Paper published using taxon concepts for the flora of Alaska

To achieve information precision with true interoperability by connecting diverse specimen data resources through taxon concepts we can advance beyond what can be achieved with plant names alone. In the current issue (Fall 2019) of Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, we reflect on differing traditions and opinions, taxonomic approaches, and access to material from both sides of the Bering Strait. The Claytonia arctica complex illustrates these issues well and has been dealt with by North American and Russian botanists in decidedly different ways. We reviewed specimens and examined the various taxonomic concepts of C. arctica through time and source publications. The relationships (alignments) among taxonomic concepts are presented in a graphical format. We found that much of the confusion related to C. arctica in Beringia stems from overlooking C. scammaniana Hult´en sensu Hult´en (1939), and placing too much emphasis on the woody caudex and perennation structures, during the creation of two taxonomic concepts: C. arctica Adams sensu Porsild and C. porsildii Jurtzev sensu Yurtsev. The C. arctica complex (in our current sense) is an evolutionary work in progress, resulting in partially differentiated races with much overlapping variability and intergradation of characters (particularly in C. scammaniana according to our current sense) that have not reached the level of stability (i.e., individuals may still intergrade freely) usually associated with the concept of species in other arctic lineages.

This work was supported by NSF award 1759964

Ickert-Bond, S.M., Murray, D.F., Oliver, M. G., Berrioz, H. K., Webb, C.O. 2019. The Claytonia arctica complex in Alaska – analysing a Beringian taxonomic puzzle using taxon concepts. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 104: 478-494.

A. Claytonia arctica, photograph from Kiska Island, Alaska, by Ian L. Jones . C. Claytonia
scammaniana, photograph from Denali National Park, Alaska, by Weber_sd (Flickr).

Winning Lumen Print at National Alternative Processes Competition – Soho Gallery

Finding another outlet for my passion of plants and photography has been easy to come by, when I came across an ad for a summer course in making handmade photographs (ART/COJO 492), taught by Jason Lazarus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  The ad showed a picture of a fiddle head that peaked my interest, and I enrolled in the class. It turned out to be a fantastic opportunity and allowed me to experiment with lots of alternative processes of making handmade photographs.  It started out with pinhole cameras, and moved on to lumens, cyanotypes, VanDyke Brown prints, just to name a few of the alternative processes.  One of the processes, the lumen printing process, was a natural extension of my research on the flora of Alaska.  Here expired black and white photographic paper comes to life from an interaction with the sun and natural objects creating colorful impressions of objects.  My arrangements are reflective of my passion for plants and the spectacular details plant structures exhibit. Using several different black and white photographic papers  resulted in dramatically different color qualities of the lumen printing process. Part of the magic of the lumen printing process is to let the medium have its own say in how the final image works.  There are many variables that can influence the outcome: humidity, light intensity, lengths of exposure and of course the chemical composition of the photographic paper.

I submitted some of my work from the class to the National Alternative Processes Competition in September and one of my pieces, Bleeding Hearts and Fiddleheads, was selected as a winner among the nearly 800 entries, and is on exhibit at Soho Photogallery from Nov.7 – 25 in New York City. . Of the work submitted, Juror, Dan Burkholder said, “There is a temptation to equate alternative process photography with small, brownish prints of unsmiling subjects staring blankly into the camera lens. Happily, this exhibition attracted a talented group of practitioners who – though embracing chemical avenues long associated with photography‘s early days -fused new subject matter and processes to express prints both beautiful and thoughtful. If this exhibition is a gauge, perhaps alternative should be the new standard.”

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