Farewell Wyoming, I Hope We Meet Again

Sadly, I’m wrapping up my season working for Seeds of Success with the BLM in Lander, WY.  I knew halfway into the internship that this was one of the best decisions I had ever made, but I’m still surprised at how much I’ve fallen in love with Wyoming and its plants and wildlife!  I’m sad to say goodbye, but I can’t help but hope/believe that I’ll have more opportunities to work in such a vast and marvelous place like central Wyoming.  Never have I been so perplexed by the weather systems, than in Wyoming.  One minute you think your going to get rained out, and the next, winds change and it’s a beautiful, sunny day…or vice versa.  And the MOUNTAINS!!  I am so thankful the internship was extended a month because it wasn’t until mid October that we finally got some snow; and waking up to a fresh dusting of snow on the Wind River Mountain range, is one of the most picturesque landscapes I’ve ever seen!

The experience and skills I’ve gained throughout this internship are invaluable!  Because this was my first internship outside of my undergrad, I really appreciated how much safety training we were put through.  From safe driving and general first aid and safety procedures, to other types of training, like computer and internet safety, I felt very confident and prepared out in the field.  Our field office also offered additional bear safety training, and other training more specific to wildlife threats concerning central Wyoming, such as tics, snakes, heat exhaustion and altitude sickness.  In a profession that calls for so much time spent out in the field, I didn’t realize how essential some seemingly simple skills were, like working with an intricate radio system, driving on back country two tracks, or maintaining vehicle/equipment logs.  I appreciate this job and the wonderful mentor I had for providing me with such an encouraging environment to grow and improve these kinds of skills, which I know will be applicable to any job related in conservation.

But the wealth of skills and experience I gained, far extends that of the everyday workings of a government facility.  The confidence this job has instilled in me, concerning practices in field botany, is irreplaceable.  My ability to identify plants using a dichotomous key has improved ten-fold, as well as my general knowledge of Wyoming’s flora and the various kinds of habitats your likely to find them.  I realized how crucial timing is in a job like SOS.  Fruit maturation differers from plant to plant, and some plants seed out more quickly than others; I experienced how challenging this could be first hand, and have a new found appreciation for truly understanding plant lifecycles and how they differ from organism to organism.

I’m finding that, typically, that kind of knowledge can only be gained through shear doing…experience.  And that’s exactly what this job allowed me to do!  I couldn’t have asked for a better partner and mentor (I know I was spoiled in that regard) for being so approachable and open to questions and curiosities.  With such a secure and enjoyable work atmosphere, I was really able to take advantage of every opportunity this internship had to offer and walk away with incredible memories, dear friendships, and an abundance of experience.

Extracurricular Activities

As we approach the end of August and seed collecting is winding down a bit, our mentor has provided us with opportunities to expand our knowledge and experience past seed collecting.  Throughout the summer, but particularly now, we’ve had the opportunity to survey and monitor various endemic or rare plants in the Fremont Co. area.  Earlier in the year, we were tasked with monitoring the phenology of a rare plant called Yermo xanthocephalus, commonly known as desert yellowhead, which only occurs in two areas of Wyoming.  We collaborated with a botanist performing studies to understand what pollinates this rare plant and at what frequency, as well as perform paternity analyses.   My partner and I helped her set up pollinator traps and checked on the maturity of fruits for her on a weekly basis.

Setting up experimental pollinator traps

Another rare plant we spent a few days mapping out was Cleome multicaulis, a beautifully tiny, spindly little forb apart of the mustard family.  It only occurs in or near very alkaline, dried lake beds.  Even though its flowers are purple and it’s about a foot tall, they’re still somewhat hard to spot at first, because they are so thin and delicate.  We typically found them along the perimeter of these dried lake beds, usually near or under a group of sagebrush.  One of the days we spent scouting for this plant, my partner and I had three separate encounters with rattle snakes.  We’d definitely ran into them before, being in Wyoming, but I’ll say after the third rattle… we were both a bit on the jumpy side.  I believe we called it a little earlier than we might have usually, because our nerves were shot by then.

One of my favorite areas we spent time at was in the badlands of Chalk hills, where we scouted and mapped out a rare sagebrush, Artemisia porteri, commonly called Porter’s sagebrush.  I realize it’s a bit bizarre for someone who loves botany to also enjoy an area so void of vegetation, but I did 🙂  Perhaps it’s because I’ve just never been exposed to such a drastic habitat, part of me felt like I was on Mars…or at least the closest I’ll ever get to being on Mars.  Surprisingly, we saw a lot of Jack rabbits in the area, which was really cool.  We were successful in identifying the rare sagebrush, and once we got a better feel for the distinct areas they occurred, it was a very pleasant way to spend a day out in the field, in a habitat that I was so unfamiliar with.

Badlands of Chalk hills, where we found Artemisia porteri

We recently received very exciting news; our internship was approved for a month extension, so instead of finishing up in late September, my partner and I will work a the BLM- Lander Field Office until the end of October, which is wonderful!  Any extra employment I can get, especially during the off-season for field work, is very welcomed.  And I’m especially excited to have an opportunity to see what Lander’s like in the Fall 🙂  I feel very grateful right now, and look forward to the upcoming months!

Becca Cross,

BLM- Lander Field Office

In Full Swing of Things

It’s mid July and we are fully immersed in seed collecting.  For the last couple weeks, and for our unforeseeable future, all my partner and I do is check in at the field office, drive out to a field site, pick whatever wildflower seeds we are targeting that day for roughly six to seven hours, and then return and go home and pass out.  Sometimes we spend the entire day both picking the same seeds, for instance with Comandra umbellata, which produces a single seeded fruit, so for us to reach a target of 20,000 seeds, it could take an entire week.  If we are collecting something in the Apiaceae or Asteraceae family, which can produce anywhere from 75-150 seeds per plant, we can complete an entire collection and then some within an afternoon.  These collections are by no means more significant, but as the person making the physical collections…I love those days! The satisfaction one gets  from collecting 35,000 in one day is incredible.

Seeds collected from Perideridia gairdneri ssp. borealis 

We’ve strategically selected field sites with more than one species seeding out, making what we call opportunistic collections along the way.  Recently we spent the entire week at one particular field site called Miner’s Delight because there were four viable collections seeding out all at once.  My partner would tackle one species, while I focused on another, and then midday we might switch, to avoid becoming bored or sloppy.  They’re long days, but it’s also very pleasant once you allow yourself to become fully immersed in your work and nature.  One collection we made during that week that I am particularly proud of was Penstemon radicosus, which is very beneficial for native pollinators in the area 🙂

This little guy caught my attention while I was collecting Lomatium simplex var. simplex at Miner’s Delight that same week, I had to take a few minutes to bask in his/her colorful glory.  I’m finding the proximity that seed collecting allows me to have with so many different bugs, is one of my favorite perks about this job.  I’ve watched beetles oviposite eggs, dragon flies mating, and a slew of incredible spiders.  My phone is quickly filling up with just pictures of plants and insects…

Caterpillar hanging out on the branch of Lomatium simplex var. simplex

A colorful caterpillar hanging out on the branch of Lomatium simplex var. simplex

An enormous spider with a hefty meal, found on Polanisia dodecandra ssp. trachysperma

We’re a little more than halfway through our internship and we’ve made about ten or eleven collections so far and have many more in front of us.  Right now I can’t imagine life void of seed collecting…which is a good thing, I guess!

Rough Start

After the first six weeks of our internship, we are finally ready to begin seed collecting!! Almost…not quite.  Unlike the previous Spring, when our field office apparently experienced record high amounts of precipitation, this year was quite the opposite.  We did experience some precipitation, but mostly in the form of rain, and much later than to be expected.  So, we were a bit dismayed, as there were a handful of days our mentor would send us somewhere to look for a specific population, that perhaps the year before had bloomed out phenomenally, but this year, practically nonexistent.  It wasn’t too frustrating, but rather a bit unnerving for my partner and I, as this was both our first SOS internship, and we were worried that maybe we were missing something or weren’t looking in the right habitats.  However, anytime our mentor was out in the field, she reported the same lack of spectacular blooms she’d seen at this time of year in previous seasons, which gave us some comfort.

Unfortunately, the timing of our CLM internship training also played into an overall loss of potential seed collections.  It’s a bit of a conundrum, because the training was truly excellent.  It was loads of fun getting to familiarize ourselves and work at the Chicago Botanic Garden for a whole week, and the speakers were all personable and full of useful information!  It just ended up falling on a week that was a prime seed collecting window for where we’re at in Wyoming.  Not to mention, the week before our training in Chicago, our mentor had a training of her own that she needed to attend, so we missed both the first and second week of June for collecting seeds.  And the first two weeks of June are pretty critical for many of the potential collections we’d spent the last three to four weeks scouting for.

So as of now, we’ve only made a couple full collections.  Many of the populations we revisited had either already seeded out, or been severely damaged due to insects.  BUT our mentor seems very determined that we’ll find more populations in habitats of higher elevation, and makes the point that this is a good opportunity for the SOS team to branch out and try to make collections that have never been made before 😀 Keep your fingers crossed that next time I report, we’ll have made more progress!


Becca Cross,

BLM- Lander Field Office.

Hello From Wyoming

This is my first official post as an SOS botany intern with the Lander Field Office in WY, and I couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque location to spend this field season.  Since things are just starting up here, my partner and I have yet to spend a ton of time getting to know the flora of central WY; however, this week we began to familiarize ourselves with the BLM field protocol: getting acquainted with different GPS systems, practicing our radio checks–I was surprised how nervous I felt the first time I used one, and of course remembering NOT to lock the keys in the work truck.  Unfortunately, that last item we learned the hard way 🙁 but luckily, we weren’t at all far from the field office, and another intern was more than happy to help…but long story short, if your pack comes with a key loop, use it!

Towards the end of our week, we focused on a project that entailed us surveying several corridors of a field site along the Red Canyon in Fremont county.  In particular, we were looking for two rare plant species that have been identified around the area in previous years.  Phlox pungens is a rare cushion plant that occurs in central WY, not to be confused with Phlox multifora or Phlox hoodii, both common cushion plants in the area.  Apart from having stiffer, more prickly leaves, the main characteristic that allowed us to discern this Phlox species from the other common ones, was the presence of glands at the end of each cilia along the margins of the leaves.  We were successfully able to find populations of P. pungens almost immediately into our search, which was very exciting!

Picture of Pholx pungens (rare).

The other rare plant we were surveying for was Physaria saximontana var. saximontana, which proved to be a bit more challenging to correctly identify, as its sister taxa, which is not considered rare, also occurs frequently throughout this region.  Typically, one can expect to see larger, broader leaves and taller stems and pedicels on the rare species of P. saximontana var. saximontana; however, this part of WY had a rather dry Spring (not nearly as much April rain or snow than seen in years past) so plants that would normally flower in early May might not do so for another week or two.  This also means that the plants we are seeing flower are possibly stunted or smaller from inadequate Spring precipitation.  Therefore, positively identifying P. saximontana var. saximontana, was a bit more challenging, as we didn’t want to confuse the two sister taxa and unintentionally lump them together.  Overall, with the help of our mentor, I believe we were able to correctly discern between the two sister taxa, and give an accurate representation of the P. saximontana var. saximontana populations that occur in the area.

Red Ridge Trail near the Red Canyon in Fremont Co, WY.

Looking forward to a wonderful field season,

Becca Cross

CLM intern, BLM-LFO (Lander Field Office)