Hello from the Great Basin

It’s been an adventure.  Coming from backgrounds in Eastern deciduous forests and the Pacific Northwest, both places with plenty of rainfall, it took a little while to get used to a desert flora but we’ve been amazed by how much lives here, and how most people just drive through at 75 mph and never see any of it.

We have been stationed at the Great Basin Plant Materials Center in Fallon, Nevada since June.  The PMC is responsible for developing new cultivars of native plants, mostly aimed at conservation and restoration of the landscape.  This PMC is special because it’s the newest, as well as the first to focus on the Great Basin.  We’ve been helping with that mission mostly by collecting seeds from the western Great Basin, both for the Seeds of Success program as well as collections specifically for our mentor, Eric Eldredge.  Hopefully some of those collections will result in cultivars released to the public in coming years.

Since this is the first year the PMC has had interns, we’ve been the guinea pigs.  It’s been a wonderful experience.  We’ve traveled to every county in Nevada, and two in California, and learned so much about desert grasses, forbs, and shrubs.   We’ve hiked through the Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains (the so called Swiss Alps of Nevada) during peak lupine season, walked through ghost towns and driven across the playa in the Black Rock Desert.  I think the most valuable experience we’ve gained is how to learn a new flora.  Even if we don’t work as botanists in Nevada, we will be able to take that skill with us when we enter a new area.  Learning how to drive a 4×4 truck on challenging roads is another great skill we’ve gained here.

Networking and meeting new people, is yet another benefit to being a CLM intern. Working with others from various organizations has allowed us to acquire permits, provided information, and helped to make invaluable connections. Working with these people has also provided insight into different government agencies.

We’ve also seen a huge array of wildlife in our travels: pronghorn antelope, coyotes, hundreds of antelope, ground squirrels and lizards, hawks, golden eagles, pelicans, rattlesnakes, desert bighorn sheep, three mountain bighorn sheep fighting, burros, horses, and lots of cattle.

After all the travel that we’ve done, and the data we’ve collected, we’re planning to make a series of GIS maps for our mentor when the weather gets too cold for field work.  We’re excited to lay out a guide for next year’s interns.

We’re both so grateful to the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Great Basin Plant Materials Center for this experience, and all that we’ve learned and gained from it.

Erin Cole and Robin Bennett, Great Basin Plant Materials Center, Fallon, Nevada