The right seed, in the right place, not always the right time…

As an SOS intern based out of the CO state office, collecting seeds has proven to be difficult. I have managed to find some nice plant populations to collect from, in the right places, but I cannot always get there at the right time. We were excited to finally get our first collection, Oxytropis sericea, as it seems our SOS season has gotten to a late start. We drove into Mt. Shavano Wildlife Management Area/Droney Gulch near Salida, CO – nearly 2.5 hour drive away from the office – to relocate the population we found merely weeks before. However, most of the fruits had dried and dehisced their seeds already! Luckily, we found another population near that area, and were able to scrape together a small collection. Whew!

This is Oxytropis sericea, white locoweed. Although it was one of the more robust plants we saw, you can tell it is very crispy, many fruits dehisced open, and on the verge of not being able to collect! Photo: B. Palmer

It is sometimes difficult to get to places at the right time, when the preferred Colorado BLM land locations vary between 2-4 hours away. I have made various attempts to go out and collect, yet, the plants don’t seem to want to cooperate. I get there, and they are either just not quite ready, or fruits have already dried up and dehisced their seeds! But when getting to a location at the right time happens, it is oh so rewarding!

Dalea jamesii, James’ Prairie Clover. I went out to this sight on this particular day expecting just to monitor where populations are, and instead got a big juicy collection – Success! Photo: B. Palmer

Melampodium leucanthum, the blackfoot daisy. This has proven to be especially difficult to collect, as fruits take an extremely long time to mature/dry, and you only get eight seeds per flower head. This collection is still in the works even, with numerous collection dates! Photo: B. Palmer

This past month I was also fortunate to attend the Botany 2017 conference. As a second year CLM intern, I was given the opportunity to attend another workshop instead of the annual CLM workshop. I decided the Botany conference was a good fit. Although it was in Dallas Fort Worth, it was still a good time! There were many great highlights to the conference, including symposiums and colloquias on Conservation biology and how to use big data and herbarium specimens – something I may need to look into getting into in the future. While at the conference, I even took a botanical illustration workshop, and think I can really get into it!

I was fortunate to take part in a introductory botanical illustration workshop! I must say, with one day’s practice, I didn’t do half bad! Photo: B. Palmer

I must also say I was strongly taken aback by this year’s Plenary Lecturer by Robin Kimmerer. As a Native American woman in science and botany, she discussed the clashes between culture and science, and the mishaps of diversity in science and education, related to her experience as an overlooked minority. It was truly inspirational, especially to learn about an empirical scientific approach she uses, known as the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) approach.  TEK involves cultural and spiritual considerations with long-term observations, which is something in the past that has been scoffed at to even think about when using the scientific method. As scientists, we often are quick to make hateful biased deductions of those making claims solely on spirit and culture, when really, we need to find a balance between scientific, spiritual, and cultural considerations in our research. By the end of her presentation, all that were there to listen were completely stunned, and Kimmerer could not have gotten a better reaction. Her lecture will always be at the back of my mind for the rest of my professional career…she is a new role model in my life and hope to be strong scientist like her someday.

Another highlight of the summer was a week we spent with a field botany class from the University of Northern Colorado. We met the class in Kremmling, CO, where they helped us monitor two different rare species, Astragalus osterhoutii and Penstemon penlandii. Although many of the students did not have future goals in the world of Botany (many going into nursing, education, music, etc.), most were enthusiastic and happy to have been there for the experience. Every time a group of students found a new plant to be tagged, they would yelp for joy, attempting to be louder and more excited than the groups next to them. My group seemed to be particularly excited all week long!

Beautiful little Penstemon penlandii, one of the only flowering P. penlandii plants of the whole trip. It is an edaphic specialist, thriving in areas of high selenium. Better yet, only found in a little area names Troublesome Creek near Kremling, Colorado. Photo: B. Palmer

In the distance UNC students are busy at work learning how to read the macro plot we had set up and learning how to identify our target plants. Photo: B. Palmer

I found this to be something of a rewarding experience. It reminded me of my first experience in a field biology course… at the time I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career; yet, I was full of wonder and excitement for things I have never seen before. In this respect, I could really relate to the students experiencing their first time out in the field. I found it also rewarding in the fact that I have learned so much since then. For example, on the last day I was out with the UNC students, we were reading a transect, and one of the students asked me if they were looking at the right plant (the small vegetative ones were a little tough to identify properly, even for me). After I told them it was a look-a-like, they said in a serious tone, “Yes, I trust you, YOU are the real botanist in the group!” As a young professional, that was a compliment that really made me smile, and a point of realization that I am truly becoming more of a botanist every single day. I love my job.

A beautiful view of the quickly moving clouds over Kremmling. It is views like these that keep me coming back for more! Photo: B. Palmer

Time never stops for the weary botanist in the middle of field season…a week after spending that time with the students out in the field, I became one in a large group of federal employees and heritage program volunteers to study the ice age relic, Eutrema penlandii. I found this to be a very cute little plant, only seen in high elevation fens in the Mosquito Range of the Southern Rockies. This was a pleasant change in scenery, as I have gotten used to the hot and dry mountain sagebrush deserts. Every plot was between 12,000 and 13,000 feet in elevation, the air thin and crisp, and the wildflowers plentiful. Again, another reason I love my job.

Penland’s alpine fen mustard, Eutrema penlandii. You can see how itty-bitty these plants are, set right next to my field loupe. And this was one of the more robust plants we saw! Over the week I found myself more and more curious as to the history of this plant, how it was found and listed anyway, as they can be difficult to find without a fine-toothed comb. What a little thing! Photo: B. Palmer

All the while, the little alpine fen mustard is found in landscapes such as these. No one can deny the beauty of the area! Again, it is hard not to come back to get a little more of this! Photo: B. Palmer

I found monitoring Eutrema to be backbreaking work. As you can see in the photo above, this is one tiny plant! We had to comb through the sedges, mosses, and other wildflowers to find Eutrema, no bigger round than a dime. It was easy to misidentify, especially in its vegetative form can be mistaken with alpine bistort (Bistorta viviparum) and Marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala), so we had to count plants with cautious certainty. Not only this, since the Eutrema is only found in fens, we were often wading in cool, mountain water up to our shins. Thank goodness for bog/rain boots! Additionally, on multiple days, we were found running from plots in lieu of monstrous lightening-hail-snow storms that are typical at these high elevations on early afternoons. This was definitely hard work, but was rewarded with beautiful scenes, clear mountain air, and of course, the delight in being able to find a rare and threatened species.

On this particular day I was able to find a dry enough spot to be able to get close and personal with the plants! When it was too wet to sit or sprawl out, we resorted to squats…needless to say the whole crews’ glutes and thighs got quite the work out!  Photo: T. Contento


Another pretty view of one of our Eutrema macroplots. Here the Pedicularis groenlandica (Elephant heads) and Bistorta overwhelmed the landscape.

But at the end of the day when I am not looking for rare or threatened plants, I keep busy trying to find that right seed, in the right place, in the right time. As I said before, I am not always successful, but when I am feels sooooo great! Additionally, I just can’t get enough being in the field – I still cannot believe I get paid to see the things I do! It has so far been one hell of a summer, and although summer begins to wind down, I have to take advantage of every little bit!

– Brooke Palmer, Colorado State Office

A rewarding find of a Broomrape family plant, Orthocarpus luteus (yep, the little yellow guys), littered among a mountain sagebrush clearing, and potentially an SOS collection in the coming weeks. Photo: B. Palmer

I thought this would be a fantastic picture to end on, an alpine mountainside strewn thick with plant biodiversity. It’s a wonderful life we live! Photo: B. Palmer

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