Diving in to monarchs and milkweed

It is Saturday afternoon of week two into the REU program at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I am loving everything about the program thus far! Great people, awesome site-seeing, and an opportunity I thought I could only dream of. 

The first week of the program was a bit of a whirlwind, there was a ton of information given to all of us interns but all of it has been valuable. I am lucky to have a great mentor, she is intelligent, helpful, and easy to talk to. I have no doubt I will cherish this experience for a lifetime.

Week two we spent scouting our sites, we have nine sites we are going to be collecting data on (urban, suburban, and rural). Thursday we spent the day at Rodeo Farm weeding and taking data on the common milkweed plot we have established there. It was hard work but our reward was witnessing a monarch laying her eggs on some of our plants! We also found several monarch caterpillars on plants as we took data. 

Friday was our first field trip day, we visited Illinois Beach State Park. We walked out to the dunes and listened to a talk about conservation efforts currently going on to bring back Pitcher's thistle, which went extinct in IL. Here is a link with more information regarding Pitcher's thistle for those who are interested http://www.pitchersthistle.org/ .

On our walk back from the dunes we spotted an albino milkweed! This was very exciting to me since I had never seen anything like it. After a little searching online, it seems this plant is most likely parasitic and thriving off of it's clone plant (milkweed can reproduce asexually by rhizomes). 

I look forward to the next eight weeks of my program and predict they will go by too quickly!