Taxonomist Appreciation Day!

Taxonomist appreciation, in verse

So apparently today is Taxonomist Appreciation Day, huzzah! And on this momentous occasion, the following verse crossed my edesk, courtesy of Fredrick Schueler:

If it wasn’t for the namers what would we do,
We wouldn’t have names both short and true,
We couldn’t specify a creature in a word or two,
If it wasn’t for the work of the namers.

If it wasn’t for the namers you’d just shrug
and call every crawling thing a bug.
Nothing makes a person a more perfect mug
than to disregard the work of the namers.*

If it wasn’t for the namers where would we be,
We wouldn’t have synonymy,
Each would use his favourite name and all would disagree,
If it wasn’t for the work of the namers.

If it wasn’t for the namers we wouldn’t know,
To regard Sorex as a Shrew,
We wouldn’t know cinereus from fumeus and you,
Would simply scream “A shrewmouse there, step on it!”

If it wasn’t for the namers where’d we begin
to know who was kith and kin?
There would be no way to know which clade we’re in
if it wasn’t for the work of the namers.*

If it wasn’t for the namers what would we do,
We wouldn’t have names both short and true,
We couldn’t specify a creature in a word or two,
If it wasn’t for the work of the namers.

*’d verses, June 2013, Gagetown bioblitz. –

On the way back from Wawa, Ontario (6 October 2000 – the day we drove for 20 hrs) – to the tune of “If it was na’for the wark o’ the weavers. – to the tune of




The Subalpine Marshmarigolds of California

The Subalpine Marshmarigolds of California

I was recently invited to write an article for the Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, and chose to write about a group of plants I studied for my doctoral dissertation, the subalpine marshmarigolds of western North America. For this article I focused on the two species that occur in California, the hexaploid Caltha biflora and the allododecaploid C. leptosepala. While the hexaploid is widespread in the mountains of California, the allododecaploid is apparently very rare in California, and restricted to the Warner Mountains and High Sierra. It was fun to write in a different style than usual, and hopefully the article will reach an audience beyond the academic community!

FERNS at Black Pine Circle School Science Slam!

Ferns were on full display at this year’s Science Slam at Black Pine Circle School, a K-8 private school in Berkeley, California. Graduate student Mick Song participated alongside several scientists and science educators in kicking off a week of science for the middle schoolers. Showcasing several exciting ferns and lycophytes from Costa Rica and telling them about the exciting Azolla event, Mick introduced several students to the world of pteridology. However, there were several intrepid students who already were pressing plants at home! The youth are alright!

Paleo Valentines

How to express enduring love?

With paleo valentines! These gems (and their captions) are courtesy of Allie Weill — thank you Allie!! If you’re impressed, you get more Allie content on instagram (@al.m.weill) and the twitter (@Al_R_Wallace).

This valentine features Lepidodendron, a big fossil tree that could grow to 100 feet tall. Lepidodendron is classified in division Lycopodiophyta, the group that includes modern day club mosses and quillworts, one of the earliest branching off groups off vascular plants. Lycopods were much more diverse in the Carboniferous, when Lepidodendron lived, forming vast forests. The background of the valentine shows the distinctive leaf scars that covered the bark of these trees, while we see an illustration of what the full tree may have looked like in the foreground.


This valentine features a pith cast (infill of the center of the stem) of Calamites, a Carboniferous tree-sized relative of modern horsetails. Like the lycopods, the sphenopsids (horsetails and their relatives) were much more diverse historically than they are today, with sphenopsid trees common in Carboniferous forests.


This valentine features a close up of the structure and an illustration of Prototaxites, one of the most mysterious of fossils. It formed huge trunk-like structures and lived mostly in the Devonian period (~420-360 mya). Because of hyphae-like structures in the fossil, as well as isotopic evidence, it is widely considered to be an enormous fungus, perhaps even a lichen, but there are other theories.


This valentine features the stele (the primary vascular tissue and supporting pith) of an ancient fern called Ankyropteris, which lived in the Carboniferous period (~360-300 mya). During this time we get exceptional preservation of cellular structure in coal balls, a type of fossilization enabled by the coal swamps of the era. Many plants of this time can be identified by the unique shapes of their steles, and ferns have some strange ones, like this H-shaped stele.



Jonathan Brings the Polystichum to PLANTS!

munitum, imbricans, dudleyi, and californicum, oh my

Jonathan took the reins for last week’s PLANTS! seminar and gave a compelling tour of the glory and mystery of reticulating Polystichum. Killer synapomorphies for Polystichum imbricans subspecies curtum remain elusive, however.


My study organisms are huge!


Just look at how much fun ferns are. Polystichum in particular.


Article on San Diego State University Field Stations Program website

Article on San Diego State University Field Stations Program website

Pentagramma triangularis, just chillin’ trailside

Our recent fieldwork at Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve (in Riverside and San Diego Counties near Temecula, CA) resulted in on online article on the San Diego State University Field Stations Program new website!

This spot was absolutely luscious, with lots of topographic diversity, rain, mud, flowering plants, ferns, lycophytes, fungi, and liverworts. We (Forrest and Keir) found the first Pentagramma triangularis of the trip here, which rounded out our other fern and lycophyte collections of the morning nicely. I’m so grateful that this Reserve exists, and that the SDSU Field Stations make this biodiverse region so accessible for research. See previous post for more luscious photos of SMER!






January Fieldwork in S California

January Fieldwork in S California

In mid-January, two researchers from the Rothfels Lab, Keir Wefferling, focusing on Pentagramma (the goldback and silverback ferns in Pteridaceae) and Forrest Freund, with a focus on the lycophyte genus Isoëtes, (quillworts, in Isoëtaceae) visited three SDSU and UCNRS Ecological Reserves and a number of National Wildlife Refuge sites in San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties. Their fieldwork took place amidst some magnificent rains, wind, and sun!

Pentagramma glanduloviscida; looking a little P. viscosa-esque with those +/- entire proximal basiscopic pinnules of the basal pinnae.
Pentagramma glanduloviscida

The collection trip was focused on the pteridaceous fern genus Pentagramma, and they managed to find 3.5 species: the goldback fern P. triangularis and the more or less silverback ferns P. maxoniiP. glanduloviscida, and a likely cross (allopolyploid?) between P. glanduloviscida and P. viscosaPentagramma currently has six recognized diploid species and an unknown number of polyploids (mostly triploids and tetraploids) formed through natural hybridization among the diploids. In order to get a better grasp of the morphological, genetic, and chromosome number variation among different populations of Pentagramma, Keir has been sampling from across the range of the genus, incorporating material from herbarium specimens and from the field. Fresh and living material collected on this trip will be particularly useful as it provides high quality DNA and RNA for sequencing work, is ideal for genome size analysis using flow cytometry, and may yield meiotically active cells suitable for chromosome counting work!

Isoëtes orcuttii and Selaginella cinerascens, N San Miguel Mtn., San Diego NWR


Eriogonum fasciculatum, Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve


Forrest scouting ferns and lycophytes in the field after some serious rains, Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve


Keir feeling good about Myriopteris newberryi, Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve


Myriopteris newberryi


Oasis de Los Osos, UCNRS; westernmost Sonoran Desert, with Pentagramma maxonii!


Pellaea andromedifolia


Primula (Dodecatheon) clevelandii, Elliott Chaparral Reserve, UCNRS


Sneak peak: Microbiomes dead or alive!

Resurrecting microbiomes past

Rothfels Lab graduate student Mick Song has caught the microbiome bug! After finishing a project studying the variation in the microbiota of Daphnia magna across genotypes, populations, and temperatures with longtime collaborator Dr. Sarah Schaack at Reed College, he gave a guest lecture and tutorial on microbiomes in Dr. Jeremy Coate‘s Bioinformatics course last November.

Now he is teaming up with Dr. Jordan Metzgar curator of the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech (who taught Carl how to do PCR many years ago!) and undergraduate student Amber Reaney to explore the possibility of capturing microbial diversity in herbarium specimens of Azolla, building off of the recent work of Daru and colleagues [1]. While they break new ground in the herbarium, Mick will be in the lab with live Azolla trying out some exciting protocols for extracting and characterizing the microbial diversity in the leaf pockets of Azolla across the genus. Although the Azolla-Nostoc symbiosis has been well-described [2], the community composition of the bactobionts as a whole remains poorly understood. Who knows what they will find!

[1] Daru et al. (2018), “A novel proof of concept for capturing the diversity of endophytic fungi preserved in herbarium specimens.”

[2] Li et al. (2018), “Fern genomes elucidate land plant evolution and cyanobacterial symbioses.”



Rothfels lab poet laureate

Ode to a Fern Foray

While botanists sit at home and reckon,
Far-flung Fijian forests beckon.
From far-afield a Fern man came,
Despite some age he still was Game.

With Sarah’s help rare ferns he sought,
About their Latin names he taught.
Up muddy paths, down streams they walked,
Of family and genus talked.

On highest peak, by every creek,
New species did they ever seek.
Ferns, lycophytes, more did abound,
With rarest ones still yet unfound.

Bright dragonflies did also gleam
in forest glades, by every stream.
Good natured Milen these did chase,
He cast his net with every pace.

Deep focus on the task at hand,
And bonding with the happy band,
Pushed cares away and made for play
On every happy ferny day.

If distant age brings feelings sad,
Fern memories may yet be glad,
And now far islands call us back,
To seek those ferns that yet we lack.

When long from now our time has been,
Ferns shall remain forever green –
And if one day the world should warm,
Bright ferns will weather every storm.


  —John Game, December 2018.