Field of Science

Botanical Fashion?

This pantsuit outfit was seen yesterday inside a fairly fancy
shop in downtown Wellington, NZ.  TPP knows that this is about half way around the world from the big city of Chi-town, which sort of rules our small part of the fashion world.  So the question is simply, Where would you wear your pineapple decorated pant suit?  Is this the kind of fashion you spring on people all at once or do you dole it out?  Seriously, is TPP out of line?  Or is this as hideous as he thinks?  Maybe if you were giving a tropical fruit lecture, it would be OK, just at TPP matches some of his Hawaiian shirts to the lecture topic.  

Friday Fabulous Fern - Sort of

TPP missed another Friday, sorry, sports fans, a lodging that advertised free WiFi made it as difficult as possible to connect and the lap top did not want to cooperate, so without a real keyboard, no blogging.  A popular area near Rotorua NZ is just called "redwoods", and darned if it isn't a planted grove of California redwoods!  The oldest trees were planted in 1901, so they are now well over 100 and decently big trees.  There may be Ewoks here as walkways and platforms are everywhere, hundreds of meters of them.  Like a real redwood grove, there is not much of an understory, mostly ferns, mostly tree ferns, and quiet.  Hundreds of people walk, run, bike, and generally recreate in this area daily, but you know what none of them ever see?  Well, you need to travel with TPP if you want to see neato things that escape everyone else's attention.
Every 3d or so tree fern had a ferny epiphyte growing upon and within its trunk, and although TPP has seen this plant before, never was it so common.  The ferny plant is Tmesipteris (mez-ip-terr-is), a whisk fern. It's only close relative is Psilotum (seye-low-tum), which is considerably better known.  TPP is not happy calling this plant a fern, although it has common ancestry with ferns somewhere.


Lost a Friday here somewhere - but Friday Fabulous Fern anyways

Somewhere out there in the middle of the Pacific TPP lost a Friday, and a decent night's sleep too.  A day or two later it's Monday here in Aukland New Zealand.  Lots of unfamiliar plants around here, but thought a post on an old favorite might be in order.  Here's a nice view looking down on the crown, the whorl of leaves, the fronds that constitute the crown of the fern, Cyathea dealbata.  They can grow several meters tall, this one was about 3 but TPP was on a walkway above it.  The fronds are generally a meter and a half to two meters long.

"Raw" water, not a craze, just crazy

Sometimes, maybe not enough times, the lack of a scientific perspective can be dangerous to your health or that of others (anti-vacc people).  The promoters of raw water want you to have all the minerals, and Pro-biotics, in untreated water.  Now in the view of a biologist having ready access to safe, hygienic water is one of the best examples of how science and technology have improved the public's well-being.  And remember this: "In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is strength, in water there is bacteria." (David Auerbach, 2002).  TPP, as a frequent traveler in the tropics, even appreciates the marketing insight of soda makers who realized that by the time you had the water filtered and treated to make it safe for soda, you had a marketable commodity before you even added in the sugar, or its substitute, and the flavorings and colorings and carbonation, and charge nearly as much for no more ingredients.  So you can find nice, safe bottled water all across India, and the rest of SE Asia.  And you can stop wondering if the water treatment tabs you brought from home will kill elephant liver flukes as well as they kill moose liver flukes.  So the raw water people are just being stoopid and ignorant, as stoopid and ignorant as their gullible prey, presumably the same people who buy things because they are labeled "non-GMO" or "no gluten" especially items that could not possibly have a cereal grain protein.  Or could we market a homeopathic water purifier?  Would it magically remove things from water as well as it puts them in?  Or are we going to have another PT Barnum moment of never under estimating people's ability to fool themselves, but can they fool their intestines too?

Frosty, unpleasant end to 2017 - It's cold out there!

It's cold here in the upper Midwest.  Barely above zero degrees, which for civilized people translates into -17 C.  Tonight, New Year's eve the low will drop to -15F or -27 C.  This is nearly as cold as it ever gets in this part of the world.  This will be result in some sad gardening news come spring.  The 6-7 inches of snow on the ground is fortunate because it provides some insulation for low-growing plants.  TPP's magnolias and other exotics have all survived -17 C, but another 10 degrees colder is an unknown factor for many.  Our hope is that buds low on the plants survive and help the tree or shrub recover from die back.  This demonstrates very well how plants' distributions particularly cold-hardiness is based upon the extremes not the means.  Our means may be higher, but the extremes have not changed, they are just less frequent.  It's been at least 2 decades since we had temperatures this cold.  And plants are terrible at cold avoidance although some plants are freezing avoiders using something called deep super-cooling. They can only handle temps down to about -28 C, then the water freezes. It will be hard for TPP to look at the ice in his drink without thinking about ihs poor plants out there.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Frost "flowers"

Isn't this pretty nifty?  Pretty apropos for our fridgid weather right now.  Although called a frost flower, it is neither frost nor flower.  This is a thin ribbon of ice extruded from the dead aerial stem of a wingstem.  TPP supposes that the living root system is still taking in water, and root pressure is pushing it upward in the xylem.  Above ground it freezes ruptures the stem and as more water is pushed upward, the ribbon continues to grow. Dr. Jim Carter at ISU has a lot of pictures of these on his web pages.  Unfortunately this is not one of TPP's images, it was just published on the front page of The Harbinger (Dec. 2017, 34(4)), the latest issue of the Illinois Native Plant Society's newsletter, and it remains behind (way behind) a membership firewall on their web page.  TPP has plenty of wingstem, but has never seen it do this.  And now it is too bloody cold.  

Snow & cold avoidance

Erie PA made news for the big snow storm ( 50+") they got for Christmas, but TPP is a native of the upstate NY snow belt and you simply would not believe what can happen.  A long time ago like when TPP was starting college at the SUNY college in Oswego NY, the city got a 104" snow fall in 48 hrs.  When you hear something like that is possible, you go out and buy a week's worth of supplies, and in those days that would have been beer, milk, bread, eggs, Ping-Pong balls, pinochle cards, and not necessarily in that order.  And you parked your car where it could be dug out and was safe from snow plows that don't stop for anything. 
You'd tie an old fishing rod with a flag at the top to the front bumper so people could see you at intersections.  So the news from Erie brought back some memories.  Wow, glad that was when TPP was young.
Right now here in the upper Midwest, a few inches of snow covers the ground, but the snow was followed by a high pressure front that brought along really cold temps. The night time lows are hitting a few degrees below zero, but remember on the goofy temperature scale here in the USA zero is well below freezing, out -4 F is equivalent to -20 C.  The only solution for this kind of weather is avoidance, to leave, and that's what the Phactors are doing.  (You didn't think we'd go to Florida did you?)  Just after Jan. 1st the Phactors are heading for the southern hemisphere, New Zealand to be exact.  And all the really cold weather should happen while we are inverted.  TPP wants to see some Nothofagus, the southern beech, no matter what the scientific name means, in the wild.  It's on his bucket list.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Mother of thousands


Popped in to the University glasshouse to see what was in flower, and this wonderful succulent was most accommodating.  In general TPP loves this plant because you can use it to illustrate so many things.  Like many members of the stonecrop family (Crassulaceae), this plant is primarily grown for its succulent ornamental leaves.  It's tough and deals with winter time household temps and humidity (and lack thereof) quite well.  However the flowers are quite nice and are good for illustrating flowers with parts in multiples of 4s, including 4 pistils.  And ever so delightfully it produces plantlets on its leaf margins that are easily removed and grown.  They also fall off and quickly populate an area, thus the mother of thousands common name, a great example of asexual reproduction.  The genus is Kalanchoe (kal-an-Koh-ee).

Christmas time in the city, and around here that means Chi-town


Took a one day train trip with the family to visit Chi-town in all its holiday finery.  Sadly the weather was mild so everybody, and their cousins, uncles, and aunts were out for the day.  It was actually too crowded to really have fun especially at the Christmas Market, but we tried.  Near the Millennium Park skating rink stands the city's tree, a big Norway spruce with lots of lights.  And everybody was photographing everything and everybody, at a least one bride & groom, two Quinceañera parties (one pink and out in traffic (not smart), and one purple), ice skaters, families of all sorts, just a nice big mob.  It was truly a scene, and a very nice, well-behaved scene too.  How nice!  So here's a view of the big tree (right center) and the skyline as reflected in the "bean".  Happy Holidays, folks!

Friday Fabulous Flower - Queen's Tears


The Queen's tears (Billbergia nutans) is without question TPP's favorite winter flowering house plant.  It's been feature on FFF before, so it's just something to look forward to each year.  This year more than a dozen of the pink inflorescences emerged from within whorls of leaves, and tonight the Phactors are hosting and open house, so a few plant fanciers will get a treat.  The flowers are just so attractive with their blue eye-liner petals and pink sepals.  So hoping you enjoy this as much as TPP.