Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Maine DIFW Regional Wildlife Biologist Intern Week 5

February 13-February 19 "It's not all Fun and Games, Especially Since I Damaged my Boss's Truck"
I got stuck a few times.

I have something to admit folks; the dates really don't have much to do with what I actually write. I just take notes down in my IFW field notebook and notice that I often miss things from weeks before and will weave them in where appropriate. This is one of those examples.

A regional wildlife biologist job doesn't consist of all awesome things; there's often a lot of maintenance work that one would hope to escape in a job like this. But, alas, it is all a part of the job and is what keeps the ol' wildlife system working!

As you all know, we have got a lot of snow recently. A LOT of snow. And there are a lot of doors surrounding the office building. One of my days, already cut short from slow driving in after a class, was spent shoveling out the doorways to meet state codes to allow for fire escapes and yadda. The picture below is the deepest one I had to dig out.

Several weeks ago was another labor intensive task (my favorite), which was slightly more wildlife related. The state operates and manages Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) all throughout the state, and when a new parcel of land is acquired, we have to blaze the property lines to prevent any future confusion or accidental law violations. This involved walking out there with a machete, locating the line, and following it for about a mile while swinging the machete at any twig in the way of the line.

It seemed pretty easy at first, then we hit some really thick patches of young hemlock trees. Here's an example of what it looked like after we cut through; beforehand, imagine just not being able to see through, with your vision completely blocked by the boughs.
You can just barely make out the tunnel going through to the other side in the center.

We did, however, stumble across a new moose yard when we were out there, so that was exciting!

Finally, bad things happen. Oftentimes they are preventable, and some are not. Almost everyone in the department has damaged a state vehicle in one way or another; my boss having flipped a snowmobile on his very first day, a colleague having ripped the skid plate off of a truck, a warden putting a big dent in the side from a tree, etc. I added myself to that list recently by absolutely scraping the heck out of the side of my boss's truck while trying to be thoughtful and moving it for him before we blocked him into the garage with the snowmobile trailer. I have now learned that even if your mirror makes it past the garage entrance, it doesn't mean that the rest of the vehicle will in the truck world.


Well done Greg.

No no really, good job.

I contacted my supervisor about this immediately (as any intern should) and left him a voicemail (it was approximately 6PM and everyone had gone home at this pont, except myself and my co-intern). I've learned that they really don't pick up their phones often and I have yet to see him or hear from him, so who knows what he things about it. I did at least offer to bring it to the garage in Augusta for repairs and back for him since it literally just came back from doing so.

In closing, I want to close with a memorium of this truck before I got my hands on it. Thank you all for coming.

-trumpet taps playing in the background followed by bagpipes-

Maine DIFW Regional Wildlife Biologist Intern Week 4

February 6 - February 12 "I appreciate the offer, but I'm working"

Finally, some fisheries work! Even though I'm primarily a wildlife guy, I've never done anything related to fisheries before and was hoping to get some good fisheries experience with this internship. So far, I haven't been let down.

Like the wildlife work, IFW fisheries work has its own 'bread and butter'; this primarily takes the form of creel censuses and lab work. Creel censuses are pretty straightforward; fisheries biologists go out onto bodies of water and take data on fish being caught by anglers. We'll approach them, ask them what fish they have caught, and if they have kept any, we ask to see them and gather data on them. We also give them the option of letting us take the fish. For the most part, people are pretty open to these things, and about half of the folks will let you take their fish. These are used for population estimates, and if they're taken back to the lab, they can be aged, dissected to determine eating habits, and more.

Ice fishing derbies are great for this, because our sample size gets a lot bigger. For those that aren't involved in the scientific field, a larger sample size means that we can make a better, more accurate guess as to what is going on (like whether the number of fish are growing or shrinking, if there's a disease that can cause some concern, if a fish species is dominating a lake, etc.). This past weekend, Sabattus Pond had hosted its own ice fishing derby, and so IFW was out in force to gather data (as well as to enforce laws in the form of eight Game Wardens).

Sabattus is notorious for its horrific ecological past. Through the 1900s, it was heavily polluted by a nearby poultry farm that resulted in major algal blooms in the pond, shutting down the beach on its south end and choking out the life within it. While that problem has been largely fixed now, it is now facing a new problem; it has been overrun by introduced pike (Esox lucius) and crappie (Pomoxis sp.).

As the intern, I had the pleasure of walking around tugging a little sled behind me with my equipment while my fellow biologists took the farther reaches of the pond with their snowmobiles. Eagles soared overhead, looking for forgotten fish on the ice (remember how often it is for eagles to starve from my first post?!).
It was pretty cold out there.

There were several hundred people on the ice at any given time; I was told that somewhere between 800 and in excess of 1000 had come through the derby entrance. I interacted with probably about 100 of them. There was a wide range in how people reacted; some were ecstatic and very kind, others were very cautious and seemed weirded out. Some people didn't even realize I worked for the state despite my uniform, which was especially apparent when I walked up to a group of teens who were talking about how they hadn't seen any wardens around so "it's not a problem" (I had no idea what they were up to, but it wasn't my job to enforce any law; I was just there to collect data and not cause a problem). It also became apparent with the amount of alcohol I was offered by overly nice fishermen, to which I always replied "I appreciate the offer, but I'm working." Most people were pretty understanding. It's good to know that people at least have a really high opinion of our state's biologists!

After gathering a full sled worth of pike, crappie, and perch, I tugged my loot to our trucks and met up with another biologist, an old coworker of mine from a diner in my high school years and a Unity grad. We took a quick spin over to check out the current standings for the derby; at the time that I left, the winning fish was 15.82 pounds. There were some pretty big pike coming out of that lake! (Although, I'm told that even bigger fish have come out of that lake before).
The winning fish of the day. The children's competition entries are the perch on the left.

These fish are dissected back at the office and data is gathered on what they've been eating, their weight, size measurements, and more. The cleithrum is taken from behind the gills (a bony plate that gives the gills some structure) and, once cleaned off in some boiling water, they can be used to age in a manner very similar to a tree; rings form throughout the cleithrum, with each ring representing an approximate year.

The fisheries lab.

Boiling the flesh off of a cleithrum so the rings can be seen.

This was just the start of my fisheries adventures, and I hope to get involved with more soon!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Maine DIFW Regional Wildlife Biologist Intern Week 3

January 29-February 5 "It's Probably All Gonna be More Boring than this Post"

So, week three was very interesting and I worked an extra day. That extra day was this past Wednesday. I was alerted the day before that "tomorrow is probably your last chance to go on a bear capture with Randy (Maine's bear biologist)". I didn't even know this was occurring, so I suddenly cleared my schedule for the next day and prepared for a hike up to La Grange to meet up with Maine's bear crew.

Now, mind you that morning was a bit of a cluster; we got a pretty nasty amount of snow fall. My car is a two wheel drive little sedan, and having to drive through the back country roads to meet my coworkers at a location in Canaan was a real challenge. Cars were off the road here and there, the roads hadn't been plowed for hours, and help seemed far away. I could've turned around and honestly should have, but pressed on.

Turns out, they moved from Canaan to a location in Clinton, so I felt a little goose-chasey trying to find them. I finally located all of them up an icy driveway, where two biologists stood with hockey helmets on.

"We've got two deer in a trap" my co-intern told me.

I didn't even KNOW we were doing a deer capture today. I've seen the deer crew at work before, but had never seen them capture a deer. Normally, only one wonders into the square kennel-like netted structure, but this one had two. So, Kyle Ravana, Maine's deer biologist, and Kelsey Sullivan, Maine's gamebird/waterfowl biologist, were padded up and helmeted, ready to get in the ring with the deer.

The purpose of the deer study is to monitor deer population and habitat use; each captured deer get's a radio collar and ear tags. If a hunter shoots a deer with ear tags, this information is used to model the deer's population size in a "mark-recapture" style equation. The collar lets biologists find out where they're hanging out.

So, with myself quickly fidgeting my camera gear together and my fellow biologists getting ready, we full-on sprinted toward the trap (called a 'Clover Trap') where the deer were held. The faster we got there, the less likely a deer was going to hurt itself or pull the trap out of the ground and escape.

We all fell in unison down an icy hill. Our ice grips didn't do a thing for us as we slipped along the woods at the fastest speed we could go.

The two deer saw us coming from a ways and were panicking. Probably more surprising was when the two armored biologists opened up the door and tackled them both. They thrashed, kicked, and bounced about in that small trap; one almost got out with its head just out of the door. They let out goat-like bleats as they were wrestled down. It looked violent, but these biologists have done this over a hundred times before, and they knew the proper deer-martial-arts techniques to avoid accidentally breaking a leg or catching a hoof to the throat.

With them pinned down, Kendall, a highly revered and humble wildlife biologist from my office in Sidney, began to rip out the equipment from his bag. Two collars, ear tag clip, ear tags, pliers, and a screw driver. All high-speed.

The biologists were sucking wind from exhaustion as the deer still fought. Kendall had me load up the ear tag clips and get the collars ready to rock. One collar was screwed on and adjusted. Then the other. Then came the ear tags, much to the dismay of the deer. With each numbered and collared, we opened the door entirely, and the biologists let off the deer. They bounded off, white fluffy tails a-floppin', slipping and actually falling on the ice where we had. Everyone fist bumped and congratulated each other. A real efficient biologist team doing some awesome work.

But, me and my co-intern were on a time crunch to meet the bear crew up in Old Town. So, with conditions still poor, I parked my car at the nearest Dunkin' Donuts and hopped in the IFW truck, all the way up to a gas station in Old Town. Three vans of University of Maine Orono wildlife seniors awaited. The biologists showed up in their much bigger, much nicer trucks, with some mean looking snowmobiles in pickup.

The bear crew is a bad bunch (of course, "bad" meaning "really, really cool" in this sense). It consists of Randy Cross, a 31-year Maine bear veteran with scars all over from bear captures gone wrong; Jen Vashon, Maine's lynx biologist and Bear Study Leader; Lisa "Kid" Bates, a real fierce Unity grad who survived a helicopter crash with an impaled leg and amnesia, dragging her unconscious and horrifically wounded copilot through the woods to safety; Ethan "Roach", an ex-deer crew member; and Jake "Jumper", a smoke-jumper who jumped into forest fires for a living and perhaps the only current biologist in Maine with no college education.

We drove over to a location in LaGrange where a collared black bear was hibernating. A mile or so into the woods, in a patch of alders, under a collapsed tree, was a lone, small black bear; it was a yearling. Normally, they still have their mothers with them at this time.
The bear as it was found; partially covered in snow and curled into at tight ball. We ensured it was in better cover by the time we left.

The bear crew pondered at what may have happened to the mother; hunting, roadkill, abandonment; who knows.

The crew tranquilized it with a jab-stick and let it settle before moving it out. After about half an hour, it was considered clear, and they tugged it out and carried it over to a blanket with an assortment of gear.

Since it was tranquilized, this was a bit more relaxed and less pressed for time than the deer. The bear crew took a shed paw pad sample, its weight (40lbs!), and other data. They also fixed a new collar onto him since he was beginning to outgrow the one he got as a new cub.
About to weigh the bear.

About to give the bear a tattoo identification on the gums with a tattoo gun.

Affixing the new radio collar.

After this was all said and done, we administered the antidote for the tranquilizer, placed him back into his den, and "tucked him in" by placing pine boughs and brush over his den to help him keep warm. He was, after all, covered in snow when he was found.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it out with the bear crew again as it requires a huge time commitment, but I hope to be catching more deer in the near future!

Next week will finally be when I get into fisheries stuff. Should be fun!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Maine DIFW Regional Wildlife Biologist Intern Week 2

January 24-January 28 "Porcupine Horror Movie"

Week two already! It always feels good to put the uniform on, head out into the flag, and as my supervisor Keel says, "fly the flag".

Sadly, one of my classes in the morning got out late, so I regret to inform you that instead of telling you about wrestling white tailed deer out of nets and putting radio collars and tags on them, I missed the opportunity and got to be on land survey duty again.This time, though, it was all about Swan Island in Richmond.

Swan Island is a very large "island" in the middle of the Kennebec River at the tip of Merrymeeting Bay. It may look inland, but the waters are tidal from the ocean just beyond your sight. It's an IFW managed area, which is essentially shut down this time of year, but is a bustling place in the summer. Visitors come from all over Maine for its fantastic bird watching and wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as camping and summer programs. It is run by folks contracted by IFW who have staff housing on the island, which is a sister to several other buildings on the island. These buildings were our purpose of the day; we had to be sure that they were A. up and running, and B. not eaten by porcupines.

I'm not kidding about the second part.

Myself and another wildlife biologist, John Pratte, slipped our way over to the island and uncovered the ATV used by biologists for transport around the island. We checked the staff house first; everything was still working, the heat was still on, and no sign of porcupine damage. Good. Sweet. Okay.

The campgrounds looked good.

A few hundred feet of icy trails and graceful herds of deer prancing through the woods later, we came upon some houses that were in really rough shape.

All over the houses were giant holes, particularly around the base. We dismounted the ATV and walked toward it. All around its base I could see dung literally BULGING out against the chicken wire that skirted it. I recognized it. It was porcupine dung.

Seriously, LOOK.

 John had tried to devise a way to keep the porcupines out while letting anything that made its way under have a way out. His solution was a locked door that something could chew through. And guess what? The porcupines moved the logs in front of it, unlocked the door, and opened it right up.

"This is all porcupine damage" John told me, pointing to the chewed up house.

Urine and feces leaked from the ceiling.

"Neat" I said.

Sure enough, we encountered a culprit. He's hidden way at the back of the tunnel, behind the massive mound of dung he has building up at the entrance.

In fact, we found several.

A lot of them dead.

I will spare you of any more gross images, a lot of porcupines have died under, in, and around these houses. Everywhere you looked, there were porcupine skulls and bones. 

Just kidding about the pictures thing, one last gross one of this porcupine tibia and fibula among the feces.

It wasn't just porcupines either.

"Vultures nest in this one," John said as we entered the last house.

"You're KIDDING me," I said, expecting to find a huge assortment of dead animal parts from the scavengers. There certainly was plenty porcupine.

John is currently trying to get them to nest about fifty feet away in a tree where he built and installed his own nesting platform for them. It fell down a bit, but he still hopes they'll use it.

Swan Island is a very beautiful place, don't get me wrong; the beautiful herds of deer, the owls, and the coyotes make it a really cool place to be. The campsites and staff houses are awesome. But, the porcupines seem to really run the show there. I wonder if the trespasser who left the footprints at the north end of the island is aware of the horror show on the south end?

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Regional Wildlife Biologist Intern Week 1

January 16-January 23

Hello all! I'm a junior in the Wildlife Biology program here at Unity with a minor in Environmental Interpretation and Education. I recently took on an internship position with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which is the state's agency for managing fish and wildlife resources. Though they are more famous for their game species management (moose, deer, bear, etc.), they also take part in endangered species conservation, have a research branch, and are home to the prestigious Maine Warden Service.

The position I have taken is an assistant regional wildlife biologist (RWB) at the IFW Sidney office. It is twice a week (sometimes adding on weekends), which is probably one of the most variable positions one can have as a biologist. Daily tasks can be anything from tagging furs to tagging deer to checking land easements. I'll also be taking on tasks of fisheries biologists, which primarily consists of lab work and cruising around on a snowmobile on Maine's lakes interviewing anglers about their catches. I'm three weeks in (I'm a little late to writing these posts...) and I can say that this internship is a blast!

Before we get too far from the word "snowmobiles", I should mention that this internship grants me the opportunity to operate state vehicles and wear a state uniform. Some may think it's not all that fascinating, but words can't describe how pumped I was to have the red MDIFW patches on my arm and be driving a truck with the IFW logos on the sides on my very first day. Picture proof of how excited I was:

Alright, so day one! Tuesday the 17th. I arrive at the Sidney office and get my uniforms and shown my office (OH YEAH! I get my own sweet office too!). My first task that my supervisor, Keel Kemper, gave to me and my co-intern is to build a huge map of our region (the Sidney office manages Region B; it's a very large and diverse region, covering rural land, coast, and cities from Bangor to Belfast, to Augusta, to Brunswick). Since this was our first task, my co-intern and I (I'll refer to him as Zach from now on, since, well his name is Zach and co-intern is kinda lame) took this incredibly seriously as we took apart an old Maine atlas and trimmed it up so that when we stapled it to the wall, it'd look as good as the map on the wall behind us that a previous intern had built for us. 

This map would be used to visualize where all of our Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) nesting boxes were located, and which ones were in need of us to check on. Unbeknownst to us there are thousands of them. We didn't mark them all. In fact, I think we marked four and Keel told us to just give up before it was too late, so we did.

With that done and us feeling like really accomplished little IFW interns, we got our next task from Keel; we had to take his truck (WOO!) down to my hometown area of Litchfield and Bowdoin to get the GPS coordinates of an old Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) call survey route. The survey route is part of an old US Fish and Wildlife Service study to monitor mourning doves, which to my understanding is no longer active; however, they were requesting the route coordinates, so off we went!

Keel also asked us to survey a pond that I'm actually pretty familiar with down in the area when we were finished. Caeasar Pond is a protected wildlife area managed by the state, and the fishing there is phenomenal. We were told to look for signs of vandalism or improper use, which there was none, but we got to check out a few Wood Duck boxes and run into our first civilian while in uniform (really interesting feeling! It's like being on "the other side"). We talked a few minutes about people we know in the department and how sea duck populations are doing and whatnot, but we soon wrapped up the task and headed back to complete our first day by tagging an insane number of furs brought into the office.

Trappers technically don't own their catch until they come get them tagged; until then, they're owned by the state. An old man from way up north brought us quite the number of Pine Marten (Martes americana), Fisher (Martes pennanti), Mink (Neovison vison), North American River Otter (Lantra canadensis), and Beaver (Castor canadensis). 

Oh, and I forgot to mention how we got to assist Keel inventory the science/evidence freezer. There were lots of fish for the "fishies" (fisheries biologists) to study later, and lots of dead raptors.
"Most of these either were dead from collisions or starvation," Keel told us.
I was very surprised to find out that birds of prey starve. He showed us how to determine if they starved, if they died of lead poisoning, or natural causes. We did this with anything from barred owls to an eagle. amongst the warden's pieces of deer that were evidence to some poaching case and the woodpeckers, fisher pups, and other birds of prey.

Day two was all about conservation easements. Easements are properties technically owned by civilians, but are in contract with the Department to be areas of conservation. We were tasked with driving down to Westport to survey two easements on the coast. Both were beautiful coastal properties. Essentially, we had to be on the lookout for contract violations and photograph key areas to update a database of our region's easements. It was super icy and windy out there, but we had a blast navigating these properties by any means we had, as we pulled a great intern move and forgot all of our documents at the office with vital pieces of information.

That's all for this first post; this is likely the longest of any I'll have. I'll have the next one up soon!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Unity College Dartmouth Greenhouse Week 6 (Final)

Week 6: 11/28/16-11/30/16: ~ 8.2 hours extra; Total hours= 188.2 hours worked on site

I can't believe that this was actually my last week working at the Greenhouse as an intern. Time itself seems to have travelled so fast.  I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some really great people over my time as an intern.  This has been very enjoyable experience for me.  I feel as though I have learned a lot and not just in botany or entomology but in the networking and organization required for a full-time job with out a drivers license.  I had so much support from the people surrounding the greenhouse, whether it was my rideshare driver or the maintenance staff or the OSHER botanical illustration class!

Probably the most popular and noticeable plant that we have in the Greenhouse is the 'Corpse Plant' or Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum, Family: Araceae) (I will not be explaining the meaning of this particular scientific name as I am unsure it would be suitable for the blog.  Those of you who understand the later part of the genus name can guess why I say that).  The largest and oldest specimen we have is nicknamed "Morphy".  Morphy had just recently bloomed earlier in the year which was a major excitement as this species only blooms once every 4 or 5 years after reaching maturity.  The reason it takes so long to bloom is because the bloom itself can get up  ~7-10 feet tall at most.  The flower is so huge that when it blooms the whole plant is just the flower and root ball or corm.  This takes up a lot of energy, so the plant then goes into dormancy for a chunk of time before anything grows.

A photo of what the flower bloom would typically look like (left). The pot in which Morphy lives in (right).

Unfortunately Morphy was already way past prime when started working so I have no good photos of it.  We do have two other younger Amorphophallus titanum individuals but none are old enough to bloom.  'Snape', the next oldest A. titanum  leaf stalk got an infestation of aphids and had to be cut to the corm. ("Snape got wizard lice!" I can't resist making the reference!).

A (Catasetum spp) orchid male bloom.

I learned about a very cool type of orchid this week call a Catasetum.  This type of orchid is dioecious, meaning it has the male and female reproductive parts on separate flowers.  The male flower attracts male bees with its unique smell which the bee uses as pheromones to attract female bees.  Once in the flower, the bee will hit the trigger hairs on the flower and shoot a capsule containing the pollen cap and anthers onto the bee. The capsule itself has an attachment base that looks very similar to a house fly's labium and has a sticky resin that soon cements into a consistency not unlike hot glue. The force at which it attaches is surprisingly strong given how small the capsule is.  Once it is attached, the bee flees from the flower due to the force of the capsule being expelled.  Since the female flowers look completely different than the males the bee has a different association and will pollinate the flower.  Catasetum only produce female flowers when in optimal conditions and must be a large enough to handle going dormant in winter with seed capsules.

The pollen capsule and trigger hairs of a male Catasetum expansum flower.

The released pollen capsule and anther cover (left) and the pollen capsule without cover and showing the anthers (right). Photos taken by Terry.

Carnivorous Plants of Dartmouth College's Life Science Greenhouse:

Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula, Family: Droseraceae).  This species is actually the only one in its genus and can easily be recognized by most. The 4 trigger hairs on the inside of the leaf-traps react when enough pressure is exerted, closing the leaves with surprising swiftness.  Despite the fact that they live in harsher environment like wetlands, they can be fairly finicky to care for and require distilled water to survive.  When raising carnivorous plants from young they need special attention so we relegate them to the Sick Orchid Room.

There is almost nothing quite as adorable as 'baby' Venus Flytraps when working in the Greenhouse.  This particular baby's leaf-traps are only about 4mm wide.  Watering at this size will be enough pressure to close the leaf-traps.  The adults are in winter dormancy now so they are not quite as photogenic as the younger ones.

Sundew flower stalk (Drosera spp, Family: Droseraceae) blooming in the Sick Orchid Room

Lance leafed sundew (Drosera adelae, Family: Droseraceae) in the Tropical Room.

While sundew are in the same family as Venus Flytraps, only the flower looks similar.  When a carnivorous plant flowers, they often will produce the flower stalk a good distance higher than the insect traps in order to prevent accidental consumption of pollinators.  I have always liked sundew (both the flowers and the leaves).  It is a very attractive plant for multiple reasons.  The leaves have little hair-like extensions that excrete sweet smelling sticky substance that attracts and then traps unwary insects.  The leaves then slowly fold around the captured 'prey' and digests it.  They are very hardy plants depending on the species. Some are found as far north as Newfoundland, Canada.

Two different types Pitcher Plants (Family: Sarraceniaceae): Sarracenia x wrigleyana 'Scarlet Belle' (left) and Heliamphora heterodoxa (right).

These are the typical types of pitcher plants we see around New England wetlands. These specific species are not found locally but they are very similar in morphology.  The 'pitcher' part of the plant is a modified leaf that has been fused partially to create a pool for insects to fall into and be digested by the enzymes within the plant.

Tropical Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes stenophylla) (I like to call them 'hanging pitcher plants'). This particular group of pitchers are epiphytes that live in the understory of Southeast Asian rainforests.  The pitcher section of the plant is actually an modified extension of the midvein of the leaf.  The lid is used to prevent runoff from collecting in the pitcher cup. When an insect is attracted by the sweet smelling rim, it will fall in and be trapped while digestive enzymes slowly consume it over time. The lid is also used to prevent any escape from the "prey" (I use that term very loosely).

Photo taken by Terry.

This internship has been wonderful.  I have really learned a lot and enjoyed myself.  Working and handling plants is a lot more messy and involved then many people expect first coming in, but I really like that aspect.  Sure you come home with your nails caked in soil or spend an afternoon taking out cacti spines from your hands with forceps but that's all part of the fun.  You can't really work with plants without getting messy.

I came to the internship with the hope to learn specific skills that will help me in future career paths.  They were to: Gain experience with the application of Integrated Pest Management; Learn techniques for caring for plants with narrow tolerance limits; Gain experience with combatting a variety of plant pathogens; Improve my skills with organization and professional development; Learn to identify a broad range of plant species.  I feel as though I was able to develop all those skills to an extent and should be able to apply them to my next steps where ever they may be.

I will definitely miss the Greenhouse and the people who work in it! This has been a really great internship and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in botany or entomology.  You have to be willing to get dirty and be on pest-patrol.  But they really do welcome any amount of help.

On a more somber note, I just heard about the passing of the Unity student, John Fox. While I didn't personally know him that well, I want to send my sympathy and support to the Fox family and those at Unity.

Until Next Time!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Unity College Dartmouth Greenhouse Week 5

Week 5: 11/21/16-11/23/16; ~17.3 hours left

While this week was a short week, a lot happened so it feels like it was longer.

Photo taken by my co-worker Terry

My older brother came to visit me while I worked this week so it was nice.  He actually came to get his orchid checked out by the Greenhouse workers.  It was a Dendrobium sp hybrid.  The orchid had not flowered in years and would only occasionally produce new growth.  My co-worker Terry helped diagnose its condition and requirements for flowering.  She is very knowledgeable about orchids as she is usually the one in charge of their upkeep.  What was determined was that the orchid needed to have a winter dormancy.  All the species that makes up the hybrid have to go through a dormancy period where you stop watering and fertilizing of the plant for the winter months.  The hope then is that the orchid would then bloom in the spring once the temperatures had warmed and the light had increased.  After this year's dormancy, the orchid should be repotted and a change of substrate.  As I may have mentioned before most if not all orchids are epiphytes (grow on other plants or surfaces that are not soil).  They do not live in soil so they require a substrate that has a certain level of aeration. When the substrate starts breakdown, it starts to choke the orchid.  This particular orchid hybrid was potted with coconut husk substrate.  Coconut substrate degrades faster than substrates like fur bark. Once the dormancy is over switching to fur bark would be best. Orchids also like to be pot-bound rather than 'over-potted' so it needs a smaller and taller pot.

According to my brother, the flowers look similar to these Dendrobium here in shape and size.

Mainly this week I finished clipping down the plants in the Tropical Room. The Yam vine ended up winding its way up past the sun screen and around the water pipes and the hydraulics in the door. It was like untangling rope but more difficult as the vines branched out every which way.

While using a ladder to clip can be dangerous, the fact that there were so many support structures around me allowed me to maintain my balance relatively easily while being in unusual positions.  To maintain those positions one must move slowly and incrementally, and be very aware of the pressure exerted on anything.  One cannot put too much pressure in one place.  I usually try and keep my pressure on the sides of structures, not fully downwards. And as always REMEMBER TO BREATHE!

Photo taken by my boss Kim

I had to trim back the philodendron in the Tropical Room (Philodendron erubescens). We have two types of philodendrons in the Greenhouse.  Both are very large and have a tendency to grow where ever they can get away with. Unlike vines, they don't tangle around themselves nor have modified leaves to grab with.  In order to climb, they use whorls of adventious roots (above-ground roots that are used for purposes other than absorbing nutrients) to grab at and support themselves as they grow.  In the case of our greenhouse, it means climbing the walls and structural supports of the Tropical Room.

In order to cut it down to size, I had to saw two of its stems off.  The stem itself was very fibrous and dense. It kind of reminded me of a combination of bamboo and rhubarb.

Each fresh leaf scar will produce a vibrant red and pink sap that beads profusely. It stained a little on skin so I could see it being used as a natural dye.

Recently most of the citrus plants have been producing fruits, so the Subtropical room has had a very pleasant smell this week. The Greenhouse has a lot of citrus species and hybrids; from Lemons to Sweet Limes to Kumquats and a couple of hybrids that I had not even heard of.  Some of the major producers in the Subtropical Room were the Lemons.  Most of the lemon varieties we have are not the lemons we typically think of; ie the "store-bought-lemon" (Citrus × limon; citrus hybrid).  They are sweeter than store lemons but still sourer than an orange.  I found out to my surprise that most of the edible citrus fruits that we think of are in fact a series of hybrids that were bred from other older species like the citron and the mandarin.  Unlike apples which are multiple varieties and subspecies of one original species; citrus fruits are hybrids on top of hybrids.

Meyer Lemon (Citrus × meyeri; citrus hybrid). It is roughly the same size as a store-bought lemon, maybe a little smaller.  The tree itself was fairly laden with them so my boss gave me some of the ripened fruit to me for Thanksgiving.  I was very touched by the gesture as they were grown from the Greenhouse.  The smell of the rind was very strong even before peeling.  The rind itself was thinner than a typical lemon but still harder to peel than an orange.  the flavor was much stronger than that of a grapefruit but still had a particular sweetness to it.  It was still very potent so I could only eat it one section at a given time. This made it very good in teas.

Pondarosa Lemon (Citrus limon × medica; citrus hybrid).  This fruit was huge, especially when it was compared to the size of the tree it was on (the tree was only at most ~3 feet, including the pot). Unlike with the Meyer Lemon the fruit took a long time to ripen or at the very least a long time to stay on the tree.  You can never be quite sure unless you pick it.

A banana 'tree' flower inflorescence (a group of tightly packed flowers like lilacs) (Musa acuminata).  The inflorescence does not flower all at the same time, the lower flowers bloom first and gradually bloom upward.  You can see the fruit starting to form at the base of the inflorescence.  This species of banana produces a dwarf version of the cultivated banana we are used to.  It is actually thought to be a precursor of that cultivar.

The Scarlet Ball Cactus (Parodia haselbergii) finally bloomed!  It had not bloomed since I started working here except for a few dead blooms that had not been removed.  I had removed the dead blooms before any new buds came in.  My hypothesis was that the dead blooms were preventing the cactus from creating fresh blooms and by removing them it allowed new blooms to come in.  Often if a plant has gone through its seeding stage and the seeds are allowed to stay on the plant, it will not have the need to flower as the next generation is "secure" so to speak.  If you remove the flowers before they seed, it triggers the plant to 'think' it is under stress and will produce more flowers as a response.

Have a good week! Happy Thanksgiving weekend!