The past four weeks went by crazy fast! Most of the time comprised of training and getting my bearings in my new job. I am an SOS intern placed in New Mexico along the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Being from the upper mid-west, the region I am interning in is both very different and yet somewhat similar to where I lived. I’ve noticed that Northern New Mexico shares quite a few plant species as the upper Mid-West, with lots of new ones to learn.
New Mexico is beautiful with its mountains, dry shrubland, and desert grasslands. I love the diversity of species here. My favorite plant in this area so far is a Cholla (Cylindropuntia sp.). From the road, it looks like an unearthly spiny shrub, but up close it is a jointed, tallish cactus with pink flowers and yellow, semi-star shaped looking fruits.
After a week of orientation, lectures, and hands-on training at the Chicago Botanic Garden – we spent a week attending an SOS training geared toward all the New Mexico SOS interns. During the first few days of the Santa Fe training, the instructors covered what a day in the field would look like, data management, field safety, and the target species on our list. We ended the week by camping at a ranch about 3.5 hrs away from Santa Fe where we made a supervised SOS collection of wooly plantain, (Plantago patagonica).The last day at the ranch, we drove into the nearby mountains. At each spot we stopped, we keyed plants using New Mexico keys and field guides.The gravel roads we drove on in this area were rugged with sharp edged rocks which probably caused the flats a couple of vehicles experienced during the trip.
I think my favorite parts of the training in Santa Fe was the section on pressing plants in the field and the University of New Mexico (UNM) Herbarium tour. I have done a fair amount of pressing, but not in the field. Pressing attractively arranged plants that display the necessary features for identifying the plant is not easy in the wind. The instructor for this section did a great job giving us some tips and tricks for pressing our vouchers effectively in the field. The UNM Herbarium is amazing! Phil Tonne (the Senior Collection Manager) set out examples of well-pressed specimens for us to admire.
Echinocereus coccineus – Photo credit: Sierra Carey
They were all lovely! One of my favorites is above. Preparing and pressing cacti is no cakewalk, and this specimen was beautifully done. Almost nothing warms my heart more than attractively pressed specimens with all the identifying characters. During the tour, he told us that once the FBI came to the UNM Herbarium with a bloody plant fragment for them to identify. The FBI wanted to know the species because they could use the habitat to narrow their search area. How cool is that!
We have started scouting potential collection sites within this last week. “We,” being another CLM intern and myself. The rough, rocky roads made me appreciate the large 4×4 truck we use for work. Thanks to a heads up from a botanist in our office, we found a population of Bottlebrush Squirreltail (Elymus elymoidies) that was more than large enough for us to make our first collection without supervision. We also a found large population of Scarlet Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea) that will make an excellent collection once the seeds ripen. Although, we didn’t know whether it would make a good collection at first. While walking around, I saw that there was a group of Sphaeralcea plants that looked the same, but with larger flowers. One of the challenges of collecting seeds in nature is making sure you are collecting all the same species. Sounds easy, unless there happen to be two species that look almost the same within the same area. With this in mind, we brought both plant types to the office for our supervisor to examine. It turned out that the plants were the same species.
The morphological difference in flower size was probably the result of genetic variation in the population. However, if the two plants were different species – we would not have been able to consider the Sphaeralcea for collection. Telling the plants apart once they had gone to seed would have been impossible.
– Bureau of Land Management (Taos Field Office)