After ~8 months, I am saying goodbye to Cottage Grove, OR and the folks at the Dorena Genetic Resource Center. They have been wonderful, funny, and incredibly supportive, especially through the government shutdown and graduate school applications. As I reflect back on these last few months, one of the things that really stands out is the range of people I got to work with.

Teo: the somewhat grouchy (and incredibly loud) nursery crew member

The nursery crew itself has been a blast. We weren’t always working on the same project, but when we were, we would chat about everything from the band one of my coworkers was in to the benefits/downsides of coffee drinking and the philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir. During much of my time there, I was out in the greenhouses or collecting seeds around Oregon. Towards the end, most of my time was spent in the seed plant under the guiding hand of Haley Smith, who works near miracles managing all the seeds that we process and collect. She encouraged a combination of diligence and creativity, pushing us to question what we were doing (even if she is the one who taught us how to do it) and see if we could find ways to do it better.

Some of the nursery crew transplanting seedlings

As fun as the nursery crew is, there are a bunch of other folks at Dorena that I got to know. I got to work with Doug Savin and Richard Sniezko a bit on a side research project that I will be continuing to work on relating to Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii). I also got to work with the Port Orford Cedar (POC) group (mainly Erin Hooten and Evan Heck) on POC cone collection and inventorying. The inventorying was more challenging than one might think because the trees have a habit of falling over in the wind and ending up in a new location. That and they die without telling anyone so they seem to just disappear from the inventory.

The other largest group of people is the rust crew, which is similar to the nursery crew I worked with but focusing on disease resistance building rather than horticulture. One of the times we got to work with the rust crew was during inoculation. Inoculation was a crazy experience. The basic premise is that we are testing various species of five-needle pines for potential resistance to white-pine blister rust (caused by Conartium ribicola). There was an effort to help save these species by removing the other required host species (mostly Ribes spp.) but that is both incredibly resource-intensive and largely ineffective. So Dorena is going at it by trying to breed individuals that can survive the disease rather than stopping the disease itself.

Covered boxes of seedlings during inoculation

What that looks like for the employees is first a mad dash to collect Ribes leaves with the spores on them to use to infect the trees we want to test. Then we place the leaves over the trees and wait until you have around the right spore count on the seedlings to ensure that they will be infected. Then, usually around 1 or 2am, you call people in to check the spore counts and, once they hit the target number, quickly remove all the leaves. Then for a few days you have to have at least one person watching the chamber with the seedlings in it 24/7 to make sure the humidity and temperature are at adequate levels. We only did this 3 times this year. Apparently, they did it 5 times one year and by the end of it I think the sleep-deprivation was getting to people. However, 3am is a great time to have somewhat delusional conversations and get to know people. It was especially fun since I was with people with whom I rarely worked and working on a project that was also relatively new to me.

Box of seedlings with the top half planted and bottom half to plant

The nursery crew got to work with them again while planting next year’s batch of seedlings to inoculate outside in the pouring rain. Though also a good bonding experience, it was admittedly somewhat less conducive to conversation. Luckily, we had some umbrellas to huddle under (though of course there were not enough to go around) and good rain gear so the rain was more of a nuisance than a real discomfort.

It was wonderful to have the chance to not only work with the nursery crew, but also interact and work with a whole other set of people with a variety of backgrounds (anything from 27 years at Dorena to 10 years fighting fires to a PhD in plant breeding). The center manager, Lisa Winn, and the center horticulturist and head of the nursery crew, Lee Riley, are both incredible resources and fun people to talk to. It is a lot easier to work somewhere when your coworkers and bosses are people you both respect and enjoy spending time with.

Dorena gags (always fun to walk into a greenhouse to find these guys hanging out)

As I have been going through the PhD application process, the people at Dorena have been incredibly helpful, offering good advice and support along the way. Part of the reason I took this internship was to get a sense for what it’s like to work in a government agency and see if I could do the type of research I like in that type of environment. Admittedly, there were some definite downsides of working for the government (i.e. not being allowed to work for them for 5 weeks), and a lot of good people end up leaving because they are frustrated or feel unappreciated. However, there are still good people working there and the work they do is, at least in my view, important. At the very least, I had the chance to speak with some people who have been working for the government and get their perspective on the experience, which has majorly informed my graduate school decision-making process. I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity and hope to keep in touch going forward.

Dorena sunset

All Grown Up

We’ve been growing a bunch of plants for restoration projects, and now many of them are all grown up and ready to be out-planted here in Oregon. We take them out of their nice sheltered greenhouses and throw them out into the harsh world by putting them out on the raised beds. Though we do not have the most extreme winters over here, it is regularly below freezing at night (as evidenced by the nice dusting of frosty dew on the spiderwebs draped across various plants).

With the changing fall colors, it means that the raised beds are gorgeous. I sometimes walk out there on my lunch breaks just to admire some of the plants we have tended out there, getting ready to go out into the world.

We have already sent off many of them to be planted and we are carrying some over into next year. However, we are getting to plant some of them ourselves in the next few months at a wetland/riparian restoration site. Personally, I am a fan of waders so I am looking forward to the out-planting. To get a sense, here are some photos of the restoration as it is now:

We will be lugging boxes of plants for half a mile or longer through marshes so it may be a bit of an adventure. People have suggested using llamas or horses only half-jokingly. We’ll see how that goes.

With winter coming along most of our plant propagation has slowed to a halt. However, we are having to hold over around 12,000 huckleberry unexpectedly. While this may not seem like a big deal, plants grow. The problem with that is that they need more space as they get bigger. More space means bigger pots. Bigger pots means transplanting. 12 THOUSAND huckleberry plants. One at a time. It’s going to take a while. Luckily, our crew is fun to work with and everyone has a good attitude. That and, personally, I love the chance to work outside, even if I may need the occasional break to heat up my hands.

We also have been continuing to clean and process seed. That is an ongoing process and will likely not be done when I leave in January. The amount of Douglas Fir seeds alone is staggering.

Doug-fir seeds

We also process various other species (Port-Orford Cedar, Limber Pine, Whitebark Pine, Western White Pine, Sugar Pine, etc.). The POC (Port-Orford Cedar) cones are from our own greenhouses, which is exciting.

POC Seeds

That said, they are challenging to clean because the male cones (which we are trying to remove) are small but not small enough to easily sieve and they tend to break into little pieces. Patience is handy when cleaning seed. Patience and some good podcasts. Then again, I suppose the same thing could be said of life.

The Sights of Restoration

Hey, it’s Renata again (one of the interns in Oregon). I luckily have a bit more time at Dorena Genetic Resource Center before I have to head out. However, to date, one of the coolest parts of this internship has been getting to shadow the Restoration Services Team or RST (they have their own fun logo and everything). They plan and often help implement restorations after human land use (especially after things like highway or road construction). I’ve had the chance to shadow them a bit as they go to planning meetings and have gotten to visit some of the previously restored sites. A lot of the plants we grow at Dorena go to these restoration projects so it has been fun to see the end result of our work in the greenhouses and out doing seed collections.

Part of what was so cool about shadowing RST was getting to see the decision-making process. There are a ton of moving parts as they work with different government agencies overseeing the larger project (like building a highway), the engineers, the contractors, and all manner of other experts. RST’s work often comes last because you don’t want to put in the plants only to have them trampled by construction equipment (which has sadly happened before), so their timeline is always partly up in the air. They then have to make sure to collect as many local species as possible and whatever they can’t collect there they have to find in nearby areas in the same seed zone. Then you grow them, propagate them, and then get a crew together for out-planting. To give you a sense, for one project they have 12,000 huckleberry ready to go out for planting. That’s just one species. The scale of these projects can be pretty nuts when you look at the number of people working at Dorena. It is also just exciting to have other government agencies prioritize getting local seed sources and try to have as many native species replanted as possible.

Rather than have me drone on about one project or another, I figured I just give you a sense of what we get to see as we work on these projects. We go from planning, to seed collecting, to propagating, to out planting and then to monitoring and we get to do it all in some pretty breathtaking places. So I hope you enjoy!


Dorena Sunrise

Mountain of cells for sowing

The crew doing some transplanting

Sunrise in Klamath Falls

Seed collecting in Klamath Falls (with smoke, of course)

Seed collecting in foggy Klamath

Foggy Klamath seed collecting

Klamath area seed collection

Foggy Nestucca


Nestucca when the fog cleared up

Part of a restored highway for restoration

Bridge view at restoration site

The view in Pacific City (where we stayed while doing some seed collection)

Haystack rock at Pacific City

Sunset at Dorena

Snapshot from the Begining

Hello! My name is Renata Kamakura and I am one of the CLM interns working for the Forest Service in Oregon. A lot has happened since I started in June but I figured I would give you all a bit of a sense of where I was at when the internship first began. I promise I will catch you up on the last couple of months at a later date. So here you go: when it all began ….

*Time machine moving you back to June 2018*

Hello! I just started work in Cottage Grove, OR a few weeks ago. I had a mad dash to the start of this internship with only a day between when I graduated and the start of the training in Chicago. As such, I spent the first week trying to catch my breath, unpack, and get somewhat oriented. That said, while slightly discombobulated, I still learnt a ton from the people at the Dorena Genetic Resource Center (DGRC). It is an interesting place that has more of a nursery feel than most Forest Service locations but the people are incredible, with both skill and a sense of humor. It also has some remarkable sunrises and sunsets, which I have been thoroughly enjoying since we work four 10-hour days.

Sunset at the Raised Beds

We ended up doing a range of things like splitting ferns (to try to double how many ferns we have to use), thinning species (to help reduce mold spread and infestations), transplanting Port-Orford Cedar (POC) (moving them into larger containers so they can continue to grow), and just general inventorying and cleaning that needs to happen to keep the place running.

One of the Greenhouses

As we go about the day-to-day tasks, we get tid-bits on why we are doing what we’re doing and how it fits into the broader restoration goals. I figured I might as well pass on some of these since they are a bit more interesting than just me regaling you with stories of getting caught in spider webs while contorting myself around POC branches trying to find the tree’s identification number (let’s just say I have never been known for my grace). As an aside, I do have a photo of a weed-mat I managed to get over a yellow jacket nest on a young pine sapling. There was only moderate grumbling from the occupants and a brief stare down between myself and one of the more defensive yellow jackets.

Wasp nest on sapling and under the weed mat, by some miracle

Rather than being due to some kind of herculean bravery or skill on my part it was mostly due to me not noticing the nest early enough, deciding I was in too deep at that point, and then just trying to placate the yellow jackets by softly murmuring to them as I tried to get the mat on properly. I must have looked like a maniac but the weed mat is on and I didn’t get attacked so I’ll consider it a victory. Though I would not recommend trying that at home; I just got really lucky (or perhaps the yellow jackets sensed that I was more just blind than malicious) and yellow jacket stings are not pleasant.  Unfortunately some of my fellow workers were not so lucky and one poor guy got stung at least 5 times.

Tangent aside, one of the interesting things about DGRC is that it is apparently one of only two places in the country that grows ferns from spores. That took me by surprise because there are a lot of places growing plants in the US and you’d figure they’d be able to do it if they can grow everything from giant pines to hundreds of different types of roses. Also, the people working with the ferns at DGRC treat the process with a certain nonchalance and do not make it seem like it was impossibly difficult (which, in retrospect, is more a testament to their humility than anything else). If you do a quick google search you’ll find bunch of articles and videos (which are helpful but their camerawork is less impressive than their knowledge of fern biology) on how to grow ferns from spores. John T. Mickel, in an article he wrote for the New York Times in 1979, just called in a “modest challenge” that admittedly “does take patience and care” but seems doable for the average Joe. Now, all this made me confused as to why only one other place in the states was growing ferns from spores given that you get a ton more individuals that way, but the handy Mr. Mickel shed a bit of light on that. He explains that “A major problem in growing ferns from spores is contamination. Spores of mosses, fungi and algae are everywhere – in the air, on all surfaces, in tap water and in unsterilized soil.” So, as you try to propagate the ferns, you have to try to avoid propagating the “invading hoards” of everything else (Mickel 1979; the language seems a bit dramatic but I suppose one has to really drive home the point). If you are trying to do this on an industrial scale, I can see why it might not be worth the trouble when you can just split the ferns, which only requires some water, soil, and a good knife (basically anyway). It is also not the easiest thing ever to separate out the young fern individuals without damaging their roots to be able to move them into their separate pots. There are lots of little things that make the process challenging and it is really cool to see the people here do it with relative ease (or they are just good at pretending it is easy).

So, there you go, random tidbit of the month: growing ferns from spores at a large scale is hard but if you need some sword ferns DGRC know what they’re doing. That and look at what you are doing when you try to put weed mats on plants when there are  nesting yellow-jackets in the area.

Works Cited

Mickel, J. T. (1979, February 4). From Tiny Spores Big Ferns Grow. New York Times, p. 41. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1979/02/04/archives/from-tiny-spores-big-ferns-grow-big-ferns-grow.html