If anyone ever asks if you want to go hang out with entomologists and botanists-don’t think twice, just answer “YES!!”.
That is exactly what myself and my CLM partner, Claire Parsons, did when our mentor proposed learning and working with USDA entomologists and Idaho renowned botanists for a week on a Research Natural Area (RNA). RNAs are preserved areas that represent a habitat and can be used for education, research, and monitoring purposes. The one we happily raced to was a low shrub upland salt desert shrub habitat within the Salmon-Challis National Forest and BLM land in Idaho.
Our goal was to verify the RNA’s integrity, plant diversity, document baseline pollinator presence, and search for some lovely rare plant species. Claire and I, besides having the opportunity to botanize and learn from the coolest and most knowledgeable people, received direction on the Seeds of Success (SOS) process-one of our primary projects this summer. We found two populations, one of Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta) and Shaggy Fleabane (Erigeron pumilus) that we can come back to during seed-set!
Within the first two days on the RNA we found three rare species: Spreading Gilia (Ipomopsis polycladon), Lost River Milkvetch (Astragalus amnis-amissi), and the super dainty Alkali Primrose (Primula alcalina). All signs that the RNA is a diverse and special place that should continue to be preserved. Finding the plants meant that official documentation was needed; Claire and I were able to exercise our GPS know-how and complete the official field-paperwork.
We also observed pollinator catching, drafted comprehensive species lists, and asked as many questions as we had all while hiking through canyons, along rivers and alluvial fans, and crunching across the desert shrub steppe.
The fun didn’t end either, after field work we would all head back to the field station nestled below the Lemhi mountain range. Claire and I pressed our plant specimens, ogled and peppered the entomologist as they ordered their tiny, winged specimens, keyed out plants we had collected in the field, then enjoyed dinner while laughing and conversing below the mountain peaks.
It was so refreshing to be surrounded by professionals who loved botany and ‘talked’ botany; I couldn’t get enough of it. I made connections, became so much more familiar with the plants of the region, and feel super prepared to execute SOS work, bring it on!
Caribou-Targhee National Forest, ID