Grass’s Entry Into the World of High Fashion

Image courtesy of r/TreesWearingClothes

The tides of fashion and style are fast-moving and ever changing. We have moved on from the passé world of aerial cover and stem counts. The new, hip trends are biomass clipping and stem demography. An untrained eye might be wondering how these new styles differ from last season’s, but never fear, for I will spend the next 500 words explaining exactly why biomass clipping and stem demography are all the rage.

Biomass Clipping – Getting the perfect trim and avoiding split ends

In my journeys for the highest echelons of sophistication, I spent several weeks fully immersed in the world of biomass clipping. The process is quite simple. All you need is a pair of gardening shears, a quadrat elevated 15 cm above the ground, and bags to sort the clippings into. And also chaining pins to hold the quadrat in place as well as tape measures to ensure you’re clipping in the right place. And you can’t forget about a ruler to keep the shears level, a pencil, datasheets, and a box to hold everything in. Like I said, simple.

It is vitally important to make sure you correctly sort the clippings because, as any amateure would tell you, pattern mixing is an immediate faux-pas. My boss claims that we have to sort correctly because it is important to know exactly how much of the different plant functional groups there are in order to answer our research questions about drought and grazing, but I think we all know the main reason is because of fashion.

Once we have biomass clippings from all 162 plots, we take them back to the lab and put them in a drying oven, so that we can get their dry-weight. As someone who spends hours a day in a tanning bed, I can vouch for this method. It’s so important to dry yourself out, and it makes your skin look incredible. Now any street savvy fashionista may be thinking “plants don’t have skin, silly! How can you even make that comparison?” Well, darlings, the results speak for themselves. After spending 72 hours in a drying oven, the plants aren’t sagging anymore. They’re stiff and hold their shape beautifully.

Stem Demography – Bringing Pampering Into Your Fieldwork

Now we simply must move on to the wonderful world of stem demography and leaf stage development. The process of collecting this data involves measuring the culm and longest leaf height of specific blades of grass as well as counting stems in a very small quadrat. As a purveyor of style, there is nothing more in vogue than self care, and there is no better mode of self care than collecting stem demography and leaf stage development data.

Gone are the days of stem counting where you have to collect the data and write it down. When collecting stem demography data, you need only speak aloud the data you have collected and your partner writes it on the data sheet. One feels like a queen, speaking a completed data sheet into existence since when you went down to examine the grass, the data sheet was empty and upon coming up, it is full. Treating yourself luxuriously is one of the cornerstones of self care, and luxury is at its peak when you are face first in the dirt with sweat dripping straight onto the ground instead of down your body. I will be recommending this method to my spin class immediately, and I advise all of my dear readers to do the same.

Would you look at the time! I hate to leave you, my loves, but I must away. Keep an eye out for next week’s article about another trend Treans (Tree jeans)

Image courtesy of r/TreesWearingClothes

Don’t forget to walk the runway of life with purpose and panache 💋

The Penstemon Predicament

Since last month, things have been moving along quite well, and quite as expected. We’ve started a handful of collections, and we’ve been keeping a close eye on scouted populations as we continue to keep eyes out for any new populations that may be coming up as summer hits us full force. As with any new job, there is a lot of information to take in and a lot of discrepancies in the small details as compared to other places. These small differences are easy to become acquainted with once you’ve become acquainted with them, and especially when you have kind and patient coworkers to help you along.
The same can be said for the plants. They are similar everywhere you go. You can see in most of them some familial resemblance that ques you into their relation. You remember the general trends and fashions of things, but it is the tiny details that can trip you up. Each key has different breaks that can cause trouble for us botanists. Of course each plant presents it’s own set of genetics that may or may not allow it to hybridize within its community and so on and so forth. The troubles you can run into are endless and all part of the “art” and the FUN of keying as many botanists, including myself, would tell you.
It turns out that much like becoming acquainted with coworkers, one can quite quickly become acquainted with the surrounding plant life. Running through the key each time we see someone on our list is incredibly fun. What is even more entertaining, and confidence-boosting is being so familiar with these individuals that we know which features to look for which set them apart from others. This also allows us to be more efficient with our time spent in the field, if we can pinpoint those key features. Many plants on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forests so far have been kind “coworkers,” if you will. Geum triflorum has three pronged leaves that make it obviously “triflorum.” Green gentian has green flowers as opposed to the white flowers of the other Frasera in our area. And Geranium viscossissimum is quite sticky and the only pink-flowered perennial geranium around, and G. richardsonii is the only white-flowered perennial geranium, so those are both simple enough to get to know.

I cannot say the same for Penstemon albertinus. Penstemon albertinus is like that person in the office who is incredibly shy and reserved, yet you know they’re REALLY cool, so you invite them to every party, but they are always busy doing other things and so you never get the chance to actually know them. Oh, and they have a twin named Penstemon attenuatus who often shows up to your parties, but you think upon first seeing them that maybe, just this once, it could be albertinus. The anthers are glaborus, the verticillasters are open. You note the acute tips on the stem leaves and hope it’s just a morphological difference. But as you get closer, you find the basal leaves to be quite thinner than Albert’s and you know you’ve again been fooled by Attenuatus.
When this occurs over and over, it can be quite frustrating, and makes you question your abilities as a budding botanist. In this case, we asked the botany techs based out of Helena. They so kindly invited us out for a couple days together in the field so they could share some of their experience and knowledge from four years on the forest. During this time, we did spend some time with Penstemon. Both Dayna and I were relieved to find that we are not the only ones Penstemon rejects. In fact, Nate mentioned there are many conversations had over the exact differences between the two species, and even with his four years of experience in the area, he still has to return to the details each year to refamiliarize himself with the need-to-knows. So we’ve begun to accept that we may just never be on very good terms with Albertinus. We may just have to take a key to this particular individual each and every time we meet in order to truly ensure we’re accurately identifying. Which is great practice and it makes you appreciate the more “firiendly” and straightforward plants all that much more, and forces you to really hone in on those botancial skills and instincts. I’m looking forward to finding more challenging individuals throughout the season, and hope to learn a lot from them!