A Seed Frenzy and Birthday Sunset

The view of Spooner Lake (front right) and Lake Tahoe (back left) from the top of White Hill in the Tahoe National Forest.

This past week, my field partner and I went on a five-day field tour throughout the Nevada Carson District in search of target plant populations to collect seed from. We scout for various target plant species common to the Great Basin within public lands that can then be used for research and restoration practices centering on improving native seed-based restoration. This week, our scouting brought us to the Pah Rah, Pine Nut, Carson, and Bald mountain ranges in search of late flowering/seeding forbs from our target species list. During this hitch, not only did we make four different seed collections, but I celebrated my twenty-third birthday.

The view from the Pah Rah Range of the Reno-Sparks area.

On our first day, we traveled to the Pah Rah Range to look for a population of Machanthera canescens, Hoary Tansyaster, to determine its phenology and whether or not we will be able to make a seed collection from the population. We found our population in a flowering stage and determined we will have to revisit for potential seed collection on the next hitch!

The view of the Carson Plains from Old Como Road on our ascent on Como mountain.

We then traveled south to the Pine Nut Mountains to check on populations of Machanthera canescens. The road was a rock climb the entire ride up, but we found that it was the perfect time to collect seed from our population! We were able to make a sizeable collection of seeds that will be sent to Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) to be used for common garden studies on native plant community restoration. We were also relieved to not have to travel on the rocky road again!

That night we camped on Mount Rose and traveled back to the Pine Nut Mountains in the morning to check on another population of Macanthera canescens. We were able to once again make a seed collection from our population to be sent for research at RMRS. After a morning of seed collection in the Pine Nut Mountains, we then traveled to the Carson Range near the California border and the Tahoe National Forest to check on populations of another one of our target species, Phacelia hastata or Silverleaf Phacelia. Upon checking on our Phacelia population, we realized the size and extent of our population was much larger than we initially thought. It was so large it required two days for seed collection! We were able to make a collection that can be used for both research purposes and for native seed-based restoration in the Great Basin! It was so exciting for us to be able to make our first restoration size collection from a plant species we have only been able to find in small populations throughout our district. This collection reminded us once again the importance of our positions. With every collection we make, we are working to progress and support native seed-based restoration within the Great Basin, which is under tremendous pressure from rising anthropogenic activity and global climate change. Within the past decade, the Great Basin has experienced increased frequency and intensity wildfires, with some summers burning over a million acres of rangeland. Currently, the Great Basin is challenged by increased fire occurrence and pressure on the landscape from cattle grazing and other anthropogenic activities. This has lead to a profound alteration in native plant diversity in some areas as invasives such as cheatgrass and western brome replace native sagebrush and perennial grass communities. By collecting native seeds to be used for restoration in post-burn sites within the Great Basin, we are working to disrupt the positive feedback loop created between noxious weed species and fire regimes in the Great Basin.

Phacelia hastata, or Silverleaf Phacelia, basking in the sweet sunshine.

On top of having a seed collection win in Tahoe forest, we also found a campsite with a breath-taking view of Lake Tahoe. For dinner, we made a campfire and watched the sun set on Lake Tahoe from our campsite. As I reflected on the day, I thought to myself that there was no better way to spend my twenty-third birthday. I traveled throughout the most beautiful parts of Nevada to collect seeds that will be used for native seed-based restoration within the Great Basin to remediate the effects of wildfires. I am so grateful for this job and all the life lessons + adventures it comes with. Even more so, I am grateful to be working to conserve life and land in the beautiful Great Basin for future generations to enjoy just as much as I am.

My birthday sunset view of Lake Tahoe from within the Tahoe National Forest.

Embracing The Botanist Within

My campsite and its breathtaking view of a typical Nevada sunset (near Carlton, NV).

Prior to my CLM internship, I typically believed that you had to formally work towards an identity in order to truly become it. For example, I was hesitant to call myself a botanist before this position because I had not received a degree or formal training in botany. I would simply tell people I enjoyed identifying plants. Now, I would argue that I have always been a botanist and will always be one, regardless of what my degree might indicate. This position has reminded me of who I am and where my passion lies. (spoiler alert: it lies with the plants!)

The gorgeous view from where I took lunch on my first day in the field.

The first day I went out into the field to identify plants was one of my most memorable field days. My coworker, mentor, and I intended on visiting four different sites that day to scout for native plant populations and practice off-road driving. We all can admit, it was quite the ambitious plan to make for ourselves that afternoon. We made it to our first site and spent nearly the entire day there just getting to know the plant community. There were so many new forbs and grasses just waiting to be identified! We soon came to learn there is nothing more threatening to the constraint of time than three impassioned botanists in a high desert full of blooming forbs. I have never been introduced to so many plants in such a short period of time! All of which were incredibly beautiful and unique. I could say this to describe my first day in the field and every day in the field since. And this is just the beginning because it’s only my fourth week in Nevada! With every new plant I learn, the more I understand about the system it is a part of. It has been both exhilarating and inspiring to know that not only is this my job, but this is what I love to do and who I am. As we were sitting on rocks eating our lunches that day, I thought to myself, I could do this every day for the rest of my life and feel completely & entirely fulfilled. Since then, I have continued to immerse myself fully into the wonderful world of plants.

This is the Cobweb Thistle, otherwise known as Cirsium occidentale.

Ultimately, this internship has completely altered how I would identify myself as a professional in my field. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe I always was and always will be a botanist regardless of whether I am in practice or in my heart. My curiosity and drive to understand the plants around me will never leave. Identifying plants and recognizing their phenology has become the brunt of my job responsibilities, and was exactly what I needed in order to embrace the botanist within me!

The California Tiger Lily, Lilium pardalinum, basking in the sweet sunshine.