Herbchronology - Big Data, Small Plant
Do you remember the article from last month's newsletter when Beaver Ponds discovered a nearly 700 year-old tree on our property? This was the result of a dendrochronology study (tree ring growth)...next up is an herbchronology study.
We are very excited to share with you that Beaver Ponds recently received a significant grant from the South Park National Heritage Area (SPNHA) to measure the annual growth rings of alpine herbaceous plants!
The technical term for this work is herbchronology - a term coined in the 90s for this type of work.
This may not seem exciting to you at first glimpse, but can you believe that like trees, perennial herbs have a growth zone that tells us the age of herbaceous plants like the penstemon pictured above?
Put another way, using similar techniques as dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, we can measure these annual growth rings and learn a lot about their life because of the growth zone called the vascular cambium found between the root bark and the rootxylem (tissue) - shown below in the picture of a penstemon stem. In addition, herbchronology is used to measure population age structure (the age span between plants in a determined area) and the effects of localized climate change.
This summer you will find Beaver Ponds staff, in conjunction with Dr. Michael Stambaugh from the Missouri Tree Ring Laboratory, out sampling perennial plants on Pennsylvania Mountain and at Beaver Ponds. With the assistance of Dr. Candi Galen, from the University of Missouri, we will sample plants that support the long-term existing research projects that have been active on Pennsylvania Mountain for the past thirty-five years.
You'll be the very first to know the results of this study. A big shout of gratitude to SPNHA for all of your support of Beaver Ponds.