Pointless trivia…

A job application (for a botanical position with the state of Missouri) had a field for typing speed. Since I don’t know how quickly I type, I figured I’d take several of the various online tests. Over four of them I averaged about 85 words per minute, which I guess is respectable.

Geranium dodecatheoides

My second new species from New Mexico is published, Geranium dodecatheoides P.J.Alexander & Aedo. Many thanks to Carlos Aedo, who knows far more about Geranium than I could ever hope to. Read the article here: http://www.bioone.org/toc/rhod/113/955. The location where I found it happens to be along one of the most readily accessible trails in the Sierra Blanca; it is surprising that it has not been collected before, but so far as I can tell it was completely overlooked. So, one more reason to keep your eyes open outside, even in areas where you wouldn’t really expect to find anything too exciting. I’m sure I’ve stumbled past at least as many undescribed species as I’ve happened to notice… with luck, perhaps I’ll find another that I can give a name with even more syllables!


I just stumbled across a lovely interface for tracking precipitation in the U.S.: http://water.weather.gov/precip/. Previously I’d been using this site: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/realtime/. Alas, NOAA has discontinued that page and replaced it with something that is, to me at least, not very useful; fortunately, water.weather.gov is a great improvement.

It is also worth mentioning that I’ve always found NOAA’s website hopelessly baffling. They seem to be improving that; water.weather.gov is surprisingly easy to navigate to from either weather.gov or noaa.gov, but the cpc.ncep.noaa.gov side is hopeless. Suppose you start at the CPC’s “Monitoring and Data” page. Then you click on “United States Climate Data and Maps”, then “Precipitation and Temperature”, then “Recent Precipitation Maps”… and that sends you to http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/realtime/, where you are redirected to http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/Global_Monsoons/gl_obs.shtml, which is apparently intended for global monsoon monitoring. Huh?

Botany is hard

So, in the post below, and probably in a number of posts that will follow, I criticize the results of or approaches to research that relies on field botany and plant identification. I should say now: it’s hard. None of us always get it right and mistakes will be made. A major target of my ire tends not to be that people aren’t perfect botanists, but that I think there is a systematic undervaluation of botanical expertise. Field personnel whose work requires them to be able to identify plants are often poorly trained and poorly paid, because the difficulty of the work is not appreciated. So far as I can tell, land management agencies and ecological research stations assume that someone who’s taken a couple of courses in plant taxonomy can be sent into the field and will bring back reliable data. Well, I’ve taken those courses, I’ve taught those courses, I’ve botanized extensively across much of the western United States, and I can tell you (assuming, hypothetically, a reader) now: this simply is not the case.

Someone who’s taken the courses available at NMSU (Rangeland Plants, Rangeland Grasses, Plant Taxonomy), done well and studied conscientiously, should be able to sight-ID a fair number of the common species (but few of those uncommon species that make up most of the biodiversity), and should be able to key out most plants assuming there is flowering and/or fruiting material available (and there often isn’t, but field crews don’t tend to have the luxury of waiting for good conditions). But that’s it. Don’t expect or rely on sight-IDs of most of the plants in the area, and don’t expect that any kind of identification will be possible for most species if the plants are in poor shape and many or most of the diagnostic characters are absent.

Suppose you want to answer a simple question: is plant diversity higher in grasslands or shrublands in southern New Mexico? Well, if you want reliable data, you need a field crew of people who already have several years of experience–probably voluntary / recreational since, AFAICT, no one will pay you to learn plants–botanizing in the area. Those people are scarce, and most of them have Masters or PhD degrees (and many are retired!); you probably can’t (and, ethically, shouldn’t) hire them for crappy minimum or near-minimum wage temporary positions. If, on the other hand, you hire a field crew of people fresh from their undergrad degrees whose experience is limited to two or three courses in plant ID or taxonomy, either that crew is going to be spending 90% of its time learning plant ID, or you’re going to get crappy, unreliable data. (As for the simple question, so far as I know there is no reliable answer! More on that some time later.)

One way to minimize the expertise required is to only focus on a few of the dominant plant species (as in the vegetation maps discussed in the post below). It is better to recognize one’s limitations and work within them, but this approach means you’re ignoring most of the botanical diversity in the area… not exactly ideal, in my opinion.

The gist is, if you try to fill botanical field crews on the cheap, rather than hiring highly trained botanists with extensive experience, you have a few options, none of them particularly good: deal with poor accuracy of identifications; get very little data back because your field crews are spending most of their time learning the plants; adopt a very myopic view of plant communities.

Floral inventory of my apartment

An inventory of the plants presently living in my apartment. Some identifications are very approximate, as a number of these were acquired through greenhouses that don’t label plants and so forth… and I don’t exactly have, say, a key to all the species of Aechmea, Neoregelia, all the myriad cultivated varieties in genera like Saintpaulia, etc. Listed in alphabetical order by family, genus, then species.


Senecio articulatus
Senecio stapeliiformis

Bromeliaceae (I have a particular fondness for terrestrial bromeliads, as you may notice):

Acanthostachys pitcairnoides
Acanthostachys strobilacea
Aechmea sp. (not one of the obnoxious cultivars; alas, I’ve lost the tag indicating which species)
Billbergia chiapensis
Billbergia zebrina (thought this thing was dead for a good while!)
Deuterocohnia brevifolia
Dyckia platyphylla
Fosterella kroemeri (or perhaps F. windischii; I need to wait for flowers to tell; sold to me as Fosterella albicans)
Fosterella latifolia (sold as Fosterella villosula; Fosterella latifolia is placed in synonymy of Fosterella penduliflora in a revision by Jule Peters but it looks different so, what the hell, I’ll list it separately)
Fosterella penduliflora (I’ve had these for something like 15 years; they reseed readily and are hard to kill)
Fosterella petiolata (I think)
Fosterella spectabilis
Neoregelia sp. (not one of the obnoxious cultivars; alas, I’ve lost the tag indicating which species)
Orthophytum saxicola
Pitcairnia cf. punicea

Cactaceae (I don’t particularly like cacti, but somehow I end up with them anyways!):

x Disophyllum, unknown cultivar
Echinops, unknown hybrid
Mammillaria elongata
Mammillaria hernandesi
Rhipsalis baccifera
Rhipsalis paradoxa
Schlumbergera, unknown cultivar (white flowers)
Stenocactus zacatecasensis


Tradescantia spathacea


Sedum wrightii


Euphorbia horrida
Euphorbia obesa (although it doesn’t look particularly happy…)


Saintpaulia, unknown cultivar (single purple flowers)


Hypnum sp.


Isoëtes louisianensis
Isoëtes melanopoda


Marchantia polymorpha


Marsilea vestita


Dorstenia foetida
Ficus sansibarica

mosses (unknown family):

several species that I have not identified


Botrychium lunarioides
Ophioglossum crotalophoroides


Davallia sp.


Atrichum sp.
Polytrichum sp.


Porella sp.


Psilotum nudum


Astrolepis sinuata (it volunteered in a terrarium, of all things)
Astrolepis windhamii
Bommeria hispida
Cheilanthes eatonii
Cheilanthes fendleri
Cheilanthes lindheimeri
Cheilanthes yavapensis
Pellaea atropurpurea
Pellaea gastonyi
Pellaea truncata
Pellaea wrightiana
Pteris cretica


Selaginella erythropoda
Selaginella moellendorfii
Selaginella rupincola


Sphagnum sp. (not really sure why I bought this… online biological supply stores are dangerous)


Cissus quadrangularis


Welwitschia mirabilis


Haworthia herbacea

[updated 30 Jan 2014]