Field of Science

Botany 2015 - Over and done

Exhausting. Nothing else describes scientific meetings like these. So many things to do in such a short period of time. Skipped the last lecture and some awards to eat dinner with some friends. One of them got two awards. Oops! AoB lecture by Robert Raguso of Cornell was very interesting; he studies how floral scents interact with insect behaviors. And different parts of flowers can have different scents particularly on the scale of insects. Another interesting talk concerned mycoheterotrophic plants, non-green plants that obtain their food from interactions with fungi that interact with other plants. Another talk dealt with a difficult biogeographic pattern to understand, a South American-Australia disjunction unless you look at continental positions about 50 million years ago. Last meeting ended early this morning, but no way to get home until tomorrow and that requires TPP to get up at 3:30 am to deal with air travel constraints at an international level. Edmonton is sounding a bit like the Hotel California.

Botany 2015 - Tuesday

The fatigue of almost non-stop meetings and talks is beginning to set in. From the street level, the meetings are taking place on three lower levels. There are 130 steps from the top to the bottom, and only the up escalator is working. Everyone is getting a workout. Let's see what has been learned?
A tremendous diversity of herbaceous sphenophyllophytes existed in the Permian; those would be horsetails and their close relatives. Pollen tube growth is not related to flower size in waterlilies, in fact they grow slower in the huge Victoria waterlilies. A lot of creative ways exist for small collections to relate to people and if you want such information you can find it at small collections network.  It's still OK to call yourself a morphologist, which is good because TPP are one. A lot of nasty plants are terribly invasive and rather hard to control. Botanists can take a long time to decide how to spend very small amounts of money. Botanists in general are really nice to students who come to these meetings. Such a small sampling. Oh, and TPP discovered a lovely new sandwich: a toasted brie with red onions and blueberries sandwich. Seriously good stuff.

Botany 2015 -Monday

Botany 2015 is huge for a botanical meeting, around 1800 people attending from a dozen or so different scientific societies; this is about double our usual annual meeting. The meeting is taking place in the colossal Shaw Center which sprawls down from "uptown" toward the river like a tiered greenhouse, which is strangely appropriate and partly what it is, but a lot of up and down stairs. TPP pities a colleague who blew out her Achilles tendon and arrived with a walking boot on!  TPP has learned that Edmonton is sort of a surprising city but you can't get here from anywhere very easily, and everyone has travel horror stories. Yesterday was a lot of meetings, followed by a lecture about how "cool" botany is, and then a big social event. Nice to see so many old friends and colleagues, young and old, and to catch up on everyone. Spent the morning listening to research about invasive plants. Take home advice: do not fertilize tree of heaven. 

Botany 2015 is happening!

Maybe it's a certain environmental cue that triggers an urge to cluster, but around this time of year, somewhere around the continent, botanists gather for an annual event, a meeting, a convention, a social fest, a gab fest, a marathon of science, all rolled into one. This year the event is being held in Edmonton, Alberta, which is pretty far from the upper midwest and explains why it's so hard to get to from here by air and takes too long by ground. At any rate TPP is getting packed for a later flight west. Botany is a far flung field and generally the job situation is such that not very many of us can cluster on a regular basis. Meetings like this are actually pretty important because business gets done face-to-face, you learn new things, you meet new people, you catch up with old friends, and you generally wallow in botany and botanists. TPP will try to send along some of the botanical news from the meeting, but dang they're so jammed packed with activities getting some time to blog isn't easy. At any given point in time the many organizations, the many disciplines and specialities, assure us of having numerous events to attend at any given point in time. Just trying to schedule what you should be doing is difficult enough.

Recycled tires & gardening.

A lot of used tires out there need recycling. TPP decided to try a recycled tire product that looks like brown bark mulch except it's shredded tires. In this case the tire "product" was used to replace a wood mulch garden path and it won't decompose and need replacing in just a year or two. Just days after it was installed a gully washer washed 6-7 feet of the path out, but try, try again.  Then while thinking about this problem and tire recycling, TPP saw these at a local garden shoppe.  Old lawn mower/garden tractor/trailer/car tires painted and decorated by a local artist who moonlights at the shoppe. Although TPP has never been a fan of folk art made of tires, these painted tires when used as garden planters are pretty cheerful and really brightened up an otherwise pretty dull wall. Think of these on a stockade fence or on an around a pool fence. They should last for years and you could always repaint them to match your new drapes or carpeting. TPP has seen tires painted like this before, but they were still attached to the car and it was painted likewise. That fellow has since moved on to paint bigger and better things in various and sundry parts of the world. Who knows where such things can lead?

Friday Fabulous Flower - rose mallow

TPP may have done the rose mallow before, but these flower merit a repeat. Quite honestly TPP doesn't know what species of mallow this cultivar comes from because there are several large flowered wild mallows and rose mallow (either one word or two) is a common name applied to at least 3 species in two genera, so there you go. These are one of the largest, showiest flowers you can easily grow; these are just over 20 cm in diameter. And of course they flower in the mid-summer garden. This image was captured early in the morning just after the buds opened; a few hours later the Japanese beetles had riddled the petals with holes. They love members of the rose family and mallow family. Groan.

Best garden photographer 2015

Every year Kew Gardens has a garden photography contest. Sigh. Overlooked again. But not really once you see the winning photographs in this year's international contest in all these various categories. Well, wow, just wow. TPP would be hard pressed to pick just one as a favorite. As art, the monochrome is just great. The still-life flowers in a vase are probably my least favorite of the lot and it's a wonderful photograph. The vineyard landscape is just fantastic as is the dune and grasses shore line. TPP will be unable to post any of his photographs for a while.   

Interesting counter point on the environment this week

In terms of sustainability here's an interesting counterpoint that both turned up this past week: the State of the States report (news article at Treehugger) by the Global Footprint Network and the National Association of Scholars report on Sustainability. The latter arrived in what TPP thought was a missive from the Heartland Institute, perhaps it is sharing its mailing list with other like-minded organizations. The State of the States report concludes that the USA running a natural renewable resources deficit having passed the break even point just this past week (July 14th). TTP had never heard of the National Association of Scholars before even though arguably he are one. The over all goals of the NAS sound OK, and TPP even agrees with some of their positions, e.g., free speech on university campuses. However when you read their report on sustainability you get the idea that this topic has become another political football where devious, lefty academics are brain-washing our college age youth into thinking sustainability is a good idea, just like we do with that nasty evolution stuff. Once you see where the NAS gets its money, their political perspective makes more sense. A quick scan of their advisory board revealed no one TPP has ever heard of.  As far as TPP can tell, the Global Footprint Network tried very hard to offer a fair and unbiased position, and they did it by using something called "data".  The GFN advisory board is another matter; it includes many notable conservation scientists, ecologists, and environmental thinkers. Sort of funny that our conservatives don't like to conserve and they don't worry about deficit spending of renewable resources. Thought they like balanced budgets?  

Ludicrous speed! Really?

Ludicrous speed! How funny is that? Tesla has a car with a speed mode of Ludicrous in which it accelerates from 0 to 60 mph (about 96 kph) in 2.8 seconds! That is rather ludicrous! Who needs that kind of acceleration? No one but it's still funny as hell, that is if you think Mel Brooks is funny (see link provided above), at least in isolated moments. So now you have a ludicrously expensive electric car that is one of the top 10 fastest accelerating production cars. It ties for 10th with a Lamborghini Murci√©lago LP 670–4 Super Veloce, which is also a tad pricy and a very impractical vehicle. The now fastest accelerating production car is a Porsche 918 Spyder (2.2 sec vertified, 0 to 60). Wonder how far down the list TPP's VW van would be with its whopping, stomping 1.9 L fuel injected engine? Well, compared to the old 1.3 L carbureted vans, it was fast. Mine would actually go 60 mph, but not that much more!  The point of this is probably to convince people, very rich people, that electric cars are not big blocky heavy black batteries on wheels, but for those of us who think of vehicles as more like toasters where you want them to be economical, reliable, and make good toast, this is no big deal, but let's give Tesla a couple of points in the humorous marketing category.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Sunflowers

Here's a bucket of sunflowers from the Madison, WI farmers' market. They make you happy just looking at them. This area has many flower and produce growers that were originally native to SE Asia and their stands, their produce, and their displays are the epitome of marketing. People in the USA mostly don't know about markets in other parts of the world, how good they are, how diverse they are, how big they are, markets that mostly make ours look pretty pitiful in comparison.

Living on tree-lined streets makes you young, thin, and rich

Well, that's a pretty amazing correlation, or is it causation? Articles like this catch your attention especially when you live on tree-lined streets. There are lots of factors here where the Phactors are. Lots of trees usually means older neighborhoods, which means older homes, and lots of younger couples with kids prefer the putty-colored developments in the burbs what with the new schools and all. Young professionals have no time for trees, gardens, and old houses. Of course, the correlation silly because the Phactors are not young, thin, and rich, although we can afford to live in this neighborhood, but so can senior citizens, city cops, gay guys, recent empty nesters, and indeed, some young, thin couples with young kids, but still not rich. Many of us think we get a lot of value in this type of neighborhood. This satellite image shows the east half of our block; the Phactors reddish house & garage roofs show up at the lower left down around 7 o'clock barely visible through the trees. Notice how the houses at the top with smaller lots have way fewer trees, except for the remarkable fellow who clearer his lot of trees and shrubs (just above center right). If you bisect the hedge row of trees at the top, that's about where our rear property line is backing up to four of the properties there. Trees are supposed to help your state of mind, and no question about it, our trees and our gardens make us feel much better, much happier, much thinner? HT to the Treehugger for the original article; check out some of the links therein.   

Iran nuke deal reveals true nature of GnOPe

The GOP reaction to the nuke deal with Iran reveals their true political nature. As regular readers know, TPP generally refers to them as the GnOPe, wherein the G is silent. Their very predictable hyperbolic rhetoric makes it very clear, conservatives don't like this deal, before even reading it, but they have no alternatives, except perhaps but to try the same tactic that was tried just a short while back with Iraq.  Iraq, Iran, it's just one letter, but how did the military might, big-stick, neocon approach work there in Iraq? Oh, not very well at all, and now look at regional mess it bred, but is the GnOPe interested in a different approach? By merely changing a few subject words in these GnOPe reactions to the Iran deal and you have their reactions to the Affordable Care Act. No, no, no. Keep saying that, then make up lies about it (remember death panels?). Try to repeal it or sandbag it, just don't give it a chance. Act as if diplomacy is a weakness and let's keep our era of never-ending military engagements going (They aren't wars; only congress can declare war.). So that's all there is, no, nope, nyet, nada, no way jose, and without any viable alternatives either. It's all you get because that's all there is from those "nattering nabobs of negativism" (Safire via Agnew). If your bumper sticker reads "I think, so I vote Republican", then at least what you think is no-own. 

Stupidity and ignorance in Lincolnland

Stupidity and ignorance is now more or less politics as usual here in Lincolnland. Bobcats are dangerous vermin and so numerous that a hunting season is needed to control their burgeoning population dontcha know. TPP has never even seen one in our state, but hunting bobcats is now legal in our state.  This is pure ignorance and stupidity in action and required that our legislators and governor simply act in opposition to everything that is known about the biology and population of bobcats. Hey who needs science when one of our legislators has seen just mobs of bobcats every time he's been out in the field.  Now it is true that bobcat numbers have rebounded in the southern parts of our state since trapping and hunting them was banned, but no one knows how much hunting their populations can stand if any without going into decline, but let's not let any wildlife biology get in the way of hunting. Sorry, kitties the boom-boom boys have been turned loose and it's just because you've got a nice pelt. Boy does that show us lefty, know-it-all, animal huggers a thing or two! They don't need no stinkin' science to help decide things. This is but a small example of how bad governance has gotten.  This image was obtained from the Wikimedia Creative Commons and it was made available for non-commercial, educational use by ForestWander. What kind of bozo would shoot this animal just for fun and a trophy hide?  

Friday fabulous flower - water lily sort of

Not a water lily but a lily in a light rain. Couldn't resist this. Neighbor has this planted right by the sidewalk and it was head high. Of course TPP has ruined several shirts with lily pollen stains. This blog has all the anthers except for that. This is late from last week because of something.

Double whammy weekend

Every year TPP gets the double whammy; this year it fell on a weekend. Yes, the anniversary-birthday bam-bam double whammy, so it greatly behooves TPP to remember this appropriately each year. It may be the secret to our long marriage (44 years) even though neither of us is old enough for this to be possible. At any rate, to celebrate with a bit of a get away, a short trip to Madison WI was in order, a chance to soak up some cheese, sausage, and beer, the 3 legs of good nutrition. Here's a nice little breakfast (although actually eaten for a lunch): Wisconsin Benedict, the local twist on eggs Benedict, here served with herbed fried potatoes. In New York people know that the dish originated in the late 1800s at the Waldorf Hotel in NYC. If you are unfamiliar with this dish, and gad, can it be possible such unsophisticated people exist, then the classic recipe can be had at the link. It's all about the sauce. At any rate here in Madison at the Old Fashioned (both a place and a cocktail) the WI Benedict substitutes a bratwurst patty for the ham and makes a creamy tart mustard sauce in stead of Hollandaise. This meal along with a signature cocktail made TPP feel so good, he allowed Mrs. Phactor to purchase a remarkable piece of recycled glass sculpture for display in our gardens. Awesome, eh?  All in all quite a celebration.

The old man is snoring

It rained last night after breaking the low temperature record for the date, 8 July, by 12 degrees F! This morning was like early morning in the Costa Rican rainforest, warmish, relative humidity maxed out, and that wet-leaves/vegetation-slightly-decaying smell. You need at least a 1/2 inch of rain a week to keep your gardens going and our gardens got 3/4s of an inch of rain on Sunday. So the 5 and 3/4s inches of rain last night was a bit excessive! Watch out downstream! For the 5th or 6th time this year TPP had to drain an inch or so of water from the garden's lily pond. So the average amount of rain for the month of July has already fallen. So there you have it. Weather that you can average, but no average weather.

Who will identify plants?

Today's news included an article sent to TPP about the closing of the University of Missouri herbarium, a collection some 3 to 4 times larger than the collection here.  The specimens will end up at the Missouri Botanical Garden, but another university's students will now have no opportunity to learn about the practical benefits of learning taxonomy and plant identification. A graduate student in ecology met with us this morning to get feed back on her plan of study and research proposal for a master's degree in conservation biology.  Unfortunately she cannot fulfill the taxon requirement with the course work she needs (plant taxonomy and ID) because the faculty member with that expertise has retired. Oh, she will learn a lot via field work, but it just won't be as comprehensive and as useful in the long run. The numbers don't add up for botany; too few students want to study botany, so the powers that be, and colleagues eager to take advantage of the situation to add to their areas in a zero sum game, will all argue that a new botanical hire won't be a smart move. The lack of interest puzzles TPP because plants are endlessly fascinating, but the somewhat mistaken perception that jobs, careers, and money are all in other areas is a driving force for students these days. They want security; TPP pursued what interested him in spite of all the advice to the contrary that it wouldn't work out. But it did! And all those great jobs TPP was offered in industry, all that great pay, most of those jobs and careers did not last even one full career lifetime. Will the biological sciences in the USA wake up and figure out the need for having botany programs? Sigh. In two more weeks the Botany 2015 meetings take place in Canada this year, and this is sure to be a topic of conversation.  

Mid-summer garden tidbits

It's July, and tonight's low temperature will be 52 F, cat's on the bed, close kitchen windows, and have a blanket available kind of weather. On Monday the high humidity and high 80s temperature required the AC to take the edge off for an Italian soup dinner for a women's group dinner meeting. What crazy weather!
As predicted, early blight has shown us and will require some fungicide spraying to help the tomatoes survive. One 5 foot tall vine has mysteriously totally wilted. Blossom end rot (boron deficiency) has shown up too. It's not ususally a problem around here.
A not very vigorous golden chain tree suddenly died. No idea what to replace it with. It's on the edge of a Japanese garden, so something compatible with that theme would be nice, and the space is rather smallish.  Perhaps a new fancy tree peony!
Mulch is finally allowing us to make some progress on weeding. A lot of poison ivy is hiding around the gardens this year. Some pokeweeds have reached 4-5 feet in height already. Too bad poke isn't really good for anything.
Several trees, all 1st or 2nd year plantings, are trying to decide if they are going to survive or not: a dwarf dawn redwood, a Japanese snowbell, and a black tulip magnolia. Right now, TPP won't put much money on any of them especially, and most sadly, the magnolia. Already gave up and replaced an azalea that even with TPP's best efforts remained root bound after planting. On the other hand the new Loebner's magnolia has put on 12-18 inches of new growth!
Last week's treatment of plants showing chlorosis with a spray of liquid iron are looking much better. In another week, a 2nd dose should really fix them up.
Planting some annuals to fill in blankish spaces is not our usual practice, but with a wedding in the gardens in a month (Yes, the F1 is getting married!), the gardens need to look nice. Looks like a modest little wedding, probably no more than 230 people!
Late planted cucumbers and zucchini squashes are growing quickly and row covers are keeping the cucumber beetles (and the bacterial wilt they vector) and the squash borers (day-flying moth larvae) at bay. 

Bicycle camping trailer for 2


Oh, doesn't this look like fun! It's the Wide Path camper. It cleverly unfolds (the back half, left, folds over the front) and is light enough that 2 people can carry it, and of course a bicycle can tow it! Just how cool is that? TPP has a friend who'll probably order one immediately! This definitely makes up for the dearth of bicycle news articles of late.  HT to Treehugger 

Terrible aftermath shows ugliness of USA

The recent SCOTUS decision affirming gay people's rights under the law produced an extremely ugly aftermath of reaction. Without the specifics the reactions were to tell people to be afraid, be scared, continue to be a bigot, blame the judges, blame the president, blame everyone else. Perhaps many of these reactions come from sincerely held religious beliefs, OK, it's your right, but when such people are egged on by violent rhetoric, some of them are going to act on those rants in ways that hurt someone, and that's not OK. This does illustrate what's wrong with the fundamentalist type of religion and why religion of any sort should not have a role in law-making. Those who think the opposite, and several are running for the GnOPe nomination for president should never be in a position of power, of any sort. Some of these self-proclaimed pick-mes even suggest our whole system of governance should be changed because their religious freedom to tell and control what other people do, people supposedly with the same freedoms, was ended in this one particular area. It continues unabated in others as is the "right" of the one true religion. At any rate, episodes such as this really hang the dirty laundry right out on the line for everyone to see, and it isn't very pretty and it isn't much to brag about.

Pleading the 4th

Fighting home entropy. Now enjoying holiday with negroni and BBQ ribs. Very patriotic way to spend the holiday!  OK, smart phone is not very good for blogging.

Friday fabulous flower - alotta hosta


A street side garden is about 60 feet long and 10-15 feet wide filled almost solidly with a big old hostas.  They've been there for decades and the bed has been diversified under our tutelage, but there are still a lot of hosta, all the same, some big old plain, tough variety.  They've suffered a bit after the removal of some dying spruces and white ashes exposed them to a lot more sunlight although this image doesn't show that.  But what with all the rain this June (10.75 inches total, 2.5 times average), and cool weather, the bed is doing just fine so far, and just now it displays a sea of blue flowers that is quite spectacular even when just getting going.  Nothing wrong with some massed, if not massive, plantings.