Big sites, little sites, small plants with large seed, big plants with small seed!

So the 2010 seed collecting season at the Rocky Mountain Research Station is just about over with the exception of the few collections that are made in the fall, so this a good time to reflect on the summer and seed collecting season thus far. Seed collecting (for me) entailed lots of mental energy to think like a plant in order to hunt them down and… (jk). It definitely took some physical energy traipsing around the desert looking for the target plant. By the time the plants are producing seed they are usually no longer green and luscious, instead they are golden yellow, very dry and crisp. The majority of the plants look the same way so its harder to spot the target plant. There are some plants that seed indeterminately which means that the entire plant doesn’t seed all at once and there isn’t a specific period of time that the plant sets seed. Some of collections that I helped collect this summer like Lomatium triternatum (LOTR-nine leaf biscuit root) were hard to spot! Sidenote: one common thing to shorten the scientific names of species is to use the first two letters of the genus and the first two letters of the species. So, LOTR, can have leaves as long as 12 inches but when they dry up, the only plant structures visible are the seed attached to a stem. They are covered by taller plants and shrubs got discouraged when I collected from 10 LOTR plants and my mentor from 75! He definitely has the eye for spotting plants, even while driving on the highway! One of the collection sites for Achnatherum thurberianum (ACTH-Thurber’s needle grass) yielded lots of seed and the plants were as close as two feet apart for miles down the road! When a site is as fruitful as that one was, you can just get in a zone and collect your little heart out! The technique to collecting Thurber’s needle grass was pretty easy. I just ran my fingers through the tops of the grass heads and placed whatever seed came off into a bag. The ACTH seed was semi-pokey-hence needle grass! Eriogonum umbellatum (ERUM- sulphur-flower buckwheat) just near Horseshoe Bend, ID ( ̴1 hour north of Boise) was one of the largest areas growing a plant in such a centralized area. I didn’t have to look too hard or far to find the next plant I’d be collecting seed from. We literally had to walk the miles for the ACTH collection, but this site was more of a climb! Some sites this summer entailed walking through fields for miles and miles hoping to stumble on a plant (with seed).

Can you spot the ERUM up on the hill? Hint: Its EVERYWHERE and yellow-orange color (not the sunflowers-that would be too easy).

Try zoning out while seed collecting up there (hard to do on such a steep slope!)

ERUM up close…

..and finally ERUM seed up close.

As there was diversity in plant size, the seed were no different. This is very close up picture of the seed that it is quite small. Some seeds like Artemisia tridentata (ARTR-big sagebrush) are even smaller and lighter than this so you can’t breathe too hard when working with them! I have enjoyed seeing the diversity of plants in the shrubland desert and the higher elevation of pine forest. A lot of time was spent driving to the seed collection sites so I had lot of time to enjoy the scenic drives, listen to good music on our satellite radio and chat with my coworkers. It was nice sharing the enthusiasm of the great outdoors with my coworkers.
I felt really fortunate to get to see different parts of southern Idaho while on the clock. I was able to collect Penstemon acuminatus (sharpleaf penstemmon) while seeing Bruneau Dunes where one of my coworkers ok-ed my running up one of the smaller dunes to see how hard it is to run up sand, and up Bogus Basin where I could look down on the city of Boise on the drive to collect Achillea millefolium (ACMI-common yarrow). The outdoors have just been beautiful here in Idaho and I have enjoyed exploring this summer.
I’m sad that summer is leaving but with all of the collections and field data sheets come lots of time spent in the office working on shipping the seeds off for cleaning or research, and entering information into a database called BG Base. That is what I have to look forward to this winter. I was fortunate to have a ten month position so my story in Boise, ID doesn’t end yet.
Stay tuned,

Merry Marshall
Boise, ID

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