Science for Everyone

Resources

Hurricane’s Herbarium – A How To Guide

Post by Chloe Tremper, Science Educator

What’s a herbarium you ask? A place full of herbs? Sort of!  A herbarium is a collection of dried plants, systematically arranged, sometimes filling entire buildings or in Hurricane’s case filling a large plastic bin. 

Throughout this past season on Hurricane, I have been collecting, pressing, and mounting plant specimens from all over the island. Not only are these dried specimens beautiful, but they also hold a lot of utility.  Properly done plant collections are both a really useful teaching tool and provide information about the taxonomy, phenology, genetics, evolution, ecology, historical context, and systematics of each species and the environment it was collected in.  All that from one single plant!

Plant collecting as been around for centuries and many of those historic collections, despite some being over 300 years old, are still completely intact and stored in herbariums across the world.

Tall Buttercup or Crowsfoot

Want to start your own plant collection? Here’s how!

Step 1.  Build, purchase, or borrow a plant press. If you want to build your own, it’s super easy! All you need is two wooden boards of equal size, corrugated cardboard (same size as boards), newspaper, rope or straps blotter paper (or other very absorbent paper – i.e. watercolor paper) the size of the boards decides the size of your specimen so keep that in mind! I recommend boards that are about 12”x17” because if you decide to purchase acid-free herbarium mounting paper it’ll be easy to make sure your plant specimen will fit on the mounting paper.

Step 2. Explore! Go outside and locate flowering or fruiting plants – if you’re collecting on land other than your own (your neighbors, a state park, etc.) always get permission before you start digging up plants & check to make sure your local laws don’t require you to have a collection permit. Bring field guides and a hand lens so that you can properly identify your plant to species! Be sure to take detailed notes of where you found your plant and to record the date.

Hedge Bindweed

Step 3. Once you’ve chosen a plant that you want to collect, carefully remove it from the ground – making sure to collect it with at least some of the roots intact.  I always find it helpful to have a pocketknife or something else that you can use to dig up the plant with.  Carefully clean off any dirt from the roots or any other debris from the rest of the plant.

Step 4.  Get your plant into the press as quickly as possible! The longer it is out of the ground without moisture, the quicker it will begin to wilt and wilted plants tend to not press as well.  If you are far from your press when you are collecting, bring a plastic bag with a damp paper towel at the bottom of it to store plants in until you can press them (make sure the bag stays relatively sealed & that the plants aren’t in there for more than an hour or two).

Step 5.  To put your plant in the press, arrange it how you would like on a piece of newspaper.  This piece of newspaper should be stacked on top of a piece of blotter paper, a piece of cardboard, and one of the pieces of wood.  I find it helpful to use a piece of newspaper the same size as my mounting paper so that I know it’ll fit the right dimensions.  Make sure that at least a leaf or two is flipped upside down and that the plant is arranged as neatly as possible.  Once arranged, fold over the other half of the newspaper or place another piece of newspaper on top of the plant and then place piece of cardboard on top of it. 

Mountain wood fern

Step 6. Keep pressing! From here you can press as many plants as your press can hold. The key is to just keep layering with the pieces of wood always on the outside and layers of cardboard, blotter paper, newspaper, the plant, more newspaper, cardboard, and on, and on. Check out this helpful diagram.

Step 7. After you have put all the plants you want in the press, using the rope or straps tightly cinch the press so that as much pressure is put on the plants as possible.

Step 8. Check on the plants after a day or two – if they aren’t completely dry change their newspaper and put them back in the press for another day or so.  If they are dry – you are ready to mount your specimen!

Step 9.  To mount your specimen, first make a mix of half Elmer’s glue and half water.  Lay your specimen on top of a piece of mounting paper (generally a thick piece of acid-free white paper) and arrange it how you like.  Then either carefully apply the glue mixture to the backside of the plant specimen or dip it into a thin layer of the paint.  Then, carefully place it on the mounting paper – be sure to not glue down any of the fruiting or the flowering parts.

Step 10. Make a label and attach it to the bottom right corner of the mounting paper with your specimen on it. See what a proper label should look like here.    

Step 11. CELEBRATE! You now have your very own plant collection! Don’t worry if it’s not perfect – it gets easier with more practice! 

Subscribe in a reader

Kelp: Cultivating Health, Habitat, and Science

Post by Bailey Moritz, Scallop Research Intern

Sugar Kelp growing commercially

As an island rich with tide pooling enthusiasts, we tend to view seaweed as a slipping hazard on our way down the rocks. It’s something that clings to docks and the bottom of our boats. But for Paul Dobbins, kelp enthusiast and owner of Ocean Approved kelp farm near Portland, this marine plant holds so much more potential. From food to biofuel to skin care products, the uses for kelp are numerous and growing. Hurricane Island is gearing up to start our own educational aquaculture program and we were lucky enough to have Paul and his wife come out this past week to give us valuable advice about the process.

Paul shares a photo of sugar kelp in its early stages of growth

The first and most technically involved step in growing kelp is seeding the line. Kelp sporophytes, only a handful of cells large, are placed in a water-filled container with a spool of thread and some nutrient solution. After only 24 hours, the little kelp seeds will have attached themselves to the thread and start to grow. Once a visible brown film is present, the thread is ready to be spun out around a thicker rope suspended in the ocean. Kelp is an incredible crop in that it doesn’t require any inputs once it’s in the water. It utilizes nutrients already in the water column, and can actually help to clean water near populated areas. Since the farms are generally placed over muddy bottom, they create excellent habitat for juvenile species like lobster and fish where there wasn’t before. One of the fastest growing organisms in the world, the kelp will be 8-14 ft long after only about 12 weeks, which is harvestable size. Paul Dobbins' company processes and sells the kelp as a food product, such as a slaw or smoothie powder. It’s considered a superfood given the concentrated amount of nutrients, particularly iodine. Maine is the first state in the U.S. to grow kelp commercially so there is a lot of potential for growth in the market place and it’s a relevant field for students to engage in.

Determining future aquaculture sites on Hurricane Island

We look forward to involving student in the process of growing and taking care of their own kelp ropes this winter as part of our new in-school winter programming. As Paul made clear, growing your own kelp is very doable, with tangible results over a short amount of time. And there is a strong emphasis on the scientific process. Students will be able to see the tiny kelp cells under a microscope as they grow, monitor temperature, manipulate nutrients to optimize growth, and eventually reap their harvest. Aquaculture success is closely linked to the environment in which the products are growing. Walking around the island, Paul agreed that the sandy, protected cove of Gibbons Point would be ideal for growing oysters. Placing a line of kelp out there would also help to buffer waves coming into shore. The opposite end of the island by Two Bush Island seems to be the most promising for kelp that prefers high wave action. Now its just a matter of getting our gear together. The knowledge Paul Dobbins brought to our future kelp operation was incredibly helpful and inspiring. We’re super excited to get growing! 

Subscribe in a reader

Underwater, Where it's Dry

Post by Scallop Research Intern, Bailey Moritz

When you’re in a tropical place like the Caribbean, there’s nothing more refreshing than taking a dip in the sun-warmed, 80 degree water. But for those of us doing underwater research in Maine, where even summer water temperatures don’t typically exceed 60 degrees, submerging yourself in the water can be somewhat less enjoyable. That’s where dry suits come in. Available in a variety of materials, they are essentially like a loose, thick bag worn over a layer of cozy fleece. Throughout the dive, you add air to the suit both to adjust your buoyancy and to keep you warm. Your body heats up the air that gets trapped in the undergarment and acts as insulation. The air moves around in the suit, eventually venting from a valve on the shoulder when needed. Properly adjusted neck and wrist seals are critical so that the suit doesn’t leak.

Dry suits allow a diver to keep diving into the winter and early spring when water temperatures and surface conditions would be really treacherous to experience in a wet suit. Dives can also be longer in cold water because you aren’t experiencing the direct cold of the frigid water. This makes dry suit diving a good alternative for commercial fishermen diving for scallops or urchins here in Maine. And if you ever have the desire to dive in the Arctic, a dry suit is a must!

In order to add to our diving repertoire, Cait and I just completed a dry suit certification with Aqua Academy in Portland. Our instructor Jim Dock took us to Kettle Cove State Park for our first dry suit experience. Beautiful and varied kelp swayed in the shallow current, revealing lobster, hermit crabs, and several small rock fish. Tiny periwinkles clutched to eelgrass as we made our way out with the tide. Other than being a bit more difficult to remain neutrally buoyant at first, the suits worked great. And its hard to describe the unnatural feeling of the fuzzy fleece reminding you that even 20 ft below the surface, you aren’t at all wet! Of course, as we maneuvered out of the suits and packed up gear on shore, it started to rain. So much for staying totally dry!

Subscribe in a reader

Mushroom Cultivation Workshop

On Saturday March 28, 2015, Phoebe and I attended a workshop where we learned how to prepare and inoculate hardwood logs in order to cultivate Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms. The workshop was led by Aaron Englander, Farm Manager of Erickson Fields Preserve, and hosted at Aldermere Farm in Rockport, ME.

the lighter colored wood is the sapwood. 4-6" diameter logs have the most sapwood which is softer and better for the mycelium of the mushrooms to digest

the lighter colored wood is the sapwood. 4-6" diameter logs have the most sapwood which is softer and better for the mycelium of the mushrooms to digest

Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms are saprophytes, which means they feed on dead tissue as opposed to mycorrhizal fungi, which have symbiotic associations with living trees. This means that in the wild these mushrooms like to colonize old dead logs and gain energy by digesting the cellulose of the cambium or sapwood (the lighter colored wood surrounding the darker core, or heartwood), forming a dense mycelium (the vegetative structure of the fungus) network in the log before fruiting out.

The basic idea behind outdoor log mushroom cultivation is to create an environment where mushrooms have food, plenty of moisture to keep them alive and help them process food, and shade to keep them moist/from drying out. Also, we want to decrease the amount of competition from other decomposers by minimizing opportunities for those competitors to enter the log.

A look at the spawn plugs which are set into the hardwood logs

A look at the spawn plugs which are set into the hardwood logs

The process of preparing and inoculating logs is the most labor intensive part of growing mushrooms. The first step is selecting the right logs to use. The logs we worked with during the workshop were red oak for the shiitake mushrooms, and sugar maple for the oyster mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms have traditionally been cultivated on oak trees, whereas oyster mushrooms are a little easier to grow on a variety of hardwood logs. Logs should be 4-6" in diameter, and be freshly cut right around this time of year, when the sap in trees is flowing and the moisture content of the logs is high. From mid-spring to early fall, trees are in growing mode, and all of the moisture is in the leaves, which isn't good for growing mushrooms. We worked with 4-foot log sections. Every place where you have to limb off a branch from the log (or generally create a break in the bark) is a vulnerable place where competing fungi might try to take over that log, so ideally avoid log sections with lots of limbs. After carefully cutting logs from healthy trees they should be stored for 2-4 weeks to get rid of the natural tannins and other secondary compounds that are the tree's natural defense against fungi.

The drilling station

The drilling station

After selecting the logs, there are 4 major steps to prepare and inoculate the logs to grow mushrooms:

Adding the spawn plugs to the logs.

Adding the spawn plugs to the logs.

  1. The first step is to clean off the logs: we used wire brushes to clean off the moss, lichens, and other exterior fungi that might be growing on the outside of the log. The bark is the best natural defense against competing fungi, so gently clean off the logs, but avoid breaking the bark. 
  2. The next step is to measure and drill holes in the logs to hold the mushroom spawn plugs. Using a 5/16" drill bit, drill a row of holes 6" apart and 1¼" deep. Space rows about 2" apart, and offset/stagger the rows to form a diamond pattern around the log. 
  3. The third step requires a hammer, mushroom spawn plugs (we used plugs from the Oyster Creek Mushroom Company in Damariscotta, ME), and a bolt to help sink the plugs into the log. The plugs are approximately 1" long, so after hammering them into the drill holes, take a bolt to help drive the plugs into the log so there is a 1/4" space between the top of the plug and the outside edge of the log. 
  4. Finally, all of the drill holes and any limbed off branch sections of the logs need to be sealed with paraffin wax to protect them from invading fungi. After melting the paraffin wax in a double boiler, you can simply paint a wax seal over the drill holes to protect the mushroom spawn.
Crib-stacked finished logs (the light patches are where the drill holes have been sealed with paraffin wax) The ends have been labeled with the type of mushroom, type of log, and date

Crib-stacked finished logs (the light patches are where the drill holes have been sealed with paraffin wax) The ends have been labeled with the type of mushroom, type of log, and date

After the logs have been prepared, they can be crib-stacked and stored in a moist, shady, and well ventilated area for 6 months. During this time, the spawn will slowly start to digest the cellulose in the log and form a mycelium network in the log before fruiting out! Prepared logs should last between 3-6 years depending on the type of hardwood, and mushrooms will naturally fruit out every spring and fall, yielding about a pound of mushrooms per log. We are excited to set up some shiitake and oyster mushroom logs on Hurricane Island to add to the locally grown food we eat on the island, so stay tuned for more mushroom updates. Thanks to Aaron for such an engaging and informative workshop!

Finally, if you are super excited about growing your own mushrooms, here are some great resources with more detailed information. Happy reading and experimenting!

Other online resources and fact sheets:

Books:

  • Paul Stamets: Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms
  • Mary Ellen Kozak & Joe Krawczyk: Growing Shiitake Mushrooms in a Continental Climate
  • J.S. Chilton and Paul Stamets: The Mushroom Cultivator
  • Perter Oei: Mushroom Cultivation
  • Bob Harris: Growing Wild Mushrooms
  • Greg A. Marley: Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal Secrets of Northeastern Fungi
  • Tradd Cotter: Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation--Simple to Advanced and Experimental Techniques for Indoor and Outdoor Cultivation

Subscribe in a reader

Building Passive Drifters to Monitor Ocean Currents

This year the Eastern Maine Skippers Program students had a chance to build passive drifters with the help of Jim Manning (NOAA) and Cassie Stymiest (NERACOOS). Deploying passive drifters enables researchers to get a better sense of broad current patterns in different parts of the ocean, which is relevant to plankton researchers, teams reacting to oil spills, search and rescue teams, and other oceanographers. 

Passive Drifter track lines from drifters that are currently pinging out GPS locations

Passive Drifter track lines from drifters that are currently pinging out GPS locations

There are several examples where knowledge of currents from passive drifter data enabled teams to react and mitigate accidents. One significant incident occurred in March of 2011, when the Hooksett Wastewater Treatment Plant (Hooksett, NH) accidentally released several million small gridded plastic disks into the Merrimack River. These disks subsequently washed up along the coast of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Southern Maine. When the incident occurred, New Hampshire was able to ask for a model from the data collected by previous passive drifters to predict where the disks would end up. 

Another accidental passive drifter story happened in May of 1990 when 61,000 Nike shoes were released from a shipping container in the North Pacific. This was the largest (albeit accidental) release of drifters, and oceanographers were actually able to validate some of the models by looking at the data from where shoes were washing up. 

One of the reasons it is helpful to keep building, deploying, and tracking drifters from different locations is to add more data to oceanographic models. Although individual drifter paths at first glance seem to have a lot of variability, by averaging their collective movements scientists can gain a more accurate understanding of oceanographic patterns. Our ocean circulation is not fixed, and especially in the context of a changing climate it is important to see how the oceans are responding to warming waters and different wind patterns. 

Building passive drifters is simple and fun! The following are the main assembly steps that the skippers worked on during this workshop:

  1. Cutting and gluing the canvas sails
  2. Attaching grommets to the sails
  3. Assembling the central metal mast
  4. Assembling the mount to hold the GPS transmitter

The final step will be for students to attach the GPS transmitters to their drifters and deploying them so we can track their movements in Penobscot Bay!

We are also looking forward to helping out the drifter dataset by deploying a passive drifter during our Marine Biology program on Hurricane Island! Stay tuned! Want to set up and deploy your own passive drifter? Check out StudentDrifters.org

Subscribe in a reader