The SOS Work Begins !

We have officially made our first Seeds of Success collection! The past three weeks since coming back from training at the Chicago Botanic Garden have been full speed ahead for SOS scouting and collections. We have completed two collections for Seeds of Success, meaning we collected >10,000 seeds each for two separate species – Castilleja sessiliflora and Nerisyrenia linearifolia.

Each collection came with its own challenges. Our first collection, Castilleja sessiliflora proved to be difficult because of the cryptic nature of the individuals. When their seed is ripe, the plant has dried and turned a brown shade conveniently similar to the shade of the soil. There were also relatively few plants in the population we collected from, so we had to be very thorough when scanning the ground for the individuals. We collected 20% of the seeds from every individual, bringing our estimated total seed count to around 15,000. Our collection of Nerisyrenia linearifolia proved to be a much easier task, with an abundance of easily identifiable and conspicuous individuals. We were able to collect more seed from this population because there were more plants with more fruits per plant, so we estimated a total collection of about 30,000 seeds.

It was incredibly satisfying to find species and populations with seed that was ready to be collected. However, two collections in three weeks leaves a lot of time unaccounted for. Most of our time has been spent scouting for populations of species on our target list. We have driven many miles scouring the Carlsbad Resource Area for species we want to collect. We have had some very successful days, finding two or three locations with multiple species abundant enough for future collections. We have also had days where we’ve found virtually nothing. These days definitely feel somewhat useless, but it is encouraging to know that we’ve crossed off an area on our list and won’t have to revisit those sites that weren’t fruitful.

The species pictured above are all on our target list for collection.

Carlsbad has been a great place to work in so far, but it is a town of over 30,000 people, with an immense amount of oil and gas development in the surrounding areas. So, my weekends have been spent getting out of town and exploring. Highlights so far have been Guadalupe Mountains National Park which includes the highest point in Texas (8751 ft), the cute mountain town of Cloudcroft (at 8600 ft!) in the Sacramento Mountains, and the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces (my favorite so far). I look forward to more weekends exploring New Mexico and West Texas; I’m learning so many new plants and enjoying the desert heat (mostly).

A Whole New (Plant) World

Moving 1400 miles from Northern California to Carlsbad, NM has brought both expected and wildly unexpected changes. While I had mentally prepared for the change in plant life and nearly unbearable heat, I have been caught off guard by the frequent evening thunderstorms, buffeting winds, overabundance of enormous trucks, and the unanticipated beauty of southeastern New Mexico.

Let’s Talk Plants

The majority of my botanical experience had been in Northern California until three weeks ago. The Carlsbad landscape was entirely foreign to me as I drove into town. Strange cacti, thorny shrubs, and countless forbs greeted me as I ventured into the field with my mentor and fellow interns. Our first day in the field was spent scouting a population of the special status species Linum allredii. While we did see flowering individuals of this rare plant (see below), we were also met with plants that had been grazed. Soon enough, we found hungry, hungry caterpillars munching away at the young buds and immature fruits of about 60% of the plants.

Linum allredii

Caterpillar munching on L. allredii

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next day out, we surveyed a proposed project site for another special status species,¬†Coryphantha robustispina ssp. scheeri. Scheer’s beehive cactus is an unassuming little plant, lying low to the ground with spines appearing to be neighboring grasses upon first sight.

Scheer’s beehive cactus

As I’m learning the plants in my new desert home, I am struck by how variable different individuals of the same species can look based on the resources it is provided. Driving through the lands managed by the BLM’s Carlsbad Field Office it may seem as if diversity is lacking, but upon closer inspection, the desert is full of variety. I’m learning brand new species, genera, and even families every day. I already feel more comfortable with the plants here after three weeks, but still have so far to go (especially with grasses).

Every Day is a Blustery One

I knew the weather in New Mexico would be very different from my California mountain home, but I did not expect the intense winds and sudden thunderstorms that I have been greeted with. Apparently summer is monsoon season in the desert southwest? Every evening this week has brought violent thunderstorms that pour rain and sometimes hail, have strong gusts of wind, and all the lightning and thunder you could ask for – while maintaining an outside temperature of approximately 85 degrees. It is yet to be determined if I will get sick of the storms – I have sat on my front porch and admired each one so far.

Even on the sunny days, with blue sky and intense heat, you can count on the wind to nearly blow your hat off at least once. It can make the heat more bearable, but also makes it very hard to collect plant specimens. However, my fellow Seeds of Success crew members and I have come up with a nearly perfect method for data recording and specimen collecting in our new desert environment and we continue to perfect it every day.

Final Thoughts

Although the transition to desert plants and desert heat has been a challenge so far, I’m beyond excited to explore New Mexico and all it has to offer. I can’t wait to meet more new, weird plants and animals and start collecting some seeds! I feel so grateful to have an enthusiastic mentor behind me and fellow plant nerds beside me. And hopefully the heat won’t kill me.

Brilliantly camouflaged horned toad

Beautiful views in the Guadalupe Mountains

Cheers,

Aly

SOS crew member, BLM Carlsbad Field Office