Sea-rocket Phenology

Our next NfN Labs expedition focuses on the phenology of species of Cakile (sea-rockets), a group of wildflowers in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). These species are called sea-rockets because they often grow close to the coast, often in sand and near the water’s edge, and it has fruits that look like rocket ships. As you can see from the drawing, they have flowers that are characteristic of the mustard family (4 petals). What you can’t see is that if you bit into one of these flowers, they would have a spicy, mustard-like flavor.  The fruits (#4 in the drawing) are unusual among mustards in that the top of the fruit breaks off and can disperse away in water, while the remaining half releases the seed near the mother plant.  This makes them great colonizers of beaches. The plants are commonly fleshy, which is common for halophytes (plants growing in salty environments).


Photo Credit: Biodiversity Heritage Library


We chose to focus on Cakile because these plants are widely distributed across North America. In the case of Cakile edentula (American sea-rocket) and Cakile maritima (European sea-rocket), they are found along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Having phenological data for these sea-rockets will help us look at their responses to changing climate.  We are very pleased to be collaborating with Susan Mazer, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Jenn Yost, at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. This expedition is the first of many we hope to launch with them, and all of the efforts are strongly tied to their long-term work to look at historical phenology patterns and to detect the climatic factors that influence these patterns. Our plans are to have them guest blog more about their work and about how this expedition fits in.

The phenological tasks for this expedition are challenging. We are asking you to count buds, open flowers, and fruits. This is an expedition where it pays to pay close attention to the tutorials. These tasks are typically done with specimens in hand. However, we are confident that they can also be done from images and we plan to compare the results using different methods. In addition, we are excited to engage with a much broader community to help us with these tasks and to participate in this valuable research.  We encourage you to give these tasks a try, and to do the best you can. For example, counting of buds can be particularly challenging given that they frequently overlap, making them hard to count precisely. For this reason, we are likely to use the averages of the counts provided by participants rather than a consensus for these fields. Please have fun and know that we are especially interested in feedback on how much you like this expedition, how hard you find the tasks, and how we can improve this type of expedition.

All the best from the NfN Team


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