Though it’s already been a week, it’s very hard to believe that our internship in Boulder City is over! It’s been (a little under) 6 amazing months in Nevada – I’ve learned so much through this project, visited so many different National Parks, hiked many miles, camped more nights than I can count, and made a great friend. It’s been a busy last few months, and an even busier last couple of weeks as we wrapped up, but I wanted to post a few memories that have stuck out to me since the last time I posted.
I also wanted to say thank you to our mentors at USGS – Lesley, Todd, and Sara – and to Chris. I have learned so much about Joshua trees, climate change, and scientific research, and have felt very lucky to learn from them and have their support. They’ve provided invaluable advice in terms of future careers and schooling, and have been so encouraging and appreciative of our work with them. I will definitely miss working with them!
And another thank you to my co-intern, Maddy. We just wrapped up a celebratory end-of-internship road-trip to California to visit Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks, and it was a beautiful way to round out our internship. Can’t wait to visit you in Idaho!
Hello! We have had a very busy past few weeks – moving the Joshua tree seedlings to the shadehouse to “harden off,” assessing the plants, planning which garden each seedling would go to, watering the soil in the gardens ahead of time so digging would be easier, organizing/packing up the Joshua tree crates, then finally planting in the gardens. It’s been a multi-step process, with a lot of help. The team consisted of the two CBG interns (Maddy and I), the three USGS mentors/researchers (Lesley, Todd, and Sara), other technicians (Caitlin, Sharon, Alex, and Robin), and university folk (Chris Smith, Karolina Heyduk, Jeremy Yoder, and Jeremy’s graduate student, Kate).
After much consideration between the investigators on this project, it was decided that we were going to split up the majority of plants between Cactus Mine and Ridgecrest, then plant a small subset in the Utah garden. The Utah garden is already so successful that it wouldn’t make much sense to plant populations that we already knew were physiologically adapted there – there is also less room to plant there since there are still so many live plants. We had originally planned to plant across these three gardens over the span of two weeks, spending two days at Cactus, three days at Ridgecrest (since the drive is so long), and then two days at Utah. However, the team was so efficient that we got it all done within five days!
We started off with the Cactus Mine garden, which is the garden closest to Boulder City and also the garden that gets the most public visitation. We loaded the crates containing plants designated for Cactus into a U-Haul, then made the trek to the garden. Upon arrival, we started to dig – both with an auger and with shovels, since the auger was acting a little finicky. We had to let the digging team get a little ahead of the planting team, since digging took longer on average and, though the auger eventually started working consistently, it was hard work and required breaks. Once there were enough holes prepared to start planting, we received a short orientation on how to plant (“Green side up!” was a funny tag-line we heard). The process went like this
The plant band (containing the Joshua tree) would be placed in the hole, but the planter would need to make sure the soil surface around the hole matched the height of soil in the plant band. If it didn’t match, the planter would either remove more soil from the hole or add soil
The planter would pack some soil into the hole around the plant band (adding water to the soil as needed), then wiggle the plant band a bit to make the plant band rise out of the soil, but the Joshua tree/soil within the plant band would stay in place
The planter would pack more soil around the plant band and wiggle the plant band some more, continuing to pull the plant band further out of the hole while the Joshua tree stayed in place. We repeated the packing/wiggling process about 3-4 times per hole, until the plant band could be completely removed and the Joshua tree was stable in the hole
We would organize the contents around the Joshua tree – making sure the metal tag denoting its number was still around the plant and not crushing any blades, moving the plastic tag denoting its matriline further from the plant so it was easier to read, and removing the bamboo stick that was used to keep the metal tag around the plant
We would water the plant and move on to the next one! If the water flowed quickly away from the plant and into surrounding soil (usually because of a discrepancy with the incline), we would pack soil into a donut shape around the plant to ensure that water would pool around it. Or if water quickly ‘glugged’ into the soil, it meant that we hadn’t packed the soil correctly while planting and there was an air bubble somewhere in the soil – in cases like that there wasn’t much we could do to fix it retroactively, but we would pack some more soil into the depression near the plant
The process started to move quickly once we got the hang of it. As Cactus was the first garden, though, we had to do the most organization when it came to pulling plant bands out of the crates. Since each plant within a crate was designated for a specific garden, sometimes a crate could contain plants going to Cactus, Ridgecrest, and Utah. We would have to bring that whole crate to Cactus, then pull out plants designated for either Ridgecrest or Utah and move them into a separate crate. So once organized, we actually had an easier time moving crates to Ridgecrest and Utah, since the crates were then sorted into almost exclusively plants going to those two gardens.
We finished planting in Cactus on Tuesday afternoon, and Lesley and Alex walked through the rows of plants and recorded the tag numbers of each plant to make a garden map. Afterwards, Maddy and I used the fireman’s hose and 500 gallon water tank to water the whole garden! It felt great to be done with one garden, and we still had time in the day to drive back to the greenhouse, load up all the crates going to Ridgecrest, and pack up the necessary equipment for the next few days. Lesley and Karolina were going to drive straight to Ridgecrest that night to get a head start on drilling holes, while the rest of us were going to start our drive to Ridgecrest early on Wednesday morning.
We arrived to Ridgecrest around 11am, and were psyched to see how many holes they had drilled ahead of time! It made it so easy for us to jump immediately into planting, and since we were a well-oiled machine by that point, we planted super fast. Near 3pm, we were all afraid to ask the inevitable question of “are we gonna finish it all today?” for fear of jinxing it. And thankfully we didn’t jinx it! We finished planting around 5pm, then watered the plants, set some rodent traps for the night, and set up camp. The next morning after checking traps, Maddy, Alex, Karolina, and I worked on mapping the garden (two teams of two working from either end of the garden) while Lesley and Sara filled the 500 gallon tank so we could water the plants again.
We left around 9am on Thursday to head back to the greenhouse to unload and re-pack for Utah, as Maddy and I planned to drive from the greenhouse to Utah (along with Lesley and Karolina) so we could get a head start on digging for the planting effort on Friday. As luck would have it, though, the route to the garden was blocked in multiple areas by Salsola (also known as Russian thistle or tumbleweed)! Maddy and I used pitchforks to clear the road, but each time we would clear one and drive a little further, another Salsola roadblock would be in the way. It was pretty comical, but it definitely confused us on our location, and we ended up missing the garden and having to turn around, find the right road, and then clear that road of Salsola as well. We eventually made it to the garden, tired but triumphant in our Salsola fight, to set up rodent traps and head to bed.
On Friday morning, after removing some Salsola inside the garden and making a plot for the new plants, Maddy and I volunteered to be the digging team. We had a quick lesson on how to use the auger, but learned that usually the Utah garden needs to be dug by hand because the soil is too dense. We started to dig, but the auger would turn off about halfway down the hole because it would get stuck. This was pretty frustrating, especially since digging by hand would take very long, but we couldn’t see any way around it. We dug about sixty holes to half depth, but on the third row we finally figured out a process to be able to auger to the full depth needed to plant the Joshua trees. It took a lot of time, muscle, water, and gas to dig to the correct depth, but it was definitely worth it as it helped us save energy and time. Maddy and I dug the holes, while Caitlin, Sharon, Alex, and Robin planted, Sara unloaded crates, and Lesley, Todd, and Karolina removed Salsola. We eventually finished with planting around 1:30pm, and after taking a quick lunch, mapped the garden layout and watered the garden.
We then joined the Salsola removal team, which had made a huge headway. Before this day, the interior of the garden was pretty overrun with Salsola, and we never had enough time to make a dent in removal. With everyone’s help we finally cleared the garden of the Russian thistle! After throwing it over the high fence, we had to clear the outside fence line as well, before finally packing up and leaving. I still can’t believe we were able to finish all the planting in only one week. It definitely couldn’t have been done without the help of everyone on the team, and we were all very thankful to be treated to smoothies afterwards!
Unfortunately, when we visited the Utah garden only 4 days later to assess the older population of Joshua trees, we found that a lot of the newer Joshua trees had already been damaged by rodent herbivory. It was very sad to see, especially because these plants would most likely survive here if not for the biting rodents. We had to cover all of the plants with a mesh cage (secured by landscaping pins at the bottom and by a zip tie at the top) to try to minimize any further damage, but we are nervous about the plants that have already been chewed. Lesley mentioned that if the meristem, which is where new growth is occurring, is chewed, then the plant will likely die. We are crossing our fingers that some of the new plantings survive this!
After a few high-energy weeks to get this planting effort prepared and finished, it has been nice to relax a little! Maddy and I recently visited Joshua Tree National Park for the first time (so cool to see so many fully grown Joshua trees), and have still been hiking every weekend around the Las Vegas/Boulder City area. The weather is definitely starting to warm up, so I am excited to be able to swim soon!
Happy New Year! The past month has flown by quite quickly, much to my dismay, since that means less time left in the internship. I was very grateful to be able to travel home for the holidays – I got to see my family, my dog, and a little bit of snow!
In the past month we’ve collected a lot of new data, which has given us much to do in terms of data entry. Near the end of December we completed an entire greenhouse assessment of the Joshua trees, which consisted of us checking each individual plant band to see whether a seed has grown, and if so, how many blades it has and the overall health of it. Even though we’ve been working with the Joshua trees a lot and have been seeing them pop up above the soil, I was still very shocked to find out that we have over 1,600 plants currently alive! The health and number of blades varied a lot, since seeds were planted at different times (some have been growing since September), but this assessment should give us an idea of which matrilines have been more successful in the greenhouse, which will aid us in future planting in the common gardens. From our minimal amount of data, we have noticed that one population in particular has not been very successful in the greenhouse (it currently only has 25 successful seeds, compared to other populations with 100+), which could potentially correlate to the conditions that seed is genetically attuned to – maybe it is meant to thrive in conditions that are colder or have a higher altitude? Maybe it finds the greenhouse to be too humid? This data could help the researchers understand why certain populations are more successful in certain gardens (and in the greenhouse) than others.
We’ve also made another monthly visit to the 3 common gardens to check on the Joshua trees that are out in the wild. It has rained a couple of times in the past month, which was evident when we went to the gardens! I saw many plants that were putting out tiny new blades (so small that I almost didn’t notice them and had to touch them to make sure they weren’t just a shadow). Other plants still seemed a little heat stressed, with leaf margins that were furled inwards, which could be a reaction from the summer heat that is still noticeable now. We luckily haven’t seen any active rodent herbivory, which would mean setting up traps, but have seen signs of insects – we are slowly trying to learn the difference between grasshopper and ant herbivory.
These assessments and garden visits have given us a lot of data, which has provided us quite the opportunity to learn more about how this data is going to be used and what it could signify. It’s been very interesting to think deeper about the research and to consider how the data needs to be set up to make future statistical analysis more efficient and seamless. Maddy and I text Lesley, our mentor/the PI on this project, quite a bit when entering data to double check that we’re formatting it correctly, whether we need more columns or rows, and whether we need to include past data points on our current Excel spreadsheet. I’ve learned to think about it in terms of how the data will be used in the future – do we need to include past data in case of future analysis of trends for these plants? I tend to write a lot of notes when looking at the plants – will these notes be superfluous or could that data be helpful?
Overall, I’ve still been really enjoying the area! Maddy and I have been hiking every weekend, we camped in Death Valley (which taught us how cold it gets in the desert at night), and we plan to camp in Zion soon. I’m already growing quickly attached to the mountains, and hope that in the future I will still be in an area that has such accessible and beautiful hiking trails.
Hi! My name is Bridget Hennessy, and I’m a CLM intern working in Boulder City, Nevada! I moved here about three weeks ago, and have quickly adjusted to life here in Nevada. Being from Michigan, it has been quite the change of species, scenery, and weather. It’s truly amazing to be surrounded by mountains! It’s also truly odd to be experiencing warm weather in December!
I’m working on the Joshua Tree Genome Project, which is a USGS research project focused on how Joshua trees respond to climate change. So far I’ve been helping in the lab, greenhouse, and common gardens. In the lab, my co-intern, Maddy, and I care for germinating Joshua tree seeds – making sure they have water in their petri plate and aren’t molding, and watching to see when they germinate. There are around 20-25 seeds per petri plate and, with all the moisture, it’s easy for the seeds to mold. Thankfully they are being kept at the right temperature, so it is also easy for them to germinate! Once seeds have a nicely-sized radicle (or primary root) we plant them in the greenhouse into plant bands. These plant bands and crates were set up before we arrived, so our main job has just been planting more germinated seeds and watering the Joshua trees. We have learned to balance the moisture level between plants, since new transplants need to have more water than plants that have sprouted blades.
We’ve also been organizing and counting Joshua tree seeds that were previously collected into new batches for future planting. These seeds were collected from different trees in different areas, so they have different matrilines, different adaptations, and different abilities to survive in the common gardens. The three common gardens are set up in California, Utah, and Nevada, all so that the Joshua trees’ survival can be tested in a variety of temperatures, soils, altitudes, and precipitation levels. We visited all three gardens over the past week and a half to assess the previously planted Joshua trees, and it was so interesting! We counted how many blades each plant had, checked whether there were signs of herbivory, and scored the overall health of the plant. Seeing the gardens in person definitely helped me recognize the differences between them – the Nevada garden had the most signs of herbivory, the California garden had super dry and sandy soil, and the Utah garden had very soft, moist soil. I’m very excited to assess them again and see if the plants grow more!
This week we’ve been setting up for planting the species Eriogonum fasciculatum into soil in the greenhouse. These plants were cuttings from larger plants in the Mojave, that were then placed in perlite and watered frequently. The cuttings have now grown roots and are ready to go in soil. We cleaned crates, set up plant bands, and added a soil mixture to each band. We have now moved on to the planting stage, and are working slowly and surely to make sure the delicate roots aren’t damaged in the planting transition. It’s cool to see the crates slowly start to fill up with plants!
After work it’s been great to hike and explore the Las Vegas area. Maddy and I have visited Red Rock Canyon and Arizona so far, and are planning to camp in Death Valley soon. The nature here is so different from what I’ve experienced, and I love being able to see new species and such rich geology. I can’t wait for what else is to come!