Saying goodbye to the Owyhees

In the forefront is an open space of bunchgrasses gone to seed. To the right is a dirt road passing foothills dotted by juniper trees and leading off into mountains against a clear blue sky.
The view on my last day of fieldwork. I had a relaxing day collecting utilization data with my coworker LeeAnn.

I can’t believe my time with the BLM is coming to an end! It seems like I only just got to Boise, and now I am embarking on a road trip back home to Austin. I am currently writing this post from Ohlone land, in the ancestral territory of the Muwekma and Ramaytush Ohlone (otherwise known as San Francisco). I have also been wrapping up some data management and writing for the office remotely the past couple of weeks.

Even though it seems like time has flown by this summer, I leave Idaho with so much new knowledge and excitement. While I started this internship with no prior experience in the sagebrush steppe and with minimal exposure to land management, I leave acquainted with the plants of this ecosystem and feeling much more prepared to continue this work in the future. Towards the end of my internship, I even met a former CLM intern who was just hired for a full-time position in my office. It was so sweet to chat about our experiences in the program and spend time in the field together.

Even with COVID posing unique challenges, I still experienced a wide variety of life in a BLM field office: from conducting veg surveys and searching for rare plants to fence construction and riparian assessment to data analysis and writing reports. I was also able to meet permittees and see what it is like to do community outreach in the field office. I even tagged along with our geologist to experience the mineral program. I am so glad for the opportunity to intern with such a welcoming group– my mentor and all of my coworkers were so incredibly kind and knowledgeable and made me feel truly like a part of the team. It was great to work alongside them and learn about all the different parts of the field office.

The past five and a half months have been a period of growth and challenges. In such a turbulent time filled with national and international grief and uncertainty, I am incredibly grateful to have been employed doing work that I love and find meaningful. I will miss the views of the mountains and working with the plants of the high desert. Idaho is a beautiful place, and the Owyhee Field Office had so many sites to explore and plants to meet! I hope that I will be able to come back and visit in the future. Next year’s Botany conference will be in Boise (hopefully, although who knows with COVID), so I might be back in the summer.

I am not yet sure what is in store for me over the next few months, but I fully intend to spend it with loved ones and botanize as much as I can.

Until then,


Processing seeds, processing thoughts

Our very first packet of processed seeds!

It finally snowed here in Marlinton, and all of the plant species on our list have officially gone to seed. We spent the past month driving north to collect from the tundra-esque Dolly Sods Wilderness and Spruce Knob, the highest points in the state. As we neared the end of October, our seed collection days shifted quickly from sunburnt, humid adventures to snowy and frigid races to the finish line. Last week at Dolly Sods, we alternated between collecting berries in sleet and jumping into the truck to blast heat on our wet-gloved hands. Collecting seed in cold weather at these higher elevations is an exhilarating experience and reminds me of late July in northern Alaska. The wind smells the same – of encroaching frost and decomposing leaves. There is overlap in foliage as well – caribou moss, stunted, leaning spruce trees and lots of lichen on bare rock. It’s quite amazing how the ecotone at high elevation bogs in West Virginia can bear resemblance to latitudes as far north as the tree line on the edge of the Arctic Circle.

Blending southern mountain cranberries before sifting out their tiny seeds

Between collection days, we clean our latest seedstock. It has been an honor to work with Morgan of Appalachian Headwaters, who has been teaching us proper technique for cleaning and storing specific seed types. We have been lucky enough to have access to the cleaning tools and facilities at Appalachian Headwaters, and we are ordering some more equipment for making the same use of our own miniature processing plant here in Marlinton.

I was surprised to find that seed cleaning is mostly intuitive and simply demands everyday resourcefulness. How do you remove cranberry seeds from all that berry pulp? Put electrical tape on the blades of an ordinary blender and chop it up, then filter it out through multiple sieves. How do you remove the outer layer of film from alternate-leafed dogwood? Rub it furiously on a screen and then pick it off with your nails. The whole process of cleaning is unexpectedly familiar, like working soil in a garden. With all that repeated movement, it’s easy to get in the zone and process your thoughts alongside the seeds as you pick seeds apart and wash away the pulp.

By the end of November, we will have finished up seed collection and will continue to process the seeds we’ve collected. Until next time!

Germination is Possible: an update from the JTGP CLM team

Happy late October from Southern Nevada. The JTGP team is basking in balmy fall weather here and working away in the USGS greenhouse, pampering our Joshua trees. You read right: pampering. Who would have thought these magnificent plants of the Mojave would be so fussy!

You see, it turns out that some of the seeds are quite particular and have decided to fight germination with stark determination. Tucking them into nice damp soil, regulating their day and night temperature in the greenhouse, and diligently watering them makes not a difference.

They simply weren’t having it.

But, little did they know, the same thing could be said for us: we were not having their complete lack of germination.

So, we decided to treat these most persnickety seeds like the royalty that they are: laying them out on a damp filter paper in a Petri dish and setting them in a temperature regulated growth chamber to imbibe in warm darkness. We visited them twice daily to alter the chambers day-time and night-time temperatures, gently cleaned them if mold popped up, kept each filter paper nice and damp, and crossed our fingers.

And what do you know-it was just what they preferred! In no time we had lots of happy germinates.

Petri dishes chock full and ready to roll 🙂

Now, every day more and more germinates appear in the Petri dishes and we scramble to transplant them into their respective plant bands (tall, bottomless cardboard ‘pots’ that allow the Joshua tree’s roots to grow long). And our success hasn’t stopped there. These Joshua trees are (finally) pleased enough to send up bright green hypocotyls and cotyledons. Up next are primary leaves and more, each plant growing as much as possible before its final transplant into the Common Garden sites at the end of the year!

And now we know: despite initial struggles, germination is indeed possible. So grow on Joshua trees, grow on.

This germinate was a crazy surprise-check out the TWO radicles emerging! When your dealing with 3,000 seeds your bound to see some interesting growth patterns.