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.
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.
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.
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.
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