Friday, May 24, 2013

Easter Daisy Rescue

Between Laramie, Wyoming’s West Side and Interstate Highway 80 is a zone of undeveloped open space along the Laramie River.  This is an under-appreciated natural area -- a mix of riparian habitat, small wetlands, grassland and light industry.  All it takes is a bit of careful attention to discover treasures -- plants in bloom, animals doing their thing (foxes, muskrats, skunks, mice, deer, beaver, frogs, herons, kingfishers, hawks, ducks, orioles, goldfinches ... etc.), and the antics of the river (freeze, thaw, rise, drop, sparkle in the sunshine).
Wetland in winter -- cattails are on display all year round. 
Laramie River ice art, courtesy Jack Frost.
They may be small, but in early spring the Easter daisies are spectacular and make everyone smile!
Then every very four or five years, something gets built and the open space shrinks.  The largest area of grassland was split in half recently, when McCue Street was extended.  A Greenbelt Park was put in along the river, with a paved path -- great addition for Laramie citizens, but maybe not so great for wildlife in the riparian zone.  The land around the Territorial Prison was fenced, and we were told that anyone caught on the property without a pass would be arrested.  (Time would be served in the County Jail ... the Territorial Prison is a tourist attraction.)
Recent additions to the Territorial Prison.
The latest project in the works is a street that will connect the new viaduct across the Union Pacific Railroad tracks with Highways 130 and 230.  The route will cross the open space just west of the neighborhood, where I frequently walk.  There is quite a nice patch of Easter daisies (Townsendia sp.) directly in the path of the new street.  Can anything be done????
The “Blue Route” was chosen after much debate (not about Easter daisies).
Yes! ... call the Easter Daisy Rescue Team!!  Actually, I’m the entire “team” but I did seek help.  I emailed Cindy, long-time president of the Great Plains Native Plant Society and native plants gardener par excellence.
“There's a nice patch of townsendias in the open space west of my house that are due for destruction (street).  I'm thinking about snagging some for one of my wildflower beds.  Have you tried them?  Any suggestions?”
Her response was enthusiastic and very helpful:
“I think a good time would be just after they go to seed.  That would give them some time to recover from the stress of bringing all those buds to bloom, and yet still take advantage of the spring flush.  I get the best results when I can dig a good-sized clump of soil with the plant, rush it to its new home, and plop it into a hole of the same size.  Plastic grocery sacks make good transporters.  You won't even have to give them a sip out of your water bottle to tide them over during the trip to their new home! ... If there are plenty, why not dig some now, and some later?”
I proceeded exactly as directed.
By May 12, the threatened Easter daisies were almost done flowering.  Most of the heads had turned pink, and were closed up tight.
I dug up clumps -- plants with large chunks of soil -- put them in plastic grocery sacks and headed home.  There I dug appropriately-sized holes and "plopped" them in.
Easter daisies in their new home.
The transplanted Townsendias are doing well.  The leaves are all still vigorous and standing upright, not lying withered on the ground.  Last week, the heads opened once again, this time revealing little balls of winged seeds -- tiny “clocks” (as dandelion seed heads are called).  It was time for the second phase of the project.
Easter daisy clocks, ready for seed dispersal.
In exchange for Cindy’s helpful information, I was to collect seed for the Great Plains Native Plant Society’s seed exchange.  So I headed back to the Easter daisy patch where there were abundant seed heads.  Being a well-trained field botanist, I collected a voucher specimen to document the species, variety, genetic strain ... whatever ... of the seed source.  Easter daisies can be difficult to tell apart, so this voucher will be critical for determining which Townsendia this is, as will be seen in the sequel to this post.
Collecting tools.  A brick hammer is the best thing for getting a plant and its root out of tough prairie soils.  The specimen (near hammer head) with extra seed heads (left of hammer) go in the plastic bag.
Townsendia clocks, destined for the Great Plains Native Plant Society seed exchange.
At home, the specimen is cleaned of dirt and other debris ...
... revealing multiple stems in a single cushion.
This "cushion plant" is much too thick to press flat, so it is split, through the root.
Some heads are pulled off and pressed to reveal characters needed for identification.
Loose seeds are included.  They will go in a fragment envelope as part of the herbarium specimen.
The specimen in newspaper is placed between sheets of corrugated cardboard in the plant press ...
... and strapped up tight.  It was a sunny day, so I put the press on the dashboard of my parked car for drying.
And finally -- data, of course.  The necessary information was entered in my field book, including legal description following the old system still in place, and GPS coordinates for the inevitable change ahead.
My first collection of 2013.


  1. how nice that you did all this!! we have them here too, I had no idea they were called Easter daisies, I just called them daisies. :-)

    1. thanks, elena ... nice to hear from you :)

  2. Wow Hollis,

    I would just like to see one of the Townsendias in the flesh while in bloom (bucket list item) and here you are out rescuing the little darlings! Good job!

    I did get a little bit of a chance to look for them down in Wind Cave this spring after an alert from Beth that they were blooming, but still missed out....

    Perhaps, that's why they call the West next year country????

    Carry on your good deeds and good posts!
    grins, Helen