Field of Science

Finally fall color

Finally the first of our plants with good fall color have changed.  It wasn't that long ago that it still looked, felt, and sounded like summer.  However, it's October 31st!  And there are quite a few things still to turn color, but it will be a short color season because the leaves are falling fast and it won't last.  This Japanese maple really lights up an area near our garden pavilion and the peachy-pink color contrasts so nicely with it's very dark bark.  In general it seems as though spring started about 2 weeks early and fall is running 2 weeks late.  The good news is that almost 3" of rain has fallen in the past 24 hrs and it was really needed to recharge the soil moisture and get the trees well hydrated going into winter.  TPP is no fan of red maples; they don't do well in this region because it's too hot and too dry for them in the summer.  However this year they are striking with deep red foliage and all too many people will fall for them.  Have to run, some more Jedi knights have come to the door seeking treats, but their mind tricks won't work on TPP.

lichen-covered picture frames

Rob asks TPP: I like to make picture frames from old barn wood. I recently acquired some wood that has lichen on it and thought it would be cool to have some on the frame but do not know whether or not it would be harmful to humans in a household environment. Also if it isn't I would assume it would maybe dry up and just crumble off or disintegrate or would not last. Any ideas on this. I do not know the name of this lichen, I live in West Central Minnesota and see it all over the granite outcrops, roofs of house, on trees and wood. Thanks for any help.
In answer to your questions: Lichens are not harmful to humans in a household environment.  However humans can be quite harmful to lichens; in urban areas they can be the canaries in the coal mine type of indicators of air quality (they don't like pollution).  Depending upon the lichen, they would just desiccate and could last on the wood for a considerable period of time, especially crusty lichens.  They actually make "living walls" of lichen-covered bark or wood, but your living picture frames would require some occasional moisture (not good for the pictures) and some light, although not necessarily much of either.  TPP doesn't know the name of your lichen either having never seen it.  On the diverse substrates you mention, there would be multiple kinds of lichens.  There is a nice book called Lichens of North America, it has an identification key, but it's rather technical; all the wonderful pictures might prove more useful.  Maybe a local university library will have a copy.  It's a big book. The image shows several lichens on an old birdfeeder in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, so yours would be different. 

Now for something completely different - sexy Halloween costumes ala Tom Tomorrow

As TPP has mentioned before, no one has their finger on the pulse of the USA any more firmly than Tom Tomorrow and here he delivers on sexy Halloween costumes.  Actually a couple of those costumes are pretty scary because as is well known, the NSA has planted a bug in every single piece of candy distributed in the past decade. So inspect your kid's candy carefully.  The NYC cab driver is the biggest fantasy of them all. 

Same sex marriage in Lincolnland

So far is has not been decided whether Lincolnland will allow same sex marriage or if our state will just stay unconstitutional.  Opponents still out number proponents in the state legislature, so the matter will probably not be brought to a vote anytime soon.  The opponents claim this will have a negative impact on religious liberties, but the only liberty that has the potential to be infringed upon is bigotry.  Even if the measure is passed, gay-bigot denominations would not have to marry any couples they object to, just as now, however, since TPP's church (Unitarian) would marry them, one might ask where is our religious liberty?  The problem here is that marriage exists as both civil and a religious institutions, and no issue shows more clearly why you don't want religion and government to become further entangled. Jocelyn Floyd, special counsel for the Thomas More Society for Religious Bigotry and Science Denialism doesn't seem to know any gay couples because she argues that the primary reason for marriage is too protect children and provide a "cultural environment where children [have] a mother and a father to each offer unique aspects in raising".  Every gay couple TPP knows, and he knows quite a few, provide exactly such cultural environment, and you need only interact with them a short time to figure it out.  At quite a young age our F1 completely understood that while her friend and playmate had two daddies, one of them was really the mommy.  Of course, extending Jocelyn's procreation and parenting reasoning, the marriages of senior citizens have no purpose.  Other zealots warn of the moral collapse of our society, and from what TPP can see their cure is worse than the disease.  One interesting twist here in Lincolnland is that in general black clergy oppose gay marriage showing that they learned very little during the civil rights struggles of my youth, back when interracial marriage was both socially, religiously, and legally outlawed. My students see no problem whatsoever, so our legislators had better wake up; these voters are paying attention.        

Vandalized sign

Vandalism is one of those things TPP just doesn't understand.  What does senseless destruction accomplish. A small sign in our front garden was torn from it's metal stake and the stake was bent over to the ground.  The sign says "Yard Smart: safe for all living things".  It's a nice program designed to show people that you don't need heavy use of herbicides and pesticides to have a nice looking garden.  Pretty controversial, huh?  How does this little sign, all of 7 inches square in a light green color and standing all of 2 feet above the ground, instigate vandalism?  The vandalism took all of 10 min to repair, and unbeknown to the vandal Mrs. Phactor is close to the distribution source for these signs, and the vandal will certainly get tired of breaking our sign before the Phactors have to worry about not having a sign.  Perhaps one of the chemical lawn care people driving by just snapped?  Those chemicals can do that to you.  Other strange things broken or damaged about the estate suggest that someone, or someones, on or about the same time were running through our yard in the dark and failed to see several obstacles.  Perhaps they hurt themselves, one would like to think.  Ah, well, crap happens and most likely no explanation will be forthcoming.  This is when you wish you had a garden cam to capture these cherished moments.


No sainthood for TPP.  Yesterday the spirit moved him to dig the canna bed so that Mrs. Phactor can plant tulips for the spring, several hundred tulips.  The bed is about 4 feet wide and some 16-20 feet long.  The cannas are a big landscape variety with purple pigmented leaves and aerial stems standing 6-7 feet tall.  They make a very dramatic, tropical looking backdrop and quite a screen from the street.  The rhizomes are as big around as TPP's forearm and a nice pick color.  Huge would be another apt description.  And you get back more than you planted.  No idea how many of these rhizomes have been given away over the years, but every year there's another wheelbarrow full of them.  Now the only trick will be to keep the squirrels from digging up the bulbs that get planted. 

Suddenly deciduous

Last night it froze; the low temperature was 25 F.  Up until now only the lightest of frosts had happended, so lots of trees still have green leaves.  Under these circumstances a number of tree species will drop their leaves all at once including hackberry and black walnut, and most definitely ginkgo.  What causes tree leaves to drop is an abcission layer, an anatomically weak zone that forms in the fall at the base of the leaf stalk.  Trees like ginkgo still hang on to their leaves until a freeze, and then, perhaps as a result of ice crystal formation, the weak connection is broken and as the temperature goes up a few degrees, all the leaves fall at once.  TPP sort of wishes other trees did the same because then you'd be done with it, but some of our big trees hang on to leaves so tenaciously you end up raking in the spring.  The areas under the suddenly deciduous trees were just a carpet of dropped leaves this morning, and most people won't even notice. And leaves were still falling like rain.  Most other trees drop leaves more gradually as the abcission zone matures.  All trees drop leaves, but when they drop them all seasonally, they are deciduous.  Otherwise they are evergreen, which is not synonymous with conifers because some are deciduous.

You are what you eat?

Are you what you eat?  Well, artist Klaus Enrique thinks so, so his "portraits" are actually still life sculptures using mostly food.  It might be a botanical thing, but the fruit and veg portraits are the best.  The portraits using flower petals are pretty nifty too.  Now if some of these have a vague look of familiarity, then you probably know your art history because in the 1500s Giuseppe Arcimboldo was painting portraits where the faces were still-life compositions of food. TPP uses one of them in a lecture asking the same question, "are you what you eat?"  At the link above you'll find a link to Giuseppe's work and the gallery where Enrique is exhibiting.  Hadn't ever seen any of the more ghoulish ones before using items from the butcher's case; they're a bit creepy. 

Whiskey (whisky) primer

An article asks, "What's the difference between bourbon and whiskey?"  This is sort of like asking what's the difference between ice cream and vanilla ice cream.  Beer is a beverage made from malted cereal grain, and a distilled beer is a whiskey; spelled with an E in USA, probably the result of all those Irish immigrants.  So  bourbon is a type of whiskey made in the USA.  Bourbon is technically a maize (corn is any common grain - ask for "corn" in Scotland and see what you get) whiskey, but the USA let's them get away with as little as 51% maize.  Tennessee makes the same type of whiskey but it's not called bourbon even though it is.  It's a wonder Kentucky and Tennessee were on the same side of the Civil War.  Speaking of that Rebel Yell bourbon wasn't "exported" (north of the Mason-Dixon line) back in TPP's graduate student days.  Canadian whiskey is also a sort of bourbon, but it can't be called that and be imported to the USA, so Canadian whiskey it is. Scotch is a different sort of whisky (spelled that way where it's made), and some of the barrel aged whisky is blended, cut or diluted with neutral grain spirits (don't bother) or straight malt whisky (read your labels folks).  All bourbon is straight malt whisky.  Yea!  The best bourbon cocktail in the humble opinion of this author is the Old Fashioned, and the two best ones TPP has ever been served were at The Girl and The Goat (Chicago) and Sobu (New Orleans).  Hint: use orange bitters!  Hope that was edifying.

Robotic barista?

Remember the scene in a Star Wars movie where R2D2 was busy serving drinks on Jabba's party barge?  Well, this Brigga "robotic" barista machine is no R2D2.  Not self-propelled at all, in fact a fork lift would be necessary to move it.  You could actually talk to R2D2 and get some squeeks and whistles in return, sort of like petting a talky cat.  Don't people want to talk, briefly socialize, with the barista making their lattes?  Why do people want to take jobs away from college students, out of work actors, or under employed PhDs?  This thing strikes TPP as total overkill and no way would it fit in my office, so what use is it anyways?  Looks like you have to punch a lot of buttons, or say, "Computer, earl grey, hot", or have it linked to some app on your cell phone, and then it delivers the same Sanka decaf for everything and psychologically no one would notice because it came from such an imposing ediface.  Actually this doesn't look too different from some automatic coffee/espresso machines you see at truck stops and the like, and they never deliver anything drinkable. Anyone have anything like this in their work place break/lunch rooms?  Hmm, a bit of reflection reminds TPP that the little cafeteria at the U. Zurich's botanical garden had a little coffee machine that actually delivered a pretty nice latte at the push of a button, and it would fit in my office! 

And one final plant flowers- monk's hood

TPP has blogged about monk's hood before (a Friday fabulous flower).  Yesterday was officially the first day of flowering - October 20th, and that's 6 days earlier than in 2012!  These are a great plant for the patient if you have a nice quiet shady spot.  Another new happening this year; something ate one of our plants and usually nothing touches them because they are really toxic. But this year bun-buns ate a lot of things they never touched before none of which made us very happy.  Tonight may be our first frost, but probably not for our garden.  It has to frost hard before our little heat island gets frost.  Nonetheless yesterday was spent doing some garden cleanup and pickup. Except for tomatoes this year's kitchen garden was pretty good.  Still have some mesclun, lettuce, and bok choi, but it takes a pretty hard freeze to damage these.  Fall color remains reluctant, but cool nights just began a week ago; drought will really reduce the sugar maple display this year. 

Deadlines, online forms, permissions, and more, oh my!

This past week was pretty ugly.  As previously mentioned about 700 pages of copy-edited manuscript await my attention, and hardly had TPP begun that the page proofs of a journal article show up and the editor wants it back in 72 hours.  And that wasn't all folks!  No, he wanted a 250 word non-technical summary in English and a copy in French, Spanish, or Portuguese!  The great utility of the internet is that it allowed communication with my co-author in southern India, and she had a friend who speaks Portuguese!  Fantastic!  And then the gummint restarted and the Oct. 18 grant proposal deadline became a reality.  Yikes!  About 50 emails to and from collaborators, a couple of dozen sign-ons  to construct the proposal, and then make all the necessary (?) changes, and emails with campus grant people, and campus accountants, and the rest, and somehow it got done, and then NSF gives us a 5 day deadline extension (including the weekend), but all this still has to go through campus routing of permissions anyways, a process that started on Friday PM so now it's only a mild rush not a hell-bent, ghost-rider on a motorcycle rush.  Of course classes were taught, an exam was written (but it will be carefully checked on Monday just in case), plants were sent to a colleague, and student matters dealt with (You want to study in the Virgin Islands because ...?).  My book editor emailed to ask how it was coming; it wasn't, but now back to that.  It was not a fun week.  Any more of this and TPP will think about retiring.  Oh yes, he is thinking about it. OK, he will think about retiring sooner. 

Garden flowering log - one to go!

Today is decidedly fall, cool, sunny, breezy, beautiful.  The garden flowering is just about done, in fact there is exactly one species left to go, the monk's hood.  When that finally flowers, and the buds are just about ready, the gardening log will be at 292 plants that flowered in our gardens this year.  This is not exactly a species list because some distinct varieties have very different flowering seasons, but generally different varieties that flower in the same season don't count.  Annuals don't count.  Tropical plants outside for the summer don't count. Ferns and gymnosperms don't flower, and so don't appear on the list even if they cone, but they are quite a list too.  Of course some plants were new to the garden, or new to flower, but then there are others that didn't flower this year at all.  TPP has not yet checked this list against past years' lists so something might have gotten missed, but doubtful the 300 plants in flower barrier will be broken.  Perhaps with all the new woodland plants added this year the total will make it in 2014. This years season was pretty long having started on February 21st (witch hazel) and here we are 8 months later waiting for monk's hood.  Wow! Only 4 months until it starts all over again!  2013 is the longest flowering season since the record keeping began.

You'll get a charge out of this bicycle

Here's another electrified bicycle, the FlyKly, a very clever one at that.  The entire works is housed in a modified wheel hub so that regular pedaling or coasting down hills can charge batteries to power an electric motor at speeds up to 20 mph.  The wheels come in 24" and 26" diameters, and that really bums TPP out since the rear wheel on his BikeE is smaller.  Drat. Would have posted an image, and given them the tremendous free PR that comes from being mentioned in one of these blogs, but nooo, they had to say their images copyrighted, so this is the best that can be done.  Think about it fellows, or maybe this would be "fair usage"?

New fall flowering shrub - "dwarf lilac"

Here's a new shrub that TPP is trying out, a so-called "dwarf lilac" (Leptodermis oblonga), but hate the common name, probably a "what shall we call this?" type of name because it isn't a lilac and it isn't even in the olive family.  So far this is a hardy, zone 5, at least with regards to cold, mounding shrub of a small size, under 2 feet.  It's October, and it's in flower when little else flowers, not awesomely showy, but pleasant enough with the 1 cm wide flowers clustered at the ends of stems.  Other than color there isn't anything very lilacy about the flowers; it's in the rue family.   Given it's size it will be in the front of beds anyways otherwise it just won't be seen at all.  It grows well enough in part shade, but TPP would recommend morning sun and afternoon shade because it wilts easily, more so than the azaleas in the same bed, so it's summer heat tolerance is a bit in question.  As it turns out this species is native to northern China so this is no surprise really, and maybe even a low alpine plant.  Alpines are quite cold hardy, but they don't do well in the summer heat of the Midwest.  So we shall see how this develops.

Champion vegetables

Do your vegetables measure up?  How about the UK's annual vegetable championships?  It's not just the size, or shape, or color, but also the presentation.  Check out the photo essay at the link.  Of course it's not just vegetables, but fruit that most people think of as vegetables, like the pumpkin of the other day.  Did you see how long and how straight those parsnip were?  Wow!  TPP didn't have anything near magnificent enough this year to compete even at our local farmer's market. Years ago a family friend was an expert judge of cole vegetables (cabbage et al.) for 4-H fairs and the like.  My Father used to say he had a great head for heads.  What fun!

That's a pretty big, but not the biggest, pumpkin

Oh, yes, pumpkins can be some really big squash, and this one sets a new record weight in the UK.  TPP's Father once grew a pumpkin that was just a couple of hundred pounds, and it was huge.  TPP saw one at the Great Pumpkin Patch that was just 900 pounds.  Better have a big garden if you want to try to grow one of these. 

When it rain, it pours addendum - page proofs

This is actually just unfair.  Even in a barbaric game (let them carry weapons) like football, there is a rule against piling on.  As if TPP did not have another single thing to do, a journal editor has emailed manuscript proofs for any final corrections along with a non-technical 250 word summary (not previously mentioned), and it would be nice if it were provided not just in English, but in Spanish, Portuguese, or French as well.  With ample concern and consideration for your time, please returned the proofed manuscript within 72 hours.  It's a nice day, TPP is going outside to do some garden work.

Not yet fall addendum - chiggers

TPP's musings about how things do not yet seem like fall although it is October 12th added another dimension.  Yes, there are two nasty, itchy chigger bites on his foot as just one more reminder that nature just doesn't yet seem to be one with the idea that it's fall.  On the other hand, TPP collected some seed of a hemiparasitic yellow foxglove, and the maturity of those fruits and seeds is right on time.  Some things just aren't influenced all that much by changes in the weather. 

Sounds of fall? Feels like fall? Something is crazy.

Yesterday evening, after a long day, TPP was sitting out on his patio sipping a margarita while checking email on his laptop.  It was quite pleasant outside in the dwindling twilight.  A stroll around the gardens found a nice pale yellow water lily in bloom.  The gardens are still quite green especially having gotten a decent watering.  And how pleasant to be listening to the cicadas singing.  And then you stop an think, it's the 11th of October.  Waterlilies and cicadas should have come and gone.  That waterlily first bloomed on May 30th, and now it still has an open flower on October 12th.  That's some flowering season.  The only other perennial to come close was the Missouri evening primrose, but it stopped flowering about 2 weeks ago.  Now TPP asks you in what world are you able to sit on your patio drinking a margarita, listening to cicadas, and looking at waterlilies in mid-October?  Well, the answer is a world experiencing a warming climate and where the seasons of warm-loving things like margaritas are expanding. So this is more like mid-September than mid-October, and what with April being more like May, you are getting the idea. It just doesn't seem like fall, yet.

Friday Fabulous Flower - dwarf gentian

Yesterday TPP took a field trip to Don's prairie out in the
middle of the maize and soybean desert.  Don has a hobby and for the past few decades it has been restoring prairie on his family's farm land.  He keeps great records and took a most methodical approach, very professional in all respects, and very simply he has 15-16 acres of the best restored prairie TPP has ever seen. Wow, his efforts are impressive!  At any rate one of the flowering gems of tall grass prairies are gentians.  They flower in the late fall way down there in the deep fall grass.  Don had both bottle and prairie gentians, but he also has the very uncommon dwarf gentian (Gentianella quinquefolia).  Isn't this a great plant?  TPP has seen this once before on a little prairie remnant much west of Don's place.  It's great when just regular people get such a fantastic conservation ethic that they just decide to restore native habitat and communities.  However, he has no plans to introduce bison anytime soon. 

Apple biodiversity - so much and so few

TPP recently blogged about apples, a favorite topic.  After all he owns the two volume Apples of New York (1905) the definitive reference about heritage apple varieties.  At the time that was written over 1600 varieties of apple were grown in NY state.   TPP grew up not far from Geneva NY, the home of apple biodiversity.  Today "90 percent of the apples sold within the U.S. are from only 11 varieties, including McIntosh, Rome, Fuji and Red Delicious."  Go here to read more.  This is quite sad because many people just don't know what they are missing.  Yesterday, TPP cut up a Northern Spy, a long-time favorite, and when you take a bite you understand why you must go out of your way to get these apples.  The complexity of flavor in this apple is just superior; it makes a Red Delicious seem like plain white bread with the crusts cut off, a kid's apple.  Hey, TPP loved McIntosh as a kid, but you grow up, or not.  So how does someone as young as Layla Eplett (the author of the Sci Amer piece) come to appreciate heritage apples?  Why she sounds interesting! 
HT to Agricultural Biodiversity blog.

Could you live with this bathroom?

These days when someone says, "It's a green house", you aren't quite sure what they mean.  However this bathroom in a solar house is both actually green and conceptually green.  The first impression is very good; something nice to look at when sitting on the toilet, and if you run short on TP, convenient leaves within reach.  But look at this a bit more.  Why is the shower on the opposite side?  Why isn't this nice wall of plants and their sky light part of the shower where all that nice steamy humidity would keep these plants happy?  A couple of decades ago, the Phactors had a big old staghorn fern (or was it Spanish moss or a spider plant?) in our shower, but one of us declared that she wasn't going to shower with other organisms any more, clearly a limited perspective.  But it seems the designers really missed an opportunity here to integrate their "green".  The guy in the background looks familiar, but isn't.   

Pedestrian musings: Found - 1 slipper

My route to campus this morning took me a couple of blocks east of my usual route; it was along a handsome center-malled avenue with large stately homes of some age.  A couple of blocks along, there on the sidewalk, slightly off center and going in the opposite direction, was one slipper for a left foot, which means the right foot of the walker if in the correct position relative to its mate was just about off the sidewalk.  The slipper was dark-brown fleece-lined leather in somewhat of a moccasin style, definitely a man's slipper, about size 9 and a 1/2.  This is very troubling.  Isn't it usually princesses that lose slippers after a ball? But certainly not this kind of slipper.  Now a fellow going out for an early morning walk in his slippers is not so troubling, even if in your pajamas and robe (it was a bit chilly).  However if you were so doing, would you not notice when you walked out of one of your slippers? Why didn't you notice?  Was something so distracting?  Ooo, maybe a sleep walker will awake to find one slipper missing.  If you were not out for an early morning walk in your slippers, then why was that slipper being carried about?  Don't you usually leave them at the place where you put on your walking shoes?  While well-used it was not a slipper that had been relegated to a doggy chew toy, so it was not dropped by a canine out for their morning constitutional walk, and any dog who carries toys around is seldom so careless.  Could the slipper have been from the night before, but if so, that raises even more questions about the nocturnal goings-on in this sedate neighborhood.  TPP's view of this neighborhood may have to be changed especially as several friends and colleagues live along here.  At any rate, should you be missing this slipper, contact TPP and he'll tell you where it was last seen.  Best to let lost slippers stay where they were.  It may be a doggy chew toy before long.


Today's class combined a lecture on sugars followed by a laboratory.  There were cane sugars, date sugars, palm sugars, agave sugars, maple tree sugars, beet sugar, sorghum sugars, malted cereal sugars, refined sugars, unrefined sugars, sugars from India, China, Thailand, Columbia, Mexico, and other places, bee sugars from flower sugars, and not really sugars (Stevia rebaudiana).  The most surprising one was a sugary woody root named appropriately enough Glycyrrhiza glabra, literally sugar root.  Most of my students could not get the flavor even though they all know it.  Liquorice.  Short lengths of these woody roots were the original liquorice sticks and they were chewed to extract the sweet liquorice flavor.  Today's liquorice fans have it all too easy eating those gummy ones.

Some things you may be better off not knowing, one of those being the contents of chicken "nuggets"

This is one of the reasons TPP seldom ventures beyond botany, it's just too scary.  But when you read a title like: The Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets Reads “Chicken Little” an article in press in the American Journal of Medicine, you know you have to look anyways.  When you order wings you get wings because parts is parts, but "nuggets"?  Well, what did you think?  If they was a part, they'd call them that.  Nuggets are basically a fatty chicken sausage, but without the tasty spices.  Clearly a couple of people went out to lunch, and while eating their nuggets asked, what's in these things anyways?  Nuggets are probably a major food item in the USA, so it is a serious matter to know their contents, and love the title!  You get extra points for publishing something with a funny title.  HT to the Respectful Insolence blog who offers additional analysis and links to more research in the same "vein". 


The Phactors took an excursion yesterday to the Wolfe orchard just east of Monticello IL.  Since this is just a "hobby" orchard they only have 350 trees and about 66 varieties of apple for sale, 33 were available yesterday.  And most importantly, one of those varieties was northern spy, our favorite apple, so we bought half a bushel.  This variety originated as a seedling around 200 years ago just about 50 miles west of where TPP grew up in upstate NY.  A few new varieties were on hand.  One was Kandil Senap (image), a variety of Turkish origin with Orange Pippin parentage.  It's a very oval apple, quite crisp, but a bit dry.  Among the heritage varieties are Baldwin, spitzenberg (probably a parent of Johnathon), golden russet, Ben Davis (no harder, drier apple exists, but it stores well), smoke house (tart), and winter banana (a pale yellow apple that will taste better after some storage).  They also have a variety called buff from a relative's farm in western North Carolina, a big apple with a crisp white and juicy flesh; it performs well for making pies.  Here's the best thing: they'll let you taste every apple they've got.  Wonderful!

When it rains, it sometimes pours

This is both literally and metaphorically true.  A nice band of storms passed through the region dumping a nice quantity of rain.  Following a most excellent seminar by a former student who has become a very 1st class biologist, the department retired to this student's favorite watering hole.  Upon emerging a heavy dark band of clouds covered the entire western horizon, and TPP was a good 20-25 min walk from home. Weather moves fast out here in the Midwest and experience indicated this would be close and it was, but TPP made it with 3-4 min to spare.  Us field workers can walk pretty fast when needs be.  At any rate, our gardens got a tad over 2.25" of rain, and some much needed relief.  Also just in time for planting the new tree mentioned a few blogs back.  It poured.  So it did metaphorically too.  NSF shut down while in the middle of a complicated and somewhat confusing collaborative grant proposal submission, and a lot to things need to be done still, but maybe the shut down will provide a bit of time relief.  Then my copy editor emails that the book ms is ready to be returned, and does TPP want the punctuation edits just accepted so that he could concentrate on the more substantive edits?  Sure, why not?  Now a nearly 700 page ms is no small matter, and who knows how many edits that might contain.  These things all get done when TPP is not teaching or in other ways interacting with students, or eating and sleeping.  Oh, and Lincolnland has mandated that TPP take his ethics training and his crime reporting training in October too.  TPP thinks he'll plant a tree and go buy some apples.

Friday Fabulous Flower - night blooming cereus

One of the toughest and ugliest plants in our glasshouse is a night blooming cereus (Hylocereus undatus - probably).  It grows up the aluminum struts and occupies the space at the top ends, some of the hottest and coldest, wettest and driest places there.  No one ever tends it hardly, and then every now and again it will issue forth a set of flowers, often all at once.  The flower buds are almost 12" long (30 cm) and about 2" (5 cm) in diameter.  The perianth parts are numerous and spirally arranged starting out green at the bottom of the bud and shifting to white of the innermost parts.  The fully open corolla can span 8-9".  Within the light green to cream colored corolla are hundreds of stamens and a large mop-like stigma (quite obvious in the image above).  This position allows it to pick up incoming pollen before the floral visit gets a new dousing with pollen.  These flowers open at night because they are bat pollinated, and bats must be really good, really reliable pollinators for a plant to invest so much in a short-lived flower.  One pollination event can result in hundreds of seeds.  At any rate few people ever get to see the show because of the nocturnal flowering.  And of course our glasshouse lacks blossom bats. This image is courtesy of Harvey McDaniel, Wikimedia Creative Commons.

The tiger in your house

Here's a link to a blog about the genetic relatedness of tigers and domestic house cats from a recent publication.  This is actually no big surprise, except to the blog author (PZ Myers) who's never had a cat.  Anyone who's had a cat knows that your pet is just a small purring tiger.  And some of them aren't so small; the F1 has a 26 pound beast who looks very impressive, but isn't all that fierce except if you get between him and his kibble.  It's always funny to read about first-timer's impressions of cats. Every couple of weeks, all the cat toys get rounded up and placed in a small basket in the family room near their scatching post/climbing tree.  Then the kitty girls begin rummaging around for favorites that begin to get distributed around the house again, often one to a room, just like a tiger.  

Naval orange?

Perhaps yesterday's blog about scurvy subtly influenced someone to ask about the naval orange.  Of course, it was the use of lime juice to prevent scurvy in the British navy that resulted in the nickname "limey".  However this isn't a naval
nickname at all, it's navel.  Yes, an orange with a belly button.  If you slice a navel orange in half top to bottom you'll see that it's really two oranges, a large one almost surrounding a small one at the apex of the fruit, and the slight protrusion of this 2nd small fruit through the rind of the larger fruit produces the navel (bottom of image) on the apex of the fruit.  [Image courtesy of Brandizzi, Wikimedia Creative Commons] This type of orange has probably arisen more than once, or if just once, this sport, this mutant showed up 200-400 years ago.  In addition to having this double ovary, one on top of the other, the mutation rendered the fruit sterile so it produces no seeds.  Good for the eater, bad for the plant.  Navel oranges can only be reproduced asexually by cuttings or buds grafted onto other root stock.  So no navy involved, and no umbilical scar either really, but let's be careful with those vowels people.  Oh, and this is a fun fact too.  The flesh you eat in citrus fruits is not derived from the ovary wall; the juice sacs are modified hairs (look at one carefully) that fill the locule, the space, around the seeds, if the fruit has any. 

Citrus, scurvy, and coincidence

TPP is covering citrus fruit today in his botany class, and as any fool knows, they are important sources of vitamin C.  But very few of today's students have any awareness of what an adequate supply of vitamin C prevents so rare has the condition become.  In the days of sailing ships, voyages were long and food was poor especially so if the crew ended up stranded somewhere waiting out a winter.  Sailors developed the symptoms of scurvy, but no one knew what caused it or what cured it leading to lots of speculation, nostrums, and cures.  Kids today don't know what scurvy is except for some derogatory term preceding "rats" in pirate movies.  Some things seem like coincidence, but actually you probably would not notice some things unless you were especially prepared to notice them and then it seems like an unlikely coincidence.  So it was that TPP took a quick glance at the Arts and Letters Daily collective, something he does maybe once a month to look for what people in the humanities are saying about science.  Much to his surprise the first article was on scurvy (a coincidence?) and what an nicely informative article it was too!  So here you go folks, read the article and then after finding out about scurvy, run for another glass of OJ.  Why take a chance!

Beans versus nuts

Today's laboratory focuses on beans, legumes.  It's a fun lab with lots of cooking and disecting and eating.  Peanuts, the very name, cause a bit of confusion because they are not a nut at all but a pea in a pod, a dry indehiscent (does split open by itself) pod that grows under ground.  Of course this mornings news was all about nuts of the political persuasion.  Nuts who are obsessed with causing Obama to fail at any cost; nuts who will do any amount of damage to the USA to accomplish this goal.  In making this observation, it occurs to TPP that we might even say "pea-brained nuts" because none of this is very smart.  Indeed, the fear that Obama-care might work has spawned a disinformation campaign of epic proportions.  This however does demonstrate that ideology is no way to govern, and the GnOPe (the G is silent you recall) party continues to pursue their agenda because it's the will of the people, all 22%.  Wonder how many of my students even know what happened?