Our second round of seed collecting is going full-force right now. Its been really cool revisiting sites we collected from in the spring, and seeing a whole new group of plants in flower. Fall colors are something I looked forward to every year in the Midwest, but the Mojave offers something special in a whole other way.
We’ve also been able to see more wildlife out and about, doing their pre-winter preparations. While collecting seeds all day, the aspiring naturalist in me gets distracted easily by any movements other than my own. Its exciting to see new wildlife every week, like the kit foxes and coyotes in the dunes, the multitude of insects and spiders (and my first tarantula!), and the migrating birds flying overhead, making their way south. I have definitely had my share of mini-photoshoots out in the field. Here’s a little taste of autumn in the Mojave:
Our seed collection, processing, and shipping has come to an end for all our spring collections, so now we wait. Fall collection will come quickly enough, I’m sure, but it feels like forever since we were out collecting last. And being an outdoors-loving person, doing office tasks day after day is tough. I have however found many positives, and because of these, I am thankful for some inside time. First, I am finally getting to know the others at the workplace that I never really got to work with when out in the field day after day. Second, while taking a break from monitoring and seed collecting for SOS, I have gotten to help on some rare plant monitoring and seed collection for conservation projects in the area. Third, I have been taking the extra time to learn other skills, taking advantage of the different departments at the botanic garden. I get to work in the plant nursery, helping with pruning, planting, weeding, and other regular upkeep tasks. I have recently been learning different seed cleaning techniques, on a small scale, through our seed conservation program. I have helped our herbarium manager with sorting incoming and outgoing plant collections. Lastly, I have been taking advantage of the GIS courses through the BLM. I like having all the different projects to work on, to keep things interesting, learn many different things, and get to know co-workers a bit better.
In order to balance all of my inside work time, and to expel some energy, during my off time I have been taking advantage of the wonderful opportunities that living in Southern California offer. My first adventure was summitting Cucamonga Peak, which gave a spectacular view of LA County and the Catalinas far off in the distance. I have also had a couple visitors come out in the past couple weeks, giving me the opportunity to be a crazy tourist. We spent some time in San Diego, in LA and in Las Vegas. Too much fun was had, and it tired me out way more than working days at a time in the desert.
Made it to the top of Cucamonga Peak!
I have been in my internship for about 4 months now, which is primarily collecting seeds for Seeds of Success. My team and I have been collecting like crazy, for almost all of the time we have been here, and have made about 40 collections total thus far. While I have learned a lot about the plants and landscape of the Mojave, and knew my work was important for restoration, I didn’t fully understand why…didn’t get the “big picture”. Until now. I recently attended the CLM training and, shortly after, a Desert Restoration Workshop, where I learned how important native plant materials programs are. I also learned how programs like SOS are highly valuable for ecological restoration, as there is a “need for seed” in the Mojave (and elsewhere). Arid ecosystems in general are slow to recover from disturbances, which include land use for solar and wind projects, recreational uses, exotic species, and waste dumping, just to name a few. And things are also shifting due to climate change. Often the balance of these ecosystems is upset beyond the natural point of return, because the rate of change far exceeds the speed of ecological adaptation capabilities. This is where active restoration comes in to place, as well as a preventative-like type of restoration with the creation of adaptive communities. Native seed collecting, over a wide range of habitat in order to match specific plant types to their matching microclimates, is really at the basis of these restorations today. And this is what Seeds of Success is all about. I am excited and proud to be a part of such a movement.
I left my winter wonderland of a home in Minnesota for the desert Southwest in California about three months ago to begin my new Seeds of Success internship. What was to come was uncertain, and I knew I was in for an extreme learning experience in a brand new…everything. And I was right. Almost. My work prior to my CLM Internship was in the prairies and oak savannas of Minnesota. It was daunting to think of all the new plant species, and even new plant families, I would need to learn in the California Desert in order to appropriately monitor sites for seed collections. However, while working in the field, surrounded by an overwhelmingly new landscape, that I realized I knew more than I had thought about the desert plants. I actually recognized plants (!!!), even if just to the genus. Once you think about it, it only makes sense that there would be some parallels between prairie and desert plants. But it was such a great feeling to have familiarity in the unfamiliar. And now, after three months of desert adventures and daily pop quizes in desert botany (most of which I pass), I feel almost at home in this new landscape. Almost.