So...there's an important and rather general plant thing that I've never mentioned: Currently, I study plants in the plant family Brassicaceae (also referred to as "crucifers" in old school taxonomy and ID guides, or by your aging botany prof). In New York, I am studying the distribution of Hesperis matronalis and its' viral pal, Turnip Mosaic Virus (TuMV). In the Rockies, I am on the search for any (seriously any) virus lurking in the super cute alpine species Boechera stricta.
You're reading this blog, which means that you are one of a very small number of people who know that it exists, which means that you're also probably one of a very-slightly-larger number of people who know me. That means you probs already know that I study Brassicas, and might even be familiar and knowledgable about other clade members. Also, this site is called "phyto-philia"...so...
For the less plant-inclined readers: you know that obnoxious friend who once huffily declared that kale was the very same species as brussel sprouts and kholrhabi? Well, you're welcome for that fast factoid AND it's true AND that's a silly example that introduces, but does not represent, a diverse phylogenetic group of plants. Kale, brussels and canola make some people lots of money (or, if you shop at WF, cost you a bunch of it), and lots of physiological science is done using the model species Arabidopsis thaliana, but there are so many other intrinsically valuable* brassica species worth adoring. I include, with enthusiasm, garlic mustard and other 'noxious' weeds in this group of all stars.
Today, however, I only have the patience and time to write about my current heart throb: Boechera stricta. Chances are that I will say other, more interesting things about this species in the coming years (one would certainly hope so), but for now I'm just totally smitten with rockcress. Not only do we share a native range, but it's an approachably-abundant plant with already-quantified genotypic and phenotypic variation across its' admirable range. Okay...so it hasn't been studied equally-well across the entire range...but that means there are plenty of basic things to do yet!
More on that later. For now, onwards to the basics:
Boechera stricta is a biennial to perennial forb with a natural to native range across the North American mountain west. As is characteristic for members of Brassicaceae, vegetative growth occurs first in rosette form until 1) sufficient energy is stored, 2) death seems imminent or 3) the right pollen grain comes along and the plant decides to reproduce. At this point, an inflorescence bursts forth like your bff's teenage acne, announcing the plant's fertility with a crown of four-petaled white flowers and volatile phenolics to boot. Then, after at least a year of preparation for this sexual awakening, it self-pollinates' itself (approx. 95% of the time, according to Dr. Tom Mitchell-Olds of Duke University) making the whole flowering routine seem completely contrived.
Why do I study this species? There are a few reasons, none of which are necessarily 'right' or 'wrong' but most of which make it a good system for my temperament and goals. First, B. stricta grows across an elevational gradient that facilitates research into abioticially-mediated responsiveness across relatively short distances. The key idea here is that conditions such as precipitation, temperature and biological communities vary with elevation and may be useful for understanding impacts of environmental change. Furthermore, B. stricta is already the subject of much scientific attention from a community of truly badass researchers who have, for some reason, accepted me into their fold. Along with the afformentioned Dr. Mitchell-Olds, former Cornellian and current UGA assistant professor/researcher extraordinaire Dr. Jill Anderson has encouraged my interest in the system and provided unparalleled access and intellectual support as I begin exploring the questions I can attempt to address. I hope (very much) that future funding success facilitates future work with both of these researcher groups; I have much to learn and gain from working with them.
Alright. My attention is starting to wander. Onwards, as they say.