Field of Science


Flowering shrubs - the intelligent, tasteful, moral choice

"I feel quite comfortable saying that unless your garden is filled with flowering shrubs, your taste, intelligence, and probably your morals are highly suspect." So reads the advertisement that just arrived. Well, you'd have to be a real Ediot to argue with that!  And as a fellow who collects magnolias, flowering shrubs do get a lot of the Phactor's attention.  It's not as if you need another gardening reference book for your already overcrowded book shelf, but the Phactor does assure you that the Encyclopedia of Flowering Shrubs is a very good reference, and marked down to $35 it's a bargain.  Then you will be able to carefully consider where that Disanthus might be planted.  What? You don't know Disanthus?  Well!  Guess who needs this book?   File it right next to your Dirr.   What?  You don't have a Dirr, or worse you don't know who or what a Dirr is?  OK, put down the blog, show both hands, and step away slowly.  You are highly suspect!  

Who just added another annual ring?

This is ever so slightly belated, but Mondays are busy days, so hopefully Dr. Chips will forgive me for being late in wishing him another happy birthday.  In his honor my botany class studied secondary growth this week, and just now so much of their understanding was tangential that they just lumbered around the lab.  So cutting right to the heartwood of it, Dr. Chips has added another growth ring to his already considerable trunk, while continuing to slough off that used peridem, although on this occasion perhaps he pulled a cork or two.  And never should anyone imply he has any problem with turgor in advancing age, and for a fellow so blessed with a tomentum, he has nonetheless proven to be apically, rather than annually, deciduous.  Wonder what his reaction would be?  Happy Birthday, guy!  


Isn't that nice, a bird feeder that really amuses your squirrels.  The inventor of the Twirl-a-squirrel is an early nominee for my person of the year.  Now can we get one that fits around plants?  Let's see, squirrel damage took the top out of a new varigated dogwood.  And a big sugar maple limb narrowly missed the kitchen window, a casualty of squirrel bark gnawing several years ago that left only a small strip of live bark and finally the limb broke at the point of damage.  However, in this video the squirrel seems to like it all too much.  Can you buy a fuel-injected super twirl-a-squirrel?  It's what the world needs.  Let's see does the Phactor have a birthday coming up? 

Holly berries and robins - not according to plan

Two different species of holly, if dutifully pollinated by their accommodating male plants, carry their red fruits through the winter to spring.  Several springs ago, one of the corners of our garden within view of the kitchen table, which is where the bird field guide and field glasses hang out, was filled with cedar waxwings during a couple of day layover to stock up for the next leg of their migration.  This has become an annual event much anticipated by Ms. Phactor who won't even harvest any holly for winter decorations so as not to short change the waxwings.  Today was the springiest day so far this year and the earliest migrant birds started to arrive: pine siskins, fox sparrows, and robins, a big flock of robins, so it really sounded like spring outside.  But unfortunately, the robins have not paid any attention to the plan that says the holly berries are for the later arriving waxwings.  This of course is how it goes with nature who never ever seems to read the plan, especially if it's research.  Had this been a research proposal, it would have started out something like, "The research will be conducted when the cedar waxwings make their annual stop by the study site for feeding on holly berries during their northward migration."  Can't even count the times the Phactor has been stiffed by something just like this. 

You just don't smell like you.

Our two black and white girls get along as well as any two unrelated felines can.  But feline tranquility has encountered a bit of disruption for last couple of days. The event that led to some unidirectional "I-don't-know-you" hissing and biffing, and the resulting hurt feelings of the recipient, was an annual checkup at the vet for the younger of the two, and that included a bit of grooming that ended with a bath and blow dry leaving a very fluffy cat even fluffier, but also smelling a bit like a floozy, a cat version of cheap perfume.  Now here's the question.  Why use scented shampoo on an animal, even a cute female animal, other than to please the owner, but pity the poor kitty whose #1 companion now hisses whenever she approaches, demonstrating that cats identify individuality more by smell than sight.  So why not offer scentless shampoo for the discriminating customer?  Or would it still wash off the "this-is-me" smell briefly erasing identity?  At least this only lasts for 2-3 days, and only happens once a year, and is not quite symmetrical, which is to say that when the tables are turned, she with the sensitive nose gets a curious "who-are-you?" cautious greeting, but no hissing.  Beside she is so put out at the affront of disrupting her daily schedule replaced by a very unwelcome physical and all that comes with it that she hardly notices anything else other than her own hurt feelings. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Vanilla

The Phactor would be quite remiss to not post a FFF for the 2nd week in a row and it was kind of readers not to mention this.  This is a pretty attractive flower, but this is the best photo that could be acquired with any ease at all since the silly plant has climbed a tall Madagascan succulent and now hangs down from way above.  This is a species of Vanilla, an orchid, V. aphylla to be exact.  Aphylla means without leaves, and indeed the leaves of this species are reduced to a vestigial size and the vine, which climbs by means of contractile, grasping adventitious roots, conducts its photosynthesis in its green stem.  Clearly this species is adapted to drier habitats, one of which is probably rather exposed tree trunks.   No one is certain if this plant is still in contact with soil anywhere; it seems to get all the water it needs from the humidity or a spray of water every few days.  It's a native of SE Asia and came from Thailand a long time ago.  From this angle you can just see the hairy purple nature of the throat in contrast to the greenish yellow of the other perianth parts, which are about 5-6 cm across. 

Do you study a cute enough organism to get patron funding?

How cute is that?  Here's a well known entomologist trying to drum up research support on line.  The problem is that charismatic organisms tend to get support from "enthusiasts" or their organizations, but for the most part the USA fails to support small science, so this is what it has come to.  People who do big science are tied to a boom or bust grant cycle either because the cost of their research demands it or their university demands it.  A hefty percentage of every grant goes to "indirect costs", the institution's take for providing you with a place to work.  But that's not what the Phactor wishes to complain about.  A lot of us do research that does not require big money, and in all honesty cannot compete for grants with the big money, and yet we still do worthwhile and useful research, often involving undergraduate students, and for us $50,000, or $20,000, or even $10,000 a year would pay the bills and keep the student fed.  Yes, research has shown that students actually need to eat.  And in terms of "bang for the buck", 10 small science operations at $50,000/yr may well generate more science than one big science operation for $500,000/yr.  No question about it, science needs both, so far from dumping on my big money colleagues or my entomological colleague, although one cannot condone pandering, the Phactor has been known to make an annual plea (2010, 2011) for a patron of botany.  But so far none of my readers have decided to become the Phactor's patron.  Here's even a cute cuddly picture of one of my research organisms.  Aw, the pretty little prairie lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis), an obligate parasite that taps into its neighbors' roots stealing water and nutrients from their xylem because, and here, perhaps, honesty hurts chances of getting a patron, it literally sucks.  But it's still a green plant and it has a considerable impact on the prairie community, and trying to find out why and how it does these things takes some young backs (see above: research on feeding students).  Lastly need we ask if the Phactor is charismatic enough, appealing enough, interesting enough to have a patron?  The silence speaks for itself.

Very very funky books

Here's some sculpture that may give the bibliophiles among you a strange feeling.  On one hand, a book, rather than being destroyed, is utterly transformed into a fascinating object that is strangely compelling.  Here's an example, constructed from 3 books, and a link to see more.  The artist, Brian Dettmer, literally carves out the pages leaving text and images to form these very sculptural constructions that basically transform a 2-dimensional medium into something 3-dimensional.  This fellow must have some pretty sharp and pretty fine cutting tools.  Wonder if he's done any botanicals?  HT to Blue Collar Atheist.

Promoting careers in plant science

Promoting interest in studying plants and pursuing careers in botany has always been part of my job.  The Phactor's basic premise is that everyone wants to be a botanist, but some people just take longer to figure that out than others.  At any rate any help is much appreciated, so this assistance is appreciated, even if they say that a botanist's job is to identify a&nd name plants and fungi, a view of botany over a century old. They also say, "it’s fun to discover the active, useful, beautiful, eco-friendly, and even bizarre things plants can do." Now what do they mean, bizarre? Plants do all the same things as other living organisms, so why when plants do them are they bizarre? Well, only because people never thought plants did anything! For the Phactor identification and taxonomy is part of the job, but at the same time we're plant biologists, ecologists, conservationist, and so on.  Why just today a colleague left a specimen in my mailbox, flattened into a folded sheet of paper, and asking, "Can you identify this?"  Without any delay it was answered, "Yes", and put back in his mailbox.  Once he thought of the correct question he came by and asked, "What is it's name?".  You can also read about botanical careers here.  

Doesn't that just frost your cake?

Seeds, once in the possession of the Phactor, seem to have a viablity half-life in terms of hours or days.  And the more important they are for your research, the sooner their viability disappears completely.  And then you try to store items of short shelf-life in your freezer only to find them dehydrated beyond any ability to resurrect them.  Now using tissue culture, a Frankensteinian technology, Russian scientists have succeeded in growing a plant from 30,000 yr old seeds frozen in perma-frost.  They did not report that a container of inedible frozen squash was found right next to the seeds. While the seeds were not directly viable, they contained viable tissue, but this is pretty remarkable longevity of frozen tissue.  In this case the plant is a species of Silene (cy-lean-ee)(the radio announcer pronouced it cy-lean just moments ago) that still exists, although small differences can be seen.  In other words, it has changed a bit over 30,000 years.  Now let's do something really cool and revive the wooly mammoth. Have they found any of its seeds? 

Spring has begun!

Not counting small weedy winter annuals, like chickweed, the flowering season, our definition of spring, officially began yesterday, the 18th! of February, with the flowering of a witchhazel and snowdrops.  Snowdrops and aconite have been in bloom in warmer sunnier places for a week or more in other places, but our gardens are pretty shady.  Now let's look at the data.  The earliest this witchhazel has flowered in the past was the 9th of March.  The earliest the snowdrops have flowered was the 4th of March.  This puts 2012 15 to 20 days ahead of 2010; 2011 was generally later for everything.  Hellebores and lots of bulbs are getting ready to go.  So the garden log was dusted off, a new column was added, and we're ready to go. 

Plan ahead - corn your beef

St. Patrick's Day looms just 4 weeks from now, so if you want that corned beef to be ready in time, get it started.  This will be relatively easy this year because having gotten the OK from Homeland Security to purchase potassium nitrate last year, the supply will suffice for this year and the next couple as well.  Corned beef is one of those homemade things that is so much better than store-bought.  The recipe is also posted at that link, so once you get your clearance you're ready to go. 

Just don't drink the water

“In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is strength, in water there is bacteria.”  David Auerbach, 2002.

Dear fellow imbibers, having once been chided for traveling with a small supply of bourbon, the Phactor explained it was strictly for medicinal purposes.  And it’s so good to know that my favorite excuse has more than an element of truth to it.  Once, a whole bus load of fellow travelers get a nasty wog from the local water that the Phactors avoided because one of us had stowed a couple of bottles of beer for quenching our thirst even be they not cold.  Now all those cases of cholera and diarrhea that were not caught will be attributed to a strict reliance on ethanolic beverages when abroad.  So here it all is, via the Scientific American blogs, so you know it’s safe to drink it all in.

Joseph Hooker - Botanical Explorer, and plant quiz too!

Joseph Hooker was one of the most prominent botanists of Darwin's day.  His exploits and travels are the stuff of adventures.  So hang on to your pocket books and credit cards because this new book about Hooker is going to be hard to resist, and since it is actually quite reasonable in price, why not indulge a bit in some botanical history.  Hooker probably named more plants than anyone since Linnaeus.  So here's the link if you're interested.  And dang the Phactor loves that hat, rakish angle and all.  Yes, botanists are dashing sorts, especially in the field.  And do you recognize the plant that is being illustrated?  If so, what sex is it and where was it growing (country)? 

Spring has sprung, almost - in February?

Here in the upper midwest February has been a winter month for as long as the Phactor can, uh, uh, oh, something, period.  And both my faithful PC and my fancy satellite-signal updating watch say today is the 17th of February, and the high today will be 50F.  The earliest any plant has ever flowered in the Phactors' gardens, not counting the silly chickweed which is already in flower, is March 1st.  On the route to work a favorite hedgerow, long neglected, is filled with snowdrops and aconite, and they are in full bloom, an event always ahead of the Phactors' shady gardens.  The tens of thousands of scilla that will turn our yard blue are poking up everywhere along with all the other early bulbs.  Still witchhazel usually wins the trophy for earliest in bloom.  It's going to take quite a bit of mental resetting, maybe by satellite signal, to start thinking of February as spring.  A terrifying thought just occurred; field research will start earlier than ever and overlap even more of the semester!  How to ruin a decent morning's late winter revery.  Pass the seed catalogues and a margarita, please, and we'll see if we can adjust. 

Sucrose therapy

Darwin day was not a great success this year in terms of numbers, although a great success with those who came.  Some students were a bit depressed and came for some major league sucrose therapy, and even considering the lack of clinical data, all that sugary frosting seemed to help.  A few curious ones looked through the considerable Darwin library that the Phactor has assembled over the years and several decided that, yeah, maybe they should read some Darwin.  The trouble it seems is that email is no longer a relevant form of communication among students; email is to be ignored along with newspapers, web sites, and bulletin board posters as if they were cave paintings.  And then a couple of smart-phone zombies wandered by both totally absorbed in the little screen before their nose as if to underscore their indifference to anything else. What would Darwin have done?  He's have a piece of cake with lots of frosting flowers. 

Confirming your suspicions on climate change denial

Particularly with the topic of climate change denialism, it was pretty easy for us skeptics to believe that corporations and individuals whose fiscal interests are wrapped up in polluting businesses were promoting denialism by paying think tanks, even pseudothink tanks, to produce counter arguments, counter "studies", to convince people that the issue is still a matter of some debate, something still disputed, so reasonable, but gullible, people still might think inaction is OK or maybe even warranted.  Now someone has spilled the beans on the Heartland Institute, that wonderful organization that pioneered denialism for the tobacco industry.  And it worked so well for so long that it only made sense to use their tobacco-causes-cancer denialism play-book on climate change.  You can find all the details in some leaked documents via Greg Laden's blog.  The best part is how you portray climate change as "uncertain and controversial" as a means of dissuading teachers from teaching science!  Yes, keep them uneducated about science; they're just so much more gullible that way.  An awful lot of people will be very defensive, if not downright belligerent, because it isn't fun to find out you've been played.  The same tactic has worked pretty well for religious opposition to evolution too.  And why shouldn't it?  Grifters know that the same old cons continue to work. 

Botancial Geek Tour - 2012

The planning is underway for this year's botanical geek tour, our third, in the continuing quest to see the 1001 botanical gardens you should see before you die.  Economic times being what they are, and the Phactor's salary being what it is, the tour is most likely to be domestic, and in mid to late May.  One plan suggested thus far is to center the tour around Longwood Gardens.  It is hard to believe that the Phactors have not been there before, but that's the fact.  Now here's the question: what else in the general region warrents a botanical geek's attention?  Your suggestions will be taken under consideration.  If you know the region well, remember that good food and beverages are an important, actually essential, component of botanical geek tours.  Last tour the best cole slaw in the world was encountered in a bar and grill located nowhere in particular in rural Wisconsin, so this does not mean fancy is what we seek.  Let's hear from you.

Cake Walk

Ordering a cake for Darwin's belated birthday was like a trip to another land.  Cake themes: subcategory: professional - no biological/scientific professions at all.  Bummer.  Can you do some botanical decorations?  No, would flowers be OK?  Yes.  Message: Happy 203rd Birthday Charles.  Wow!  203!  That's amazing!  He's 203?  No, Charles is actually dead, but it's still his birthday.  And you're celebrating his birthday?  Yes.  OK.  Charles who?  Darwin.  Oh. Oh!  Darwin!  He did genetics or something.  Yes.  White cake or chocolate?  Marble.  Butter-cream frosting?  Yes.  Wow, you know your cakes!  Thanks.  A healthy dose of cake reality complements of the local grocery store baker.

Happy Birthday, Charles!

Today is the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday 203 years ago.  It's easy for an evolutionary biologist to get depressed these days what with the prospects of getting a GnOPe candidate that has even the slightest regard for science essentially nil.  And even worse when because your understanding of science suggests policies that run afoul of conservative ideology, they label you unAmerican conspirators in undermining the USA.  There was a time in this country when policy was debated, but then politicians found out it was easier to deny the science rather than debate policy, and now the people who do the science are being demonized.  If these ideologues have their way the USA will fall even further under the sway of fundamentalist theocrats, and thus our society will begin to converge on that of Islamic countries charging forward into the past, the distant past, the Dark Ages, at a time when fewer and fewer realize that embracing science is one of the few avenues to maintaining any type of competitive advantage internationally.  This is so depressing the Phactor seldom blogs about it, but he wonders what is going to happen when people who make up their own facts and their own history actually try to use their fantasies to interact with the world at large and run smack dab into a serious dose of reality.  More denial?  More demonization?  So it would seem.  And the worst part is that so many people so readily fall for it.  Depressing indeed.

Solution to grapefruit medication problem

Last Saturday our dinner group planning committee decided to include a salad recipe that featured chunks of grapefruit pulp. One of our super worry worts said, “Don’t grapefruit interact badly with some types of medication?” “Yes, but is anyone in our group taking such meds?” WW did not know, but why take chances? What chances are those?  If people are taking meds affected by grapefruit, surely they should know it and be wise enough to avoid eating it. In case you did not know, grapefruit contain furanocoumarins, which can increase the effective dosage of some blood pressure and heart meds, which means a safe dose can become a dangerous dose. This is not a good thing, but so far it has not appeared in any murder mysteries.  Since we did not have our groups list of meds currently being taken, and given the average age, it might be pretty long, avoiding grapefruit completely did not seem necessary. 

Later in a store, the Phactor noticed pummelo and wondered if they too were a problem. Pummelo are bigger, milder, sweeter than grapefruit, and they are one of the parents, the other being oranges, of grapefruit, a hybrid fruit that happened after pummelo were transported to the Caribbean. The answer is that pummelo contain relatively little if any furanocoumarins, and thus the less bitter taste. Fred Gmitter, a citrus geneticist at the University of Florida, says they have back-crossed grapefruit to pummelo and bred a new grapefruit with very, very low to no furanocumarins. So far, these have not appeared in markets, but pummelo are making regular appearances. And as a bonus, the new hybrid grapefruit are seedless!  

Friday Fabulous Flower - A Passion

It's snowing, not unusual in February, except for this year when there's been not very much snow.  This definitely puts spring on hold for another 2-3 weeks.  Darned woodchuck!  So back to the glasshouse to see what's in bloom that you might not have seen.  Ah, here's a really nice flower, quite lovely, and quite unusual in its own way, a passion flower (Passiflora citrina) that remains quite oblivious to the weather outside.  Many of you have seen passion flowers before, and you can recognize many of the common elements here, but in a very different flower.  The ovary (green) is stalked and sits aloft just below the 3 parted style and 3 stigmas. Arranged beneath this are the stamens whose anthers are delicately hinged upon the ends of the outwardly curved filaments.  The 10 perianth parts, all petalloid, for a cup with nectaries at their base.  Where the corolla (inner perianth) forms the broad top of the cup, a ring of appendages forms a corona.  An incoming pollinator, probably a hummingbird in spite of the flower color, will pick up pollen from the anthers when probing the cup for nectar, and this will be in a position to be picked up by one of the stigmas at the next flower visited.  This vine flowers all the time and is pretty trouble free if you have room for it.  The flower is about 5-6 cm across. 

Conference Cycle

Got a quicker response from our campus transportation chief than expected RE the student powered van.  He also suggested that maybe the campus was ready for the Conference Bike; have a meeting and get in shape, a way of making sure you are really going somewhere.  Of course if it's for committee meetings then it probably only goes around in circles.  Buy one of these for your dean or provost.

Student-powered field-trip van

Screw electric!  This is so awesome!  Yes, a student-powered field trip van!  Where does the Phactor get one?  The Netherlands!  Do they come in other colors?  And what about a rain canopy?  Yes, they are convertable!  Two of these babies will do the trick.  Wonder if the university will make us sit through a dreadful 45 min video explaining such important safety facts that big vans take longer to stop than a car?  Probably.  Must have!  Must have!  Draft memo to university transportation office immediately! 

Longevity & Booze

Good news, everyone!  Every now and again a scientific study reports something that really cheers the Phactor up, and a 20 year study of longevity and drinking habits found that moderate drinkers had a greater longevity than both heavy drinkers and abstainers.  How about that?  That glass of shiraz with your dinner not only tastes good, but you may live longer as a result.  More likely people of a moderate habit disposition live longer period, but why not just enjoy the fact that this study has handed you an excellent argument for a daily glass of wine.  Is there a wine grower's think tank out there that funds this type of research?  Inquiring minds want to know.  The young fellow in the office next door to me has claimed that a daily nip, or two, have increased the longevity of his research career which is in its 6th decade now.  His colleagues did have to get him to dial back the killer margaritas used to celebrate each publication a bit.  He was fine, but they were killing everyone else!

Drat! Uncooperative plants & labs.

If there's one thing you can count on, the more a plant is needed for a laboratory class, the less likely it will be available.  Generally, the weedier a plant, the more you can count on it, so when you need some aerenchyma for a lab on cells and tissues, you grab some water lettuce (Pistia) and have at it.  But the plantlets on duty today were all whimpy little things with almost no aerenchyma development at all.  So you turn to the Cyperus (papyrus) and somebody needing to make a scroll had cut it all!  Why this was as bad as discovering that the campus arborist had removed all the bayberry plantings without realizing that right there in exercise 11 it said to collect the waxy berries from the bushes on campus.  What do they think the campus grounds are for if not to supply my classes with specimens?  Fortunately the water hyacinth was marginally better, and while the petioles were rather elongated and narrow from too little sunlight, at least they have aerenchyma aplenty.  Fortunately, the lesson on how to use a razor blade for cutting sections of plants without the letting of blood or the amputation of digits was highly successful.  So you take the small victory. 

Pond landscaping - glorious quillworts

One of the side benefits of pond renovation is you have new spaces to landscape, and this includes aquatic plants.  So JFTHOI the Phactor has decided to include a pot of quillwort, Isoetes.  This little known clubmoss is more common that most people know because it grows in places where most people don't look very close and it doesn't stand out except to a trained eye.  So this won't generate any rave reviews from people, but the point is knowing it's there.  Quillworts are the last living representatives of an ancient lineage of arborescent clubmosses, now reduced to little wetland plants.  And unless you've been frogging around down on your hands and knees in a shallow wetland, with an experienced botanist, you'll have never seen a quillwort.  Of course, once you have, you'll say, "Uh, that's what we're down here frogging around in the mud and water for?"   Yes!  As you can see the long slender leaves look sort of reedy-rushy except for the sporangia that are embedded in the base of fertile leaves, but you won't see them without pulling one up.  This is a big species with leaves a hand span long.  Just the thought of having such an ancient plant growing in our pond will be a source of considerable satisfaction. Image complements of Show Ryu, Wikimedia Creative Commons.

Botanical stalker-spammer

Oh, we plant lovers get a certain satisfaction from recognition, but at times it can get a bit creepy.  So what to make out of Steve Bowen, the recent stalker/spammer of plant bloggers?  Where does he fall on the continuum of clueless to evil schemer?  On one hand the Phactor is very supportive of people who want to educate people about plants, but Steve is a spammer, and his "message" has popped up in the comments of a number of plant-related blogs (Thanks to all my correspondents.).  He pitches an OK idea on the surface of it, although rather impractical, but he seems quite short on knowledge, know-how, and money, so apparently he really has little to offer.  So until he has something real to offer, he won't get any support from around here because at present he's also a scammer, seeking money via Kickstart for a pie-in-the-sky idea.  So watch your blog comments people  and set your spam filters to vaporize. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - a Gesneriad

Almost didn't get to a fabulous flower today what with so many things to get ready for next week.  With the days getting longer, the glasshouse collection is looking a bit livelier, and at least one new species will bloom soon, one obtained as a small plantlet.  This particular tropical plant gets over looked because it grows in a shadier, even dim, part of the greenhouse, and it's flowers are not particularly gaudy or bright and showy, and that is a bit strange.  But then again, the pollinator of this species is not altogether obvious, and although hummingbirds have been known to visit the flowers, it just isn't exactly their type of flower except for the orientation.  This isn't the first time TPP has featured a gesneriad, a member of the Gesneriaceae, the African violet family to many people because that's the house plant most people know.  This is Drymonia stenophylla from Costa Rica, and the flowers, just after a rain provided by the mist system, are rather subtle with the pale yellow and pinks.  The corollas are quite waxy, almost artificial in appearance, but otherwise similar to the better know Episcias.

Conflicted - Annoying spammer vs. botanical outreach

The Phactor likes to promote botany to the point of near obsession; it's a life work.  And naturally TPP embraces new techonology whole-heartedly (not really), but realistically you have to consider how other people do things.  And so this brings me to a recent spammer.  Oh, yes, my spam filter nailed him, and generally spammers are exiled to the spam folder for convenient deletion at my pleasure.  However, the project being spammed is probably worthy of support, and supposedly our expertise in plant ID and botanical knowledge is valued and needed.  And that's how it is isn't it?  Someone somewhere still has to know something if you want to use your bloody cell phone to take a picture of a leaf and find out all about the plant.  The Phactor has blogged about similar apps before, here and here.  Do such things promote the ever increasing tendency toward instant gratification where if the answer isn't easily and immediately at your e-finger tips interest is soon lost?  Yes, most certainly.  It's so superficial, but promoting interest in plants is important too.  For now TPP isn't going to endorse this fellow and his botanical e-technology project until a bit more investigation of this annoying fellow is conducted.  If this sounds familiar to any other bloggers, drop me an email with your evaluation or thoughts on this.

Wicked plants this way come

The Phactor gets many unusual requests, and this morning in my favorite coffee shop, the lovely Jessica says she wishes to construct a display of "wicked plants", and asks me for ideas.  Wicked can mean many thing to many people, so with that in mind, help the Phactor out.  What plants are wicked?  At one extreme, there's Wicked Wanda, purveyor of Wicked Wanda's Leather and Lace.  Not quite sure what all she sells, but based on the window display of whips  and corsets you get a pretty good idea.  And then there's the wicked as in he throws a "wicked goggly" (and yes, TPP does know a bit of foreign language).  There must be other wickeds that apply to plants.  Let's help Jessica out, and fill the comments with suggestions!

Would a mango by any other name taste as good?

No question the Phactor would not have gotten any further than "Bango", although put this misspelling together with the correct spelling, bango-mango, and you can sort of imagine a frou-frou tropical beverage with a little paper umbrella.  As someone who shops in all manner of ethnic markets, you do wonder about the labelling.  What fun to be able to unravel this!

More unnatural blueness!

Blueness is coming out of the floral woodwork, or out of the dye bottle actually, which is clearly a crime against nature.  It was only the other day that the Phactor bemoaned the blueness of moth orchids, and the not so innocent scam: "Subsequent flowers may not be blue."  Now it's blue Anthuriums, and at Kew!  Well, there's only one thing to say, "O-BLUE-TERATE THEM!"  HT to PATSP. 

Where's his shadow?

Here's a nice picture of a groundhog, aka woodchuck.  And the article about burrowing is interesting, but come on, where's his shadow?  Or is Groundhog Day going to get all serious and sciency? 

Taxonomic poetry

Thalictrum and Cimicifuga,
married for life:
“I love your filigreed purply curls.”
“I love your pompous white spikes.”

Look at them swaying there out in the wind,
bowed by the nastiest weather:
always reverting to genus
and always together.

--Jonathan Galassi

Stoopid plants! It's not spring yet!

Yesterday broke a 100+ year old weather record with a high of 63 F smashing the old record of 54 F.  A young foreign student staying with us left this morning to visit Chicago for a couple of days, and she will come away with the erroneous conclusion that Chicago a nice place in the winter!  Well, it's not Thunder Bay, but still, it's not Pensacola either.  Our continental climate produces big dramatic swings in weather; that's expected, but what is not expected is the first week of February to have highs in the 50s.  Plants do stoopid things when we get weather like this.  They don't have calendars, and having had a period of cold weather, their physiology is convinced that it's time for spring so atypically warm temperatures break their cold dormancy.  So bulbs will be popping up, indeed, snow drops are in flower, not that more snow and cold will do them any damage, but some of the Phactor's magnolias are pretty stoopid and the earliest flowering get fooled regularly.  Nothing can be done about it, but curse this miserable weather that all the non-plant mopes are chortling gleefully about.  It doesn't have to be bitter cold, just consistently cold.  Uh oh, maybe someone didn't make a proper sacrifice to the snow god.  Quick, let's freeze a Floridian before it's too late!