Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - really ancient?


One of TPP's bright young colleagues, Herve Sauquet, has used a combination of morphology and molecular data to construct or model the first or ancestral flower.  It has several whorls of 3 floral organs and to TPP's eyes, the model so derived looks a lot like a Magnolia virginiana.  Many people have long thought that earliest flowers would have many spirally arranged parts.  Actually there are several differences, so the similarity to a Magnolia is just superficial, mostly just the several perianth whorls.  The oldest fossil flowers just don't look like this and molecular data suggests that flowering plants are older (149-256 my) than the fossil record indicates and so far no one has a really convincing pre-Cretaceous flowering plant fossil.  Several pteridosperms in the fossil record have angiospermy features, but no certain flowering plant ancestor can be identified.  

Friday fabulous foliage - ID of unknown


Welcome to the great midwest. Monday and Tuesday this week the highs were in the 80s (quite summerish 3-4 days ago), right now a sleety snow is falling and there is a good chance of a frost tonight.  Spent yesterday moving tender plants inside.  Our university's arborist stopped by with a leafy twig and asked if TPP could ID it.  Yes, this is part of the service TPP still provides in retirement (experience counts big time).  This was not a tree TPP recognized right off, but it had opposite compound leaves with three leaflets and long pink petioles.  The buds were long and conical covered with imbricate bud scales, so yes, just as you were thinking, very maple like.  A good woody plant key took me straight to Acer, and then on to A. mandshuricum, Manchurian maple.  So both our arboretum and herbarium just gained a new species and a voucher.  This is an ornamental species, just not real well known.  It should turn a nice fall color, if we actually get a fall (as the snow continues to fall).

Friday fabulous fungi - inky caps


After a period of mild drought, the area finally had a rain episode that delivered over 6.5 inches of rain over three days.  And since it is fall, mushrooms are popping up all over.  This is a cluster of inky caps, Coprinopsis atramentaris (formerly a Coprinus).  These are edible, but can be quite toxic if ethanol is also ingested.  This is a very common mushroom, and they usually begin dissolving into a black inky goo right away, a process called autodeliquescence, starting at the edge of the bell shaped cap.  

The Phactors have been apple picking up in Michigan, and this means some good eating.  Mrs. Phactor is a renowned pie maker and here's a couple of images to back that up.  Northern spies are our main cooking apple.  Note how flaky the crust looks and no runny filling.  Outstanding pie.  

Dump heaps and plant domestication

One of the well known hypotheses about plant domestication (Edgar Anderson) dealt with the idea that nomadic camps had dump heaps, places where inedible things got pitched.  Reuse of camps would bring these people back after some time and discover that seeds had sprouted and grown leading to the idea and practice of purposefully growing things.  Sure, maybe, but nomadic people probably already know how plants grow, but they see no need to plant what they can find in the wild reliably.  While throwing apple peels on our own dump/compost heap this AM, TPP noticed a nice looking seedling emerging along the edge and an examination determined that it was a mango seedling from some discarded pit.  Well, it  will not grow here in the upper Midwest, and it is a member of the poison ivy family, so TPP will deal with the leaves carefully.  Sure is a cutie though.

Friday fabulous flower - closed for business


TPP doesn't know if he's late with the last FFF or early for the next one.  Guess the blogs could have been numbered but that would be just too damned organized and it's a little late now.  OK this image comes from the F1 and her flower garden, the one being abandoned to start over again on her own property.  This particular plant is a fall flowering species, and it is just a little peculiar in the flowers don't open.  This limits pollination to bumblebees who are big enough and strong enough to pry open the corolla.  This is the bottle or closed gentian, Gentiana andrewsii.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Aster?


Another weekend that was too busy for words, other than maybe yikes!  Sorry FFF gets so easily put off.  While TPP is sort of on a composite kick, it is that time of year.  But at least this isn't another SYC.  Technically this isn't an Aster, which is now about 200 species strong but entirely restricted to Eurasia.  So if the plant is native to the Americas, and was formerly as Aster, it is now placed in a new genus; there are several.  This plant always flowers in the fall, and it does well in some semi-shady locations.  The flower heads (remember they are inflorescences) are small at about 1 cm in diameter, but they are numerous.  The ray flowers are white while the disk flowers start out yellow and then change to red as they transition from dispersing pollen to accepting pollen (TPP isn't sure why).  But it makes for a rather nice display, especially from close range.  Generally this particular species, Eurybia divaricata, is called the white woodland aster (formerly Aster divaricatum) (note the change in gender of the specific epithet).  

SYCs review


OK a couple of readers don't quite get the disk/ray flower thing that TPP mentioned in last week's FFF on goldenrod.  So here is a better example, the ordinary sunflower, Helianthus annuus.  This is not a flower, it is an inflorescence that mimics a flower's image.  When you have little flowers, best to group them together because the bigger the display, the more visitors you get, the more pollination, and so on and so forth (my major professor always used to say that when he thought the explanation was obvious).  At any rate what appear to be petals are a ring of ray flowers with one long corolla lobe making the ray flowers highly bilaterally symmetrical.  They surround a spiral array of radially symmetrical disk flowers.  The inner most ones are still unopened buds, so start taking a close look at those composite "flowers".  Dandelions have all ray flowers, and others have nothing by disk flowers.  Enjoy.  

No equitable rainfall

TPP hates to hear about the Carolinas drowning in hurricane rain water, and truly TPP feels bad for my many inlaws that live there.  Too bad they can't share a couple of inches.  Our area is bone dry (again) and no good opportunities for rain are in the offing.  Systems have passed to our west, our north or our south, sort of missing  us all the way around.  Farmers are getting a good dry jump on maize and soybean harvesting (the clouds of dust arise in all directions).  But winter is more about drought and dry conditions than it is about cold, so this gardeners advise is keep watering all those new plantings or they will die by dehydration over the winter.

Friday Fabuous Flower - SYC


This has been a hectic couple of days.  The F1 bought a house (pretty exciting), the neighbor girl got married (also pretty exciting), the Phactors attended a memorial service for TPPs graduate mentor (kind of sad, but he lived a good, long life of continual learning), did too much driving in nasty traffic around Indianapolis (the hated loop), popped in to Jungle Jim's for a quick shopping trip (quite an adventure as always).  That's rather way too much, oh, and several other invitations for this and that had to be declined for lack of time.  
At any rate at this time of year, the pickings get a bit thin, and only SYCs are common (stinking yellow composites).  This is a nice species for your wild flower garden, the showing goldenrod, Solidago speciosa.   Like all composites (aster/sunflower family) goldenrods have little flowers in heads that include either both, or just disk flowers.  The ray flowers are often mistaken for petals when they are arranged around the outside of flat-topped spiral array of disk flowers (think daisy).  Most goldenrods have just ray flowers in rather small heads, but a few species have ray flowers too and these often help produce a quite showy display in this case 5 or 6 ray flowers surrounding a few disk flowers.  The entire terminal cluster is being visited by a beetle, a bee, and a butterfly.