A (belated) Happy New Year from the Rothfels Lab! 

Snowy Wellsvilles Mountain Range

2023 was a big year! We collectively made more than 2800 iNaturalist observations, held the inaugural Intermountain Botanical Foray, and attended Botany2023 in Idaho. 

As we move into 2024, we wanted to take a moment to congratulate lab members and lab alumni who are beginning new and exciting phases of their careers:

Lan Wei began her graduate studies with Erika Edwards at Yale University.

Forrest Freund started as a field biologist with the BLM in Redding, CA.

Jenna Ekwealor began in Jan 2024 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at San Francisco State University.

Carrie Tribble will be taking a faculty and curator position at the University of Washington Department of Biology and the Burke Museum in Fall of 2024.

Joyce Onyenedum is now Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at New York University.

Congratulations Lan, Forrest, Jenna, Carrie, and Joyce! 

We can’t wait to see what adventures everyone gets up to this year.

Spooky Plants at USU’s Science Unwrapped Outreach Event

We had a great time Friday night sharing some spooky plants with attendees of USU’s monthly Science Unwrapped outreach event. A huge thank-you to the USU teaching greenhouse which let us borrow all these awesome plants!

Pictured: Julia (Rothfels lab), Gabbie (Rushworth lab), Kallol (Rushworth lab), David (Rothfels lab), bonus Children’s python (Antaresia childreni)

Some favorites were Euphorbia milii (crown of thorns), Amorphophallus (corpse flower genus), and of course the carnivorous plants including both Nepenthes and Sarracenia, which are in different orders and each evolved pitcher traps independently.

The Long-Awaited Southwest Utah Trip Blog Post, May 23-29

Rushing falls over red rocks

The Long-Awaited Southwest Utah Blog Post, May 23-29

Post by David Adelhelm

Our first winter in Logan, Utah was quite long, with the first snow coming in mid-October and lasting all the way to mid-to-late April. For those of us accustomed to warmer climates and shorter winters, this led to some intense cabin fever. By January, we (the grad students) had decided that the moment the weather let up, we were getting some time out in the field. With that goal in mind the three of us planned, budgeted, and wrote two different grant applications to fund some fieldwork over the summer, and both were funded!

Figure 1 – The Scenery in Logan as of April 5th, 2023. Spot the picnic table?

The first of these grants was written to help further the collections of the Intermountain Herbarium (UTC) here at USU, with a focus on under-sampled counties of Utah, primarily the southwestern three counties: Washington, Iron, and Kane. With our funding and permits acquired, we set our departure date for May 23rd and made our site reservations. For our locations, we chose: Snow Canyon State Park, Pine Valley, and Three Peaks Recreation Area, with two nights in each campsite. Our traveling crew consisted of a whopping 11 people: the three C’s (Carl, Cathy, and Conrad), the Ekwealor family (Jenna, Somi and Leo), the grad students (David, Julia, Kallol, and Chinedum), and our intrepid collections manager, Kris Valles.

Figure 2 – Some shots from Snow Canyon State Park.

The camping was a blast, with some of our members being first time campers – congratulations on surviving Kallol and Chinedum! Given the size of our party, we kept mainly to popular trails, using our one full day in the Canyon to cover much of the Hidden Pinyon and connected trails. On our second day, we visited Snow Canyon Sand Dunes and Jenny’s Canyon, where we all saw a solitary desert tortoise.

From there, we departed for Pine Valley, within the Dixie National Forest. Some of us were fortunate enough to stop by the Gunlock Falls on the way, which were experiencing historic high-water levels due to the record snowfall that winter. Pine Valley presented us with a complete shift in environment, from dry desert to high elevation forest. And with that environment shift came a shift in observable plants too – Equisetum and Cystopteris galore (and some flowering plants too)! Warm days and unexpectedly cold nights were the norm here, so it made sense we settled in for s’mores after a long day spent covering the nearby trails.

Figure 3 – The scene from Pine Valley and a shot from Gunlock Falls.

After Pine Valley, all that remained was Three Peaks, near Cedar City, Utah. The drive was less eventful than the Pine Valley drive but the campsite was so windy we nearly lost our tents on the first night! On our second day in the campsite, we met with Cedar City local and faculty of Southern Utah University, Matt Ogburn, who gave us a great crash course on the local flora. Thanks Matt!

Figure 4 – The final campsite and some scenery from the Three Peaks trail.

All in all, the first Rothfels + Rushworth labs field trip was a resounding success and a great way to introduce us to the Utahn flora! We’ll be cataloging our collections in the herbarium for most of the school year but according to our iNaturalist project made for the trip, we observed at least 215 species. Check out all the cool plants we saw on our iNaturalist Project below:

Botany 2023 – Hello Boise!

At the end of July we road tripped up to Boise, Idaho to attend the Botanical Society of America’s annual conference – Botany 2023!  An overwhelming (but in a good way) amount of talks and posters to see, and many many botanists to meet or reconnect with. 

Rothfels Lab post-doc Jenna Ekwealor organized a wonderful symposium this year – The Ploid Thickens: Polyploid Phylogenetics. Congrats Jenna!

And PhD students Chinedum Anajemba and Julia Hobbie presented on using PURC to untangle allopolyploid complexes (C) and resolving tricky species placements in the athyriid ferns (J). Hooray!

Besides all the neat science, there was plenty of excellent company, great food, and delightfully nerdy botany merch to be had…

See you next year in Michigan!

Intermountain Botany Foray

Thank you to everyone who was a part of the first annual Intermountain Botany Foray this June! What an amazing few days we had! Botanists geeking out in the UT high desert – what could be better?

This was the start of a yearly botany trip in the Intermountain region, open to plant-fans of all walks of life. Each year we will go to a different location and spend a long weekend exploring the local flora and documenting it through iNaturalist and herbarium collections. And most importantly, getting to know one another and learn from and with each other!

This year we visited the Desert Experimental Range in Millard County, Utah, a research station established in 1933 in cold desert rangeland. A huge thank you to our hosts at the Forest Service, Sarah Barga and Rob Heckman! We are so grateful to have been allowed to explore this special ecosystem!

People hiking down a mountain slope

Check out our iNaturalist page to see all the amazing things we observed. We made over 1500 iNat observations, with over 200 species of plants! Some highlights:

Sphaeralcea caespitosa is endemic to just a few counties in western Utah and eastern Nevada. The large orange blooms are a striking contrast to the glaucus desert-adapted leaves.
One participants spotted this Lewisia maguirei on our very first day – probably a new record for the state of Utah! 
There were many beautiful cacti, but the deciduous Micropuntia pulchella, which drops its pads every year to overwinter, was a definite favorite.
Trifolium friscanum is a rare endemic clover of the mountains in this area of Utah.

What an amazing inaugural Foray! We can’t wait for next year. If you’d like to be contacted about next year’s Foray, please email julia.hobbie@usu.edu.

Photos 1-3,8 @Lan Wei
Photos 4-7 @Julia Hobbie