The end of the JTGP era (at least for the four of us)

Hello! Michele here checking in for her final CLM blog for the Joshua Tree Genome Project (JTGP) from the City that Built the Hoover Dam. 

Interning at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center has been a blessing. The past month has been a crucial time spent entering, organizing, and cleaning up the data we have collected over the past 6 months. We’ve been chipping away at this during the entire internship, but since we are all off to other adventures at the end of the week, we need to create a master spreadsheet for every Joshua Tree we have data attached to, along with explanations of our processes and organization. Let’s just say, I think all of our excel skills went from lowly merchant level, up to lord status. Note, I did not promote us to kings and queens because we still have yet to master pivot tables.

Seeing how the project progresses in the future, after we are gone, will be exciting to catch-up on later during our conservation careers.

This internship has taught me the trial and error that goes along with ecological research, and I am grateful to learn how to tackle and overcome these hurdles. Life in the desert has been all about adapting. Adapting to living in extreme heat, adapting to life with 3 other interns that I will be forever grateful for, adapting to a new position as a CLM intern, and adapting to the plot-twists that our Joshua Tree seedlings threw at us. All in all I wouldn’t change a thing.

Thank you Mojave desert, thank you JTGP.

Happy and adventurous trails,


A lovely send-off picture of myself and a Joshua Tree that is only a little bit larger than our seedlings (please reference past blogs for size of Joshua Tree seedlings. Hint: they are small).

We are having a CRATE time.

Michele here from the City that Built the Hoover Dam. That is Boulder City, NV if you did not know that fun fact.

This week the Joshua Tree Genome Project team was greeted by a break from the desert heat. A high of 81℉??? What a delight. At 10PM I felt a chill in the air for the first time since I arrived in the desert. For a group of interns that are accustomed to fall breezes and leaves turning blazes of orange and red, we were ecstatic to see some weather that even sort of resembled a “fall” before a swift return to 100 degrees awaits us.

Aside from the cool weather, this week the interns split into two teams. Two of us went into the desert to help monitor a restoration project and two of us continued working at the greenhouse taking care of the Joshua Tree seedlings. I was on the greenhouse team. Along with continuing to collect data on the growth of the Joshua Trees, our task for the week seemed simple at first. Our goal is to plant new seeds for the Joshua Trees that had died after transplanting the seedlings into the crates, but then we took a closer look at how many needed reseeding. Lets just say, we planned for 3,200 trees in our crates and we need to reseed nearly half that number. Nonetheless, we took on the task and persevered through the maze of tracking down each seedling that needing replacement, preparing plant bands for reseeding, finding the corresponding maternal lines to reseed, and of course planting the seeds. This time around, we would plant the seeds directly into the plant bands and we would plant two seeds in hopes of increasing our chances of having a healthy tree from all of the maternal lines needed. By the very end of the week, we had reached our goal, and our crates were FULL of seeds.

The crates are prepped and labeled for reseeding. Intern Nick is seeding away!

To say that all of our plants were dying, however, is far from the truth and quite the negative perspective. The trees that are healthy, are absolutely thriving! We are starting to have a little forest of Joshua Tree seedlings. They are beginning to have as many as five leaves on them! It is amazing to see them grow from the first signs of life, as at the first stages they could be easily confused for a blade of grass. Now they are beginning to look a bit more like multiple blades of grass! I know, how thrilling! But for the life of a Joshua Tree Genome Project intern, it really is incredible.

A thriving Joshua Tree seedling
Joshua Tree seeds; some say they look like watermelon seeds. What do you think?
A little ‘forest’ of Joshua Tree seedlings

Next week the team is switching spots, which means I get to go out into the field! I am excited for my first true adventure out into the desert. Usually the field work I have done in the past has been venturing out into forests or prairies, so I am excited to see the contrast the desert will provide. One of my true joys is venturing far into natural landscapes that are well off the beaten path. Having the opportunity to experience places that many others have not is such a blessing. I am excited to see the native plants, walk through the dust, and gaze up at the stars at night.

Until next time, happy trails!


Mojave Madness: The Story of the JTGP

Michele here, one of four interns working on the Joshua Tree Genome Project (JTGP). Last night marked my 14th night in Boulder City, NV. Last night also marked the first night finding a lizard in my bathroom sink! Do not worry, the lizard was safely moved outdoors, but weather or not it finds its way back inside remains a mystery for another day! Other than the reptilian companions, the desert has greeted us in ways we could not comprehend prior to arrival. Everyone said, it’ll be a dry heat, you’ll get so tan, and drink lots of water! Every one of those things has held truer than we imagined. This week also brought us two milestones for the Joshua Tree Genome Project: (1) we can finally access the USGS greenhouse, and (2) the Joshua Tree seeds have been watered!

planters for the Joshua Tree seeds; each tray holds 50 seeds

Both of these events have had all of us interns sitting on the edge of our seats. Getting into the greenhouse meant that we would finally begin growing nearly 5,000 seeds that we had spent the last week cleaning, counting, sorting and planting. After spending copious hours caring for these seeds, it will be magical to see them when the first signs of growth appear.

All of the seeds were watered on August 6th. Joshua Tree seeds take approximately 7-10 days to germinate under ideal conditions. Part of our duties included designing how we would manage and collect germination data on all of the Joshua Tree seeds. Initially this task was daunting considering the shear amount of seeds there are to manage. However, creating the data sheets and arranging the plants became an adrenaline fueled frenzy to create the most efficient and detailed plan to manage the project. This was actually pretty exciting for all of us to compile our ideas into the project. Once the seeds begin to germinate we will be able to begin our monitoring plan and watch our tiny Joshua Trees emerge.

all of the trays lined up in the greenhouse

Between time spent in our little basement sorting seeds, we have gotten to meet many of the collaborators working on the Joshua Tree Genome Project from across the US. Talking with other ecologists and geneticists revealed to us a deeper understanding of the importance of the project. Gaining insight from multiple perspectives gave us a new foundation of knowledge that we did not have the week before.

To cap things off, we just got word that the Joshua Tree seeds have germinated! WOW. Things are moving quickly!

Radicles emerging!

Signing off from the city that built the Hoover Dam,