The Sisterhood of the Traveling Jepson and The Secret Life of Plants: An Adventurous Employment and a Really Long Title

After a month of living in Susanville, I can finally say it’s more than just a google map layout of the nearest Safeway, Starbucks, Walmart, and State Prison. The Northern Sierras and Great Basin continue to amaze me every day. The dissimilarity between these two remarkable regions first becomes apparent on the drive in from the 395. On my right lies the picturesque pine forest silhouette, characteristic of the Sierras. And on my left, the vast open landscape of the Great Basin greets me with its aromatic sagebrush smell.

Time has definitely been going by faster than I can keep up. Most of the time, the mornings and afternoons feel like completely separate days. Other times, a day feels like a week, especially when collecting Mountain Mahogany. I’ve finally gotten used to the 9pm-5am sleep schedule. But, I’m still getting used to the structure-less work agenda that comprises my schedule. However, most of the time, I can count on doing one of five things: an SOS collection, a special status plant survey, water rights paperwork, juniper mapping, or marking pine trees with the ELFO forester, Clif.

So far, we have collected from Elymus elymoides var. californicus, Poa secunda, Mimulus guttatus, Lotus corniculatus, Cercocarpus ledifolius var. intermontanus, and Leymus cinerus. I absolutely hated collecting Cercocarpus ledifolius, commonly known as Mountain Mahogany. Mountain Mahogany seeds are shaped like an inconspicuously hairy corkscrew, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the plant. The most efficient way to collect the most seeds was by vigorously shaking the tree so that the seeds could fly into our tarp. At the time, this seemed like a brilliant idea. Thirty minutes later, when my allergies were going off, and I could no longer comfortably breathe, I realized it was a terrible idea. Let this be a warning to those who might need to collect it at their field office!

Not all collections have been terrible. In fact, I’ve enjoyed all the other plants, especially Elymus elymoides var. californicus (ELELC2), commonly known as bottlebrush squirreltail and Poa secunda, commonly known as pine bluegrass. Both of these grasses usually grow in areas where cheat grass or medusahead have invaded. Research has shown that ELELC2 is one of the more competitive fire-resistant perennial grasses capable of establishing in areas dominated by invasive annuals. Basically, squirreltail is the Batman of Gotham. Now, whenever I walk by a flourishing population, I have to restrain myself from picking its seeds. Most of the time, I can’t resist the urge. It’s become a tradition among the Lady Bots (our office alternative nickname for CBG interns) to fiercely pick the squirrel spikelets and disperse them among the invasive annual grasses while chanting “DEFEAT THE CHEAT, DEFEAT THE CHEAT.”

Aside from work, I’ve been spending a lot of time exploring in the area. I finally went on a mini solo backpacking trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park (and bought my National Parks Pass) and it was incredible! The plants are just absolutely insane. Even though most things are past bloom, I was still able to find some things to key out like Penstemon newberryi, Penstemon gracilentus, and Phyllodoce breweri. I’ve also visited Lake Tahoe a few times, Greenville, Chester/Lake Almanor, Quincy, Silver Lake, and soon, I’ll be going to Yosemite, Crater, and Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail. Luckily, I’ve accrued almost six days of comp time, so I’m thinking of taking two weeks off and just doing the whole thing at once! If I do end up doing the TRT, it would mean not being able to explore other places that are on my “to-do list.” There’s just too much to see around Susanville! Oh, and I’ve also visited Truckee, which is the coolest place in California (besides Santa Cruz.) I got some real’ good vibez from all the cool people who live there…#truckeelove.

Well jeez, for some reason I was feeling overly ambitious, and thought that I could write, in detail, about everything I’ve been up to at work. Obviously, I was wrong! I guess you’ll have to stay tune for next month’s blog to get the juicy gossip going on in special status plant populations and juniper plots!

Learning By Trial and Error

To be honest, this past month since my previous post has been a complete blur. So many things have happened, where do I start?

Last month I had found out that my program mentor at the BLM, Mr. Johnny Chopp, was leaving his position here at the Carlsbad, New Mexico, BLM Field Office for his dream job. He had been hired as a wildlife biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers back in his hometown. This was a long-awaited opportunity and great news for him; for me, I am not so sure. He was the only one in the office, nay, the city of Carlsbad, NAY, the whole of Southeastern New Mexico that understood the purpose of the Seeds of Success and how to achieve its goals, and the CLM Program. It left me uneasy to be thrown into such a position that required superior knowledge of this area’s flora and the leadership to work basically unsupervised.

I found this out a week before I took “vacation,” and realized the timing of my out-of-town stint was in such a way that Johnny would be gone by the time I got back. I did not have time to process this transition until I got back to Carlsbad.

My little “vacation” away from the Chihuahuan Desert started with a trip out to Savannah, Georgia, for the Botany 2016 Conference. I was accepted as a PLANTS grant participant for the conference, meaning I got to attend this meeting as a “student,” all expenses paid, with a mentor and peer mentor to help me navigate around the Conference. Unfortunately, the timing of the Conference was awful (as you will see here soon). However, I had such an incredible experience!


A picture of the PLANTS grant participants, peer mentors, and mentors in front of the Historic District of Savannah on the last day of the Conference.

Flying into Savannah was something of a culture shock for me. It was my first time being anywhere near the East coast, or the South! The people are different from the people of Colorado. I had seafood for every possible meal. I got to experience first-hand the 106 degree weather with 90% humidity. Overall, Savannah was an incredible place to visit. But more importantly, I went to my first big conference! I was roomed with a student from California who was just finishing up a summer REU at my home institution (University of Colorado Boulder), with the professor that recommended I go to this conference in the first place…what a small world! I learned the world of botany is a tight and niche group of people where everyone knows everyone, and everyone is incredibly friendly and supportive of one another. I learned so much about the current research in botany, about graduate school, and about what I want to do in the future! I am a recent undergraduate, and was unsure what exactly I wanted to do with my future (one of the reasons I am exploring federal jobs through this current internship). However, coming here I realized I want to get back into academia, and start looking towards graduate school, hopefully in the next year or so. I have a long road ahead of me (for one I still have not yet even taken the GRE), but now I have a goal to go back to school! And as a young adult like me, I think it is important to know what you want, and be passionate about it, and I have officially taken the first step.


A short break from my Carlsbad, NM internship was spent, well, getting married. Unconventional to say in the least, but doable with a great support system. Photo taken by S. Bober

The Conference was a great experience, but like I mentioned earlier, was unfortunately timed. I flew back home as quickly as I could for the second part of my vacation…MY WEDDING. That’s right. I flew home from Georgia to get married the very next day. To be fair, I planned the date of this wedding before I accepted this internship, and before I received a grant to attend Botany 2016. It would not have happened without the everlasting support of my friends, family, and newly-wedded husband. With that said, it ended up being a rather nice gathering and was glad to finally marry my high school sweetheart, love of my life, and best friend of nearly 10 years.

Even with the most supportive people one could ever ask for, I would not suggest planning one’s wedding in the middle of this internship. Going back to Carlsbad straight after getting married was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, and I would not wish that kind of transition on anyone. With that said, I am happy to say that I have the most encouraging and uplifting people in my life, all on my side for finishing out this internship. It was very hard to come back to Carlsbad, NM, but glad that I did.

There is a solitary beauty in the desert, and on this particular day was enhanced by awesome clouds painted onto a background of blue the and vibrant green of thirst-quenched desert. Photo taken by B. Palmer

There is a solitary beauty in the desert, and on this particular day was enhanced by awesome clouds painted onto a background of blue the and vibrant green of a thirst-quenched desert. Photo taken by B. Palmer

There are plenty of happy pollinators here in the desert, finding their way to vivaciously-colored flowers. Photo taken by B. Palmer

There are plenty of happy pollinators here in the desert, finding their way to vivaciously-colored flowers. Photo taken by B. Palmer

I came back to New Mexico to find that the weather was much more tolerable, and the early July monsoons FINALLY came…over a month late. This is good news for us here, because a lot of the landscape has gone from brown to green, and there are finally seeds to collect now and to collect in the coming weeks. The other Carlsbad CLM intern, Meridith, was even able to do a collection while I was gone.

Our second collection of the season, Mentzelia strictissima. I missed out collecting, but there are plenty more to do!

Our second collection of the season, Mentzelia strictissima. I missed out collecting, but there are plenty more to do! Photo taken by B. Palmer

However, I came back to Carlsbad with no set direct supervisor. Again, an odd feeling for someone as young and inexperienced as I am. There was a day I even went out on my own to scout for plants and potential collections, and came across one that was beginning to fruit. I knew it was one of three things, but went ahead and started collecting it, even though I was unsure of the plants’ identity. I found that I have to rely on myself and using dichotomous keys more now that it is more difficult to ask around what the plants are.

This is a flowering and fruiting yellow aster, one I believe to be Isocoma pluriflora. Please correct me if you believe I am wrong! Photo taken by B. Palmer

This is a flowering and fruiting yellow aster, one I believe to be Isocoma pluriflora. Please correct me if you believe I am wrong! Photo taken by B. Palmer

In the last few weeks the other CLM intern and I were finally set up with the New Mexico State Botanist, Zoe Davidson, as our new program mentor, and would be getting plant identification help from Patrick Alexander. But the catch: Zoe is located in Santa Fe, Patrick in Las Cruces. Though we have support from afar, we are still on own and are our own boss, and ultimately are the ones to decide what to collect. This indeed has been an interesting leadership opportunity, with a LOT of room for trial and error.

For example, we were driving around scouting for potential populations to collect from, when we could not find a turn onto a dirt road we wanted to take. All of the sudden, we found ourselves on the Texas border, much farther than we intended on ever going! All in the end, you got to shrug it off and realize that sometimes it’s good to get lost, so that the next time you go to that area, you become, well, not as lost!

Sometimes you have to embrace the wrong turns...even if you end up in Texas! Photo taken by N. Montoya

Sometimes you have to embrace the wrong turns…even if you end up in Texas! Photo taken by N. Montoya

We also learned that we need to do more research before going out to collect seeds. Meridith had decided while I was gone to do some collections in an area called Dark Canyon when I got back, a drainage area that is beautiful, green, and full of potential collections. Our first collection of the day was very successful, collecting the very pollinator friendly Fallugia paradoxa (Apache Plume) with ease.

From the Rosacea is Fallugia paradoxa, known more commonly as Apache Plume. This collection was rather meditative and calming. A great way to start the morning! Photo taken by B. Palmer

From the Rosacea is Fallugia paradoxa, known more commonly as Apache Plume. This collection was rather meditative and calming. A great way to start the morning! Photo taken by B. Palmer

We were on a roll, a downright collecting-spree, and decided that Dasylirion leiophyllum (Sotol) would make a nice addition to our collections. This is a plant that to the untrained eye looks similar to Yucca and Agave, with a very tall inflorescence, anywhere between 5 and 15 feet tall. So we set out through every known prickly, pokey, spiny, sharp, jaggy, scratchy, angry plant you could imagine to get to the sotol, which isn’t much of a friendly plant either. Lesson one of the day: Wear clothes you don’t care about messing up and tearing, and if you have a problem bushwhacking through the prickly flora, then you need to get out of there! I was so incredibly tired and scratched up by the end of the morning, but despite the unpleasantness of it all, I would probably do it again.

Practically no "friendly" plant in sight here. But Meridith and I suffered through...For Science! Photo taken by B. Palmer

Practically no “friendly” plant in sight here. But Meridith and I suffered through with smiles on our faces…most of the time…For Science! Photo taken by B. Palmer

Lesson two: If you don’t know what exactly you are collecting, DON’T COLLECT IT AT ALL! Meridith and I were collecting “seed” from these plants, climbing up infructescences of the so-tall stalks to get up to the fruits, when I got to one and realized: we weren’t collecting seed, we were collection old papery remains of old flowers that never fruited! I realized this after nearly an hour of bushwhacking and climbing, because I finally got to a stalk that finally had real fruits/seeds on it. We had no idea what we were collecting! We found out later with some advice and some extra research that Dasylirion will not be ready to collect seed from likely until October. It is rather embarrassing to admit such a fault, but again, it is trial and error. What better way to learn than to bash into your brain that you did something so horribly incorrect the first time around! And now we are forced to try, try again next time, and hopefully with a little more knowledge and wisdom behind us!

Here I am, trying to reach some of the inflorescence of Dasylirion leiophyllum. I will be attempting this yet again in the near future! Photo taken by M. McClure

Here I am, trying to reach some of the inflorescence of Dasylirion leiophyllum. I will be attempting this yet again in the near future! Photo taken by M. McClure

In a way, I believe that loosing our Carlsbad mentor may have been a blessing in disguise. Being thrown into a position where you are required to rely on yourself is likely one of the best ways to learn. I have to rely on myself to figure out what the species are here. I have to be the judge of when the best timing is to collect certain seeds. I have to plan accordingly to make the best use of my time here in Carlsbad, and be involved in other projects in the office! I honestly thought about quitting this internship early for a number of reasons, but I realized that it is so astoundingly important to finish this out for the SOS program, for the city of Carlsbad and its hidden floral treasures, but most importantly for myself. I have not been known in the past to quit even when I am uncomfortable with a situation, and I cannot start now! In the meantime, I will be forced to enjoy the wonderful array of plants that are popping up all about, and do what I came here to do: botanize!

Tiquilia hispidissima: a Chihuahuan desert gypsum soil endemic. This is a plant I will never see anywhere else in the world! Photo taken by B. Palmer

Tiquilia hispidissima: a Chihuahuan desert and gypsum soil endemic. This is a plant I will never see anywhere else in the world, a good reason to stay in Carlsbad for now! Photo taken by B. Palmer

Another fun species found in the wetter soils of the late summer desert: Sphaeralcea sp. Photo taken by B. Palmer

Another fun species of the Malvaceae family found in the wetter soils and near the hardly existing rivers of the late summer desert: Sphaeralcea angustifolia Photo taken by B. Palmer

Some of a botanist's more powerful tools. Photo taken by B. Palmer

Some of a botanist’s more powerful tools: A plant press, and a place to record everything in. Photo taken by B. Palmer

Best wishes from Brooke Palmer of the Carlsbad, New Mexico BLM Field Office. I am officially halfway finished with this internship…until next time!

First air of autumn

This will be the final blog post of my internship.  One of the more interesting recent developments for me is finding Ptilimnium nodosum (Haparella) in the park in late July.  This is a federally-endangered plant in the Apiaceae (Carrot Family).  In the 2000s there was a major re-introduction effort within the canal between a professor at George Washington University and the National Park Service.   From my understanding this re-introduction was not successful at establishing new populations, but some useful knowledge was gained through the experience and seeds from it were acquired for long term preservation.  The last time a natural population was found on the main stem of the Potomac River was around 20 years ago.  I hope I am giving enough of an overview while practicing a fair amount of discretion due to the sensitive nature of this information.  I went to that location where it was last seen (a well-developed scour bar) and was surprised to find a decently-sized population in full flower.  I think one could describe this as a meta-population.


Ptilimnium nodosum. Each umbel was rarely larger than a dime.


Ptilimnium nodosum. Even in flower these plants were hard to see. They grew alongside numerous wetland graminoids such as Juncus spp.


Ptilimnium nodosum. The leaves are referred to as phyllodes (reduced leaf petioles). They are hollow and segmented.











As I mentioned in a previous entry, the Potomac at this time of year is usually at its lowest point.  I was able to walk out into the middle of the river and could have crossed into West Virginia on the other side if I desired.


From the middle of the Potomac in late July. The green is Justicia americana (Water Willow)

Another interesting plant I ran into with the help of a lady who has voluntarily been doing plant surveys along a portion of the canal for several years is the state-endangered Trachelospermum difforme (Climbing Dogbane).  Not only had I never seen this plant before this summer, but I had never even heard of it.  This plant is of particular interest to me because it resembles Japanese Honeysuckle morphologically and in growth habit.  As I discussed in a previous entry, the canal is very interested in developing a robust volunteer Weed Warrior program.  Part of my responsibilities involve educating these Weed Warriors about native look-alikes, especially state-listed species.  I must admit that this one is tricky at first and would especially be difficult to less experienced eyes.  Fortunately once you are aware of the plant, it is easily distinguished from Japanese Honeysuckle by its milky sap when leaves are present.  On the other hand I can imagine some difficulties for volunteers because the two can grow intermingled in each other.  This would be particularly hazardous if they are growing together, it’s late in the season and Japanese Honeysuckle is still green while Climbing Dogbane has gone dormant.  The “hazard” being that dormant Climbing Dogbane is mechanically treated by someone thinking it is part of a honeysuckle clump.


Trachelospermum difforme. The milky sap I mentioned earlier.


Trachelospermum difforme. In flower. The manuals state that leaf shape is variable. Some of the leaves were quite oribicular with an acuminate tip. They resembled Oriental Bittersweet leaves to my eyes, though that vine has alternate leaves.

IMG_9143 (2)

Trachelospermum difforme vs. Lonicera japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle). In my hand is Japanese Honeysuckle. As you can see the two grow alongside each other and can easily be confused as one species.

I went through the photos I took over the season and thought I would include some of the more interesting ones here for fun.

Io Moth caterpillar on Baptisia australis leaf

Automeris io (Io Moth) caterpillar on the state-listed Baptisia australis. Will sting you.

Eriocampa juglandis (Butternut Woollyworm) on state-listed Juglans cinerea (Butternut) leaf.

My internship still has a few weeks left but I feel the season waning.  The asters will have their time and fall will be here soon. Cheers to a successful field season.



Coleman Minney

Field Botany Intern

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal NHP

Rolling on the River

With the SOS collections taking a pause for the moment we have found ourselves going out to help with other projects.  We went on two weed treatment trips on the Green River this month and we have another one scheduled in a couple weeks.  We still are making sure to keep an eye on our targets, its just a lot easier to do that now we are focusing mainly on Artemisia species and Sarcobatus we have a pretty good idea of how our target populations are doing just by driving around.


Green River

Even though I still have almost two months left it seems like the internship is almost over.  We are going to start thinking up the target list for next year’s interns next week and I am starting to interview for jobs.  I was overflowing with excitement when I first got here in May because it looked so strange to me, then it started to seem a bit old in July once the temperatures reached into the triple digits and the bugs started eating us alive.  The summer is coming to an end now and the end of my internship is now on the horizon.  When I was out near Desolation Canyon yesterday doing Penstemon grahamii surveys I had a few chances to look out into the vast expanse of desert and realize that I will miss this place someday.