June 17, 2011
In this short week, we have been exposed to many different aspects of conservation activity that gave us a glimpse of the upcoming tasks our internship will entail: building trials, removing invasive plant special, giving interpretative hikes, recognizing political contention between the conservancy and locals of Catalina, and identifying plants. As overwhelming as it may sound, it actually blew my mind to find there was so much to do in my field, and I was excited! And today was no different; we got to add plant pressing to our list of new skills. We had the pleasure of meeting with John R. Clark, Senior Plant Biologist and Curator of the Herbarium at the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. Although we had been to the Garden earlier this week, we never entered the herbarium. This time we got to peek at the enormous collection of plant pressing and learn about the process. To be honest, I didn’t know what a herbarium was, I kept calling it a herbatory. I learned that a herbarium is a building or institution that stores a collection of the preserved plant specimens, similar to a library. Herbaria (plural form) keep precise records and are very resourceful. People can study plant taxonomy, identify unknown plants, make comparisons, and research how the plants evolve. More importantly a herbarium records the plants in an area and keeps a timeline of change in vegetation.
For our internship, we will prepare our own plant pressing collection for the trail since no one has collected plant species at that site yet. For each plant species, we will gather five samples, unless they are rare. The collected samples are distributed among us, the Wrigley herbarium, and the other herbaria. Once we have our samples, we will press them, classify them, and make labels for them. The pressing process is another topic that we will delve into when we start collecting our specimen. However, today, we helped attached labels and envelopes on to the pressed paper. The small envelopes, called “frag packs” were used to collect stray pieces of the plants that fell apart. It was important to collect these tiny structures because they could be crucial to aiding other people who are looking at the samples. I also learned there were other methods of preserving plant specimens, such as in plastic or glass jars. These were called spirit or wet collections. Delicate structures, such as a flower or algae, were kept in glass jars with liquid preservative such as ethyl alcohol.
As we prepared to take another hike through the garden, John showed us something cool. He discovered that some flowers had holes near the bottom of the petal. Apparently, the humming birds were poking the bottom of the flower to steal the nectar, making them nectar thieves. It seemed that the size of the hummingbird’s bill was incompatible with the flower petals. We made a trip around the garden and up to the memorial. As we looked down at the garden from the top, John told us that there were plans to change the layout of the garden, to make it more aesthetically pleasing as well as more sustainable. One idea was to redo the pathway through the garden. Instead of having a straight path down to the entrance, John was thinking of having the path meander throughout the garden. This would prevent erosion. Later, we adventured into a hidden trail. We jumped over the fence and walked through a trench. The vegetation through this trail was clearly different; it was made up of riparian woodland plant community, very green and lush with lots of trees hanging on top of us. I really adored this little path. After our hike, Sarah Ratay, the senior plant ecologist, joined us, and we had lunch under the pavilion and watched some educational Conservancy videos. Sarah’s favorite was the bison one, titled “Going Home”. It was really moving; it detailed the process of shipping bison back to South Dakota in order to control their population on Catalina. It didn’t have a lot of words, just a lot of Native American-inspired music that made it very emotional. Afterwards, we helped out with the presses. It was extremely fun and therapeutic gluing labels and envelopes.
For more pictures check this album: Day 6 Visiting John Clark and sarah at the Herbarium