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A Week of Field Trips

A Week of Field Trips

[Guest Blog Post by Intern Sanitra Lawrence]

On Sunday, June 1, I had the opportunity to canoe down the Cahaba River with friends from Birmingham Botanical Gardens to the largest population of the Cahaba lily (Hymenocallis coronaria) on earth. The Cahaba lily is an aquatic, white flowering perennial found growing nestled in between shoals in the Cahaba River. The Cahaba lilies are very specialized in their habitat and the type of rock they grow in, which makes them so rare. The rocks are pliable enough to allow the roots to penetrate through them for easy establishment.  Dr. Randy Haddock, field director of the Cahaba River Society, demonstrated how to extract nectar from the Cahaba lily using a small, plastic capillary tube.  He instructed us to place the tube deep into the corolla of the flower. Once the tube was inserted, we gently placed the bloom upside down and pressed the nectar into capillary tube. The nectar was somewhat sweet, followed by a strange aftertaste. Everyone except me seemed to enjoy the taste  because I expected a honeysuckle-like taste.  Randy also showed us different organisms found in the river, such as crayfish and common aquatic insect larvae. This was my first canoe trip; traveling downstream was a lot easier than traveling upstream, but I will look forward to experiencing canoeing again.

The following Monday, June 2, Mitchell Vaughan, Alex Dumont and I were given a great tour of The Archives and Rare Book Room at The Library at The Gardens by Archivist Jason Kirby and Director of Library Services Hope Long. It was interesting to see actual historical and botanical documentation dating back to the sixteenth century. Included in the collection were also rare maps, gardens plans and antique seed catalogs. Jason and Hope were very knowledgeable of the library and offered help if we needed guidance on future projects.

On Tuesday, June 3, I went to visit Southern Organics in Columbiana, Alabama, which company specializes in aquaponics, the process of recycling fish waste for fertilizing vegetables.  It was great to witness them experimenting with aquaponics in the early stages of their business. The warehouse consisted of tanks where they produced tilapia. The staff explained how they converted fish waste into useful sources of nitrogen for the plants. Next to the tanks were experimental stations, where different vegetables were tested before being grown in the production greenhouse.  Above the stations were artificial light sources for the plants to use in photosynthesis.  The plants were transplanted into Styrofoam blocks, where the roots grew though holes into a liquid base medium. For biological control of insect pests, beneficial ladybugs were used. Southern Organics not only produces fish, but also vegetables. Their plan is to expand in supplying organic vegetables to stores.

Our last field trip for the week consisted of going to Hale County, Alabama on June 4 where we traveled through the woods to view a rare fern population.  Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator John Manion returned a fern back to its habitat where he had been growing it on a petri dish in the micro-propagation lab at The Gardens. It was also the first time that he brought a rare fern back to its native habitat in hopes of increasing the population.  Preserving the ferns and their habitat is vital to their survival.

On Thursday, June 5, I enjoyed working with Amanda Clark in the vegetable garden. I never had much hands-on experience with vegetable gardening at Mississippi State, but Amanda is very knowledgeable about cultural practices. She showed me how to prune, sucker and train tomato plants on a trellis system properly. In addition, she explained the importance of composting and how one should turn the pile every other day in order to speed up the process of decomposition.  

Although I have experienced a lot of things this week, it only covered a small portion of this internship. I am very excited to participate in many other activities this summer.

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