Wow. I’ve been neglecting this little space here for the last month and a half. For the handful of you who actually read this, I apologize. I haven’t forgotten it, or given it up. And I definitely haven’t run out of plant-related topics to talk about. Somehow, life – my professional weed science researcher life – has been a bit busy.

yucca, San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

I really liked how this particular grouping of yucca captured all the life stages (starting in the bottom right corner and working left): a vegetative rosette, a bolting plant (I think it looks like asparagus at this stage), a flower plant, and a senescent (or dying/dead) plant.

Oh, and I’m working on growing a human, too. Turns out it is just as exhausting as everyone says.

But that’s another discussion for another time.

I have more houseplants to introduce you to, and with spring in full gear we can actually get gardening in the outdoors again, too. But today, I wanted to give you a glimpse into my other reality. That weed science researcher reality.

San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

A view of the terrain we were traversing for a week. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be “hilly”.

I used to tell people that winter was the slow time for work. The time to get caught up on reports and plan for the coming field season. After this winter I’m going to have to stop telling people that. Yes, I have been catching up on reports. And yes, I have been planning for the upcoming field season. But we’ve also had some substantial greenhouse studies going on (that have even put my sewing skills to use). And I’ve been trying to get some research written up for publication in peer reviewed journals. We’ve also been traveling to various professional meetings – the Utah Weed Control Association meeting in Vernal, where I helped teach a sprayer calibration lab as well as taught some plant identification of some newly invading weed species, and the Western Society of Weed Science meetings in Albuquerque, where I presented on some of our recent research involving vegetation monitoring and weed mapping.

wildflowers, San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

Another view of the terrain we were traversing. Because of the way we were conducting the inventory, we didn’t always just stick to roads and trails – sometimes we got to bushwack.

And then we’ve been doing some weed mapping. In March. Normally our mapping season starts in May, with some training. This year, we started in March. Well, really, this project dates back to 2011 when a cooperative project between Utah State University and the Fish and Wildlife Service focused on prioritizing inventory targets and conducting invasive species inventories began. Initially, four wildlife refuges were inventoried for weeds. A few years later, two additional refuges were added to the list. And this year, we got to go back to one of those original refuges and do a partial re-inventory of selected species. Which was the lucky refuge, you might ask?

California poppy, native plants, wildflowers, San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

I know the orange ones are California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), but I don’t know the identity of the purple ones.

Destination: San Diego, California

Admittedly, not a bad place to spend a week. Over the course of a week we covered approximately 35 miles (on foot, with an additional 10 or so from the vehicle) of roads and trails. We focused on 6 specific weeds, and found all six of them at varying levels of infestation. We got sunburned (that first sunscreen application of the year never seems to provide complete coverage it seems). But we saw no ticks or rattlesnakes (which was a big improvement from four years ago). And I took way too many pictures of plants that aren’t weeds.

dodder, indian paintbrush, San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

The paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) really was that brilliantly colored, as was the dodder (Cuscuta sp.) – the spaghetti or silly-string looking stuff. Dodder is a devastating parasitic plant when in an agricultural setting, but this particular dodder is native to the area, so the refuge folks let it be.

I know it’s only April, and we were getting snowed on last week, but it looks like the “slow winter season” is officially over.

Here’s to more weed mapping (with no ticks or rattlesnakes) this field season.

San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, native plants, cactus

Watch out for the cactus! So spiny, yet so cool.