Working in the Mojave Desert has been an eye-opener. When I was much younger, my family took a road trip in the southwest and I remember how amazingly huge the horizon was but how empty the desert seemed. Based on old western movies, I was convinced that nothing grew in the sandy soil except for tumble weeds, cacti, and those scraggly, branchy shrubs that seemed to be the only landscaping attempt in those hardened western towns. I have since learned that those scraggly, branchy bushes are Larrea tridentata and they are, though dominant, but one of many, many species of plants that do quite well in the dry, sandy soils of the Mojave Desert.
The start of my SOS internship at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in California was more of an indoor experience than my current, typical workweek. I learned how to database herbarium specimens using File Maker Pro 9 and refreshed my knowledge of mounting a specimen for herbarium cataloguing. As one of the first SOS teams to get started, Mary Byrne came in to give us our training and our target plant collection list though we are still, hopefully, going to go to the Grand Canyon for training as well. As the summer has progressed, our SOS team has been spending our workweeks completely in the field, identifying seed collection sites and even doing some seed collecting from some early ripening populations.
With the actual collecting part of my job, there has been a sharp learning curve. Temperature and weather play a huge role in seed dispersal and so there is a constant balancing act of getting to the seeds before they are gone but not so early that they aren’t ripe and won’t be viable to store. We are fortunate that the Garden where we are based does seed storage of its own and Michael Wall, who is the seed program manager, has taken time to talk with us. He has provided us with information about which plants can be collected a little early and which plants will hold on to their seeds, allowing us to make more productive site revisits.
Participating in this internship has been a great opportunity to expand my knowledge and meet intelligent and interesting people who do work in the fields of botany, entomology, and ornithology (to name a few). It has been an exciting two months so far and I believe it will just continue to get better!