Sunday, June 26

In A World Of Orange...

If there is anything I’ve learned this week, it’s that plants are everywhere. There are plants on rocks. There on plants on trees, and there are even plants growing on top of other plants. One prevalent example of a plant with that parasitic ability is dodder, a native to California, known to the botanical community as Cuscuta californica. Surprisingly related to the morning glory family, dodder is capable of engulfing grasses and blooms of mountain trails with orange, spiderlike projections that span from plant to plant. Feeding off the nutrients of host plants through their straw shaped vines, dodder can forgo the process of photosynthesis and independently thrive in huge masses. This parasitic ability is achieved by projecting haustorium (invading tips of fungi) into the host’s vascular system, which frees dodder from dependence upon roots. After dodder is “wireless” (root-free), it has the ability to strategically direct its growth. It is hypothesized that plants surrounding dodder release chemical substances that help it sense which potential hosts can best sustain it. The dodder then expands its growth towards the most efficient host. Cuscuta californica is definitely an ingenious, little noticed plant that is expanding throughout southern California in all of its "orangey" glory.

Say Hi to Erin and Evan N.

For our final interview--of the students, anyway--we bring you Erin and Evan N., upstairs in the lodge in front of the barrier to something called "The Man Cave," where George has reportedly been seen hiding....

Watch them here:

Say Hi to Boone, Evan S., and Nick

These three take the group interview video to some new, slightly weird, places....


Say Hi to David and Dammy

Next up, the Double D interview: David and Dammy. Watch here:

Say Hi to Rachel

In this installment, you get to meet Rachel, another of our native Californians, who has an interesting family tie to botanical research in this area.... Watch here:

Say Hi to Alex

Another "get to know us" video, this one featuring Alex, who volunteers to do waaaay too much of the work around the Trailfinder Lodge--and we love her for it! Watch here:

A Sticky Situation Picks Up

Video of Julie collecting a sample of pencil cactus, assisted by David as "bagger" and Evan S. as Recorder; watch 'til the end and see us practice "leave no trace" ethics--actually, "clean up others' traces" ethics.  


Roughing it--with WiFi

The ten of us, hailing from everywhere from Texas to New Jersey to northern California, arrived at the James Reserve with hardly any expectations. "Rustic research cabin" can mean so many things. Would there be hot water? Beds? Geez, would there be cell service? (The answer, by the way, and unfortunately for me, is: not for AT&T users.)
We ended up with perfectly normal (though plastic--and loud) sheets and beds, spread throughout the second floor. It didn't take long for our dozens of bags to take over every inch of space.

The first floor consists of a kitchen (which has strangely become a popular gathering space), bathrooms, an office, and the main room--host to frantic plant-pressing sessions and nighttime card games alike.The James Reserve, home base for our expedition, is a 30-acre outpost of UC Riverside that is home to dozens of separate projects analyzing everything from moss to birds to ladybugs. But for us, it's home--at least for two weeks! Thankfully, there's WiFi to help us "rough it" a little less--and to post to this blog!

Extra: check out this video to see our James Reserve host, Dr. Becca Fenwick, introduce us to one of California's oldest Ponderosa pines, our new neighbor.

Also: watch Becca demonstrate a moss found on the Reserve with some amazing properties:

What the Heck are We Doing Out Here Anyway?

The Pressers: These hard-working souls are David, Alex, Anna, and Nick. They are the pack mules of the group. The Pressers have to pack paper, blotter paper, and the wooden slats with straps with them on a field day. Once someone collects an actual plant, usually the process photographer, the Pressers go to work. The first thing to do is separate the plants so the florescence, or the plant's flowers, are clearly visible. One Presser places them on a piece of paper with a number assigned by the Recorder (see below) on it, while the other Presser puts a blotter, which absorbs water, on the paper. Then comes a piece of cardboard for structure, and the whole process starts over again with the next collection of a different species. We usually aim to fill at least three pages with pressings of an individual species.

The Process Photographer: Dammy and Erin are these amazing photographers. They are in charge of taking photographs of the whole process of collecting, recording, and pressing plants. These photos include pictures of the collected plant, its surrounding habitat, the people collecting it, and whatever else suits the photographer's fancy. At the end of the day, these process photographs create a wonderful visual record of all of the daily activities.

The Close-Up Photographer: These artistic individuals are Rachel and Evan N. In charge of taking pictures of the collected plant, they create detailed, close-range images of the plant as well as ones taken mid-range and farther away. Needing a more complex camera than the process photos, this job requires a good eye for detail and an appreciation for the littler features of the plants and their surroundings. These photographs will later be downloaded into an online spreadsheet. Rachel and Evan's pictures capture the habitat beautifully and also provide professional-looking photographs of plant themselves.

The Recorder: Evan S. and Boone are the detail scribes of the team. In this job, one cannot mess up without setting back the entire group. The Recorder is in charge of creating a journal that assigns numbers to each collection, the common and  scientific names of the plants (to the best of our abilities), and an accurate description of the plant, so that if our names are off the botanists at the Smithsonian can still identify them and match the journal to the photos. The Recorder also has to take a "mark," a GPS coordinate of where we collected the plant. They then have to write down the number range of the images the Close-up Photographer took of that particular plant. After the end of a usually tiring day, the Recorder has to rally and catalog all of the newly acquired data into a spreadsheet on one of the computers at the Reserve.

Watch us in action:
Video clip of Rachel and Evan working as Close-Up Photographer and Recorder in the Field, with David helping as a Collector:

Clip of Alex and Dammy doing some pressing in the field: