Field of Science

Election? What election?

For the first time since the conventions, T-rump did not appear on the front page of our newspapers or in news feeds here in Lincolnland, and it's because something more important and more Earth-shattering is taking place. And since everyone is suffering from election fatigue anyways (I sort of admire how the candidates manage to keep plugging along.), it's good to have a distraction. The Chi-town Cubs are in the World Series (something most of the World doesn't know or care about) for the first time in 71 years. Interested parties will have to look up the billy goat curse themselves.  The only sad thing is that the Cubs will be playing the Cleveland Indians, a team almost as long suffering and forlorn as the Cubs.  Everyone is pretty excited and it gave the college students a good excuse to raise a ruckus on a Saturday night.  Unfortunately it's only a 7 game series, so the baseball season will be over before the election, but still it's a relief to have a distraction even should the other guys win, an unthinkable outcome, and hopefully more likely than another unthinkable outcome. 

Friday fabulous flower - Fall color

Flowering has just about ended in our gardens, but the fall color has just started, so here's a view of the tiptop of our 100'+ sugar maple as it just begins to color up. This is pretty much normal except about two weeks later than usual.  The weather has flirted with frost, a couple of overnight lows in the 36-37F range, but now the weather has warmed and the lows are expected to be 10 degrees warmer through the end of October. It's very rare to end October without a frost. Thank you global warming.  Word of warning: water, water, water, especially any new plantings, i.e., any added this season. Our fall drought is upon us, and plants should enter the winter well watered because winter is not so much a season of cold as it is a season of drought.

Bad Iris, bad Iris!

The Phactors have long had yellow flag iris (I. pseudacorus) as part of our gardens, and as Mrs. Phactor is the iris fancier, the fact that the yellow flag iris is an introduced species has never occurred to TPP, just never noticed.  According to an article in the recent issue of the American Journal of Botany this non-native species can be do all the bad things that invasive species can do: in Louisiana wetlands it displaces native vegetation, it reduces biodiversity, and it degrades wetlands. The blue/purple iris is the native I. hexagona. Up here in Lincolnland, 800 or so miles upstream, the yellow flag is not known to be a problem. And the yellow flag probably got to N. America because someone thought it was purty. Oh, one of these days TPP will have to tell you about water hyacinth. 

The fungus amongus - mycotrophy

TPP has a curious relationship Richard, a former undergrad student who has assisted with my tropical field research.  You see, Richard is the older of us by a decade or so because he got his BS in biology as a retirement project.  He also has an insatiable curiosity that drives him to scan science journals and web sites looking for articles of interest, which he then passes along to this correspondent. 
Here's a news item about an orchid that lacks chlorophyll and never opens its flowers. A number of plants produce cleistogamous flowers that never open and therefore are obligate selfers.  Not sure how an orchid does this because the pollen and stigma are quite separate & the pollen is in a waxy mass.  The pollen tubes must actually grow through floral tissue.  Plants lacking chlorophyll is not unusual, but they are generally parasites on other plants (e.g. Indian pipes).  This particular orchid is mycotrophic (literally fungus feeding) meaning that it derives its nutrition from an association with a fungal mycellium, the filamentous body of a fungus.  Fungal organisms like this can be huge and very old, but we seldom notice them because they live in the soil only sending up their reproductive structures (mushrooms).  Orchid seeds are tiny, so-called dust seed, and their seedlings are equally tiny and most if not all count on an interaction with fungi in this early stage to survive. Apparently some never out grow this interaction and have evolved a dependency on its fungus.  Here in N. America, the non-green, mycotrophic, coral root orchids (Corallorhiza) are fairly common, but they do flower (usually woodland in summer or early fall) so we see them now and again.  So the combination described in Richard's article is pretty unique. It also explains why such plants are so uncommon and so hard to discover. Sorry the images are under copyright so you'll have to go look to see them, but as you may guess, non-opening, underground flowers are not very showy. 

Oh, no, they done it again, Fragaria disappears!

One of TPP's greatest annoyances is when new data results in changes to taxonomy, particularly the loss of long familiar generic names. This sometimes produces problems in terms of herbarium curation as well. In those cases where TPP has decided to refile genera, a marker-pointer is left so that when the old memory, or old field guide, leads someone to the old name, something points them to the correct place.
It was quite a surprise when TPP found our that the genus Fragaria, strawberries, was transferred to Potentilla! Apparently there are reasons aplenty, but that's not the point. This is most distressing because Fragaria, based on the same root as fragrance, is a very familiar genus, as is Potentilla, but TPP has different mental images of each; now they the same?  Well, this is why herbaria have curators.  Curiously, in a day an age when many largish genera are fragmenting (Did you know that N. America, including New England, no longer has any Asters?) Potentilla is getting larger and more diverse as it taxonomically sponges up these smaller genera. Hmm, so what about Duchesnea, Indian strawberry, the notorious lawn weed?  More questions to answer.  Sorry, a handy link has not presented itself, but the article is easily found by googling on Mabberly (the author) and the two generic names.  

Is something strange going on?

WTF is going on?  Has T-rump forgotten that he is running for a political office? The only issues that see to be on his mind are (1) how to blame someone else for his electoral failure and (2) how to deny all the allegations of misconduct toward women.  His wonderfulness is so wonderful that clearly if he loses it's because the system was rigged against him. And since he has denied any misconduct, then all these women must be liars to be discredited in sundry ways. Since T-rump can think of nothing else, how does this bear on his fitness for functioning as a leader of this country and the free world?  Simple, he is incapable of doing any such thing.  Yesterday TPP observed a local state GnOPe representative walking down the sidewalk toward his local campaign office, mostly harmless, probably after leaving a breakfast meeting. For this particular office he is a decent enough sort, but he was not looking very happy. How could he with his party's candidate unraveling before the country's (world's) eyes?  It serves them right because as we all know the monster always kills its creator in the end. Glad this weirdness will only be lasting another 3 weeks, unless the unthinkable happens!  Oh, the horror of that thought!

Longing for the good ole days & a president to take up back there

The other day a self-professed supporter of T-rump said something to the effect that "those of us who are old enough remember the 50s and 60s and just how good the world was, and all we want is to go back to such good times". And somehow T-rump is the man to do this? TPP doubts this, but being old enough to clearly remember the 50s and 60s, TPP wants to know what this woman was doing, and where was she doing it?  Doesn't she remember the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis? TPP was helping friends build fall out shelters in their basements. Doesn't she remember civil rights, and the marches to Selma and the assassination of MLK?  And she doesn't remember cops beating black people for wanting equal rights. Or JFK? Doesn't she remember Vietnam? How about the anti-war movement?  Guess those Ozzie and Harriet and leave it to beaver reruns were distracting her and she missed all the news. Does that speak to skewed and selective memories filtered by white privilege or what?  This is the wonderful life T-rump supporters want to return to.  TPP says, "Wake up!" And this was a woman supporting the most unequal rights candidate maybe ever, wishing for a past that never was. So easy for a rich grifter to manipulate.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Stoopid hydrangeas

Sorry about the brief hiatus in posting; travel and computer problems combined.  New equipment and installations and all that "it's so easy and 11 year old can do it", but you don't have an 11 year old problems.  However TPP seems to have emerged triumphant having done battle with the wireless network, printer, and CD drive.  Now just have to get backed up files back.
But first back to business as usual.  It's mid-October, the nights are getting cool, and it's about the time we can expect our first frost. The last and latest plant to flower, wolfbane (monk's hood), is just beginning to flower. Some bok choi and bibb lettuce remains in the garden. And look at this!  After a sparse early summer flowering, these stoopid hydrangeas sat there and looked green until mid-September and then they decide to burst (slowly) into flower.  It's quite a display, on 3 shrubs nearly 5 feet tall. The picture was taken yesterday, and if frosts hold off, this display could last several more weeks. It might be worth covering the shrubs is only a light frost is predicted. Not sure why the flowering stimulus was off kilter this year, but a stoopid yellow azalea is flowering also, so it will be a no-show next spring. Wonder if it will ever get back on schedule?

Political debates excitement

Political debates in general are as exciting as watching grass grow.  This seasons VP debate was pretty much certain to be a yawner, and it did not disappoint.  TPP learned nothing new and was not impressed.  Even with net searches on high speed so that people can get a truthiness score, it was not an impressive match, although Kaine did managed to tell the truth over twice as often as Pence, the truth still go abused pretty badly. Glad neither is from Lincolnland.  Yes, Indyrama is nearby, but that state, the good people who brought us the John Birch Society, seems to have a great affinity for the good ole days and any politician who id intent of dragging us back there. The sort of fellow who likes coal better than clean air or an unchanged climate. A fellow who would happily enforce his religious preferences upon everyone else in the name of religious freedom. So if T-rump is out to make this country great again, because trust him, he will, then this is the guy who will be running the USA to keep us safe from women, minorities, immigrants, Putin, ethnic food, clean air, and bears, the latter being a huge problem.  
Of course, it's hard to say we have better pols than our neighbors because here in Lincolnland, 500 permits are being issued for killing bobcats, which are just beginning to have a healthy population again. This is just so sad, and it is being done with no scientific study at all; let's just guess how many can be killed and how long it will take to put the species back in the endangered category.  Since we clearly need more bobcats and less politicians can anyone suggest a solution?  
OK what to do now?  Well, so as not to become too depressed, TPP is going to mow his lawn.  

Surprise! Trees grow!

Here's a nice example of someone who doesn't understand what was going to happen. This tree tag was nailed flush to the trunk just a few years ago, and the tree grew. Some people think the growth of the tree via its vascular cambium will push the tag out, but no, the pressure is bending the tag, and eventually the trunk is starting to engulf the tag. This is generally not a good system for tagging a tree, although if an inch or so of slack were left the problem would not have developed so soon. Unfortunately when the tags are loose, people play with them, bending, and twisting them, etc.  But now the injury might get bigger when someone attempts to pull the nail and reattach the tag. Even something as trivial looking as a thin wire or even tough cordage can apply enough pressure to cause the tree to grow out and around the object.  Cables, chains, or fencing attached to a tree trunk can also be engulfed. Best practice is not to do it. Even the best trunk tags need to be reset every few years, and if you have lots of trees tagged, it becomes a big job.