Wild about wildflowers

I don’t study cute, fuzzy little critters that tug at your heart strings. I’m not one of those adventurous students that spend their summers catching snakes. And as cute as little birds are, they’re just not my kinda thing. My study species don’t require live traps, they don’t slither away as you chase them, and they certainly don’t fly, at least not on their own. If you haven’t guessed already I study plants – mostly herbaceous species typical of south eastern Ontario including wildflowers, grasses and sedges.

Now I know what you’re thinking – that I spend all day frolicking in fields of wildflowers, basking in the sun, feeling the wind in my hair…NOT true!! Most of the data I have collected involved really tedious, careful work in conditions that may appear lovely, but can certainly be challenging to say the least. Most of my work to date has taken place on QUBS properties and my first fieldwork experience at QUBS was in the summer of 2009.

Before fieldwork… there was grass, and there were weeds and then there were trees. I didn’t know much at all. I quickly discovered the incredible diversity of the Kingston and surrounding area. Weeds quickly became beautiful, delicate wildflowers. Grasses were no longer just short little green stubs growing on a lawn, but little bundles of life exploding like fountains when they flower. Trees weren’t just tall plants people cut down to build stuff with. They became magical organisms each with their own story, many of which could tell me tales from way before my time.

One of the big parts of fieldwork for me, as a plant community ecologist, is getting to know the species of the area. I can probably ID about 200 species commonly found in this area and that number is barely scratching the surface. My first field season started in early May just at the peak of spring wildflower season.  I was handed a copy of Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and taught how to key out plants. We puttered around to practice our plant ID skills and I came across the plant pictured below. It had interesting looking white and yellow flowers and I remember laughing to myself and thinking that the flowers almost looked like little pairs of underpants hung out to dry. I pulled out the guide book and lone behold, the plant keyed out as Dicentra Cucullaria or what is commonly known as “Dutchman’s breeches”. Later that year I came across Matricaria discoidea or pineapple weed. It literally smells like pineapples (and even kinda looks like them a bit too)… so cool! Other neat finds that summer included jack-go-to-bed-at-noon or more commonly known as goatsbeard, Tragopogon pratensis. The flowers open with the sun and close down shop aroundnoon each day – really neat!

 

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

Pineapple weed

Pineapple weed

Goatsbeard

Goatsbeard

I liked plants before that – I thought they were neat but I didn’t love them. After that summer I loved them. I must have loved them a lot because here I am… summer 2014 in the second field season of my PhD. As one of the permanent bloggers for Dispatches from the field I really look forward to sharing my experiences over the past 5 years as a field biologist and letting you, our readers, take a closer look at what really happens in the field (and for me that literally means in the field)!

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