Field of Science


Berry-Go-Round #24 - January 2010

WELCOME TO BERRY-GO-ROUND #24! Let’s start with a Berry-go-Round Amusement.

January is such a good month for plant blogs probably because there’s so little else to do, at least here in the northern Temperate Zone. But to avoid some seasonal affective disorder head way down south to Sao Paulo and say olá! to Ricardo and his fellow tree bloggers. This time he’s in Rio and presents some nice pictures of the cannonball tree and their bizarre flowers, which the Phactor showed you some time back.

Here's more tough winter duty. Over at Arboreality, Jade Blackwater has been hanging out on the beaches of Santa Barbara CA. Head on over and see the many beautiful images of trees and commentary, and then express you sympathy for such making the best of it in what is clearly a place hardly fit for human habitation.

Let me broaden your horizons by introducing a bit of botanical illustration and some botanical art. The Phytophactor was an art minor in college, somewhat strange for a biology major, or so everyone said. However he now understands that the combination of genetic pattern varied by environmental influences produces great design, and so we find plants aesthetically pleasing to the point that failing to appreciate their attractiveness is a sign of clinical depression.

Oh no! More dam yam confusion, but ocas are pretty (and we’re not talking killer whales either) over at the Love Plant Life Blog, but no complaints if it becomes fodder for the Phytophactor's blog.

At the Natural History Blog, David Ingram calls our attention to lichens, symbiotic organisms consisting of algae growing within a fungus mycelium producing an organism that looks nothing like either partner. And if you like these images and figuring out what some of these tough little organisms are, then the Lichens of North America is the book for you. It includes an identification key and great illustrations.

The Festival of the Trees blogroll #43 (How could this have escaped my attention 42 times before?) is up at Xenogere. Don’t be a stranger.

Tim Enwistle (Director of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney) at Talking Plants blogs about frangipani, Plumeria, a nice winter diversion for us Northern Hemisphere residents. Frangipani has the most wonderfully fragrant flowers and is one of my favorite components of UTF (ubiquitous tropical flora). This correspondent heartily endorses his recommendation to visit the Mt. Coot-tha Botanic Gardens the next time you’re in the neighborhood of Brisbane to see their collection of over 100 varieties of frangipani. And the Sydney Botanic Gardens should not be missed either.

Michele at the From Seed to Table blog provides harvest data and a nice image of some less well known carrot varieties, but if she were my student she'd be explaing whether she weighed the whole plant or just the part she eats? This correspondent is an avid gardener, but weighing all your garden produce is a bit anal retentive. There are only two amounts: enough and not enough. Enjoy already!

The Watcher at Watching the World Wake Up has way too much energy; you can get exhausted just reading this blog, but it’s part of my exercise regime (watching others exercise). You simply have to admire how someone can notice they’ve picked up a hitchhiker on a morning jog and turn that into a blog about nature’s Velcro™, burdock.
Later in the month The Watcher treats us to a pictoral visit to the Sonoran desert and a nice explanation of plant spacing. Then the Watcher starts out by scaring us a bit with thought experiments, which are easier after the morning coffee, but he finally makes his point or two or more about plant spines.

While it may be that deserts are loaded with prickly plants, neotropical rainforests have a surprising number of spiny plants too, enough so you learn not to just grab hold of stems. And a good example of this was provided by John at Kind of Curious whose late December posting tells you about kapok, that oh so useful waterproof fiber that they used for the stuffing of May West life jackets. So come on up and see his blog sometime.

Over at the Wild Plant Post my botanical colleague Joseph Craine asks what limits plant productivity? Water or nitrogen? This is a devilishly tricky problem to solve as one may influence the other making it impossible to tease the individual affects apart. This is real science well explained.

Here's a pretty good story. A wild tobacco gets pollinated by hawkmoths, so it flowers in the evening. But the hawkmoth also used the wild tobacco as a brood substrate for its caterpillars. Plants being attacted by the hawkmoth larvae switch their flowering time to mornings attracting hummingbird pollinators. This is pretty cool, but the real question is why bother with the hawkmoths anyways? The authors reason that perhaps the hawkmoth is a better pollinator, so the plant benefits from the interaction until the hawkmoth herbivory becomes too great, and then it's better to switch to a less effective pollinator. Now how to test this hypothesis?

Here's another flower story from the Human Flower Project. The strange looking flowers of Pedilanthus, usually called something like the "little bird flower" are supposed to bring luck so they are popular in SE Asia around the lunar new year (Feb. 14th) in places where that is celebrated like Malaysia. Hmm, no easy way to explain that these are really inflorescences that look like flowers, something that is fairly common in the euphorb family.

Lastly this carnival cannot close without mentioning that plants, specifically trees, should play a prominent role in helping get Haiti back on its feet again. Deforestation and the accompanying loss of soil has been a problem leading to poverty in many countries. You might consider a contribution to Plants with a Purpose, a charity devoted to helping with agroforestry. Ht to Casaubon’s Book blog and her nice discussion of the role reforestation plays in redevelopment.

Thanks to all the contributors, witting or not; keep up the good work.


Jade L Blackwater said...

Thanks for including Arboreality in this issue of Berry-Go-Round!

Off to explore the link collection...


Laurent said...

Thanks for this very nice edition of BGR! I will manage to backlink shortly...