a huge positive impact on the habitat. It was a nice little break from SOS monitoring and hope to have the chance to do it again.



Ashley National Forest

As I consider where to adventure these crusted hiking boots off to, I realize how privileged I am to be in small town Vernal, UT. A bit conservative for a city girl, but the outdoors are vast and this isn’t my first rodeo in a small town, so I’m not too worried about it. After researching some of the gems in the area, I’m thrilled to be at a location where nature awaits adventure at a mere 40 minute drive in just about any direction.

I recently celebrated 1 year of knowing my partner in crime from last years’ CLM internship by going on a backpacking trip to Ashley National Forest. This was a great intro to summer trip because we only planned to average about 5 to 6 miles per day AND it made me realize I was unprepared and a little rustically rusty.


Drove for about 2.5 hours from Vernal to Whiterocks trail head and started our hike at around noon “It’s so nice to have the whole trail by ourselves” I said to Cori. 3 hours later, during our snack/kirin building break we encounter the first humans. I’m not sure why, but we both felt as though we were caught doing something wrong when they stopped to say hello. Maybe it was just the shock of seeing a person when you think there’s nobody watching. They were an older pair, assuming they were a couple, she said they came from Colorado where she worked for the Forest Service and we told her about our summer positions and what we do. We shared our plan to do a loop around Fox and Cheppeta lake and they said they were doing something similar. He said nothing the whole time, it was a little strange, but in either case I like how it was her that took initiative to speak and spoke for him instead of the other way around. *Feminist trait pick up*  By 7pm we were tired and a little hangry, but we accomplished our goal of 6 miles to Fox Lake. We saw a pile of what looked like camping equipment and assumed it was the same couple, since we hadn’t seen anyone else on trail. Upon close examination we determined it was some drifter’s pile of things he had abandoned and hoped he wouldn’t come back in the middle of the night and kill us both. Dark, I know, but sometimes these types of things cross my mind as possibilities out in the middle of nowhere, you know?! We set up camp at an adorable inlet facing the lake where we indulged in the view made for all, but selfishly enjoyed the entire landscape. Took a deep breath in and pleasured in a fulfilling stretch and sigh. Home for the night. After eating dinner, I went to pump water and was extremely disappointed when I noticed that my pump wasn’t pumping very fast. Come to find out, it took a fall at some point and the ceramic casing around the filter had a crack. Uh ohh! We were relying on this one pump for the next couple of days and it took me over an hour to pump 2 Liters. Trouble, but nothing we couldn’t handle. We shared the 2L and called it a night.  We’ll deal with the troubles tomorrow.


We pumped water for a couple hours early in the morning and were ready for our hike by about 10 am. I was expecting to be long on our way by then when I didn’t know that my pump was broken. Oh well, forward and onward. Our pace was steady, not too fast not too slow when I suddenly feel a breeze pick up enough to stop by and put our sweaters on. Neither one of us wanted to admit to the fact that a thundercloud was building above us and we were at a very exposed cliff but we both realized the danger before even mentioning it. Our paced picked up simultaneously which confirmed our silent assumptions. Finally we felt it, hail! Not super rough down pour hail, no, it was soft and not threatening but shortly thereafter we heard it, thunder! Loud and clear although not very close. It was lingering one mountain over. We picked up our pace a little more and did a small amount of trail stomping to try and get to our destination a little quicker. When we heard the storm approach even closer we decided to take shelter under some baby Juniper growing along the tree line. Throughout this time we were both calm and collected but obviously a little scared. We shared the same reaction by making jokes and giggling about how an adrenaline rush forced us to forget how tired and sore we actually are. You should have seen us racing down this exposed pass. The human body and mind are so fascinating! After a little while the hail subsided and thunder stopped. We decided to call it a day at around 4 pm close to Taylor Lake and cut our trip down by 1 day due to the set back and lack of functioning water pump. We set up camp and built a fire, where we chilled and shared stories about our winter adventures and dating life (or lack there of due to the traveling seasonal life 😉


Woke up early and followed the routine of pumping water for a couple of hours *eye roll!*. A meditation session helped me get by. The day before we had passed the trail to loop back to the Whiterocks trailhead because we weren’t sure if we were going to follow through with our initially planned loop, but we decided not to loop and instead head back. We back tracked about 1.5 miles to get to that trailhead but we were just grateful it was sunny out and rain was nowhere near our radar. I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t you check the weather prior to starting your trip?!” Answer is: Yes, totally, but the Whiterocks trialhead was closer than the Chappeta trailhead and my low clearance car couldn’t take the beating so we decided to change the route last minute and risk being at the exposed portion of our trip on the rainy day. We knew the possibilities, careful assessed and risked it anyway. No regrets, just beautiful landscapes and one boot in front of the other. Our packs were much lighter because we feasted last night, this is always the upside of finishing up a backpacking trip. We ended up trailing a small portion of what we had already hiked on day 1, but I took advantage of that by remembering where I had seen some Penstemon that I wanted to pick to key out. It ended up being Penstemon watsonii, not the desired Penstemon on our list for Seeds of Success collection, which is Penstemon pachyphyllus,

Penstemon pachyphyllus in seed.

but I later found out that this could be a potential species to collect seeds from since it has been found roadside and seems to thrive very well. Hopefully we can add this cutie to our list of natives. We made it back to my car at around 4 pm with plenty of daylight and water for our drive back into civilization. I would call this trip a success despite our setbacks, there isn’t much I can’t handle in the great outdoors I call home.



Dat Field Life

Tis the season to collect seeds! This summer I’ll be in Vernal, UT which is where I’m currently wrapping up my first week collaborating with the Seeds of Success (SOS) project. There’s nothing like loads of mosquito bites and a 10 degree burn on my lower back/butt crack to remind me that the field life isn’t glamorous by any means. It’s a good thing that glitz and glamour were never my vibe because this job isn’t for the weak at heart. What an amateur move on the sunburn though! That very first day out in the field I turned to my crew and said “Last year I got a really bad sunburn on my lower back from bending over with a short shirt on.” Mid seed collection I felt that burn as I tucked my shirt back into my pants for the fifth time that day. I thought that shirt was longer than it actually was when I slipped it on that morning and was sadly disappointed by that pitiful shirt combo with my long torso.

As a veteran AIM crew member, I’m enjoying learning different techniques and a completely different project altogether, although the purpose of this project is different than what I initially expected. I thought it had a lot more to do with preserving and rescuing threatened and endangered species but it turns out we are trying to avoid collecting from these as much as possible. The main purpose of this project is to find out what species thrive best at reclamation sites with the ultimate goal of reseeding those locations with a beautiful native plant species and ultimately replacing the hideously invasive cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Land restoration is important, unfortunate that we even have to do it but still very important. This first plant we collected was yellow milkvetch (Astragalus flavus) a perennial in the legume family. I was pleasantly surprise to learn how easy the seeds peel off and how fast my little paper bag filled up. We also collected loads of Sphaeralcea parvifolia throughout this week. I’m sure not all species we encounter this season will be as convenient to gather but it’s nice that some are. We currently have 18 target species that we hope to collect by August.

Most field days have been a success, with a plethora of seeds to show for it but we found out that one of our target species, Cleome lutea, has a very small collection window, which is why no other group has successfully collected it. The two sites previously scouted had empty pods or under ripe seeds when we went to visit a couple days ago. We decided that we may have to camp out to successfully collect seeds from this species. I would be excited about camping if it weren’t for the fact that this site that had the most mosquitos I’ve ever seen in my life! I had a net jacket on and the little boogers still managed to bite my chin and wrists. You should see the welts these guys left behind its pretty pathetic how much mosquitos like me but I know of an awesome trick I want to share with you. Drink a couple ounces of Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) in eight ounces of water for a week and mosquitos will not touch you with a ten foot pole. I assume that’s because continual ingestion of it causes it to come out of your pores. ACV is also great for gastrointestinal issues, you just have to drink it about 30 minutes before lunch and dinner. It taste bitter but you can doll it up with a little lemon and honey. Once I’m drinking it consistently I actually acquire a flavor for it and start to crave it. Unfortunately, I just started drinking it two days ago because I didn’t expect to see mosquitos my first week. It slipped my mind that they were even a possibility! The suckers were just waiting to give me a very warm welcome back into the field lifestyle. Mosquitos or no mosquitos, I thoroughly enjoy the benefits of being out in the field. I get paid to hike and go on plant treasure hunts, exploring Martian habitats I may never have discovered and meeting new species of all types. We found a horny toad I named Ted

Astragalus flavus

Cleome lutea

Sphaeralcea parvifolia

Devil’s Playground, UT

Ted (Phrynosoma)

that was the most chill creature I’ve ever hung out with. Yea I got a little attached to it and really wanted to take him home and make him my pet but I resisted the urge and left him in his comfortable habitat. Ted, I’ll miss you buddy! He lives in Devil’s playground and will remain the devil’s play pet. I look forward to many more adventures and also to sharing those experiences with all you cool cats.




Northwest Colorado Adventures

I’ve gotten my first glimpse of the seasonal field life this summer, and I know I want more to come. There wasn’t much time to think about how the work day was dragging because there was always something interesting to do. I worked with the BLM’s (Bureau of Land Management) AIM crew out of Meeker, CO doing vegetation and soil surveys throughout the Northwest Colorado District. AIM stands for assessment, inventory, monitor and is representative to what we did on a daily. There were times when I thought, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to hike and learn about plants!” If only flowing season were year round and this position were permanent, nonetheless I’ve had a priceless experience this summer.


AIM crew taking a break from a long hike.

I’d like to share a little of our daily routine for those of you interested in joining a similar team in the future. Random pre-designated locations were prioritized and assigned to different groups in our region. Everyday we’d drive anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours in a treasure hunt for the day’s plot location. Many times, the plot was in remote locations requiring the use of topographical maps, GPS unit, a truck to drive us close and our chevrolegs to hike to the desired coordinates. Once there, we’d set up 3 transects 25 meters in length, starting at 5 meters from the center point, and we’d analyzed and record various data along each transect. To collect data for ‘line-point intercept’, we would record the vegetation present at every 0.5 meters and the height and species of the tallest woody and herbaceous plant at every 2.5 meters. We also recorded the length of canopy gaps along all three transects. Since my team was a group of three, two people would observe and record that data while the third dug a soil pit 70 cm deep (not an easy endeavor when there’s gypsum and big rocks in the soil, but it makes for a great workout). Soil assessments entail categorizing each soil horizon by rock fragment type & volume, texture, % clay, effervescence, color and structure. The soil pit and all three transects’ start and end locations need to be recorded on a GPS and photographed with a photo label. Since the season is so short, we needed to take advantage of the good weather so we did as much field work as possible, leaving all the plot research details to be filled out at the end. The past couple of weeks that’s exactly what my team and I have been compiling, this entails researching what type of allotment we evaluated, weather trends and fire history to name a few. Throughout this summer we evaluated some very diverse plots with over 60 different plant species and others that had less than 15 species, consisting mostly of cheat grass. Although the plots with the most diversity typically took longer to evaluate, I enjoyed doing those most because I learned a wider variety of species and the locations of these were typically in a prettier much healthier ecosystem, making for a scenic lunch break.


Petroglyph presumably by Ute or Fremont tribe.

Another aspect I’ve enjoyed about this internship is having the opportunity to join other BLM employees out on their field days and aid in various projects. The archeologist in the office often goes out to log GPS routes of archeological sites and I’ve caught a glimpse of some epic pictographs and petroglyphs, presumably from prehistoric Ute and Fremont Indian tribes that cruised by Northwest Colorado.

We also shadowed archeological students from Colorado State University as they excavated various plots. This one particular canyon is about an hour and a half from Meeker, CO and has long been known to have archeological remains like large granaries and scattered points made of chert and various stones throughout the land. Due to an intersecting plot of private land, access to the area was restricted until recently so we went out there to explore the site and help student sieve out prized items from their digs like arrowheads, glass beads, fossils, corn cobs and they told us about some intact jewelry pieces they had dug the day prior. Most of the students were ecstatic about the work they were doing and their focus and pep made me smile. All items found will be analyzed and stored in safe locations, like museums, which is much better than the alternative of being sold on the black market. It’s a shame that this particular site had already been looted and those pieces of history will remain a mystery, but at least access to the site was finally achieved, aiding to piece together the puzzles of prehistoric humanity.


Brook Trout realizing the end is near. Electrode in the foreground.

I’ve gone out on various fish and wildlife adventures, including electrofishing and assessing streams for viable fish feed. I had the preconceived notion that electrofishing was only done when people wanted to collect data from the fish, briefly shocking the fish but allowing it to live. Although this is typically what’s done when electrofishing, this trip entailed a different outcome. Roan creek had a bank failure that caused the brook and rainbow trout to invade the cutthroat community downstream. Brook trout is native to Eastern North America in the US and Canada and the state fish of nine states, but in Roan Creek, CO it is an invasive species that is forcing out the native Cutthroat. Our goal this particular day was to completely eradicate brook trout and rainbow trout whenever we spotted it. Since first timers aren’t allowed to use the Ghostbuster looking electro line, I was designated euthanizer and would place all unwanted fish into a bucket containing MS222 which is a poison that kills fish within seconds. I asked if there was an alternative to euthanizing and tossing the fish, like using them as fertilizer or feed if MS222 wasn’t used, but I was told that statistically speaking the amount of fish we were euthanizing wasn’t enough to outweigh costs of alternative options. In my team of two we saw 3 cutthroats, euthanized 153 brook trout and 1 rainbow trout. All euthanized species were measured and length recorded before sadly putting them in bag to be tossed. Truth be told, it didn’t affect me too much to euthanize the fish, but it did make me sad to hear that these organic creatures were going to waste in a dumpster. Nonetheless, it was great to gain some hands on experience electrofishing and I was grateful they allowed me to tag along. Assessing a stream for feed was a completely different process where the goal is to collect all insects present within a 12×12 by brushing rocks and collecting the specimens with a net. This wasn’t your ordinary net; it had a platform at the mouth of it, and a cylindrical ‘dolphin’ catcher at the end, making it easier to contain the bugs being washed by the stream. We did this 8 times every 50 meters upstream, designating each random point with start and end riff locations that were logged on a GPS. There was lots of bushwhacking and mud scrambling involved, but using waders in cool stream water was a great reprieve from the scorching heat that day.


Pictograph in Canyon Pintado, CO.

On office work day, I helped the rangeland crew build a fence in efforts of preventing illegal grazing that is occurring in Canyon Pintado, CO. This site contains a pre-historic structure at the top of a cliff and just like all other archeological sites, there are many theories as to why it was built and what it was used for. There are also pictographs and petroglyphs within close proximity of a hiking trail that was absolutely covered in cow piles, so I was stoked to know that we were making a positive impact by keeping the cows out.


Hanging Lake hike in Colorado.

During my time here in small town Meeker, I’ve explored quite a bit of Northwest Colorado that I wouldn’t have otherwise if it weren’t for this great opportunity that Chicago Botanic Garden has provided. The sites here are beautiful and I can’t express enough gratitude for my experiences. My advice for future CBG interns would be to explore different aspects of wherever it is you are doing your internship at, and I don’t just mean shadowing other professionals in your office, but also discovering the outdoors in your area. I’ve done a handful of hikes, including two fourteeners, camped in locations that look like they’re straight out of a Hollywood movie set, and seen animals I’ve never seen before; from tiny chipmunks to a black bear and even a mountain lion! I’ve gone duck hunting for the first time and sat in natural hot springs along the Colorado River. I hope you find your seasonal experience as fulfilling as I have mine and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Winter Is Coming!

As this field season comes to a cold abrupt end, I reflect on the past couple of months with a smile on my face. There have been so many changes in my life this season and some have made it challenging to hold that smile in place, but there are so many things to be grateful for that I’d be selfish not to keep living life on the lighter side. There are too many highlights to list them all but I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

I’ve had the opportunity to spend most of the summer work with two wonderful human beings that have taught me so much. One is my mentor that is very knowledgeable with the flora here in Colorado. She often knew every plant on our plot, which made it easy to collect data and familiarize myself with the plants in a new ecosystem. She also knew how to butter us up with snacks on long work days, those salty treats kept us going strong throughout the season. My other coworker or PIC (partner in crime) as I like to call her, was an avid bird watcher and pun master, which turned out to be a great combo out in the field. This is my first field season and one of my fears was working closely with people that clashed, which would just make work a drag, but I got lucky and had a great time getting to know these two.

Amongst all the beauty that Colorado has to offer, I caught a glimpse life on the wild side. We were camping near our plot out in the boondocks of Garfield County Colorado and I decided to go on a jog. My plan was to head East on a nearby two-track road for about 45 minutes and then come back to the campsite. The sun was quickly setting so there I was, speeding along grooving to jams with a single headphone in (because I like to be semi aware of my surroundings). Approximately 35 minutes into my jog I noticed I hadn’t seen a single soul and I liked that, my own jogging trail; the dream of an active city girl, but that feeling was soon to shift. All of a sudden I hear wrestling in a tree followed by a loud thud 2-3 feet away from me. I swiftly turned my head and immediately froze to see the butt or a furry creature scurry away; after crossing a small stream, it stopped on the opposite bank and turned around. It was a Black Bear! There it was in all its glory, sitting on its hind legs looking me dead in the eye. We stared at each other for a solid 3 seconds before I softly started cursing and took a couple slow steps back. While I was still in its sight, I turned around and started running only to hear the worst sound of my life (for the moment)! I heard it cross the river and follow me! I was literally seconds away from emptying my bowls right then and there! We all know not to run if we see a black bear but the trick is to remember that when you’re in a panic! I immediately turned around when I heard it and it stopped in its tracks about 15 feet from me. There we were face to face again. I skittishly raised my hands in the air and made the most animalistic sound that could never be recreated even if I tried. It was a mix between a yell, growl and a howl. The guy immediately turned in the other direction and ran. My next thought was “Ugh, I wish I had a Go Pro attached to me right now!”, followed by “OMG, what if this baby goes and gets mama bear and then they’re both after me!” and by baby I mean toddler, it was about 5’6” while sitting so I don’t know, you tell me if it was a baby or toddler, either was scaaaryyy! I freaked myself out even more when I remember that nobody was around to team up with me if needed. I ran back to the campsite at full speed, I probably took half the time to get back. Every couple feet I would turn around to check if anything was following me and ran faster. To my luck I never saw the bear again. I really wanted to tell someone about it when I got back but my PICs had already caved out in their tent by the time I got back. I had dinner in the truck that evening because I was still so freaked out, I couldn’t believe it. I swore off jogging in boon dock trails but looking back on it, if I know that there aren’t any grizzly bears in the area I would probably go trail jogging again, although I’ll probably think about that bear every time. It was scary but oh so gratifying to have been in the presence of such a majestic creature.

I’ve had some unforgettable memories this summer and I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned, especially plant species, a skill I know I need to continue to practice because it’s easy to forget those Latin names. I’m not sure what my future holds after this internship is over, job searching is not in my favor lately but I know that life is full of surprises. My priority right now is to try my hardest not to stress about it and let it come as it may. I don’t necessarily mean just sit back and wait for opportunities to come, but remind myself that as long as I am trying to seek out what I’d like my future to hold, the rest will fall into place. I’m not promised tomorrow, so I’d rather not waste my time stressing today.


Questions? No Answers.

Throughout this field season I’ve found myself questioning a lot of things, amongst them I’ve questioned why non-native species are where they are, how they’ve migrated, who brought them and the stories + logic that came with bringing some of them to where they are. I believe most species have explanations requiring nothing more than some time and online research to find answers. Other questions, however, will remain unanswered.

Recently, we were at a Pinyon-Juniper site and everything seemed so ordinary. There weren’t many plants out of their usual ecosystem, or prominent wildlife but there was something a little strange. As we evaluated the plot, we started to notice random burn scars on tree logs. These pieces were somewhat blended into the environment so the burn marks weren’t noticeable until I stood right in front of one. I found this all strange because clearly there wasn’t a prescribed burn, the damage wasn’t vast enough to say that there was a fire in the area. In addition, there was one burned log that upon further analysis appeared to still be rooted. This burned rooted Pinyon crossed out the possibility of down wood from a fire, since we were on a slope. So why in hell would this burned tree be here, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I sat there and pondered on the possibilities, the explanation I settle on was that lightning hit the one tree, setting it ablaze. If trees would talk, I’m sure the stories they’d tell would be fascinating, limited but fascinating. I picture them talking really slowww and with a deep monotonous voice, droopy bark mouth and bushy bark eyebrows all related to Sesame Street’s Snuffaluffagus. I remain in question but shift my outlook to he thought that maybe it’s better this way, helps my imagination fly as free as the birds overhead.

I’m generally a rather inquisitive person but questioning everything seems to be my theme this field season, I feel as though I’m 5 again asking why the sky is blue. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but these unanswerable questions sometimes make me feel the same way as I do when I try and key out the species of a plant and I’m not happy with my final answer. However, I look forward to more unanswerable questions that I can try and piece together answers to.

Cheers fielders!

Looks different, but it’s not!

Over the past couple of months I’ve learned a lot of plant species and something that doesn’t fail to astonish me is how diverse their phenotype and genotype can be from one plot to another. From what I remember, the phenotype of plants is dependent on factors like grazing, slope face, stratum, and soil conditions. Genetic variability may also occur for some of those same reasons and studies indicate that it could be due to the genes of its host species as well as its own genetic print. I learned this during my undergraduate education but it never really sunk in until I witnessed it the other day while surveying a very diverse plot.

Among the many plants there, we had to be especially careful when passing by stinging nettle (Urtica diortica). We’ve worked with and around stinging nettle before but it was nothing like this. This stuff was so much more toxic than at the previous plot. When I walked by it, the sting would seep through my pants and last for several minutes. On our walk back to the truck I noticed that my hand was also a little inflamed from being exposed to this insanely strong nettle. We noticed that the plot was pristine in the sense that there weren’t any side trail stomping (besides ours) or cow trails that would maybe be a reason why this nettle’s chemical compounds we so caustic. Humm, this could possibly lead to a good research topic.

We have also witnessed how diverse phenotype could be when we saw Northern bedstraw (Galium boreale). At one plot it was a mere 8 inches tall and at another location we found it standing tall at over 15 inches. It looked so different tall yet there it was, the same plant just doing its thing. I wouldn’t have recognized it if it weren’t for my mentor that pointed it out. I was shocked to learn how big it could get.

The plots we visit and plants we have the pleasure of meeting constantly have me questioning their nature and diversity. If it weren’t for plants evolving, it’s quite possible that we wouldn’t be here. Plants add to the stunning painting of this thing we call life, let’s not forget to stop every once in a while and appreciate their mysticism.