Miller Seed Vault Donates Seeds to Time Capsule

For the 125th anniversary of Washington’s statehood, the UW Botanic Gardens has donated the seeds of five rare plant species—all native to Washington—from the Miller Seed Vault to be buried in the Washington Centennial Time Capsule.

The time capsule is located in the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. It’s a large green safe with 16 individual capsules, one of which will be filled every 25 years until the state’s 500th birthday in 2389. The 2014 capsule will be loaded this January and then resealed during a ceremony on February 22, 2015, George Washington’s birthday.

Time Capsule

Thompson’s clover, a unique clover found in the central part of Washington, is easy to spot in May among the perennial bunchgrasses and sagebrush.

Back in November, the Keepers of the Capsule, a volunteer group that helps steward the capsule project, had reached out to the UW Botanic Gardens to inquire about a possible donation of native seeds. Professor Sarah Reichard and Wendy Gibble, who manages the Washington Rare Plant Care and Conservation program, decided that an appropriate contribution would include bundles of seeds that represent plants from different habitats across the state. They were careful to select seeds that are rare and endemic to Washington, but that are not in short supply in the Miller Seed Vault (just in case the seeds don’t last 375 years in an airtight aluminum foil package!).

The five selections include Thompson’s clover (Trifolium thompsonii) from the shrub-steppe of central Washington; Barrett’s beardtongue (Penstemon barrettiae) from the basalt cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge (pictured below); Washington Polemonium (Polemonium pectinatum) from the channel scablands of eastern Washington; Victoria’s paintbrush (Castilleja victoriae) from a tiny island in the San Juans; and Whited’s milk-vetch (Astragalus sinuatus) from a 10-square-mile region south of Wenatchee, Wash.

Each bundle includes 20 seeds and comes with specific instructions about propagation, as well as general information about the plant’s characteristics and where the seeds were collected. Will these seeds be alive and well in 2389? Hard to say, says Gibble, but it’s a shame we won’t be there to see for ourselves!

Photos © UW Botanic Gardens.

Time Capsule

Alumni (and Staff) Spotlight: Wendy Gibble

While volunteering with the Falcon Research Group in the San Juan Islands a number of years ago, Wendy Gibble remembers repelling down a cliff to reach a peregrine falcon nest. She’d been taking part in a raptor study for several years, and her job was to put bands on the young birds. With each subsequent season visiting a nest, Gibble says the adult falcons grew less tolerant of the intruders—and also far less timid. At first, they would swoop nervously yet stay about 10 feet above the researchers’ heads. After a few years, though, some of them would actually make contact. “You’re hanging on a rope, banding a young falcon, and all the sudden you get this “thwack” on your helmet,” she says.

Wendy Gibble

Before returning to graduate school after 13 years in environmental consulting, Gibble volunteered on a wide range of conservation projects, including several raptor studies.

Armored with that helmet and a sturdy jacket, Gibble didn’t feel in danger, and in fact she loved the excitement of working hands-on with wildlife research and conservation. So much that she regularly sought out similar volunteer projects with several organizations, including Hawkwatch International, and ended up participating in raptor studies at far-flung sites around the world, from Cape May, N.J., to Chile and the Falkland Islands.

She managed all of that, incredibly, on top of her full-time career as an engineer. But her side passions were increasingly elbowing for more room and attention.

Gibble had grown up in Chatham Township, N.J., about 30 miles west of Manhattan, and later studied civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University in New York. She briefly returned to New Jersey after graduation before heeding the call of the Pacific Northwest and its many natural offerings.

“I came for the mountains,” she says, and ended up working in environmental consulting for 13 years, splitting time between a couple firms, including Herrera Environmental Consultants. Some of her work involved construction management for water resource projects, such as drinking water supplies, fish rearing and passage projects. Gibble did some flood modeling and work on landfills, as well as projects on the Columbia and Snake river systems designing hatcheries and fish screens (to prevent fish from getting sucked out with irrigation withdrawal). She also spent time designing water treatment plants, pipeline transmissions, pump stations and other infrastructure related to our drinking water system.

Through she generally enjoyed all of those projects, Gibble felt a growing desire to spend her days working more directly with habitat management and conservation. She’d experienced that world firsthand through her volunteering, but only for a few weeks a year. The tease was too much to keep ignoring.

Wendy Gibble

Getting to do field research across the state, including recently in the Wenatchee Mountains (above), is one of Gibble’s favorite parts of her job with Rare Care.

“I had that moment of, ‘What am I doing?’” she says. “I was running into people all over South America who were doing really cool research projects and wildlife studies, and I just thought it was time for a career change.”

Since she didn’t want to leave the West Coast, Gibble started researching potential graduate programs in California and Washington. She says she had a really good feeling about coming to the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) and ended up pursuing a master’s with Professor Kristiina Vogt as her advisor. Within her overall emphasis on plant ecology, Gibble studied plant invasion in the Puget Sound prairies for her thesis (her other committee members included Professors Charles Halpern and Peter Dunwiddie). She got to be in the field. She got to organize her own research program. She’d found a shared outlet for her personal and professional aptitudes.

As it happened, a few months before Gibble had even earned her M.S. in March 2006, the program manager position opened up with the Washington Rare Plant Care and Conservation Program, or Rare Care, with the UW Botanic Gardens. Gibble had taken a seminar with Professor Sarah Reichard, the director of UWBG, and knew a little bit about the Rare Care program. The timing was hard to beat, and Gibble knew positions like this one didn’t pop up every day in this field, so she jumped at the opportunity and started working while she wrapped up her thesis.

The Rare Care program, housed at the Center for Urban Horticulture, is dedicated to conserving Washington’s rare native plants. It has four main areas of emphasis: researching rare native plants and engaging graduate students in those studies; organizing statewide citizen science monitoring of rare plants (including more than 200 volunteers who do around 5,000 hours of work each year); managing the Miller Seed Vault, a seed banking effort that preserves the seeds of rare plant species; and conducting other outreach projects.

Wendy Gibble

Gibble, center, at the 2014 SEFS Alumni Spring Gathering, held April 27 at the Center for Urban Horticulture.

A big part of what Gibble loves about her role as program manager is that she gets to have a hand in all of these activities, and a couple years ago she took on the additional responsibility of managing the education programs and a seven-person staff. She especially enjoys working closely with students, and getting to spend a lot of time traveling to field sites around the state. “I really like going new places,” she says, “and that’s one of the things I really love about my job. I’ve gone to places I probably never would have seen.”

Some of those excursions include gathering collections for the seed vault, or leading a range of research and monitoring projects. Gibble recently spent a week in the Lake Quinault area working with the Forest Service to map populations of the rare Quinault fawn lily. She’s also been collecting seeds with the Bureau of Land Management out in Washington’s shrub steppe regions, and monitoring Whited milk-vetch south of Wenatchee. “It’s all very cool,” she says.

Of course, even the most satisfying work week still leaves plenty of spare hours, and Gibble isn’t one to wear out a couch. “If I’m in the wilderness, I’m a happy person,” she says, and that means hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, bird watching, gardening, skiing, canoeing, kayaking, you name it—including rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

Wendy Gibble

Gibble on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.

Two summers ago, she added salmon fishing. Gibble and some friends chartered a boat on the west side of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, where she hooked her first Chinook salmon. She doesn’t remember how long she fought the 28-pounder—it was a bit of blur—but she definitely recalls the thrill of the catch, and then the four or so months it took to work her way through all the meat. “It was a ton of fun,” she says.

Not to limit herself to terrestrial and marine adventures, Gibble used to have a pilot’s license, as well. “It was a bucket list kind of thing,” she says, and she flew herself to a number of local destinations, including to Portland, Ore., and out to the San Juan Islands. Yet since flying requires a lot of time and money to stay current and safe, Gibble didn’t keep her license up to date. Plus, as fun as it was to cruise through the sky, she says most of her outdoor passions involve closer contact to nature. “In the end,” she says, “I just want to be on the ground.”

For all the ground she’s covered so far—New Jersey to Washington, Cape May to Chile, engineering to ecology, and countless trips along the way—Gibble knows there’s plenty yet for her to do and explore in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. Best of all, she no longer has to wait for vacations and volunteer projects to get there. With Rare Care and the broader SEFS community, she gets to travel regularly and work at the leading edge of environmental research and education every day.

And that, says Gibble, is a rare find indeed.

Photos © Wendy Gibble.

Wendy Gibble

Recognition Event: Honorees and Auction Results!

Yesterday afternoon—Monday, May 19—a great crowd of students, staff and faculty gathered in the Forest Club Room for the annual SEFS Recognition Event. It was a high-spirited celebration of our school and community, including the presentation of a number of awards, recognition of retiring faculty (David Ford and Frank Greulich), fantastic catered snacks and enough wine to keep a cruise ship afloat.

Silent Auction

Browsing some terrific options for the Silent Auction.

It also looks like we eclipsed our total from the Silent Auction last year and should raise more than $3,100 for the SEFS Student Scholarship Fund. Nice work, everyone!

In case you missed the fun, below are the honorees for this year’s awards. Congratulations to all of you, and to the many other tremendous nominees!

Staff Member of the Year: Amanda Davis*
Faculty Member of the Year: Sharon Doty*
Graduate Student of the Year: Hyungmin “Tony” Rho*
Undergraduate Student of the Year: Alison Sienkiewicz*

Director’s Award for Faculty Service: Sarah Reichard
Director’s Award for Staff Service: Theresa Santman

The John A. Wott Fellowship in Plant Collection and Curatorship: Eve Rickenbaker
The Richard D. Taber Outstanding Wildlife Conservation Student Award: Kyla Caddey

* Each of these honorees will have his/ her name engraved on a permanent plaque display in Anderson Hall, to be unveiled later this summer.

A HUGE thanks, as well, to everyone who helped pull this event together. Contributions were many and much appreciated, including: Greg Ettl for serving as Master of Ceremonies; Vince Gallucci and Ettl for commemorating departing faculty; Nevada Smith for arranging the catering and door prizes; Abraham Ngu and Amanda Davis for helping set up the room in advance; Michelle Trudeau for impressively folding every single program; Steve West for organizing another spectacular wine tasting; the awards committee for reviewing an exceptionally large and competitive candidate pool; and everyone who donated—and bid on—the wonderful prizes and experiences for the Silent Auction. I know I’m forgetting some important contributors, but know that I appreciated every nudge of help and support. Thank you!

Photos © SEFS.

Silent Auction

See the Signs!

The next time you venture over to the Washington Park Arboretum, you’ll probably notice more than 30 new signs now spread throughout the park to provide way-finding and other educational information to visitors!

Bald Cypress

This “Bald Cypress” sign is one of several additions you’ll find along the new “Pinetum Loop” trail in the Arboretum.

Part of a three-year project involving Seattle Parks and Recreation, the University of Washington Botanic Gardens and the Arboretum Foundation, the signage effort coincides with the opening of two new interpretive trails at the 230-acre Arboretum: the half-mile “Pinetum Loop,” and the one-mile “Lookout Loop.”

These additions address a common suggestion from visitor surveys about providing more information and interpretation of the Arboretum’s collections. Planners took special care during installation, though, to make sure the new signs were as unobtrusive as possible, providing a wealth of educational context without affecting the aesthetic enjoyment of the park.

Of course, we can talk about the new signs and trails all day, but the best way to explore the changes is to head over and see for yourself! To direct your journey, the UW Botanic Gardens has created new trail maps that are available online (in PDF) or in print at the Graham Visitors Center.

For more information about the new signage and trails, contact UW Botanic Gardens Director Sarah Reichard.

Azalea Way

Explore the Gardens of Cuba with SEFS!

After two very successful years of the program, the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, in association with the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, is excited to offer another study tour to Cuba this winter from February 20 to March 3!

Led by UW Botanic Gardens Director Sarah Reichard, the 10-day excursion includes visits to botanic gardens, organic farms, nature preserves and historical national parks. You’ll get unparalleled access to the “Pearl of the Antilles” and its stunning indigenous flora and fauna, as well as the island’s legendary history, music and dancing.

Cuba

A farmer gathers royal palms in Cuba.

This Cuban adventure is open to all SEFS students, staff and faculty, and there’s room for non-UW folks as well. Professor Reichard will not be returning to Cuba in the next few years, so don’t miss the chance for a one-of-a-kind garden tour!

Program Highlights
You can check out the full itinerary for a day-by-day synopsis of activities, but some of the highlights include exploring the capital city of Havana; visiting the Valley de Vinales, the tropical forests of Soroa and Zapata National Park; touring  botanical and orchid gardens; guided hiking through the ecologically protected area of Mil Cumbres (“Thousand Peaks”); and much, much more!

Rest assured, though, that not all of your minutes will be structured. In addition to the official visits and tours, you’ll have plenty of time to wander and experience Havana at your own speed and according to your own tastes. Sip coffee at a café? A night of live music and salsa dancing? Sample plantains and local cigars? The options are nearly infinite!

If that revs up your sense of adventure, then learn more about how to sign up, program costs and other details! The original deadline to register was November 17, but it has been extended a few weeks. However, to make sure the trip reaches the minimum number of participants, you are encouraged to sign up as quickly as possible.

Contact Professor Reichard for more background information, or track down some of the past participants, such as Steve West and Nevada Smith, who can gush for hours about how amazing the trip is!

Photos © Sarah Reichard.

Cuba

Valley de Vinales

Arboretum to Unveil New Zealand Collection

Coming up on Sunday, September 15, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the public is invited to attend the official dedication of the New Zealand Forest, the most significant addition to the Washington Park Arboretum in decades!

First conceived nearly 10 years ago, the 2-acre New Zealand collection will feature more than 10,000 plants, shrubs and grasses that are found on New Zealand’s South Island. The exhibit—located on a boulder-strewn hillside crisscrossed with rock swales—is the second of five eco-geographic forests to be completed in the Arboretum’s Pacific Connections Garden, which will eventually cover 14 acres and be the largest exhibit of its kind in North America.

New Zealand Forest

The New Zealand Forest under construction this past May.

Construction of the New Zealand Forest cost roughly $2 million, with funding from the Arboretum Foundation and the 2008 Parks and Green Space Levy, and planners are extremely excited to see the garden opened to the public.

“This is our legacy to leave behind for future generations to enjoy, like Azalea Way or the Winter Garden,” says Fred Hoyt, associate director of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens (UWBG), which owns and manages the collections at the Arboretum.

The opening celebration—organized in partnership with the Seattle-Christchurch Sister City Association and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture—will pay homage to New Zealand’s culture and ethnobotanical history. The dedication will include a Māori dance troupe from Vancouver, British Columbia, to perform a traditional “haka,” or war dance. Caine Tauwhare, a Māori wood carver who carved the slats for a park bench in the new forest, is also traveling from Christchurch (Seattle’s sister city in New Zealand) for a demonstration. Members of the local Muckleshoot Tribe will be there to greet the Māori, who by custom won’t enter a new land until the native people have welcomed them. (In the lead-up to the formal dedication, the Burke Museum will be highlighting its New Zealand collection, and the Māori dance group and carver will be there on Saturday, September 14, for a separate performance and demo.)

Sunday’s festivities will also include a host of speakers, including speeches from Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, UW Vice Provost for Global Affairs Jeffrey Riedinger, New Zealand Honorary Consul Rachel Jacobson, and senior officials from the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and the Arboretum Foundation.

New Zealand Forest

The New Zealand Forest last week, coming together beautifully in time for the public dedication.

Building the New Zealand Forest has been an enormous collaborative effort that has involved the support of many partners, including Seattle Parks and Recreation, the Arboretum Foundation and The Berger Partnership, the design firm hired for the project. UWBG Director Sarah Reichard and Hoyt have been closely involved in the planning and creation of this new exhibit since its inception, and they’re grateful for all of the community volunteers and energy, as well as the citizens of Seattle for supporting the levy that funded the garden’s infrastructure.

As the New Zealand Forest matures, it will be a spectacular new garden to enjoy at the Arboretum. Visitors will be able to immerse themselves in unfamiliar landscapes—modeled on actual plant communities from the South Island of New Zealand—and discover beautiful plants they’ve never seen before. When you do visit, though, be mindful that many of the plants will be small for a while yet. Of course, that’s part of the joy of a collection like this: It will continue growing and changing for as long as it’s here. “No garden is ever done,” says Reichard, and they will keep adding new plants for years to come.

Check back with UWBG closer to the date for the most updated schedule of activities. The dedication is free and open to the public—no ticket or RSVP required—and will take place at the Pacific Connections meadow at the south end of the Arboretum. There will be live music, a ribbon cutting, cake and lemonade, and tours of the new garden. So come out and explore the New Zealand Forest!

Parking and Transportation
Arboretum Drive will be open to one-way traffic, going south, for the duration of the event. Parking will be permitted along the right-hand side of the drive, as well as in designated Arboretum parking lots. To help reduce traffic, please consider using public transportation, or coming by bike or on foot.

New Zealand Forest
Photos © SEFS.

Name That Tree!

We recently received an inquiry requesting help identifying a particular tree in Seattle’s Colman Park. Martha Edmond, the inquirer, wrote:

Lombardy poplar

One of the photos Martha Edmond sent to help identify the tree, which turned out to be a Lombardy poplar.

“I wonder if you are able to help me. I am researching an artist who painted along the west shore of Lake Washington (circa 1905) near Colman Park. The artist included a row of trees in his work. I was told years ago by a dendrologist that they were native to the West Coast, and that they were willows—but they are certainly not “weeping” willows.

An article is being published on this artist, and it would be nice to identify the type of tree. I am attaching some views of the trees that I took on a trip to Colman Park. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated!”

We forwarded the photos to a few folks here at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, and Professor Sarah Reichard immediately guessed that it was likely some sort of poplar—possibly a Lombardy poplar—but said she would need more than a slightly unfocused image to be certain.

So, taking advantage of lovely weather this week, Professor Emeritus Bob Edmonds and his wife decided to head over to Colman Park to have a look in person. They found two poplars in the area and confirmed that one does, in fact, have the small leaves and crown shape of a Lombardy poplar, which has European roots and is not native to the Pacific Northwest. Edmonds says the other, which has larger leaves and a different crown shape, is likely a black cottonwood, which is native to North America, including Washington and Oregon. Who knew such a seemingly simple inquiry could yield such a complicated explanation?

Thanks to everyone for helping solve this mystery, and we hope we were able to help Martha Edmond and Ottawa Magazine with their story!

Photo © Martha Edmond.

Thesis Defense: Betsy Vance!

Hackelia venusta

Is there a better way to kick off a Wednesday morning than by listening to one of your fellow graduate students present her original research? No way!

So come out to Anderson 22 at 9 a.m. this Wednesday, May 22, to hear Betsy Vance defend her Master’s Thesis: “Investigating the ecological requirements of Hackelia venusta: An examination of the soils and their potential influence on the limited distribution of one of Washington State’s most endangered species.”

Hackelia venusta (“Showy Stickseed”) is an endemic, endangered species restricted to a single population located on the eastern footslopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Preservation of the current population, as well as the establishment of future populations, is contingent upon a better understanding of the plant’s specific ecological requirements. The purpose of this study was to characterize the physical and chemical properties of the soil and how these properties may be influencing the current extent of the population.

Professors Darlene Zabowski and Rob Harrison are co-chairs of Vance’s committee, and other members include Professors Sarah Reichard and Eric Turnblom.

She’ll have coffee, juice and some sort of food/snack on hand, so come kick-start your day with some caffeine and a healthy dose of intellectual stimulation!

Photo of Hackelia venusta © Betsy Vance.

Dissertation Defense: Rachel Mitchell!

Rachel Mitchell

Rachel Mitchell at an experimental grassland at Glacial Heritage Preserve, Wash.

Thesis season is in high gear, and we have another great dissertation defense coming up this Monday, May 13, with Rachel Mitchell: “The Extent, Drivers and Consequences of Intraspecific Variation in Plant Functional Traits.”

Although plant functional traits are increasingly used to explore and understand plant ecology, most studies assume that intraspecific variation in functional traits is negligible. Recent research, however, indicates that this is not the case, and that intraspecific trait variation may play an important role in plant communities and ecosystem function. Mitchell’s defense focuses on the extent, drivers and consequences of intraspecific trait variation in grassland species and communities.

Mitchell’s committee chair is Professor Jon Bakker, and her other committee members include SEFS Professors Sarah Reichard and Soo-Hyung Kim, along with Janneke Hille Ris Lambers, Martha Groom and Regina Rochefort.

Mark your calendars and clear some space to come see Mitchell’s talk this coming Monday morning at 9 a.m. in Anderson 22!

Photo © Rachel Mitchell.

Arboretum History, Maps Going Digital

Grid Map

Arboretum grid map, before.

Since it opened in 1934, the Washington Park Arboretum has hosted thousands of plant collections and species, each with a meticulously kept record and history. Until recently, many of those details from 1934 through the 1980s—when the database became digital—have been preserved solely on paper, scribbled on grid maps or filed in countless handwritten notes.

This past August, though, the University of Washington Botanic Gardens (UWBG) received a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to begin digitizing those records and create an interactive Geographic Information Systems (GIS) map for the entire park. In the end, planners and visitors will be able to go online and pinpoint specific plants and collections within the arboretum, and access all sorts of historical details—a prospect that has everyone at UWBG and the arboretum buzzing.

“People will be able to find an area in the Arboretum, then zoom down and see which plants are there,” says Tracy Mehlin, project manager and information technology librarian at the Center for Urban Horticulture. “It will be really fascinating and educational to have all of that history linked to the plant records, and accessible online to everyone.”

Grid Map

Arboretum grid map, after.

One of the first tasks of the project was to begin surveying and verifying the geospatial coordinates of the 230-acre park, which decades ago was originally divided into 595 grid squares, each 100 feet by 100 feet. When those grid markers and coordinates are confirmed, they will be used to create a map that supports the geo-referenced database. Two- and three-person teams of students and staff have already been out surveying for the past couple months.

It’s a multi-tiered project, and Mehlin has been working closely with other partners at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS).

Sarah Reichard, director of UWBG, is the principal investigator on the grant along with Soo-Hyung Kim, a professor of plant ecophysiology. Jim Lutz, a research scientist and engineer with the College of the Environment, has been helping coordinate the student survey crews and GIS mapping, and David Campbell is working on the searchable database and Web interface. Others involved are helping with various projects, including digitizing the existing maps, as well as handwritten notes and histories attached to each of the park’s 10,000 accessions (plants specifically added and catalogued as part of the arboretum’s collections).When completed, the searchable database will be a boon for environmental research and park management. It will also expand interpretative opportunities for visitors.

“The really fun part of it starts when it’s done,” says Reichard. “The idea is that eventually you’d be able to get the coordinates of a particular collection, like our magnolias, and locate them on your cell phone or GPS unit. We can start putting together virtual tours, and visitors can go from plant to plant.”

The grant covers two years and is expected to run through August 2014. By then, anyone with a Web-connected device will have unprecedented access to most of the living collections—barring a few rare species—at the arboretum. And for the rest, you’ll just have to come out and explore the park on foot!

Images courtesy of Tracy Mehlin.