Category: Nature (page 1 of 2)

Missing the Weeds

(All of the photos included in this post are from a visit we made one Saturday in February to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. That visit helped spur some of these thoughts.)

When I taught the weeds lab at USU I would (somewhat) jokingly tell people that this class would change their life. And year after year by the end of the semester students would tell me that the class had indeed ruined changed their life; they couldn’t go anywhere without seeing weeds. I would tell them – like I’m telling you now – that it really isn’t such a bad thing. I’m always noticing and pointing them out wherever I go. Weeds are fascinating plants, and the study of them is interesting work.

We saw a bald eagle while we were parked and enjoying our “car picnic”; i.e., a picnic in the car because 28 F is too darn cold to be picnicking outside.

Each year at this time there is a Western Society of Weed Science (WSWS) Conference. I attended the conference for 7 years, presenting on various research projects I had been involved in, and I’m feeling a little sad about not being there this year. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll take some time here to talk about some of the work that I’ve found most interesting during my years as a weed science researcher.

While I can identify and tell you about many weeds of landscape and agricultural settings, my real expertise is in weeds of natural areas. One of my major focuses was weed mapping; detecting and then describing weed infestations in a spatial/visual manner – a map. When explaining the idea of weed mapping to others we often compare it to a medical diagnosis and treatment. Without having the proper diagnosis (a weed map telling you what weeds you have and where they are located) it is hard, if not impossible, to prescribe an appropriate treatment (management plant).

Tundra swans! (With some phragmites, a problematic weed in areas like this, in the foreground.)

My weed identification skills are much better than my bird identification skills, but I’m 99% certain this is a great blue heron.

Over the years the USU weed science group has worked with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on weed mapping projects. And through it all, the aim was never to just create maps to give back to these agencies, but to also improve our methods. How can we be more efficient, yet still effective? How do emerging technologies – like drones – play into the detection process? How do we know which species we should focus our efforts on? And how can we know where to focus our searches so we’re using limited budgets wisely?

In a joint project with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we attempted to answer some of those questions. Throughout that process I got to work at four different wildlife refuges: San Diego NWR, Middle Mississippi NWR, Ruby Lake NWR, and the San Juan Islands NWR. In addition to those visits, I also got to travel and conduct workshops at three other refuges (Kern NWR, San Pablo Bay NWR, and Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes NWR) teaching them how to use the decision-making tool we’d developed.

One of the ways the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge manages the land – both for managing weeds as well as for desired vegetation for bird habitat – is through burning and seasonal flooding.

Each of those refuges had their own challenges – the San Juan Islands, for example, are islands and only some-what accessible, even with a boat – but they all had one thing in common. At each refuge we met passionate scientists, dedicated to making their little corner of the world, and the land in their stewardship, better. And that interaction with other scientists is probably what I miss most about not working full-time any more. And it is definitely what I miss most this week when many of my former colleagues are at the WSWS meetings.

In the meantime, I’ll keep noticing and pointing out the weeds (and whatever other plants catch my eye). And I’ll keep spending time in those natural areas I have come to love even more through knowing their weeds.

The (vivacious, spunky, energetic) reason I don’t currently work full-time as a weeds researcher. Watching her learn and explore the world is worth missing all the conferences.

Garden Tour: Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

You know that song “Sisters” from White Christmas? You know… “Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters…” This has become the theme song for my sisters and me. I’m the second of five kids, and four of us are sisters. My brother is smack dab in the middle. And he loves it. Right, Nate? Continue reading

Tree ID Books: A Review

I used a dichotomous key for the first time way back in elementary school. Way, way back. Which means my memory of the details is fuzzy, but I do remember this: going out near the playground where there were some large trees (ash, willow, maybe cottonwood?) and some not quite as large trees (crabapples, I think) and we learned how to identify a tree using a key. Obviously, it must have been quite a simplified key, and probably just for the trees we would encounter out there. Regardless of how simplified or not the keys may have been, the lesson stuck with me; you can identify a tree (or any other plant) by paying close attention to its parts.

In the third installment of my reviews and recommendations for plant identification guides, we’ll take a look at a couple books about trees, one of which has a lovely dichotomous key to help you along.

(I took some photos of the books, but didn’t realize I had the lens cap on my camera. *face palm* So, if you click on the title of the book, you’ll be taken to the description of the book on the Logan Library website. I’m a big advocate of libraries, so check to see if yours has the books!)

The first book is Trees of Utah and the Intermountain West: a Guide to Identification and Use by Michael Kuhns. This book gives well-written descriptions about both native and introduced trees that you will encounter in Utah and the surrounding states. There’s not really a good dichotomous key, so you have to have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking at before you thumb through the book to check and see if you are right.

However, one of the highlights of the book is the section on use in the back. There are extensive tables listing all of the trees in the book and their stats – mature size, aspect needs, whether it has specific ornamental qualities like flowering or fall color, general shape, and overall home landscape suitability. For that reason alone I would recommend this book.

The second book is the National Geographic Field Guide to the Trees of North America by Keith Rushforth. This book is one that I would recommend if you want an easy-to-use general guide of trees of North America. Obviously not all trees within the country can be contained in one, packable field guide, but the most common ones  are included. The dichotomous key at the front of the book doesn’t have too many technical terms, so you won’t have to have a botanical dictionary on hand to use it, but it does help to have some familiarity with plant terms. If you need some brushing up on the difference between simple and compound leaves or the different fruit types, there are some nice illustrations also included.

The key itself only gets you to the tree family, and then you have to thumb through the pages dedicated to that family to find your particular tree of question. That being said, having a reduced key makes for an easier to use (and carry with you) book.

 

Do you have any favorite tree id books?

Wildflower ID Books: A Review

The snow may be melting here, but I know that getting new snow is still a very real possibility. And it could happen all the way through April. Or May. Or even June. I remember a couple years getting snow in June. But luckily from here on out any new snow we do get probably isn’t going to stick around for too long.  Well, at least down here in the valley. There is still plenty of snow in the mountains – and that’s a good thing – but the truth is, I’ve already started dreaming about summer, and hiking, and wildflowers.

Continue reading

Winter

snowshoeing, Art Nord trail, Ogden Valley

Snow covered conifers get me every time. I love ’em!

Winter

The now fell softly through the night

And in the morn, behold

A glorious picture crystal bright

To my vision now unforlds.

 

I gaze with wonder and delight

At such a scene as this.

The earth is robed in purest white,

And nothing seems amiss.

 

For every tree and every bough

With reverence bending low

Seems as in prayer for tender care,

And the peaceful scene below.

 

And on each bough and each fine twig

A thousand diamonds shine,

And cast their sparkling glory forth

A picture most sublime.

 

The fool, and he alone hath said

In his heart, “There is no God,”

But all around us men can see

His marvelous works of love.

— Emma Thornley —

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