Guest post: Botany is not dead, but this plant is

Jennifer Ackerfield, Herbarium Curator in the Biology Department, shows off specimens in the CSU collection. May 12, 2015. Image via J. Ackerfield.

Jennifer Ackerfield, Herbarium Curator in the Biology Department, shows off specimens in the CSU collection. May 12, 2015. Image via J. Ackerfield.

Guest post from Colorado State University Herbarium Collections Manager Jennifer Ackerfield. She literally wrote the book on Colorado flora.

Botany is not dead, but this plant is: The importance of herbaria in the 21st century and beyond

Herbarium.  For many, this one word invokes images of a dark, dusty place, a mortuary for plants you might say.  But for me, it invokes images of carefully examining plant specimens for taxonomic studies, lively scientific debate, group collaborative efforts to key out difficult plants, and students talking and working and most of all learning.

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Our Man in Savana

hmmm what to put here

See what I did there? Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Our friend the mesquite seems to pop up in the most unlikely of places. Mesquite, a genus which includes thorny desert shrubs/trees from various parts of the Americas, perhaps most clearly demonstrates the importance of context. It’s not that a species is inherently bad because it’s invasive. Or, to go as far as some naysayers, that to want to prevent or remove invasive species is a sign of xenophobia. What that argument glosses over, is that context is key. For example, mangos are delicious… unless you are allergic.

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What is going on with invasive knapweed? OR How I spent my PhD

Over the course of my PhD work (published here, and most recently here), I have found evidence for evolved differences in phenotype (in other words, in their morphology, development, phenology, stress responses) between native and invasive populations of diffuse knapweed. Why is that interesting? Well the invasive populations didn’t even exist until barely 100 years ago. And something about them has let them succeed and spread over vast areas of their new habitat. Perhaps what has made them so successful can be revealed by comparing the invasive diffuse knapweed populations to their closest relatives, the native diffuse knapweed populations.

Knapweed in the greenhouse, 2009.

Knapweed in the greenhouse, 2009.

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How have we never talked about knapweed before???

Surely I’m not the only one that thinks of their study organism in terms of fictional criminal geniuses?

Wow, sorry folks, I’ve been slacking, and that whole PhD thing is a sorry excuse! Let me tell you a little natural history about a plant called diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa), the  Dr. Moriarty to my Sherlock Holmes.

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Super secret project: Revealed!

plague-of-species-headerHello gentle reader! It’s been ages, I know. But I’ve been scheming schemes. I’ve been working on a little secret project with game designer Elizabeth Steward. We are designing a game about invasive species (with a dollop of evolution, and a smattering of economics)! It’s still in the works, but perhaps you would like to check out what we have so far? PLAGUE OF SPECIES!!! Every time I start thinking about this, I get almost too excited for intelligent speech. So that could be a problem.

Students of Ethnobotany: Himalayan blackberry, my favorite invasive plant

blackberries

Foraged blackberries. Photo by Amy J.

This new series of Students of Ethnobotany: Round 2 starts off with a bang and a paradox – a plant that is both wonderfully useful and terribly invasive – thanks to the keen observations of human nature by Amy J.

When I first moved to Vancouver, I was thrilled to discover that blackberries grow wild along the sides of roads and on the edges of forests here.

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