65th Annual Missouri Botanical Garden Symposium – Biota of North America: what we know, what we don’t know and what we’re losing

I am so excited and honored to be one of the featured speakers at the 65th Annual Missouri Botanical Garden Symposium.  This year the symposium’s theme is Biota of North America: what we know, what we don’t know and what we are loosing.  It is a great line-up of invited speakers.  The symposium will be held at the Missouri Botanical Garden October 12-13, 2018.  The Flora of North America Editorial Board Meeting will be held the next day.

Micronesia Field Work

Ph.D. student Else Demeulenaere is completing some more field work this week in the Marianas.  She started out with sampling the last remaining Serianthes nelsonii population on Guam last Thursday (one mother tree and a few saplings).  Now she is off to the island of Rota, the second southernmost island in the Mariana Archipelago, and then to Saipan, the largest of the Northern Marianas, collecting some more Serianthes.  Here is a little field update from her:

I collected from 20 trees on Rota. We took a long hike in the morning to the wild populations. I’m only done now after 1 am with putting all the samples with labels in vials with silica gel. For each tree I collected three samples, so that is 60 samples in total. Tired but very happy. The local people are very helpful, the forester made a device himself to get to the tall canopies of the Serianthes trees, much easier to pick. Tomorrow I’m going with a girl from Saipan, she is the endangered species manager from CNMI, we are going to try to locate some trees that are on an old map. I’ll try to use the slingshot to get leaves down from those populations. 

Beware Carnivorous Plants

halloweenWe had a great showing at the open house Halloween event today at the UA Museum.  Fun to see the kids build a venus flytrap out of styrofoam balls while being captivated by a close-up video of a venus flytrap in action.  Our life-size recreation of Elizabite really drew the kids in and scared a few of them.  Great event!

And you, whose pastime is to make midnight mushrooms…

Mushroom2016smThe Herbarium hosted another successful iNaturalist event as part of our Plants and Fungi of Alaska project. Mycologist Dr. Gary Laursen led 56 mushroom enthusiasts on a mushroom hike on the ski trails at the UAF campus.  Folks went into the woods and hunted for mushrooms (parasitic, saprophytic and mycorrhizal). What a spectacular sight it was when everybody returned with their “harvest” and spread them out on several fold-up tables. There were coral fungi, tooth fungi (incl. the shingled hedgehog), polypores (commonly known as bracket fungi), boletes, and of course the agarics. Thanks so much Gary for introducing us to the wonderful world of Alaska mushrooms and helping us to distinguish harmless and edible fungi from the small number of poisonous ones.

Else visiting several prominent European herbaria to sample Serianthes

ElseLeidenPh.D. student Else Demeulenaere is getting a great start at assembling samples for her Serianthes dissertation work. Tuesday she went to Leiden, the Netherlands, to work at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. It contains one of largest herbaria in the world with some 5.5 million specimens merging the major university herbaria of Leiden, Utrecht and Wageningen. Else sampled 26 taxa of Serianthes (86 samples from different locations) during her stay there from Papua New Guinea and the Pacific region.

Else is really going for it, tomorrow she is off to visit the Herbarium [P] in Paris at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle for some more Serianthes. Next week she will participate at the II International Conference on Island Evolution, Ecology, and Conservation in the Azores. Amazing start to her first year of her Ph.D.!  She also was just awarded a USFWS grant in support of her dissertation research on Serianthes. Congrats Else!

Botanizing in the Madrean Sky Islands of Arizona


View of Madera Canyon from the desert, with Mt. Wrightson (2,881 m) in the background, Santa Rita Mts., Arizona.

Spend a few days collecting in Southeastern Arizona exploring the northwestern face of the Santa Rita Mountains – Madera Canyon. The Santa Rita Mountains is one of the Madrean Sky Islands in Arizona. These sky islands are one of the most diverse inland archipelagos formed by the confluence of two mountainous spines of North America: 1) the Colorado Plateau and Rocky Mountains characterized by thick forests of Ponderosa pine and deep canyons that form the Mogollon Rim, which signifies the abrupt edge found on the Plateau’s southern flank and 2) the Sierra Madre Oriental and its subtropical forests of pines before it reaches the Arizona-New Mexico border.

40 distinct mountain ranges form the Sky Island region of North America. In addition to this globally unique convergence—the north-south overlap of two major cordilleras spanning the temperate and subtropical latitudes— an additional biogeographical phenomenon occurs at the Sky Island intersection, as well. The Sonoran desert and its iconic towering saguaro cacti creep eastward into higher elevations. Tucson, which sits at the eastern edge of the Sonoran desert, marks the western gateway into the Sky Islands. East from there, the Sky Island landscape increasingly represents the cold-adapted constituents of the Chihuahuan desert, which spill westward over the lowest point in the continental divide from southcentral New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico. This intermingling of bioregional edges brings together different life forms evolved from vastly different places on the continent, finding themselves tucked together in unusual associations within the Sky Islands.

Madera Canyon is fueled by Madera Creek. This stream system and the abundant plants along its banks form a riparian corridor. The highest peak in Ephedra_trifurca_sm_0049the Santa Rita Mountains towers high above the desert floor – Mount Wrightson (9483 ft). Approaching Madera Canyon we drove through the Lower Sonoran Zone from the Santa Cruz Valley which is characterized by Sonoran desert scrub with desert trees, barrel cactus, and chollas. Here we encountered a nice stand of fruiting Ephedra trifurca. With its wing-bracted strobili, Ephedra trifurca is well adapted to the open sandy habitats and a strong breeze put wind dispersal in motion for us. The scrubland transitions to desert grassland with velvet mesquite, before reaching cooler temperatures in the Upper Sonoran Zone, which is characterized by several species of evergreen oaks (Quercus oblongifolia, Quercus emoryi, Quercus hypoleucoides), alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana), Mexican piñon pine (Pinus edulis), shrubs (Garrya wrightii, manzanita), bunch grasses, and cottonwood (Platanus wrightii) along the banks of Madera Creek. In this zone we found nice exemplars of Arizona grape Vitis arizonica often trailing on Garrya wrightii (gray-leaf dogwood).

On to the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tuscon,  where Mt. Lemmon towers high above the Santa Catalinas with a summit elevation of 2792 m. Mount Lemmon was named for botanist Sara Plummer Molino Canyon_DSC_0421Lemmon who sumitted the peak with her botanist husband J.G. Lemmon and local rancher E. O. Stratton.  Along the Mt. Lemmon Highway we encountered rolling hillsides and canyons of Oak-Grassland that dominate the landscape. The most abundant plants here are Emory oak (Quercus emoryi), Arizona white oak (Quercus arizona), Mexican Blue Oak (uercus oblongifolia) and many dominant grasses—side-oats grama, cane beardgrass, Arizona panicgrass, invasive Lehmann lovegrass, and the elevationally wide-ranging bullgrass, as well as a dozen other less-common species.  Other abundant plants of the Catalinas’ Oak-Grassland biome include pointleaf manzanita, shindagger agave, sotol, beargrass, and mountain yucca. Along the Catalina Highway our first encounter of Arizona grape (Vitis arizonica) was at Molina Basin at the lower end of Molino Canyon in a dry creek bed lined with willow and cottonwood. The grapes were rather abundant and fruiting profusely at this transition between Sonoran Desertscrub and Grassland or Oak-Grassland at 4300 ft. Further up General Hitchcock highway the grapes were still in bloom at 5761 ft. and I observed the functionally unisexual flowers of Vitis arizonica very well, what a treat!Vitis arizonica

Near the Arizona Mexican border we also explored another sky island – the Patagonia Mountains, which represents one of the southernmost archipelagos in Arizona and rises to 2,201 meters (7,221 feet) at the summit of Mount Washington, the range’s highest peak.  First we stopped at Patagonia Lake, one of the premier birding sites in AZ, where we saw several unique birds. Driving towards Tuscon, through the Sonoita Valley, about 7 km SE of Patagonia at Harshaw Creek we collected another Vitis arizonica populations. PatagoniaLakeDSC_0657


Shawnee Gowan at MSU – Crustose lichen ID 101

DSCN8499M.S. student Shawnee Gowan is spending a week at the Michigan State University Herbarium (MSC) working with Dr. Alan Friday on crustose lichen ID.  The MSU collections are first class and total nearly 110,000 accessioned lichen specimens from many regions of the world, including excellent specimens Dr. Henry A. Imshaug made from nunataks in the Juneau ice field in the 1960s. The gilts of her visit can be summarized by Alan’s quote from his page:

“My background is in microbiology so I was always more at home with the precise microscopic measurements and observations necessary to identify crustose lichens rather than the variable, morphological characters of macrolichens. In fact, I still don’t ‘get’ macrolichens and find them difficult to identify (Usnea is a complete mystery to me). Give me a good spore to measure any day.”

Go Shawnee, looking forward to hearing about all your new skills and expertise gained. Thanks to Alan Fryday and Alan Prather for making this trip possible through the MSU endowment funds.