Monday, December 20, 2010

Fern Rap

Several of my fellow TAs in the Botany Department are teaching Introductory Biology this semester, a giant, 1,000-student mega-class. One of the professors offered the students the opportunity to write a song to get extra credit... and one of the results is an absolutely phenomenal effort by a group of these students. My fellow grads let me know about it, for soon-to-be-obvious reasons, and the professor gave me the audio file and permission to post it here. I hope you'll join me in appreciation of these students' efforts and their scientifically accurate (but for a tiny detail or two) composition putting the fern life cycle to song. I (well actually they) give you the Fern Rap.

For your reading/following-along pleasure, here arethe lyrics:

I’m a fern in the world, just trying to grow

Fertilization and cell division is all that I know

I just want to survive and spread my spores

And know I’m not a peach but my life is hard core

They say I’m a monilophyte but you can call me a fern

My life’s been a long one, with many twists and turns

Sometimes it’s hard to discern what stage I’m in

Let me welcome you to my world, let the story begin

I started out as a spore, on the bottom of a leaf

Grew up in a sporophyte, my release was a relief

I had many brothers and sisters, and some of them didn’t make it

But sometimes life is hard, and the goal is just to stay fit

I was a small little guy, all alone and homeless

But I soon started to grow I guess you could say mitosis

And pretty soon fertilization became my focus

But I knew finding a mate for me was pretty much hopeless

I’m a fern in the world, just trying to grow

Fertilization and cell division is all that I know

I just want to survive and spread my spores

And know I’m not a peach but my life is hard core

So I fertilized myself just not to remain childless

I really didn’t care that all my kids would be homozygous

It really wasn’t hard there was no pandemonium

I just put sperm from my antheridia into my archegonium

So now I was a zygote, yeah from 1N to two

The best years of my life, and upwards I grew

The increase in my size was all in my genetics

And it also didn’t hurt that I was photosynthetic

I grew and I grew and it seemed like overnight

I reached my final stage and became a sporophyte

So now I’m making sporangium all on my own

And just hoping my little spores, will all find a home

Monday, November 1, 2010

To bed for the winter...

Hi all! As usually happens during the winter months, I expect a lull in my blogging output from late November through mid-spring (which, in Wisconsin, is around late April). I just wanted to post a putting-to-bed message so you don't think I've shut up shop. I'll post sporadically over the winter months and will be back full-force in the spring. Wish me luck with winter's primary activity: writing proposals to try and secure funding for my next field season! Happy holidays to all.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Huntington Botanical Gardens, CA

Usually the start of the fall semester signals the end of big botanical field trips for me, but this year was an exception. A few weeks ago I went to Anaheim, CA to recruit graduate students for my department at a conference. There was another botany grad with me and we had a few hours free to explore one afternoon. The best attraction we could think of was the Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens in San Marino (take that, Disneyland!), where many of our friends and colleagues have visited and/or worked. Since our time was limited, we did a whirlwind tour of the garden, spending the most time in the Japanese and Desert sections. Alas, there were no ferns in these parts, but some beautiful other plants nonetheless. The bonsai collection was particularly impressive (shown above), as were the extensive cacti in the desert, below.

Last but not least, we saw some pollination in action!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fall find

There are no ferns in this post, but there is someone green... found on a recent field trip to Spring Green, Wisconsin. This photo was taken by fellow UW-Botany grad student Brent Berger. I provided the finger-perch. Happy Fall!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Robert Treman State Park, NY

The last field trip I took while in Ithaca was to Robert Treman State Park. This is a beautiful place with many miles of trails connecting the Upper entrance, descending past waterfalls and through gorges, to the lower entrance several miles away. We started at the upper entrance and hiked down past Lucifer Falls, in search of a grove of Dryopteris goldiana that was known to occur near the base of this waterfall. We found it growing happily in a lush carpet of Vinca:

Farther along, we also came across some Asplenium trichomanes growing on a little shelf in the rock wall, and near the end of the trail, back at the upper parking lot, we spotted a patch of Cryptogramma stelleri, which I hadn't seen in the wild before. Two photos of each are below. All in all, a great trip to upstate New York!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

East Malloryville Preserve, Ithaca, NY

After visiting Thurber Preserve I was eager to see how the other populations of Dryopteris around Ithaca were doing, so I went next to one of my very favorite nature reserves, the von Engeln or Malloryville preserve. This is a beautiful place with a very nice, easy to hike trail system. The trails start on top of glacial eskers and wind downhill into swamp and bog, which are traversed by boardwalks. There are many, many ferns here and I was happy to find several Dryopteris that I had been hoping to discover here, but hadn't seen previously, including D. goldiana:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Thurber Preserve, Dryden, NY

After the Botany conference I travelled to upstate New York, where I used to live, and where there is an abundance of Dryopteris species (if only I'd known while I still lived there...). I visited several preserves and state parks, some of which I hope to use as field sites for additional physiology studies to be conducted next summer. One of my favorite places is Thurber Preserve, since it was there that I saw D. clintoniana for the first time. I wanted to go back to check on the population and make sure it would be healthy enough to withstand a few measurements next summer, and I was delighted to find that the ferns are doing great! The population was larger than I remembered, and spans the edge of the swamp from forest to thicket, mostly in the shady areas. Wherever direct sunlight hit, that seemed to be the boundary beyond which D. clintoniana would not trespass.

This species is a polyploid, and the only hexaploid known in the North American Dryopteris complex (it has 3 duplicate genomes). Its putative parents are D. goldiana and D. cristata, the latter of which is a tetraploid (two duplicated genomes... so D. clintoniana has 2 from D. cristata plus 1 from D. goldiana and you have 3). This species most closely resembles its D. cristata parent, except that it is gigantic in comparison. It gets the size boost from D. goldiana. Notice in particular the horizontal arrangement of the pinnae in the photo below... the clear hallmark of D. cristata.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dryopteris boottii

This summer the Botanical Society of America's annual conference was held in Providence, Rhode Island. As always, on the Saturday before the conference begins there are a number of field trips offered, and the American Fern Society usually co-hosts one. On this year's trip we went to several locations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and saw many of the common local ferns. One particular treat was seeing a Dryopteris hybrid I haven't seen before (which is surprising, since it's one of the more common ones). Dryopteris x boottii is a sterile hybrid between D. intermedia and D. cristata, the intermediate and crested woodferns.

There are clearly elements of both parents' morphology in this hybrid. The overall shape of the mature fronds resembles D. intermedia (first photo below), and the younger ones look like D. cristata (second photo below). The pinnae also have the unmistakable D. cristata-twist - they look like panes in a Venetian blind, each held horizontal relative to the rachis (see photo above). The plants are way too big to be just crested woodfern though, and there are occasional glands along the rachis and pinna blades that also identify the D. intermedia parent.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fern Physiology

While last summer's visit to the Hurons was purely a reconnaissance mission, this time we had a specific mission: data gathering. Specifically, I'm interested in a number of physiological traits relating to light and water use for my PhD research, and we were measuring the various species of Dryopteris that occur in the Hurons. The Huron Mountain Wildlife Foundationawarded me a research grant to hire an assistant, which was essential while working in the often-secluded habitats of these ferns, and it was great to have someone to help carry all the equipment! One of the main goals was to make photosynthetic measurements on all the species, using a fancy machine called a Licor LI6400. These first few pictures show the Licor set up and clamped onto a leaf of Dryopteris fragrans growing on a sandstone cliff. This was the most harrowing part of the whole trip, since it involved ferrying the Licor across a large lake in a rowboat, then scrambling with it up the rocky, pine-needle covered hill to get to these cliffs. Each LI6400 costs somewhere around $50,000, so perhaps you appreciate my concern.

I also need data on the light environments these plants experience naturally, so we took some short and long-term dataloggers along to capture information about incident radiation around the places. This was a bit of a challenge and required some MacGyvering with wire and duct tape for the cliff-dwelling D. fragrans, as you can see in the following photos.

One other way to measure a plant's light environment uses hemispheric photographs, which can be fed into computer programs with climate and light data for a given location. I find the photos taken above D. fragrans entertaining because most of them have some of the cliff in them. They also frequently have the plants themselves, since they're growing upside down attached to the rock overhangs.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Polystichum lonchitis

In the same location where we found Dryopteris filix-mas, we also came across a few plants of Polystichum lonchitis, bringing my North America Polystichum count to five (along with P. acrostichoides, P. braunii, P. andersonii, and P. munitum). The leaves are mostly erect, with a distinct arch at the tips (more obvious in the younger, bright green leaves). This species hybridizes with several other Polystichums, and has apparently also been known to form hybrids with Dryopteris goldiana. The offspring of that odd pairing were dubbed genus x Dryostichum by Herb Wagner, with only one species: x D. singulare.

Dryopteris filix-mas

A highlight of this trip to the Hurons was seeing Dryopteris filix-mas in this region for the first time. D. filix-mas is common in Washington and the Pacific Northwest, but is otherwise too far north to be found in the U.S., though it is found pretty much across the width of Canada. However, it does get down into the U.P. in a few places, as well as in the northern part of MI's Lower Peninsula. We found one of those places along county route 510, northwest of Marquette. There were several large patches of the ferns on rocky outcrops in a forested, well-drained and shady area south of the road (with the ferns on the north and east facing slopes). It's a large species, with very large fronds, and the characteristic kidney-bean shaped sori found in all Dryopteris (see below).