Tips for Seeds of Success interns.

From collecting seeds and touring a conservation plant facility to monitoring endemic plant species and eradicating weeds, this summer I really feel like Captain Planet’s right hand woman! This is my second season with Chicago Botanic Gardens and you’ve read a lot about my experience here, on the CLM blog. As I wrap up the season, I’d like to take a few moments to give some advice to incoming Seeds of Success interns.

The key to a successful season is timing! Key to life though right?! Timing is crucial because there are some species that take longer to mature and some that take less; the trick is to catch them when they are ripe and ready but not overly ready and have fallen off the plant because then it’s harder, nearly impossible, to collect enough seed. Varying seed maturation is good because if all plants seeded at the same time, we would need to plan a lot more in advance and we’d need a lot more people collecting, decreasing our chances of making big collections. The bad thing is that you need to figure out when the best time is to collect from the desired species and a lot of time there isn’t much information available on those details. Even if there were more information, external factors like weather and pollinator influence play a major role on the progress of seeds from one site to the next. Some species have a large widow of time that they will produce seed, while others will only produce seed for small periodic pockets of time. The key is to closely monitor how fast the plant is maturing and be there at the right time. Some species, like Pseudoroegneria spicata, just don’t have good seed seasons or the window for seed is so short that we never saw enough seed to collect from any of our abundant populations. Some species like Bouteloua gracilis, will produce seed at the same time for the same grass bundle but vary in maturity from grass to grass. That results in shoots of grass that are still in flower while others hold mature seed that is ready for collection. Some species vary in maturity within the same plant like Cleome does; One seed pod was green and under ripe while the pods on the flower next it were fully mature and on the verge of falling off the pod. For collections like those, we went through the same site twice and collected seeds where we could, always making sure not to collect more than 20 percent of the total population of course. Just as important as timing are patience, persistence and mindfulness. Throughout this season I’ve learned that if one of these actions is missing, success falls down to bare bones zero, and your project is bound to become Seeds of Failure! Don’t let that happen to you!

As Scientist, we all know how important it is to keep and regularly update a journal in order to have a record collection of research and findings. SOS definitely requires the constant use of a journal to keep all field data in order. I forgot to write a couple of times and had trouble figuring out what was found or collected if I didn’t document it. It takes less time to sit with my journal for a couple of minutes a day than to spend a whole day trying to figure out what, when and where something happened so just do it.

When in doubt, head to a scenic site! Sometimes we didn’t have a clue where a plant would be, the only lead being the seed zone boundaries! When that was the case, we would go to coordinates that seemed scenic or had some type of attraction that made us want to go there. About 80 percent of the time we would find the species there and/or another plant on our target species list and to top that off, we’d have s killer view for out lunchtime break, win-win!

I’ve been pressing plants since my ethnobotany course as an undergrad student but this season I’ve pressed more plants than ever before. Patience really comes in handy here when you’re working with species that have long and fibrous roots! Sometimes there is more life underground than above! Good luck fitting it all mess in standard press size. I found that roots snap more easily than bend and I snapped a couple of them but a snapped press specimen is better than no pressed specimen right?! It’s nice to know that the pressed plants will be preserved at various institutions including the Smithsonian. I can’t imagine they update their herbarium display very often (or if they even have a display) so you probably won’t find our samples there but either way it’s nice to know that my botanical contributions will be preserved in time.

This season, the Vernal Field Office has made a total of 29 collections consisting of 13 different species, most of which were sent to Bend, OR for cleaning and further processing. Smaller collections and requests were shipped to the appropriate organizations. I started the season a little late so I can’t take credit for contributing to all of those collections, but contributing to most of them is still a great accomplishment. We’ve also compiled a list of at least 15 collection sites for next year’s CLM interns at the Vernal Field Office, you could thank us later J.

Although I completely understand the goals of SOS, there seems to be data lacking support of successful rehabilitation sites from recent SOS collections. We have clear data, maps, and protocols so I’d imagine that it’d be easy to implement follow up protocols on the effect that native seeds are having. As far as I know, there isn’t much published or researched on the aftermath of SOS collections. If there were a clear outline of the benefits of seeding native, then native plants may have greater success being grown in their native land. Many people would benefit from this information for example, people with grazing permits would have a greater incentive to seed native if there were a list of benefits, even if it were a little more expensive. Data could also motivate future projects to replace all non-native plants with native ones (perfect world scenario, I know). I’d also find it interesting to investigate how sites that we collect from are affected by our collections. There seems to be loads of energy used on the collection side of this project but it seems just as important to investigate how we are affecting areas we are collecting from and continually support the fact that SOS is making a positive impact by attaching positive fool proof results and thorough analysis to the equation.

I hope that some interns will find these short tips useful out in the field. Aside from gaining more navigational and data collecting experience, this internship has also helped me gain confidence in this vast field of Botany and I hope you have a similar experience. Earth depends on the continual brainstorming of conservation tactics and techniques in order to preserve the bits it has to offer, I’m grateful I have the capacity to contribute towards its protection. Botany is a lifelong continually changing subject and I’m privileged to contribute my understanding of it in efforts of protecting and maximally benefiting from the study of plants.

Botany Rules! Boys drool (JK! Except for Trump the Frump he definitely drools!!!)!!



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