Not One but Two Graduates!

The extra-fancy important person standing up is Joyce.


Woooooo Jonathan and Joyce!!!!


The first Rothfels lab graduates!!!! One with Honors, and the other the commencement speaker. This is a high bar to set–very cruel, guys. Joyce’s speech was amazing–catch it starting around minute 38. Congratulations J’s!!

Dr. J! (Full disclosure: Joyce didn’t realize that there was an earlier Dr. J. LOL LOL LOL)


The future is bright!


Carl and the Cherys (everyone very proud!)


Blue ice!!


Joyce & Chelsea & the Campanile


Jonathan with one of his fine Polystichum


No caption needed





Spring Lab Picnic

Fun in the Richmond sun

Even by early May (when I should have gotten this post up), it’d been a momentous spring for the Rothfels lab with, among other excitements, Jonathan finishing his Honors Thesis and Joyce completing her PhD — the first Rothfels Lab graduates!! These events, of course, provide a great excuse for a picnic.

Jonathan and Keir, discussing the finer points of allopolyploidy
We look blurrier than we felt.

The smaller humans stole the show, as usual.



Mexico! Abby and Ixchel in the field

Operation All The Astrolepis

I recently returned from a 10 day trip to Mexico to collect Astrolepis for my senior thesis project. I am studying the evolutionary origins of the allopolyploid complex, Astrolepis integerrima, which occurs in the southwestern United States and the deserts of Mexico. I started in Mexico City where I met up with Ixchel González Ramírez of the Mishler lab. I stayed with her and her family for a night there and then we headed off to Querétaro. Ixchel and I collected Astrolepis in Querétaro with one of her colleagues, Moni Queijeiro-Bolaños, a professor at the Universidad Autonoma de Querétaro. We collected in three localities surrounding the city.

from left to right: Oscar, Moni, Ixchel, and Abby. First day of fieldwork complete!
Astrolepis sinuata growing on a volcanic outcrop. Rock hammer for scale.

Ixchel and I then went to Peña de Bernal, Ixmiquilpan, and Tolantongao in Queretaro and Hidalgo, collecting any Astrolepis we saw along the way. We also found some hotsprings in Tolantongo!

Peña de Bernal
The first A. integerrima found!
Ixchel collecting some Gaga we spotted
plant press & silica. Also note the Botany 2018 water bottle
a relaxing evening exploring the hot springs and grottoes in Tolantongo
mmmm… delicious barbacoa breakfast on our way back to Mexico City

After the 5 day road trip, Ixchel and I returned to Mexico City. The next day, I took a bus to Puebla to meet up with former Specht lab post doc and current BAUP professor, Etelvina Gándara. Etel, one of her undergraduate students, Koni, her dog, Milla (named after Milla biflora), and I went on a two day roadtrip through Puebla and Veracruz, looking for Astrolepis at several localities.

from left to right: Abby, Etel, and Koni in front of caldera lake Atexcac
field dog Milla strutting in front of the lake
volcanic roadcut equals prime Astrolepis habitat

We collected Astrolepis near three different beautiful caldera lakes and spent the night in Coatepec, Veracruz, which is in a cloud forest. Because we were in one of the coffee producing regions of Mexico, I had to get some coffee for the Rothfels lab!

A waterfall in the cloud forest near Xico, Veracruz
The choice was ours to make…

I then headed back to Mexico City to spend two days at the MEXU herbarium, sampling tissue from their collections of Astrolepis. I spotted some collections made by someone familiar…

hmm.. something familiar here?
within the collections! So many Astrolepis!

It was an amazing trip and would not have been possible without the help of many people (Ixchel, Carl, Carrie, and new friends) as well as the fellowships I received from the IB and EPS departments. I’m about to study abroad in Santiago de Chile for all of Fall 2019 semester but I can’t wait to come back to my specimens in January to start uncovering a part of the the mystery of the morphologically variable Astrolepis integerrima!



Abby & McConehenge


On March 11 (yes, I’m that far behind!) Abby took our lab meeting on the road and gave us a tour of her work on the geology interpretive displays at McCone Hall, including the infamous McConehenge (which, unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of — you’ll have to go to the “front yard” of McCone Hall and check it out for yourself). This has been a semester-long labor of love (and sweat) on Abby’s part (she worked with Nick Swanson-Hysell on this, of the Department of Earth and Planetary Science), and the results show it! Probably best lab meeting ever.


Abby by the core McCone Henge interpretive display–the stations described on the sign correspond to each of the boulders comprising the henge–see the map in the top-left corner.
There are also a series of indoor display cabinets with cool rocks and minerals, which Abby worked on.
Calcite colored by geothite.
Rhodochrosite and malachite with azurite.
Rosasite on geothite with calcite.
Calcite (paramorphic after aragonite).
Cool gypsums.
Benitoite with neptunite, in natrolite.
Tourmaline with rubellite.



Joyce’s Finishing Talk

Joyce and the Lianas, to a sold-out show!

Joyce gave her finishing talk, and, as expected, hit it out of the park. Congratulations Joyce!!! The rlab is very proud! A few photos follow, of the action and the subsequent celebrations. If you WANT TO SEE HER TALK FOR YOURSELF, it is HERE.

My valiant attempts to slightly embarrass Joyce in the introduction


Opening act over, let the show begin!


The cutest of acknowledgements (top right)


Carrie outdid herself again — look at that vascular cambial variant cake! And it was delicious.


Cutting the cake


Paul (or Paula?), Joyce’s new houseplant


Champagne, in all its slow-motion glory!




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.