Preparation for Native Plant Meeting

Yesterday, Susan, Virginia and I went back up to Heber Springs, AR, about 2 hours north of Hot Springs. Heber Springs is the location for the Arkansas Native Plant Society meeting this weekend, and we went to scout out a couple of trails that Virginia, the president of ANPS, and Susan, the president elect, will be leading plant walks on.

Virginia and Susan key out an aster.

The first trail we went to was Collins Creek, where a pipe from the bottom of the Greer’s Ferry dam shoots icy water into a stream and creates artificial trout habitat.

Pipe from dam shooting cold water into Collins Creek.

It hasn’t rained much lately, so there isn’t too much to see botanically. Susan and Virginia searched for plants they could tell ANPS members about on the hikes. Our second location was called Bridal Veil Falls. When we arrived, the falls had dried to a tiny trickle.

Susan and Virginia at the top of the dry falls.

In the top left is a viewing platform, in the bottom left you can see Susan standing at the top of the falls. I was on a cliff above, taking pictures of moss.

Don’t you think there is a tardigrade in here somewhere??

We managed to find some noteworthy plants, including Castanea ozarkensis, Ozark Chinquapin, which is a sensitive species. We also saw several Spiranthes or ladies tresses orchids at the top of the falls.

Spiranthes sp.

And a more common oak species, recognizable by its unique gesture.

Quercus falcata, Southern red oak

And the ever stunning beautyberry.

Callicarpa americana, beautyberry.

We will head back up to Heber Springs this Friday for the meeting, which will take place at Quality Inn conference center and kick off with a potluck and plant auction, ANPS’s biggest fundraiser. I have less than 3 weeks left in my internship, so this will be a good finale of sorts. I hope everyone is having fun!



Gardens, seeds, monarchs, crystals

I have been cleaning up some of the pollinator gardens scattered around the forest and planting some of my seeds. Much to Terry’s and my dismay, when we went to visit the Mauldin Fields pollinator garden this week, it was completely brush hogged. The person who is in charge of telling the contractor where to mow apparently forgot to communicate¬† for the second year in a row. Or maybe he thought it needed to be cut down for some reason? There were countless milkweeds planted there, some that we wanted to collect pods from. The area consists of two huge fields full of wildflowers. It was pretty discouraging. Much time, money and effort can be wasted on these projects if they are not properly maintained (left alone mostly). I wonder what will happen next year? Maybe Susan will lay the smack down.

The Fourche pollinator garden was still alive and well, although it was taken over by sericea lespedeza. I cut down sumac (Rhus sp.) that had grown up in the middle, and Susan and Gabe weed wacked and sprayed herbicide. They said it was necessary to control the sericea. I planted some seeds further down by the pond where blackberries (Rubus sp.) had taken over.

Christy generously let me take over part of the budget office with my seed saving operation. It got displaced when the new Silviculture detailer, Mike Stevens, moved in. But actually the budget office is better because it has more space. Above you can see, from left to right, mountain mint (Pycnanthemum sp.), black eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and white milkweed (Asclepias variegata) seeds drying.

I have seeds from quite a few species collected now. Last week I added rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccafolium), hairy sunflower (Helianthus hirsutus), and ironweed (Vernonia sp.) among others. Since we are not participating in the seeds of success program, there is a lot more flexibility to collect opportunistically and not wait for a huge population. I love collecting and sowing seeds. Susan calls my bag of seed mix my “fairy bag.”

Yesterday was my first time this year seeing monarch butterflies and caterpillars! I have been looking for them all summer. These ones were spotted on butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) planted in the seed orchard, as was the caterpillar munching heartily pictured below.

While Terry and I were out checking milkweed pods for ripeness along the forest roads, we stumbled across a vein of quartz crystals. On further inspection, it appears to be an abandoned mine. I found a whole bunch of beautiful crystals. My life is complete!

Only 6 more weeks here. It is starting to get cool. It’s already cold in Boone, NC where I will be moving back to. There may even be snow on the ground by the time I get back. I hope everyone is having a good time out there and learning a lot! Cheers.

Pollinators, a tour, miscellaneous things

Hi everyone! Time is flying. I have been doing lots of random projects, which suits me just fine. One thing I have been working on lately is a sign for a pollinator garden at First Step, a school for children and adults with developmental disabilities. This garden was a collaboration between the USFS and the Arkansas Native Plant Society. My goals were to explain this complex concept in simple terms and to help dispel the myth that bees and butterflies are the only pollinators. Through this project, I learned that some bees feed pollen to their larvae, and that within the U.S., bats only pollinate plants in the Southwestern states (not in Arkansas). Here is the sign:

My mentor Susan took me and the two Pathways interns at our office out on a tour of the Ouachitas on Tuesday. Jesi and Malcolm are focused on filing and rarely get to leave the office. Sadly, today is their last day before they go back to school. I’m jealous… I love learning! I’ll just have to learn harder on my own. Here is a picture of me, Jesi and Malcolm on the little Missouri river.

One of the coolest things we saw on our tour was a luna moth that had just emerged from its chrysalis, its wings still crinkled!

Yesterday, Susan and I worked on cleaning up the pollinator garden outside of the Jessieville district office, releasing young milkweeds from all the invasive sericea lespedeeza. I have also been tediously processing all the seeds I collected, since it seems that we will not be sending any seeds to Bend, Oregon. I have a feeling that there are much better ways of doing it than what I am doing, but I am just doing my best!

Take care you guys.

Milkweeds and Seeds

Last week was my first week back at work after getting married to my sweetheart. The wedding was a blast, and if you want to see a video of our surprise first dance choreography, search “Gretchen and Derek’s First Dance Surprise” on Youtube.

The plants grew a lot while I was gone, and it is hotter than heck here with heat indices above 100 F. I have been working on various projects, including the beginnings of seed collection for the brown eyed susan (Rudbeckia grandiflora) and the pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida)! Luckily we happened to be around the seed orchard when other FS folks started mowing… we flagged around areas we wanted to save to collect seed from, and a subsequent visit confirmed that they had done a good job of respecting the flagging.

Echinacea pallida aka pale purple coneflower at the USFS seed orchard

Susan, Terry and I drove out to the Poteau district’s pine-bluestem restoration area. They told me about how logging can be part of the restoration if done properly and combined with controlled burns and other management strategies. I saw red cockaded woodpecker trees, some with inserts to help the birds have fast accommodations, but didn’t see any birds that day. We scouted out a good place for me to collect more R. grandiflora seeds and checked on red ringed milkweed along the road that they have been monitoring. Most milkweed plants only produce one pod if any, but we saw one individual with SIX PODS! Susan wants to collect milkweed seed, so this is great.

Asclepias variagata aka red ringed milkweed along the road in the Poteau district.

Another thing I did last week was check on the milkweed plantings in the seed orchard. Many of them were not doing very well. They were covered in milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus). Susan made a spray with vegetable oil and Dawn dish soap in water. I sprayed many of them but couldn’t get to them all on that day. This morning I did a little research though, and it seems that milkweed bugs don’t tend to really harm milkweed. The problem might be something else like aphids, drought or fungus.

Planted milkweed not doing well, with milkweed bugs and aphids?

Tomorrow we are going to help out with vegetation monitoring with the Nature Conservancy. Something new! Signing off for now. Take care y’all!




High Peak

Today I had the pleasure of going out in the field with Virginia, a botanist from the research branch of the Forest Service. We had many missions in mind for the day, some of which were accomplished. The main reason that we went to High Peak (near Mt. Ida, Arkansas) was to get a good picture of the woodland sunflowers in bloom, which grow almost in a monoculture in some areas of the open forest there.

Virginia has been monitoring the vegetation in areas of High Peak since 2011 when a lightning strike started a wildfire there, and the FS decided to let it burn instead of sending out the fire suppression team. Some people worried that the overstory trees would all die, but it turned out that one year later 95% had survived, as well as 33% of the understory trees less than 15 cm. This research has had real-life management implications, as the FS has let a few more low-intensity natural fires burn since then. The sunflowers were just starting to bloom at that elevation, so we didn’t get the majestic photo we had hoped for.

Woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) beginning to bloom. Photo by Virginia McDaniel

We bushwacked around recording what species were present. We also found a fair number of crystals, which the Hot Springs area is famous for. We dragged a white piece of cloth to collect ticks for a researcher in Texas. Somehow no ticks ended up on the cloth, but at least 10 ended up on us! We were finding them the whole way home.

Tomorrow Virginia, my mentor Susan and I are heading to the Ozarks FS office to give another invasive species workshop, so V and I collected invasive plant specimens while we were out like kudzu, stiltgrass, sorecia lespedeza and autumn olive, as well as their native lookalikes. Luckily we didn’t find many out in the field– we had to go over by the Dollar General to find kudzu and I will be walking around my neighborhood tonight to find mimosa and nodding thistle.

Me with kudzu (Pueraria spp.) taking over trees by the Dollar General. Photo by Virginia McDaniel.

Until next time! Take care! -G