The Chi-town Trib had an article today about botanical names for people, well, actually for babies because that's when they get named, and it seems only for girls. Why are flower and plant names perceived as feminine? Do Maple and Clover sound like girls? What about Lilac? What about Filbert? That sounds rather masculine, but a bit nutty. How about Nellia? That one is basically undiscovered both as a flowering shrub and a baby name. Does it have potential? Yes, on both counts. But it's true, quite a few flower names get used a girl names; everyone can remember when every other woman you met was Heather (#8 in the 1970s). Rose was #16 in the 1910s. Here's the 10 plant/flower names that are becoming more popular of late (according to the article): Lily, Violet, Willow, Hazel, Ivy, Iris, Olive, Dahlia, Juniper, and Azalea. A couple of these are a surprise; Juniper? Really? Apparently Jasmine was number 29 in the 2000s probably a credit to Disney's Aladdin movie. Holly was popular some years back as TPP discovered via google. Violet is at its most popular rank in 100 years. Poppy remains rather uncommon; only one comes to mind - Poppy Montgomery, although this is a bit of a truncated version of her given name - Poppy Petal Emma Elizabeth Deveraux Donaghue. TPP also knew women called Linnea and Nyssa, which reminds him that Dr. Chips names his pets after plants, e.g.,Typha (do you need to be told it was a cat?). Of course a number of plant names are derived from the names of goddesses, so these might be very appropriate names for little girls. For example, how about Hebe? It does sort of suggest a middle name as well. Or maybe just Flora or Terra (daughter of a former colleague) to cover a lot of bases? Just happened to think of Laural. But no one is naming their little boys Nemestrinius or Radish. Why not? Ah, finally thought of a plant used as a boy's name: Ash. Do readers have any good examples? Let's hear them.
Not too many people notice these little pink flowers on a little shrub in our glasshouse. Most people think it's some kind of miniature holly because of its leathery leaves with spiny margins, and that's what Malpighia coccigera is called some times. This species is a close relative of the Barbados cherry (M. glabra). The fruit of both species is a bright red berry/drupe, but the former's fruit is pretty small. It's sort of unusual to see petals on stalks, but the sepals peeking through each have a pair of glands. Sometimes this shrub is grown as an ornamental, and for many years TPP had one as a bonsai tree that required constant pruning (a total pain because it's a stubborn plant). Nonetheless it's charming in flower especially when seen close up. The name is interesting because it's an honorific for Marcello Malpighi, a professor at Bologna during in mid1600s. Here's his Wikipedia entry: Malpighi gave his name to several physiological features related to the biological excretory system such as the Malpighian corpuscles and Malpighian pyramids of the kidneys and the Malpighian tubules of insects. Well, that is just an outrage! Marcello was one of the father's of plant anatomy, and not a mention of that or the plant genus named after him! This is the usual human-biomedical bias about what's important in biology! What would you rather have named after you? Some part of the excretory system or a really attractive flower?
An eerie, quiet calm has settled upon our campus. The hallways are empty. This can only mean one thing this time of year; spring break has begun a day early, which is the usual time it begins. And the temperature is above freezing as if to emphasize the spring part of spring break, a break of two sorts at once. How peaceful, how wonderful, how wonderful.
An article on Slate asks "how entertaining does education have to be?" The answer is simple; not at all. Entertainment is a diversion; education requires engagement. Very little entertainment requires more than your passive attention. The most entertaining professor TPP has ever personally witnessed, a colleague, was quite amazing; he would roll out a steady stream of titillating stories and salacious factoids, and, oh, did the students think he was great. And his exams were easy, so in combination, his "teaching" evaluations were astronomical. TPP is no slouch as a lecturer, but in comparison, when team-teaching with my entertaining colleague, my evaluations were more than 1 point lower (on a 5 point system) than when teaching with a variety of other colleagues. Statistics also demonstrated that TPP's portion of the course was determining the grade for 4/5s of the class because my colleague's exams were not discriminating. Education should be engaging, interesting, and if you like learning, fun. Of course, now, especially in larger classes many students would rather engage with their smart phones and aren't even passively attentive. So anytime you think you must be entertaining as a teacher, you're heading the wrong way. Put something interesting in the hands of students; get them to engage with it, and you won't have to be easy to get good evaluations. TPP isn't a hard professor, although he is reasonably demanding, and botany isn't rocket science (it's more important and more interesting actually) and a solid work ethic almost always yields good results. Lazy students, students who avoid engagement, students who try to low-ball learning are in trouble, and fortunately in the minority, way less than 10%, but then TPP is mostly teaching upper division undergrads in elective courses. It wasn't always that way and for nearly 2 decades TPP taught freshmen biology courses to both majors and non-majors. TPP was interesting but not entertaining. And yes, his evaluations are higher than the Slate article's author.
John Kerry said, “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in
order to assert your interests. This [Russian troops in Crimea] is an act of aggression that is completely
trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the
What? That’s enough to make other countries laugh. You’d think Kerry would know our history
better than this. Can John say WMDs in Iraq? And John’s old enough to remember Vietnam and the
Gulf of Tonkin, too? And our government
wants the world to take us seriously?
When it comes to plant distributions based on temperature, it's the extremes that determine the limits. Unfortunately, there also is a lot of misinformation, some might call it fraud, in the nursery business. Now understand, there's a big difference between a plant that is hardy to zone 6 versus one that is hardy in zone 5, about 10 degrees (F) of cold tolerance. And a lot more territory in which to sell a plant labeled zone 5. TPP remarked in a workshop presentation that cedars (Cedrus) are not reliably hardy in zone 5. A woman replied that she bought a Cedrus libani (cedar of Lebanon) that was labeled zone 5, oh yes, and it had died this year. According to a very authoritative source, one variety (var. stenocoma) is supposedly hardy "in the warmer parts of zone 5", which ain't here! There is a lot of north-south territory in this part of zone 5 in the great Midwest. The tree in question had been planted 4 years ago, and for the past three winters our minimum temperature has been about 0 F (32 degrees F below freezing for the rest of the world), but this year we've had temperatures below zero weekly for two months reaching a minimum of -17 F, nearly two cold hardiness zones, near the minimum expected temperature for zone 5 (-20 F), and certainly not in keeping with being the warmer part of zone 5, which is probably about 100 miles south of here. Even then how confident can you be that the tree in question was the "hardy variety"? To label such a tree as hardy in zone 5 is a fraud. This species of cedar prefers a zone 7 climate, but can handle zone 6, and with little exception, is not hardy in zone 5. Now TPP regularly plants things that are zone 6 plants, and just as regularly some of them die, but not all. Unfortunately because cedars are wonderful trees, cedars don't appear to be one of the tough ones. This winter will sort out the real cold hardiness. One of TPP's range extension plants is Helianthemum (Cistaceae), a good Mediterranean shrub. Hopefully the snow cover has protected this low-growing plant, and the bunnies have ignored it. Some plants will die back and re-sprout from the base (e.g., Vitex). A sweet bay magnolia was struggling, and was replaced by a hardier variety, and hopefully it will survive. Generally, it's best to select plants grown north of your area. Plants grown further south are a poor bet; northwestern grown plants are nearly always losers. It's like Californians that move to Chi-town. It is to laugh. Always ask about the nursery source. So while really cold winters are becoming less frequent, as you would expect with global warming, the extremes have not shifted northward as yet, so you pays you money and you takes you chances.
Well, TPP wishes he had known this over the years because those darned trans-oceanic flights and the resulting jet-lag hasn't gotten any easier over the years. Supposedly, and it is a research study, your stomach can reset your circadian clock quickly by simply fasting for 12-16 hours before you would normally eat breakfast at your point of destination. Hey, it's not like airline food is all that worth eating anyways. Of course, airlines tend to arrange their trans-oceanic flights so you arrive early in the day, but they wake you up a couple of hours ahead and provide you with a breakfast. So the idea is to not fall for this jet-lag inducing feeding and wait until you can grab an egg mcmuffin upon your arrival in Hong Kong having flown from Detroit (this used to be one of the longest flights you could take). In a way it's comforting to find out that your stomach rules in such matters. Naturally, when they say fast, they are talking about food, not booze, since it would be totally insane not to have a drink or two to help you forget that you are hurtling along 500 mph at an altitude of 40,000 feet in a ridiculous aluminum tube, however, no matter how hungry you might be TPP cannot recommend getting a "big breakfast" after arriving in Sydney just to reset your sleep cycle because it will truly ruin your GI tract for days to come. Better not to sleep than to have hotdogs for brekkies.
Well, isn't this just a fine development? By this time the witch-hazels should be in bloom and probably the silver maples too. Instead it snowed some more and the forecast is for another week of winter weather at least. Blast that woodchuck! This is not helping TPP teach plant taxonomy and ID at all. You see, things have to flower so that you can identify them using a field manual. Granted, plants are not usually cooperative in this regard, but that's the way of it. Now woody plants usually provide enough material that you can identify them on the basis of winter or leafy twigs if you have the right field guide and if the bun-buns have left you any twigs, but otherwise you need flowers. TPP will be reduced to begging for leftovers at the local florist shoppes. How demeaning! The glasshouse helps and this past week it provided examples of several important families: dogbane, euphorb, mallow, cactus, and dutchman's pipe. But that doesn't help with the local flora. So what is a guy to do? Hmm, let's put a nice beef brisket in the spiced brine to "corn" it (takes about 2 weeks), and maybe make some gumbo to cover all the holidays in view.
A distant correspondent and long-time friend has provided TPP with this letter written by a biological colleague at Boise State.
When May I Shoot
FEB. 27, 2014
BOISE, Idaho —
TO the chief counsel of the Idaho State Legislature:
In light of the
bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is
likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days,
I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I
shoot a student?
I am a biology
professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until
now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be
a good idea to even the playing field.
I have had
encounters with disgruntled students over the years, some of whom seemed quite
upset, but I always assumed that when they reached into their backpacks they
were going for a pencil. Since I carry a pen to lecture, I did not feel
outgunned; and because there are no working sharpeners in the lecture hall, the
most they could get off is a single point. But now that we’ll all be packing
heat, I would like legal instruction in the rules of classroom engagement.
At present, the
harshest penalty available here at Boise State is expulsion, used only for the
most heinous crimes, like cheating on Scantron exams. But now that lethal force
is an option, I need to know which infractions may be treated as de facto
I assume that if
a student shoots first, I am allowed to empty my clip; but given the velocity of
firearms, and my aging reflexes, I’d like to be proactive. For example, if I am
working out a long equation on the board and several students try to correct me
using their laser sights, am I allowed to fire a warning shot?
If two armed
students are arguing over who should be served next at the coffee bar and I
sense escalating hostility, should I aim for the legs and remind them of the
campus Shared-Values Statement (which reads, in part, “Boise State strives to
provide a culture of civility and success where all feel safe and free from
discrimination, harassment, threats or intimidation”)?
While our city
police chief has expressed grave concerns about allowing guns on campus, I would
point out that he already has one. I’m glad that you were not intimidated by
him, and did not allow him to speak at the public hearing on the bill (though I
really enjoyed the 40 minutes you gave to the National Rifle Association
reactions from law enforcement officials and university presidents are best set
aside. Ignore, for example, the lame argument that some drunken frat boys will
fire their weapons in violation of best practices. This view is based on
stereotypical depictions of drunken frat boys, a group whose dignity no one
seems willing to defend.
The problem, of
course, is not that drunken frat boys will be armed; it is that they are drunken
frat boys. Arming them is clearly not the issue. They would cause damage with or
without guns. I would point out that urinating against a building or firing a
few rounds into a sorority house are both violations of the same honor code.
In terms of the
campus murder rate — zero at present — I think that we can all agree that guns
don’t kill people, people with guns do. Which is why encouraging guns on campus
makes so much sense. Bad guys go where there are no guns, so by adding guns to
campus more bad guys will spend their year abroad in London. Britain has
incredibly restrictive laws — their cops don’t even have guns! — and gun deaths
there are a tiny fraction of what they are in America. It’s a perfect place for
Some of my
colleagues are concerned that you are encouraging firearms within a densely
packed concentration of young people who are away from home for the first time,
and are coincidentally the age associated with alcohol and drug experimentation,
and the commission of felonies.
Once again, this
reflects outdated thinking about students. My current students have grown up
learning responsible weapon use through virtual training available on the Xbox
and PlayStation. Far from being enamored of violence, many studies have shown,
they are numb to it. These creative young minds will certainly be stimulated by
access to more technology at the university, items like autoloaders, silencers
and hollow points. I am sure that it has not escaped your attention that the
library would make an excellent shooting range, and the bookstore could do with
fewer books and more ammo choices.
I want to
applaud the Legislature’s courage. On a final note: I hope its members will
consider my amendment for bulletproof office windows and faculty body armor in
Boise State blue and orange.
Greg Hampikian is a professor of biology and criminal justice
at Boise State University and a co-author of “Exit to Freedom.”
Obviously the flower being featured is the twin flower (Linnaea borealis), named after Linnaeus himself. Yes, good old Linnaeus' honorific plant, and he's featured prominently in many things, for example, right there on TPP's desk is a deck of Linnaeus plant family identity cards (from the Chelsea Physic Garden) next to TPP's Darwin lapel button. Not only is Treehugger providing this particular FFF, but it's offering you all an opportunity to share you beauty photos with everyone else. Enjoy.