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Have plants, will travel

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Preserving plant populations

Jessica Le shares her research into plant taxonomy
Jessica Le presents her findings in plant taxonomy

BURSTing into bloom

BURST program participant Jessica Le, a cellular and molecular biology major, spent the summer working with graduate student mentors Nicole Soper Gorden, Matt Yake and Katie Winkler on her research project, "Acquisition of Botany Skills: Herbarium." Le had previously participated in Project Baseline, a multi-university collaboration seedbank collection project to study plant evolution. Her task was to identify, collect, and immediately press plants in the field, from locations throughout North America.

The project unfolded over 10 weeks, most of which was spent in the field. “I collected plants from the north shore of Lake Superior, all the way from Gooseberry falls to Canada. Then I went on another trip to collect from areas in Missouri, Arkansas, and Illinois.” She was accompanied by mentors Soper Gorden and Winkler. Yake taught her the mounting skills necessary to preserve the plants before she departed. Over the course of her project, she collected and preserved around 40 plants.

Le collected mainly plants that flowered during the summer. “I collected and identified what was in season when I went out,” she said. She was tasked with identifying the family level taxonomy for each plant, after which her mentors helped narrow the classification down to individual species. Over the 10-week project, she collected around 40 plants.

Collecting useful data

Le says working on the BURST project was an “easy transition.” She had met one of her mentors, Yake, when he was a teaching assistant for one of her biology courses. She met the rest of her mentoring staff when working for Project Baseline as a seed cleaner.

“My mentors asked what I wanted to do, and showed me some sample proposals for me to get ideas from," Le said. "I chose the herbarium project because I wanted to learn more about it. When I was younger, I collected plants and preserved them, but I didn’t know the technical name for it. I have definitely honed my skills and collected a wider sample size than I did in my own backyard.”

View features of two other BURST participants: Marshal Wedger | Max Helmberger

Written by Zach Lunderberg, November 2014.

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