Unusual Inhabitants

I’ve had a lot of interesting adventures over the past month. Guess what? I’m finished with Fritillaria surveys! I’ve gotta say, I do miss the thrill of trying to hunt down the species, but the fact that more often than not Fritillaria gentneri was not in the survey areas was starting to make me sad. It’s a rare species, which makes it unlikely that there would be any new populations, but still–I had this sort of fallacious mindset that I’d be finding rare plants every day. These surveys did have their cool moments though, despite the lack of rare plants. For instance, a few weeks ago I was surveying for F. gentneri and stumbled on a huge population of F. affinis!

On a survey after that I saw a Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) decked out in stunning turqouise hues. He got pretty angry when he saw me and did some pushups (which, as I’ve learned, is what lizards sometimes do to express male dominance) before scurrying off.

Later that week, I saw a gorgeous northwestern ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus occidentalis). The poor little critter was startled, but not enough to coil up and show off its characteristic orange underbelly.

On a different day, I was helping out with some flora site revisits in a different resource area and we got to meet an elephant (true story).

Over the past week, I’ve started up with a new task: invasive plant surveys. Out in the middle of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area is the Box O Ranch, which was a ranch founded in the 80s and later abandoned in 2003. Due to its previous use the area is now a hotspot for invasive species, primarily yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis), sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta), and Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense). Despite that, it remains to be one of the most beautiful views I’ve experienced during my time as an intern in Medford.

One of the weirdest things I saw out there was this–

At first glance, I was thoroughly confused. To me those brightly-colored, hairy dots looked like some sort of fruit or reproductive organ of a plant. Around me were about 30 other individual plants, each of which were covered in the things. But it was fairly obvious that the plants growing it was a Rosa species, and the mysterious thing attached to the plant looked nothing like an achene. On closer inspection, I saw that the dots were growing out of the leaves, and that almost all of the Rosa in the area had the thing growing off of it. I stared at them for a long time; I had never seen anything that looked like this.

Later on I had the chance to do some research. As it turns out, the thing growing off the plants is a gall created by Diplolepis bicolor, or the spiny rose gall wasp. As the name implies, the wasp specifically targets Rosa species, laying its eggs on the underside of the leaves. The larva then hatch and begin to eat the plant, stimulating the plant to create outgrowths in the form of red galls. The larva live in and are nourished by the spiny structures. More often than not, other insects take advantage of these galls by laying their own eggs inside and allowing their larva to eat the spiny rose gall wasp larva. Cool, right?

Until next time,


Flowers and Fire

Wow, has a month already gone by?!

Temperatures have started to warm up over the past couple of weeks, and so field season has officially begun. Since my last post, the early spring wildflowers have begun to display their wonderful colors; some of earliest ones are already starting to die off–for instance, Henderson’s fawn lilies, shown below.

Fawn lily (Erythronium hendersonii)


The other week, I went with one of the botanists to tour a meadow where a local organization had conducted controlled burns in a previous year. The organization wanted to show us how the burns had helped to control the invasion of species like Taeniatherum caput-medusae, Poa bulbosa, and Centaurea solstitialis. They had also repopulated the area with native plant seeds, so the entire meadow was pretty much an explosion of white popcorn flowers, pink plectitis, and blue lupines.

The meadow was packed with flowers!


Shortspur seablush (Plectitis congesta)

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time conducting surveys for Fritillaria gentneri, an endangered species of lily that is endemic to southwest Oregon. Gentner’s fritillary is pretty fascinating; from what I’ve heard, a lot of people suspect that the species is a hybrid between Fritillaria recurva (scarlet fritillary) and Fritillaria affinis (checker lily). Most of the time, the species reproduces asexually through its bulbs. It tends to prefer meadows and very open oak woodlands. A lot of work is being done by the folks up at OSU to analyze certain genetic factors (for instance–is it a hybrid or an individual species?) as well as to grow seedlings that are being used to repopulate certain areas. Most often, the plant will only display bulb leaves, but since the leaves tend to look exactly like those of other fritillaries it can’t be identified that way. However, on the scarce occasion that the plant produces a flower, Gentner’s fritillary can be distinguished from F. recurva and F. affinis in these ways:

Color: Not a great way to tell them apart, since the colors are arbitrary and usually unreliable. However, in general, F. recurva tends to be a bright scarlet color, F. gentneri tends to be a sort of dark red/maroon, and F. affinis tends to be purple-brown and yellow speckled. Gentner’s fritillary sometimes grows a sort of almost-scarlet color, though, and can often be mistaken for F. recurva if identified solely by color.

Flower shape: F. recurva has (as the name implies) petals that are recurved at the tips, and F. affinis has wider set flowers with non-recurved tips. F. gentneri usually has non-recurved tips, similar to F. affinis, but can sometimes have slightly/partially curved petals that can be mistaken for F. recurva.

Style/nectaries: The best way to distinguish between the three species is based on their styles and nectary glands. F. affinis has a style that is strongly divided (for at least half its length), as well as a nectary gland that is ¾ the length of its petals. F. recurva’s style is the least divided, usually ¼ to ⅓ its length, and its gland is less than ½ the length of the petals. F. gentneri is an intermediate of the two; its style is divided around ⅓ to ½ its length, and its gland is ⅓ to ½ the length of its petals.

Fritillaria gentneri (Gentner’s fritillary)

Fritillaria affinis the most easily distinguished due to its yellow and brown color.

Fritillaria recurva (note the scarlet color and recurved leaves)

All in all– it’s fairly easy to distinguish F. affinis by its color and shape, but recurva and gentneri can get a little dicey, so it’s best to identify based on styles/nectaries.

On another note– over the past week, I’ve been spending some time working on keeping an invading population of shiny geranium (Geranium lucidum) away from an OHV trail. The population has pretty much taken over the understory; at this point, the main priority is to prevent the plant from being carried to other places. As such, my supervisor and I have been using weed torches (yes, he trusted me with fire) to wilt the geranium within 15 feet of the trail in an effort to prevent the plants nearest the trail from seeding so bikes/ATVs/etc. can’t carry the seeds to other locations. Overall, I like wielding a weed torch. It’s kind of fun. Is that bad?

On my way to burn some noxious weeds…


Until next time,


Oregon Intern Part 2: Not Quite Field Season AKA Office Adventures

Hi all!

First off, I’d just like to say this: I’m beyond excited to be a part of the CLM program again, and I’m so incredibly happy to have been placed in Oregon for a second time, as it had become a second home over the course of my first internship. I can’t quite say I’m a full-fledged Oregonian yet– that takes a lot more time, flannel shirts, and locally roasted coffee. But, I do feel a lot of love for the land here. Oregon is peaceful.

This time around, I’m stationed in Medford, Oregon, a bustling city nestled snugly between the Cascade Range and the Siskiyou Mountains. I feel pretty lucky to be living here. Looking out my apartment window, I can see tons of gorgeous snow-capped mountains, and the valley itself is home to tons of orchards and vineyards. Ashland, the next town over, is home to the Shakespeare Festival, as well as a diverse music scene. I predict many hikes, concerts, and wine-tasting ventures in my future.

A view from Tallowbox Mountain

On my first day of work, my mentor introduced me to the area through a long hike to the top of Tallowbox mountain, where I was able to get a bird’s eye view of the Medford district. It was a lot like that scene in the Lion King, where Simba and Mufasa are sitting on top of Pride Rock and Mufasa is like “Look, Simba, everything the light touches is our kingdom.” (I’m mostly kidding, ha ha). I was glad to see that many of the species I had become familiar with from my internship in Roseburg were also common to the Southern Oregon, and I spent some time learning a few species I hadn’t heard of before.

Garrya fremontii– Frémont’s silktassel


Ericameria nauseosa (rubber rabbitbrush)


Field season hasn’t truly kicked off yet (many of our field sites are still covered in snow), so my first couple of weeks with the Medford BLM were spent immersing myself in a variety of cubicle-based activities. I can say with a fairly large amount of confidence that I am now intimately familiar with the botanical survey file cabinet. One major benefit of my office adventures has been that I’m beginning to have a much better understanding of the inner workings of the BLM. Throughout my first internship, I spent most of my time in the field, so I had no real conception of the incredible amount of bureaucracy that can go into a managing public lands. By spending more time in the office I’ve begun to wrap my head around the type of work done by full-fledged botanists: multitudes of meetings, boatloads of paperwork, hours of GIS work, and endless emails. Just the other day, I sat in on a meeting between the district botanists as they spoke about their new annual treatment plan and the upcoming field season. Contracts were discussed, plans were made, dozens of acronyms were used. I questioned whether or not they were speaking some foreign language. I had already known that the government speaks in acronyms, but I didn’t know what the majority of them meant. The botanists were very kind and paused their conversations periodically to explain what certain things meant, and how they related to their work. With time, overwhelming confusion faded into a desire to keep up with the conversation. It’s been hard, but I’m starting to get the hang of it!

The Big Friendly Filing Cabinet

Overall, these first couple of weeks have been educational, to say the least! I’m definitely looking forward to field season, but I’m really glad to have been able to spend some time learning about all the office work that goes into that. It’s given me a lot more respect and understanding for this type of work.


And That’s a Wrap

A couple of weeks ago, one of our bosses stopped by our desk and told us about a project out near Beatty Creek that he’s working on to assess tree density as justification for instituting thinning/controlled burns. Obviously we jumped at the chance to survey plots out there; we had been out there before and knew that Beatty Creek is beautiful–very steep, but beautiful nonetheless.

We were not disappointed.

Also, my calves hurt.

(I should probably do some stretches)

Beatty Creek area and our data points


It became obvious pretty early on that the area was overstocked with trees– mostly Pinus jeffreyi, which is a high altitude species that competes best on the serpentine soils that other trees seem to shun. One plot had as many as 127 Jeffrey pine larger than 2-inch dbh! Such numbers, as we’ve been told, indicate that the area is overstocked and likely to burn up should a wildfire come through.

Some other exciting things we saw:


A cool giant boulder straight out of the Lion King


A mountain of gravel probably belonging to the rock quarry who shares roads with the BLM


Various dramatic views

Totally majestic.

Acer macrophyllum changing colors

  • Notholithocarpus densiflorus (tanoak), which is a species of evergreen oak (I’m a big fan of evergreen oaks) that we hadn’t seen for a while

    Many, many snakes, including a rattlesnake who didn’t seem to appreciate our presence very much

                                                                                                                                     I’d just like to reiterate that my calves hurt. A lot. But it was so worth it.

 (Warning: I’m about to be very sappy and poetic–but what can I say, I was an English minor!)

I didn’t know until I came to Oregon that it was possible to find so much beauty in a place. It dozes among the yellow swells of grass savannahs that fuse with cloudless skies. It buries itself in the thick tide of fog rolling over murky evergreen forests. It’s even contained in the lovely pastel-colored mushroom you discovered on a rainy day–you know, the one that your boss told you not to eat. The one that you didn’t eat because it could give you diarrhea and possibly kill you. Unfortunately.

Working with the BLM in Oregon has taught me more than I could have ever hoped. It’s given me a whole set of skills critical to becoming the crazy botanist I aspire to be: the ability to work ArcGIS, the overwhelming urge to identify every strange plant I almost step on, possibly better balance and coordination (I haven’t fallen down a hillside for at least a week), and, above all, a great appreciation for the beauty of nature.


Thank you.

This State is on Fire

(Note: please read the title like the Alicia Keys song, “This Girl is on Fire”)

The sky during fire season

I don’t know why it is, but for whatever reason during fire season in Oregon the whole world becomes a bit surreal. The sky goes dark with smoke, the sun stares down at you in the form of a hazy red eye, and the whole population of Oregon struggles to catch their breath. To someone who had never experienced a fire season before (let alone known that it even existed), it’s like living on an alien planet–one where you’ve got to remember to roll your windows up, or else deal with the thin layer of soot that will inevitably coat every surface in your car. Since my last blog post, fire season had become bad, to say the least. Half a million acres burned in Oregon, and tons of people were forced to evacuate their homes, or simply left in order to escape the smoke. Most of my office was up and ready to help the district in any way possible–some were out fighting the fires firsthand, others worked behind the scenes to coordinate teams and create rehabilitation plans. For a few weeks, the office felt a bit like a ghost town. Luckily, we’ve experienced rain in the past few days, and it seems like fire season may finally be coming to an end.

The Horse Prairie Fire was one of the many fires blanketing Oregon in the past month that required the fire-expertise of the Roseburg BLM staff. Being among the few people in our office who didn’t yet have a “red card” (AKA the wildland firefighter certification), Mira and I weren’t able to be out near the actual fire; however, once the fire was contained and mop-up was well underway, we were granted the opportunity to shadow some of our coworkers as they drove across the charred landscape and worked together to create a rehabilitation plan. One thing that struck me about this experience was the intense amount of collaboration required for this project: botanists, geologists, hydrologists, and wildlife biologists alike united to plan the long process of restoring over 16,000 acres of land to its previous state. So many different views and things to consider! 

BLMers examining the landscape in the stylish uniform of wildland firefighters

An area that experienced more of the intense burning.

Somehow, the past month has felt like a rush to me. As the summer season has wound down, we’ve been working botany odd-jobs: flagging Kincaid’s lupine, mapping invasive species, and cleaning seeds. Intermixed with that, we’ve been shadowing a variety of different people in the office.

For instance, a couple weeks ago we helped the fish biologists with snorkel surveys. Our job was, essentially, to follow the biologists as we walked up stream and record data on the numbers of fish in each pool. As we worked our way upstream, we stopped at any pool that was greater than 0.4m in depth and longer than it was wide. The biologists then snorkeled the length of the pool (a truly impressive feat considering the depth and relatively high amount of things obstructing the stream), counting the numbers of coho and steelhead along the way. 

If you look closely, you can see a fish biologist

Why conduct these surveys, you may ask? Little Wolf Creek (where we had been recording data) was the recent site of a restoration project aimed at increasing spawning rates of steelhead and coho. Once upon a time, creeks like Little Wolf were completely dredged of obstructions (i.e., logs and boulders). The reason that this dramatic management practice was twofold: not only did this make it easier to float logs from timber harvest downstream, but it was also thought that anadromous fish species would prosper in “clean” streambeds, as it would allow them to migrate unimpeded. Years later, scientists discovered that this was, in fact, a horrible management practice for fish populations, which had been suffering over the past decades. It turned out that fish actually preferred more heavily obstructed streams, which provided more opportunity for the formation of pools with gravel streambeds necessary for spawning, more woody debris to feed the insects that fish preyed upon, and slowed the strong currents that would send young fish spiralling downstream. To make matters worse, without the trees and boulders that had once held them in place, streambanks were eroding and streambeds were washing away, exposing large swathes of bedrock that lay below. 

An example of unhealthy streambed–note how the bedrock is exposed

Now that overall knowledge of fish ecology has improved, biologists are taking steps to restore streams by “adding character” back into the streams. The process of restoring streams is long–though it’s relatively easy to add logs and boulders to a stream, it can take years for the streambed to build up–but progress is being made, step by step. It’s truly admirable.

I could talk at length about the variety of things I’ve learned from shadowing our awesome coworkers–but I’ll stop myself before this blog post starts to become too tedious. Instead, I’ll gift you guys with pictures of the cool fungus and lichen that I saw. 

Possibly Western Varnished Conk? I think it looks like bread.

Cute red lichen growing among moss


Invasive Species Monitoring

It’s nearing the end of August, which means I’m over halfway through my time here at the Roseburg BLM (this realization has of course hit me like a ton of bricks… I really do like working here). It also means that seed collection season is nearing its end. By now, most of the native grass seed we want has dropped; we still collect seed from shrubs and forbs every so often (actually, my desk is currently covered in rapidly-rotting snowberries), but for now our focus has shifted to invasive plants.

Rotting snowberries…. yum

Pacific ninebark seed pods

Here’s one bit of knowledge that I’d been taught in college classes but never really fully processed until now: invasive species don’t just magically appear in an area, they are brought in through various (human related) means. I know, I know, it seems like common sense, but I hadn’t ever really seen this in action until I worked for the BLM. Interestingly enough, the ways in which we’ve been tracking invasive species have allowed me to sleuth out how an invasive species moves from one area to another.

For example:

One pretty awesome project that one of our bosses has us working on right now is a survey of some of the tributaries flowing into the Umpqua river. The goal is to determine where false-brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), an invasive grass, was introduced on the watershed. Knowing how far up the watershed it exists/what tributaries it exists in and mapping the extent of this infestation will be useful in obtaining funding to hire contractors to eliminate the grass. We began with the knowledge that false-brome exists on a large portion of the Umpqua, as well as a couple of data points from a previous contractor who had reported that the devious little stinker was living very high up on the watershed in Canton Creek.

Brachypodium sylvaticum (false-brome)

Trusty river wading boots

After checking these points and coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t false-brome (it was actually a very similar looking species, Bromus vulgaris–an understandable mistake because the two are nearly indistinguishable at certain points in their life cycle), we proceeded to conduct spot checks along Canton to determine if and where it exists on that tributary. We ended up finding false brome along the creek but, thankfully, much further down than previously thought. Since then we’ve been working on mapping the grass along other tributaries in the area. Combined with road surveys, we’ve been able to see that the species is usually carried in through motor vehicles and, after invading the road, establishes itself in nearby riparian areas. The whole project is a daunting task, but we’ve been making lots of progress, and it’s nice to be able to wade in the river on hot days.

Canton Creek

Other invasive species related projects we’ve been working on is conducting road surveys for Himalayan blackberry and scotch broom. The purpose is to map the extent so future contractors know where to spray the roads. For this task, we’ve been visiting a lot of roads shared by BLM employees and logging trucks. It’s been pretty amazing to get a look at the logging activity that goes on out there. The towering green Doug-fir trees from uncut bits of forest contrasts dramatically with recently clear-cut logging lots… It’s kind of impressive and unsettling and sad all at once. Generally, blackberry and scotch broom seem to be brought into the immediate vicinity of the road by logging trucks. From there, they take over roadsides and spread out into the rest of the area.

The view of logging operations (looks very smoky ’cause it’s fire season)

Giant stacks of logs

Anyway, I hope everyone else is having a good time at their CLM positions. I’d like to round out this blog post with a few really awful botany jokes that I’ve pilfered from the internet:


Why couldn’t the botanist see very well?
She had a-stigma-tism


How do botanists send mail?

Through the compost office



What does a botanist do when she finds a new species of orchid?



What did the stamen say to the stigma?

I like your style




Seed Season

It’s week 4 of my internship with the BLM here in the beautiful Roseburg, Oregon and activities are in full swing! Seed collection season began just recently, and we (me and my co-intern, Mira) are kept busy by tracking down target plant species using previously recorded GPS data and determining if they are ready for seed collection. Not gonna lie, it’s probably one of my favorite things to do. I’ve gotten way better at reading maps, using GPS, and keying out inconspicuous-looking grasses—not to mention, I think I’m getting pretty great at driving the huge truck they let us use for field work. I’d just like to say that my appreciation for trucks has grown tenfold over the past month. Those things can drive over things that would probably destroy my little Altima. ArcGIS remains my greatest nemesis, but I’m confident that I’ll get better at it by the end of my five months. “Better” of course is a relative term, but let’s not dwell on that.

Bromus carinatus, one of the grasses we’ll be collecting seed from.

Calochortus coxii, one of our endemic plants.

Boss and co-intern looking out over the oak savanna as we prepare to trek down and remove invasive plants

Right now one of our bosses has us working on an awesome project to collect the seeds of plants that will help promote native pollinators in the North Bank Habitat Management Area. One thing I’ve come to learn throughout this is the truly fleeting nature of seed collection for many of the species we’re to collect. It all depends on the species and the location of the population; one week you can drive up a ridge and find a lovely almost-ripe population of Danthonia californica, and the next you can drive up to the same ridge and discover a sea of yellow husks! It’s certainly something that’s going to keep us on our toes for the rest of the season. If we’re going to collect enough seeds for the project, we’ll need to be out as often as possible hiking around and checking populations to determine readiness.

All in all, these past four weeks have been fantastic and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I’ve learned a truly impressive number of new plants and picked up a whole new set of skills. I’ve become braver in my nature explorations and seen many beautiful things. I think my klutziness may even be decreasing.

I honestly can’t wait for what the rest of my time here has to offer.