Bye Carlsbad!

Today we had our final day at the Carlsbad Field Office. Saying goodbye to everyone was really difficult, and I will miss a lot of wonderful people that I’ve met here. I have gotten to see such amazing landscapes in the field here and feel incredibly lucky to have been able to work outside most days doing what I love to do.

Dark Canyon from up in the cliffs, one of my collection sites

Dark Canyon from up in the cliffs, one of my collection sites

By the Black River, a field site we frequented this season


The dunes at the peak of the season, teeming with wildflowers!

Centaurium maryannum, one of my favorite plants we encountered here and a gypsum soil endemic

Centaurium maryannum, one of my favorite plants we encountered here and a gypsum endemic species

Yucca in full bloom, a rare sight this time of year as most we've encountered have only had dried seed pod remains

Yucca in full bloom, a rare sight this time of year, as most we’ve encountered have only had dried seed pod remains

As a side project here in Carlsbad, I have been working on an insect collection to try and demonstrate insect diversity in the area. Today I finished it and put it up for display in the Field Office lobby outreach section, along with a couple of the herbarium vouchers Brooke and I mounted this season! It was great to see it all come together and leave something that we made here at the field office. We also included a plaque (not pictured because we hadn’t put it up yet when I took this photo) with information on the Seeds of Success program!

The finished product!

The finished product!

Our projects from the season on display!

Our projects from the season on display!

After this I will be moving to Albuquerque because New Mexico is the bee’s knees. Let me know if any of you are ever in the area!

– Meridith McClure, Carlsbad, NM BLM

Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge: Land of the Bulrush

Hello! In this post I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite field sites: Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge. Wertheim is the headquarters of U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s (USFS) Long Island Wildlife Refuge Complex. It’s a lovely place with beautiful nature trails, information about Long Island’s National Wildlife Refuges, a gift shop, and several realistic models of Long Island’s ecosystems (see pictures below).

A beach/dune model with Ammophila breviligulata (American beachgrass) and Lathyrus japonicus (beach pea).

A salt marsh at low tide with Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass) and its symbiotic marsh mussels.

An old field model with Schizachyrium scoparium (little blustem), Opuntia humifusa (eastern prickly pear), and Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed susan).

My field partner, Emily, and I first scouted for naive plant species at Wertheim in August. We were looking for bulrushes – sedges in the genera Scirpus, Schoenoplectus, and Bolboschoenus – and we were starting to worry that there weren’t many collectible bulrush populations in Long Island. Luckily, Wertheim had every bulrush species we had hoped to find, and several other native plant species. We were ecstatic! At one point, we shouted “Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani!” in unison, like true botanical nerds.

Emily, a true botanical nerd, in her waders, prepared to brave the muds of Wertheim!

In total, we made fourteen collections at Wertheim, including five bulrush collections: Schoenoplectus americanus (chairmaker’s bulrush), Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (soft-stemmed bulrush), Schoenoplectus pungens (basket grass), Bolboschoenus robustus (sturdy bulrush), Scripus cyperinus (woolgrass), Hibiscus mosheutos (crimson-eyed rose mallow), Pluchea odorata (sweetscent), Symphyotrichum subulatum (eastern annual saltmarsh aster), Typha latifolia (broad-leaved cattail), Triadenum virginicum (Virginia marsh St. John’s wort), Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), Andropogon virginicus (broomsedge bluestem), Sorghastrum nutans (indian grass), and Pseodognaphalium obtusifoloium (rabbit tobacco).

Now, let me tell you about some of these awesome native plant species:

Bolboschoenus robustus (study bulrush):

Bulrushes are really cool. They look like big grasses, but they’re actually in the sedge family (Cyperaceae). You can tell most bulrushes apart from grasses and some other sedges by their triangular stems. Bolboschoenus robustus is a bold looking plant with its triangular stem and, as its epithet implies, robust seed heads.

Bolboschoenus robustus (sturdy bulrush) seed heads.

Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (soft-stemmed bulrush):

So in the last paragraph I said that most bulrushes have triangular stems – Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani is the exception to this rule (most botanical rules have exceptions, it’s actually pretty annoying). Schoenoplectus‘s round stem, as its common name suggests, has a soft pithy core and is easily snapped.

A field of Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (soft-stemmed bulrush).

Pluchea odorata (sweetscent):

Pluchea a sweet little plant with pink flower heads and a wonderful smell. Pluchea is in the Asteraceae family – a huge, diverse family that includes many common flowers, including dandelions, sunflowers, and daisies to name a few. Many of the flowers in this family are wind-dispersed – they fluff up like dandelions and wait for the wind to blow their seeds away. Collecting wind dispersed Asteraceae can sometimes be challenging, but Pluchea’s fluffy seed holds on to the plant pretty well, and we were able to make a great collection.

Pluchea odorata. Picture found on

Typha latifolia (broad leaf cattail):

Typha latifolia is a common cattail that grows along pond edges. We found it at Wertheim growing around a large brackish (slightly salty) pond, along with Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, Pluchea odorata, and Hibiscus moschetuos. Typha was one of the easiest collections we’ve ever made, because each head has TONS of seed.

A pond edge with Typha latifolia (broad-leaved cattail) and Hibiscus moschetuos (crimson-eyed rose mallow).

Thanks Wertheim!

Until next time,


We’ll miss you Wertheim!



At first there was nothing. My field partner and I were four months deep into our internship with only 20 out of 75 collections completed. We were beginning to worry. With only two months left, how were we going to reach our goal? Then, to make matters worse, my field partner sustained a leg injury making her bedridden for a week, and banishing me to the seed lab to process and clean seeds. Yet another week passed, and our collection count remained embarrassingly low.

Moving clockwise from the top: Schizachyrium littorale (shore little bluestem), Scirpus cyperinus (woolly grass), and Panicum virgatum (panic grass).

Then, there was everything. The following week, with only seven weeks of fieldwork left in our internship, we anxiously rushed back into the marshes, beaches and forests of Delaware. Before taking a week off from fieldwork, we had been grasping at straws—the plants from which we needed to make our seed collections were either still unripe for reaping, destroyed by pests or lawn mowers or simply non-existent. The following week, our luck began to change. Once back in the field, the very first site we visited yielded three seed collections. During our week away, not only did seeds finally ripen, but as the seeds developed, plant populations we had completely overlooked became beautifully obvious. Panic grass panicles spread out to form a fuzzy haze of seeds.  Woolly grass inflorescences poofed up into fluffy red clouds, and shore little bluestem seeds exploded out of their sheaths in snowy clumps.  By the end of the week we had made 12 collections, having worked 12 hour days to complete them. Finally a stroke of relief. If we kept up that pace we would surely make our goal by the conclusion of our internship.

Covered in marsh gunk per usual. Had to get down and dirty to collelct this Spartina cynosuroides specimen.

Covered in marsh gunk, per usual. Had to get down and dirty to collect this Spartina cynosuroides specimen.

Working long days with only brief fuel breaks mid-day, my field partner and I were starting to feel worn down.  Despite constantly sipping water, we were perpetually dehydrated and our backs occasionally ached from being continuously bent in a tiered bow to the earth.  That is when Spartina decided it was time to ripen. Spartina is a genus of marsh grass which includes various species ranging from only 2 feet tall (Spartina patens) to 8 feet (Spartina cynosuroides). This was good news as it meant we would have more seed collections to make, but bad news, for those collections- especially those of Spartina alterniflora, were bound to take an excessive amount of time.

Spartina alterniflora, also known as smooth cordgrass, is highly sought out for restoration projects across Delaware and New Jersey. The grass is cited to function as an ecosystem engineer; it stabilizes marsh soils to prevent erosion and protect against coastal storms, creates habitat for coastal species, and filters heavy metals and other toxins out of the water column. The ecological services provided by S. alterniflora make the grass highly sought after by various restoration and environmental groups. So many, in fact, that we could barely fit our collections into our small rental car.


Spartina alterniflora in all its glory.

Typically our seed protocol requires each plant population we collect from to have at least 50 individuals ( to maintain genetic diversity), that we collect a minimum of 10, 000 seeds, and that our collection does not exceed 20% of the seed available in the population. Those requirements still stand when collecting S. alterniflora, only that instead of collecting a minimum of 10,000 seeds, we needed to collect a minimum of 50 lbs of inflorescences for each collection we made.

So, one early morning in October, we began to collect Spartina alterniflora. The collections were long and difficult. For our first collection, we spent two entire days of work, that is 16 hours, collecting Spartina from a single site. It was stinky business. By the end of our first collection we had gathered about 200 lbs. The stench was unbearable. Like the marshes from which they are collected, S. alterniflora smells like hydrogen sulfide, better known as the scent of rotten eggs. Just a few inflorescences could stink up an entire car, so imagine hauling around 200+ lbs of it at once. We had no choice but to drive with the windows rolled down, despite the frigid air that pinched at our cheeks.

By the conclusion of our first week collecting Spartina alterniflora, my field partner and I reeked.  After each day in the field we could not wait to clean ourselves of the wretched salt marsh cordgrass perfume. However, that was impossible to do considering we were spending our nights in a farm house. A farmhouse that relied on well water. Well water that come from the surrounding marsh. A marsh that was full of sulfur. This meant that not only did my field partner and I spend our day in a field of stinky Spartina, but we then showered and drank water that shared its pungent scent. We were becoming one with the marsh. Luckily, or unluckily, our bodies have a tendency to acclimate to new environments. I started to notice the scent less and less. And then, one morning as we walked through a field of Spartina alterniflora, I took in a deep breath and as I let out a yawn I thought to myself, “ It smells like hard boiled eggs.”  The thought made me hungry.

 I needed a break from Spartina collections. This was the result: An improvised sunhat made from the remains of a horseshoe crab.

I needed a break from Spartina collections. This was the result: An improvised sunhat made from the remains of a horseshoe crab.

Spartina alterniflora collections lasted two weeks, during which we received heavy rains and strong winds from the passing of Hurricane Matthew farther south. The strength of the storm forced us out of the field and into a Panera Bread for nearly an entire day, and gave us a late start the following morning. There was some slight flooding on marsh-side roads, which prolonged our commute times to field sites, but luckily that was as difficult as it got.  Two weeks since the conclusion of Spartina collections, my field partner and I are close to wrapping up the season. We expect to meet our collection goal by the end of this week, and hopefully surpass it the following week. Then we will have one week to process seeds and digitize data sheets before our internship concludes. The storm is at last behind us and all is now calm and becoming still. Though the process of seed collecting was at times difficult, looking back this internship has been both educational and exciting. It will be bittersweet seeing it come to an end. It has been a pleasure. Except for the Spartina. I won’t miss Spartina.

All Things Must End

September 29th was my last day working with the BLM in Lakeview, Oregon.  It was a day that I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded.  On one hand, I would be returning home to see my dogs, my family, my friends, my home state – everything I love.  On the other hand I would once again be woefully unemployed, but such is the life of a seasonal biologist!

The past month went by in an absolute whirlwind; I spent a week with family in the Willamette Valley, drove back to New Mexico, and began the job/housing search for my next stage in life.  I was only left with interspersed moments to really reflect on what the past few months were to me.  I didn’t want to phone it in on this final blog post, so I gave myself the time to digest my experiences.

In many ways, this internship was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done.  I was in a completely new, unfamiliar area.  The vegetation was completely different, the culture completely different, my job quite different from anything I had experienced before.  I didn’t have a crew-mate for a month and I had no idea whether we would gel and successfully tackle our sizable list of goals.  Pretty much everything was totally new to me, which can often make me pretty stressed at first.

In many ways, I felt like a fish out of water.  Luckily, many of those feelings passed as I fell into the groove at work, became close friends with my field partner, and started making serious headway with my list of things to accomplish.  There were many days at work where I felt like I was barely treading water.  What matters is that I never went under.

Taking this job, with more responsibility, freedom, and a steeper learning curve than I had ever had before, ended up being one of the best things I could have done.  Not only did I get a crash course in plant identification (I’m more of a wildlifer with my background), but I learned how to be patient and accepting of myself and those around me.  I took this job because I wanted to learn more about plant ecology and how to take that into account from a management perspective.  And I did.  I took away many things from this job that will inform any future management decisions I make (assuming a pursue a career with an agency).  What I didn’t expect, though, was the amount of personal development that got crammed into five months.

This experience taught me how to hold on a little bit, be patient, and let myself grow while the situation around me develops.  This experience taught me more about just how important personal relationships are to me; I made some friends over the last few months that I hope to be in touch with for a long time yet.  This experience taught me that when things aren’t perfect, keeping my chin up and working hard will keep me going.  Most of all, I learned to relax a little bit and let things happen – life isn’t a race and living in the moment is all we get.  This experience was not the easiest in my life, but it was definitely one of the best.  I’m happy to say that I feel like a much better person than I did a few months ago and that will stay with me far longer than anything else I learned.

Until next time, Lakeview.

Brennan Davis, BLM – Lakeview, OR