Archives For August 2018

Bees in the Big City

Andrea Gruver —  August 15, 2018 — 2 Comments

The plants you see from your train seat on the Metra Union Pacific North line may help conservation scientists learn about how urban areas impact native bees.

Although most people think of honeybees when they think about bees, there are more than 4,000 native bee species in the United States and 500 species in Illinois alone. Like their honeybee counterparts, native bees are undergoing global declines, making them an important conservation concern. With the growth of urban areas, native bees may be faced with new challenges, yet we don’t not know the extent that urban areas impact native bees.

My research at the Chicago Botanic Garden is investigating how urban areas may affect native bees in Chicago. Chicago is an ideal city to study the impact of urbanization on native bees because the intensity of urbanization slowly wanes from the urban core of the city out into the surrounding suburbs.

Megachilid (leaf cutter) bee

My research is focused on native bee species in Illinois like these Megachilid(leaf cutter) bees.

Megachilid (leaf cutter) bee

Part of that research is about bringing public awareness to the other native bees we have around Chicago.

To explore native bee communities along this urbanization gradient, I have a series of eight sites along Chicago’s Union Pacific North Metra (UP-N) railway. I chose the sites along the rail line because they followed a perfect gradient from very urban to very suburban. I was also drawn to them because most of the vegetation around the sites is unmanaged and composed of similar species.

All of the sites vary in the levels of green space and impervious surface (concrete/buildings) surrounding the sites. Sites near downtown are surrounded by nearly 70 percent impervious surface, while sites near the Chicago Botanic Garden are surrounded by just 15 percent impervious surface.

[Click here to view video on YouTube.]

Studying bees in this area along the Metra line allows us to ask a variety of questions about native bees. For instance: Are there fewer bees in highly urban areas? Are there different bees in natural areas compared to urban areas? Do the bees in highly urban areas have different traits than those in natural areas?

Pollinator Collection Near the Metra with Andrea

Andrea and an intern collect bees along the Metra line.

This summer, a few interns at the Garden and I have been gathering and sampling bees at each of my eight field sites. To catch the bees, we use two methods. First, we set out fluorescent colored bowls with soapy water that attract and capture the bees. Secondly, we use a butterfly net to capture bees at the site throughout the day. When we are finished sampling, the bees are taken back to the lab at the Garden’s Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center and pinned for future study.

In addition to collecting the bees, we also record all of the flowering plants and count how many flowers are blooming at the sites.

Although our days are currently filled with fieldwork and pinning, in the fall we will spend almost all of our time in the lab identifying the bees down to the genus or species level. When we have all of the bees identified, we can then start analyzing the data for my master’s thesis and answer some of the questions we have put forth. We suspect we will see a higher abundance and diversity of bees in sites located in more natural areas with more flowering plants.

My research will help us understand how urban areas are shaping native bee communities and help us determine what landscape features promote native bee diversity in urban environments, some of which can be implemented in urban restoration projects. We also hope that this work will illuminate the amazing diversity of native bees we have here in Chicago.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

I love my plant job

Salina Wunderle —  August 10, 2018 — 2 Comments

I recently was admiring one of the stately agaves at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and I had a genuine “I love my job” moment. This was not the first time and definitely will not be the last. I took a moment to reflect on that and why my job as a horticulturist is so much more than caring for plants.

Salina Wunderle 2I started off as a seasonal employee in the production greenhouses, where we grow and tend for the plants you see throughout the Garden. Now I’m one of five senior horticulturists. My crew—horticulturist Dino de Persio and technician Evan Hydzik—and I oversee the three glorious display Greenhouses, all interiorscapes, two beautiful bonsai courtyards, event plant displays, and beyond. I also work closely with our creative design team to produce our annual Wonderland Express and Orchid Show.

Some people ask me, “What is horticulture?” If you Google “horticulture,” this is what comes up: Horticulture (noun): the art or practice of garden cultivations and management.

In my position, I am blessed to work with plants from all around the world. If you use a little imagination, these plants can transport you to new and exotic places. Many of the plants in our collection can link you to other cultures through their traditional, medicinal, ecological, economical, and ethnobotanical uses. For example, not many people know the showy bougainvillea is a traditional medicinal and culinary plant of Mexico and Central America. We also have bizarre bat-pollinated plants, such as the breathtaking jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) and many Cereus cacti. Some of my favorites are the cardamom spice (Elettaria cardamomum), breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), cocoa (Theobroma cacao), and coffee (Coffea arabica)—all of which are all edible, of course.

Look at this plant I get to cultivate! This is the century plant (Agave americana).

Look at this plant I get to cultivate! This is the century plant (Agave americana). Our last century plant bloomed in 2010. When will this one grow through the greenhouse roof? You’ll just have to stay tuned to find out. Seriously, I love this job.

I get to share the stories of these plants with guests of all ages and walks of life. Connecting people with plants is certainly one of the great joys of my job. Recently, I became part of the advisory council of an initiative called Seed Your Future (seedyourfuture.org). This movement was founded in 2013 by Longwood Gardens and the American Society for Horticultural Science, and has grown to include more than 150 partners, including the Chicago Botanic Garden. The group’s mission is “to promote horticulture and inspire people to pursue careers working with plants.”

BLOOM! logo

One way to do that is to introduce the world of horticulture to young people and show them the critical role plants have in all of our lives.

Earlier this year, Seed Your Future launched BLOOM, our first campaign to promote horticulture and inspire interest in careers in horticulture.

Green industry jobs game board by BLOOM! and Scholastic.

Download this fun game board and other engaging classroom materials at BLOOM!

Our BLOOM microsite has fun games, videos, and more for young people to enjoy getting to know the world of plants. The amazing thing about Seed Your Future is that the website has an expanding bank of resources for parents, teachers, camp counselors, and mentors to use in their programs. All of this is free. I can say I would have loved a resource such as this along my plant journey, and I am honored to be a part of it now.

Working with Seed Your Future has helped bring my story full circle. It has shown that my job as a horticulturist allows me to do so many fulfilling things: play with plants of the world, share knowledge and stories with others, inspire kids and adults, work with brilliant people, and ultimately get challenged and grow.

Thank you for letting me share my “I love my job!” moments.

Find your plant power at wearebloom.org; visit our Garden, and take part in our mission to cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life.

 

You might have noticed a group of hard-working high-schoolers wearing hard hats and toting shovels at the Chicago Botanic Garden this summer. The aspiring conservationists—part of the Conservation Corps—are doing important restoration work throughout the Forest Preserves of Cook County, including a stint at the Garden.

Conservation Corps Teens Working

Conservation Corps teens cleared overgrown bushes and installed new plantings at the Garden.

The Conservation Corps is a paid summer internship that gives young people hands-on conservation and environmental science experience. Students partnered with Garden horticulturists and learned to identify plants and remove invasive species. This year, they worked to clear and trim overgrown bushes, install new plantings, and remove invasive plants. In addition to their work at the Garden, Corps members worked at Harms Woods near Glenview and took field trips such as an environmental science career day at the Field Museum.

We asked a few teens about their experience and what they learned while working at the Garden. Here’s what they had to say:

“It’s a great building block to what I want to do. I’ve already learned so much about identifying plants, trail mulching, steps you can take to improve the environment, and different environmental careers. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.” —Gabby Onnenga, 17, Skokie

Conservation Corps teens removed stumps

It was hard work. The interns removed stumps – 14 in a single day.

“It’s allowed me to connect with a lot of people I wouldn’t have before. Last Friday we went to the Field Museum and talked to a lot of interesting people there. I talked with one of the leaders here at the Garden who recommended me to someone who runs a fungus organization. It could connect us to other opportunities.” —Aaron Ivsin, 16, Chicago

Forest Preserves Conservation Corps

The program is part of the effort by the Garden and its partner, the Forest Preserves, to build the next generation of conservation leaders.

“I want to be an environmental biologist. This will help me later in life because everybody knows each other in the field.” —Ushus Hermanson, 17, Chicago

The program is part of the effort by the Garden and its partner, Friends of the Forest Preserves, to build the next generation of conservation leaders. “It has been great to have another Forest Preserves Conservation Corps crew this summer,” said Beth Dunn, the Garden’s director of government affairs, who helped coordinate the program. “Not only is it a great help for the Garden’s staff to tackle needed projects, it is a great learning experience for the crew members who may be for the first time working as part of a land management team.”

For many, it was just the place they wanted to be. “Right from the beginning, I knew I made the right choice,” said Sile Surman, 16, of Wilmette. “I’m very passionate about the environment, and it’s a great experience to be surrounded by people who are also passionate.”


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org