Fruity treasures

There is a remarkable place behind the Monongahela Ranger Station in Marlinton, West Virginia. Beyond the parking lot, through Mountain View graveyard and around the forest road gate lie the remains of the old Marlin Mountain fruit farm, now regenerated into mixed oak-maple hardwood forest speckled with patches of rhododendron in the understory. From the standpoint of the common recreationist, this deciduous forest may appear altogether ordinary, if not dull. It is likely that the inconspicuous treasures of these woods will be missed by anyone who arrives ill-equipped for noticing the hidden. Finding the enchantments of this forest requires a keen eye, a sharp nose, and an openness to impulsive excursions off trail. A seeker must be willing to break through spider webs, crawl over windsnap, kneel frequently in the mud, and earnestly enjoy the rain. If you’re like me and are prone to wandering, and you have plans to go on a casual trail run through this forest, be warned: your plans have been thwarted. 

Although it was early golden hour in the open expanse of the graveyard, the gilded, green vegetation diminished as soon as I passed under the first arch of trees on the forest road. In the dim light, trunks and leaf litter fused into homogenous gray walls hemming the dirt road, which itself was barely bright enough to continue. I pressed on at a cautious pace, scanning the road for ankle-rolling rocks while keeping my peripheral awareness open. Fifty paces into the jog, I was stopped in my tracks. Two tiny orange sentinels stood in my path. 

Cantharellus lateritius

Chantarelles! Beyond the first two mushrooms was a whole line of them dappling the road, glowing orange against the muted gray backdrop of leaves and soil. I had come across chantarelles only once before, though as an amateur mycologist I have had an eye out for them for many years. I felt as though a huge welcoming gift had been bestowed on me by the forest. Chantarelles are some of the most popular edible wild mushrooms, and are sought after worldwide. Unable to contain my excitement, I spread my arms open toward the canopy and let out a beaming “Whoop!” of unbridled gratitude. Although these little chantarelles were far too small to pick that evening, I made a mental note to return in a few days. It was clear that this road had not been used for some time, and I felt safe to assume that no human would come pick them before I returned.  

I continued on my run, but only after a few moments with my belly to the soil and my nose pressed against the little orange mushrooms, inhaling that signature fruity fragrance. As soon as I started to run, I was dodging another patch of tiny chantarelles mixed into a rainbow of mushroom hues: seafoam green Russula variata, scarlet Russula emetica, bright white Destroying Angel, brown and yellow boletes. I had to run on my tiptoes to keep from smooshing them. Only a hundred paces later, I was stopped once more. To my left, a prominent pearly shape stood out from behind an oak against the ever-darkening wall of gray woods. I had to investigate! Jumping off the road and sliding down the embankment, I swung around the tree to have look. An enormous, bright white mushroom with a cap the size of a Frisbee shone up at me. I brimmed with awe at its size and measured its diameter with my hands: ten inches across. Wow! The largest gilled mushroom I’ve ever seen, second only to Berkeley’s Polypore, an edible polypore which can grow to be more than three feet wide. While beautiful, my newfound Green-Spored Parasol (Lepiota molybdites) is not edible. In fact, it is responsible for the greatest number of mushrooms poisonings in the Appalachian Mountains. I would be admiring this mushroom, but certainly not eating it. 

Lepiota molybdites

A heavy mist set in, and it began to rain. I hopped back on the road and continued on up the ridge, being stopped every few yards by a new fungal form. Fat boletes, itsy Hydrocybes and convex Lactarius peckii lining the road caught my eye and beckoned me to stop and notice. I was walking and squatting far more often than jogging. My run was not turning out as planned, but it didn’t matter. I felt as though the forest was revealing itself on another level, and I didn’t want to miss it.  

Just as I was getting back to a more normal running pace, I glimpsed a patch of humungous, bright orange, smooth chanterelles lining the road along a rhododendron patch. I chuckled at the pure gratitude I felt at the two thumbnail-size chantarelles I saw only thirty minutes before. These were most definitely ripe for the picking. I was nowhere near finished with my run, so I marked the spot on the trail with sticks for my way back. I continued to mark the trail for the rest of the chanterelle patches (and black trumpets too!) which kept getting larger and more plentiful as I climbed higher in elevation. It was evident that the chantarelles were ripening on an elevation gradient, beginning high in the mountains and continuing downslope with the progression of late summer. A week after my first run-in with the tiny chantarelles at the beginning of this story, they were the size of my palm, and the ones at the top of the ridge had long ago decomposed.  

On my return journey, I picked half of the largest chantarelles, leaving many mushrooms of different life stages to carry on reproduction. Even so, I had a shirt-full of mushrooms by the time I reached the gate. My arm was tired from the load, and I frequently had to switch from one hand to the other as I jogged back home. 

It was dark by the time I got to the house. Warm light streamed from the windows, and someone was playing jazz. I kicked off my soaked shoes before I walked into the kitchen to greet my new friends, bounty in-hand.  

Hit the Ground Running….Or Should I Say Transplanting

Josh Poland

August 21, 2020

Hello everyone! My name is Josh Poland, 1 of the 4 interns here in Boulder City, NV working on the Joshua Tree Genome Project. It’s been over a month since my move from northwest Arkansas to Southern Nevada and I have to say, they are quite different places to live. In Arkansas, summer days with 90% humidity was not uncommon and would leave you sweating bullets within minutes of walking outside. In Nevada however, it works much differently. While the humidity never exceeds 10%, walking outside (no matter what time of day) is like sticking your face near an open oven. Fall cannot get here soon enough.

The past month has been a whirlwind of information, training, zoom meetings, and data collecting. We have gone from breaking apart Joshua Tree fruits in a small basement in our house, to working in a USGS owned Greenhouse with hundreds upon hundreds of Joshua Tree seeds. Making the move from the basement to the greenhouse, the other interns and I were told that the seeds we had collected would begin to germinate in 10-12 days, plenty of time for us to set up planter trays (that we would eventually transplant the seeds into) as well as set up an organized plan of collecting and recording data. But being 2020, those plans changed very quickly one weekend when we discovered the first radicles emerging just 2 days after being planted. Needless to say, we were a little stressed out.

One of our Joshua Tree seedlings

But that was over a week and a half ago and things have (slightly) calmed down. Since the first radicle emerged, the other interns and I have worked from sunup ‘till sundown building and filling planter crates, collecting germination data, continuing upkeep on the seeds and the greenhouse, and creating seemingly endless excel spreadsheets pertaining to seed growth. It has been difficult work, but it has been rewarding work. I walk into the greenhouse every morning to see new radicles, hypocotyls, or cotyledons emerging from the trays and I can’t help but get a little giddy. In the craziness that the world has experienced in 2020, it’s quite a feeling to see these plants growing so well and gives me hope for their populations in the future.

As of today (August 21, 2020), we have finished transplanting 1,600 Joshua Tree Seedlings and have up-to-date data of their growth, transplanting dates, and their location in the greenhouse. We have an estimated 49 deaths so far and replacement seeds from the same matriline will soon be transplanted in their place. While it seems that the “rush” is over for now, we will continue to be vigilant with observations and data entry so we can continue forward with as little stress as possible.

Transplanting JT seeds into planter crates

Thank you all for reading, and now it is time for me and the other interns to enjoy a long-awaited break!

Until next time!

Josh Poland

Out in the field!

A couple weeks ago one of our seasonal technicians, Jordan, and I camped for a few days near our field sites in the Nickel Creek/Juniper Mountain area (Shoshone-Bannock territory). The goal of this trip was to collect Trend data (species diversity, canopy cover, plant community composition) at as many sites as we could. Some of these points hadn’t been surveyed since the 90s, so it was important for us to go back and collect this information. We ended up completing about 8 total sites, plus a couple of photo plots, and a rare plant assessment for a nearby population of Astragalus yoder-williamsii

This was my first time camping for work, and it went really well! We stayed a total of 4 nights, waking up early to get started on fieldwork. It was one of the hotter weeks in Idaho that I have experienced, so both of us were definitely tired by the end of each day. It was good to relax in the evenings, work on some plant IDs, and catch up on my reading (Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown, which I will continue to bring up at every opportunity I can). I even managed to find a couple of juniper trees to hang my hammock and watch the sun set. We even had some company! One evening Jordan and I were swarmed with some solitary bees who were attracted to our sunscreen or our sweat. At one point I had about five bees sitting on me, and a few others buzzing around. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to snap a photo, but I think they could have been a species of Xeromelecta.

Many of our sites were quite diverse, which was good to see even though it made our work a little bit more difficult. While I am becoming much more familiar with the plant community here, there were still a decent number of species I had never seen before! We took a lot of specimens back in the plant press to identify out later using a combination of Idaho keys, iNaturalist, our office herbarium, and Jessa’s expertise.

We found a little nest on our transect! Hopefully it was abandoned and we weren’t bothering anyone!
Perks of waking up early in the field is getting to see some beautiful sunrises!

Since field season is winding down out here (it is wild to think how fast time is flying!), this will probably be my only overnight trip during this internship. However, a few of us in the office will be taking Leave No Trace training, which will be very useful in future positions where I might be doing more overnight work in the field. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to practice these skills while spending time outside and learning about the ecological communities of Idaho.

Until next time!

My First Month in Idaho: Tying in Social Justice with Plant Conservation

A quick introduction: Hi! My name is Lili Benitez (she/her) and I am interning with the Owyhee Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management office in Marsing, ID. I am a recent graduate from New College of Florida with a degree in Environmental Studies and Spanish, with a focus on plant conservation.

Just a heads up- in this post I’m going to be mentioning /discussing stolen land, police violence, and racism.

I want to start this post acknowledging that I am writing and working as an uninvited visitor on the unceded territory of the Shoshone-Bannock and of the Paiute tribes. This is important to recognize especially in relation to the Bureau of Land Management, an entity created as a result of colonization and the removal of native people from their land. By 1866 the Boise River valley and most of Southwest Idaho was taken from these tribes by the United States government. To control the newly acquired lands, The General Land Office (GLO) was created in 1868, which then merged into the Bureau of Land Management in 1946. As an intern, it is vital for me to understand this dark history and learn about the indigenous communities impacted. 

In the wake of recent attention to murders of Black people by the US police force and the following protests over the past months for Black lives, many environmental and ecological organizations continue to stay silent or make performative statements of solidarity without meaningful action. When the history of this violence is so intertwined with the racist history of white environmentalism and land management, it is unacceptable for these organizations to not speak out. We can’t be advocating for plant conservation without also fighting for justice for Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+, disabled, and immigrant communities. As a white, cis, Latinx woman, I walk through this world and into these environmentalist spaces with certain privileges. While I am by no means an expert on social justice issues, I hope to practice allyship for these communities. In addition to marching, donating, listening to and amplifying BIPOC voices, one of the roots of this process is unlearning years of biased education and confronting the racist histories within my area of study. 

I’d like to share something I learned last month from listening to the Dope Labs podcast episode “Skin Deep”, and reading Ibram Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist. As a young biologist, I learned about Carl Linnaeus, the “Father of Taxonomy,” a famous naturalist and botanist. However, what I never learned was that he was the father of biological racism as well. Kendi draws attention to the insidious nature of taxonomy at its invention, demonstrating how Linnaeus, in 1735, was the first to color code the human races as White, Yellow, Red, and Black in Systema Naturae. Kendi points to this moment as the start of the “blueprint that nearly every enlightened race maker followed, and that race makers still follow today… racist power[s] created them for a purpose (p. 41).” Like so many other white men that tend to be idolized in the environmental field (the National Park Service still has sites named after John Muir and other racist idols), Linnaeus was a white supremacist, and his taxonomic ideology still influences how we talk about race today. What does it mean for us as botanists and biologists to hold so much faith and respect for this system of classification when this is its history? How can we actively work to confront racism and colonial thought within our fields on a daily basis?  Stay tuned for a more lengthy post on colonial influences in botany.

Just as I am learning about these connections between social justice and my work, I am also connecting with the local environment in the field. It is amazing to have the opportunity to be outside and hang out with plants all week. This month I’ve been getting acquainted with the sage grouse habitat in the area, and learning about these plant communities. As a Texas local, everything here is new to me, which I greatly appreciate. I am learning Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM) techniques that examine species diversity, plant composition, and soil quality, mostly for range management. However, my favorite days are those where we conduct rare plant monitoring. On these days, I go out with my mentor, Jessa, to try to find cute rare plants and evaluate how they are doing.  

Pictured above is a rare milkvetch (Astragalus yoder-williamsii) in flower! A tiny cute plant in the bean family (Fabaceae).
Pictured here is Monardella angustifolia, a beautiful rare plant in the mint family (Lamiaceae). We spotted this guy a couple days ago and were lucky to find it in flower. It smelled amazing!

To close out, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention it was Black Botanist Week last month. This effort was started by Bucknell University post-doctoral researcher Tanisha Williams and others as “a celebration of Black people who love plants. This plant love manifests in many ways ranging from tropical field ecologist to plant geneticist, from horticulturalist to botanical illustrator. We embrace the multiple ways that Black people engage with and appreciate the global diversity of plant life.” Along with Black Birders Week, these celebrations of Black scientists are a great example of combating Anti-Black racism in our fields and can inspire young BIPOC scholars to see themselves pursuing these careers. Go check out the hashtag #Blackbotanistsweek on Instagram and their website for more info. 

For more information about the Black Lives Matter movement in my part of the country, check out the BLM Boise website and follow them on Instagram and Twitter (@blmboise). Additionally, to support local Indigenous efforts, check out the Nimiipuu land protectors, whose community and sacred sites were being threatened by the “Rainbow Family Gathering” this past month as an influx of tourists and outsiders arrived in Riggings, ID. Find them on Instagram (@nimiipuulandprotectors) to learn more and support their work.

Until next time!!


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,


The Joshua Tree Genome Project

Hi all! This is Olivia. I am part of a 4 person intern team here on the Mojave Desert, NV working with the USGS on the Joshua Tree Genome Project.

(Check the JTGP out here:

The mighty Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)

This project is in collaboration with a handful of academic partners from all over the States and our mentors here in Nevada are among the Principle Investigators because they were some of the first scientists to ever investigate the life cycle, reproduction,
demography, and the effects of climate change on Joshua Trees!

So, Why the JTGP?:

JTs are an icon of the Mojave, provide food for a large range of desert organisms, and have an incredible relationship with their obligate moth pollinators. Both organisms have a long co-evolutionary history together which is known to result in JT population differentiation. Given the changes in climate that are projected for the Mojave and surrounding areas, the JT is now also going to be facing selection based on abiotic factors.
Therefore, the JT Genome Project was created with the goal of examining the JT’s local adaptation to climate, with the purpose of exploring the primary source of selection across populations (climate [abiotic] vs. pollinator driven population differentiation [biotic]). This will be done by identify ecophysiological traits that determine seedling tolerance to climate change and the genes that structure these traits (Project Proposal, 2020). Crazy cool! It is a multi-year study and we have the good fortune of being here right at the start. Oh, and of course, this project also involves sequencing, for the first time, the JT genome.

Our role as CLM interns:

Here at the USGS, we will handle all logistical and practical matters related to the establishment and monitoring of the JTs. This means planting and growing more than 3,000 JTs in our local greenhouse which will then be replanted at four different
common garden sites throughout the Mojave. These four sites represent both the extremes and norms of climate existing across the Mojave. We will then have the opportunity to collect preliminary data and even do some experimental work.
These common garden JTs will be the subjects in genetic analyses and physiological assessments that will be occurring in later years of the study. The work of the USGS and our role as CLM interns is paramount to the establishment and future success of this amazing project.

Fruit of a Joshua Tree

Kicking it off:

This week (among orientations and wrapping up paperwork) we worked on counting and cleaning JT seed collected from a multitude of populations and individuals. This counting and sorting of seed is necessary for the next step: planting!

An opened JT fruit-some aren’t is this nice of a condition. Predation by the moth larvae and other grub is common.
Myself (left) and my co-intern Michele (right) working on seed cleaning and counting!

Counting seed was a great opportunity to see the range of populations we will be working with and the number of individual trees that are a part of this study.
We are so excited to start planting and working in the greenhouse next week-those 3,000 JTs are calling us!

The black seeds are mature and full while the white/tan ones have been aborted and are empty. Some fruits had 500+ seeds while others only had 20!

Until next time,
Olivia T.