Field of Science

High tech latte

How good in your barista? It doesn't really matter because a new gadget, aka Ripples, can make complex designs and even pictures in the foam on top of your latte! Using a combination of 3-D and inkjet technology, images can be uploaded via wi-fi and "printed" on top of your latte. Doncha just want to try this? Isn't it great how innovation and new technologies can produce useless gadgets like this?  Hey, big spender, be the first in your neighborhood to have one, and if this inkjet works anything like any such printer that TPP has had be sure to buy the $75/month service contract. Wonder when my coffee shoppe will spring for this?  

Anti-cancer compound found in rare rain forest tree

This news came from Australia where a compound found in the fruits of a rare rain forest tree have some promise as an anti-cancer agent. TPP took particular notice of this news item because as soon as rare, rain forest tree, and Australia were mentioned together he immediately thought of the Atherton Tableland in far northern Queensland. A lot of quite unusual plants, and animals, live there and many years ago so did the Phactors, in fact the F1 attended kindergarden in Atherton and became a right proper little Aussie for awhile. The plant in the news article was Hylandia and TPP has seen it once and then only because a field savvy colleague pointed it out. This is also of particular interest because the tree is named after Bernie Hyland, a taxonomic legend of this area and he ran the herbarium for the CSIRO's tropical forest research center in Atherton. Before people go crazy and start the "natural/herbal cure" stuff, let's be clear. This tree is a member of the Euphorb family and they are mostly toxic. Finding a compound that reduces cancer tumors in mice is a great start, but understand what this means. Researchers are looking for a toxic substance that kills cancer cells at a dosage that is still tolerable (safe?) for the organism with the cancer, and the wider the window the better. Researchers will now monkey around with the molecule to see if some derivative molecule is better than the "natural" chemical because natural is not always better. Here's an example. The bark of the white willow (Salix alba) made great poultices for say a sore elbow, but the salicyclic acid in the bark would really upset your stomach if you tried to take it orally. But then someone found out that if you acetalized it, the acetosalicyclic acid was much easier on your stomach and a great general pain-killer was born (Got it yet? aspirin!). Of course this is a great argument for rain forest conservation, and a great deal of the Atherton Tableland has been converted to agriculture already because the basaltic soils, where they occur, are fertile. Good thing this rate plant wasn't exterminated in the process of raising peanuts or potatoes. 

Don't do this at home - Corpse plant flowers

Here's a video of the corpse plant flowering (Amorphophallus titanum). Yes, this video shows "flowering" but you don't see the flowers. This is basically one damned big jack-in-the-pulpit and a member of the aroid family, so there is a spike with flowers at its base and a big sterile apex ("jack" - the spadix) subtended by a modified leaf, a bract called the spathe (the pulpit). What's unusual about the titan arum is that the whole thing is so damned big and smells of incredibly bad, unless you like the odor of carrion.  What you see here is the sterile top of the spadix extending beyond the spathe which is what opens giving access to the many unisexual flowers at the base of the spadix.  Many of aroids flower using food and water stored in a big fleshy underground stem, a corm, and they do this in a season when their vegetative growth is dormant. In another season a big single leaf grows and the process of storing food for reproduction continues. The flowering of a corm is a big deal because it can take a number of years for a corm to get big enough to flower. TPP was given a tennis-ball-sized corm of a smaller species of Amorphophallus (Can you figure out the genus name?), and each year the corm was dug in the fall and stored in the basement in a pot of sand.  Each year it grew the corm got bigger and in 5 years it was the size of a volleyball or small basketball, and then while being stored a shoot emerged in February. So being curious TPP brought the pot upstairs and a 4 foot tall inflorescence appeared just like the titan arum, just much smaller, but hoo boy, it did smell.  Mrs. Phactor's curiosity quickly waned and demanded its removal. My colleagues being good biologists enjoyed showing the item to students all day long and explaining about pollination attractants and pollinators, floral placement, and pollination.  Great stuff.  Here's a diagram of the life cycle although it labels the corm as a tuber. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - green, fringed orchid

Just recently TPP posted the image of a rather small and inconspicuous orchid, the purple twayblade,  and here's another orchid in the same category and the same place, the green, fringed orchid (Platanthera (formerly Habenaria) lacera).  Jones' Flora of Illinois said this species was rare and limited to the northern-most counties, but our vegetational surveys in central Illinois have found this species surprisingly common such that you begin to think that such comments just mean people weren't looking enough or very hard or very closely. This plant was almost 0.5 m tall, but even then it was buried in meter tall vegetation such that if you weren't moving the taller plants aside for a look, you never ever would see it. This probably explains why so few specimens exist in our herbarium collection.

Someone had a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad week

Someone had a horrible, terrible, no-good very bad week, and it wasn't TPP. Oh, this was a depressing, disappointing week what with the unrelenting crappy weather and all, and bad weather can make you a bit crabby.  But, wow, talk about crabby! TPP's favorite SCOTUS justice, Tony Scalia, is in an extremely bad mood!  Just read his blistering, but poorly reasoned, dissents on the ACA and same-sex marriage! You may search a long time before you find two better-written temper tantrums than these. You really get the sense that Scalia thinks he is actually smarter than anyone else and that his opinions should therefore be respected and deferred to. When you find such an attitude in a colleague (and TPP speaks here from experience), you find them insufferable and generally irritating. How can anyone not recognize and appreciate such an intellect? You cannot have a rationale interaction with someone like that. For our general entertainment a contest of bombastic egotism needs to be arranged so that Scalia can square off against someone who is really in his league: Bill O'Really!  This idea and the SCOTUS decisions in general have really cheered TPP up!

Retirement update

Quite a few people have been asking TPP how his retirement is going.  In answer: It's going well. You see everyone's big worries are money and boredom, having nothing to do and having nothing to do it with. Neither of these is a problem at all. Disciplined saving, investment, and Mrs. Phactor's watchful fiscal eye have paid off. Saw today that 29% of people in the USA have no savings at all, and this is actually impossible for TPP to imagine. Scary. Even as grad students the Phactors had some money socked away. Boredom just isn't an issue. Fortunately a big dividing line between what TPP did for his salary and what he did because he liked doing it never existed. So this was a retirement from being a professor, but not retirement from being a botanist. Why would you retire from botany? The young fellow in the next door office just turned 85 and he now has been an active retired biologist for longer than he was an active professor, a very difficult feat. Without the distractions of teaching, faculty meetings, and the like, he has published more research articles in the retirement portion of his career. So, yes, TPP still has some active research projects. He is helping master naturalists organize some "citizen science" projects. He is an emeritus curator of the university's herbarium. And of course his historic house and expansive gardens all scream for his attentions. Finding things to do is not the problem. TPP doesn't miss the stress of dealing with deadlines and fixed schedules. Going with the flow and not feeling like you're always rushing towards a deadline is quite relaxing.  As Douglas Adams once said, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as the rush by."  So, on the whole, the retirement thing is going quite well. Thank you for asking.

Mid-week odds & ends

Rose, Pete - Always liked the guy as a scrappy player for the Reds. Hard to believe he'd throw a game just to make a few bucks betting, but when you break the rules and then lie about it, you've given them enough rope to really hang you. 
June rain - TPP has recorded 7.25 inches of rain this month when the area usually averages around 4.25 inches for the whole month. It's raining now and heavy rains are predicted over night. Never seen the soil so wet for so long in the summer. Weeds pull pretty easy, but all this rain makes them grow like crazy and totally weeded beds now need weeding again.
Lilies - June is lily month in our gardens. Mrs. Phactor likes her lilies, daylilies, oriental lilies, tiger lilies, all types. So some colorful masses of color are gracing the gardens, now if life just allowed us to sit on the patio a bit more and enjoy the show.
Sarah Palin - You know your irrelevance factor is climbing fast because our country's favorite incoherent commentator did not have her Phlox News contract renewed. Now she's really yesterday's news. Makes her quest for cash a lot tougher.
Confederate flag - TPP's Mother was a southerner from Mississippi. But she had the poor white perspective on race where you both lived the same way, sometimes right across the dirt road from each other, so played with their kids, and you understood that the differences were those of opportunity and money. And she got out via marriage. She'd cheer for the Arkansas Razorbacks or Mississippi women in beauty contests, but that was as much support for the "south" as she had. She did love gardenias.
Father's Day - The F1 remembered her Dad and brought many little gifts: rambutan, papaya, pepino, a blue cheese, a raclette cheese, some fancy coffee, a tamarind concentrate, and sour patch kid candies. How thoughtful! Rambutan in USA markets is fairly new, but tropical fruit that has to travel a long way is often not tip top produce. The leathery rind of rambutans and lychees should be red and pliable. Because they are often picked too green they may not have the best flavor. Some of these were pretty good, about 5.5 on the 10 point fresh tropical scale; they others were past ediblity. Made a great papaya salad with coconut, lime juice, cilantro, and hot sauce. Some of these orange-fleshed papayas are surprisingly good, maybe reaching an 7.5 to 8 flavor-wise, if you know how to pick them.
Currants - Picked several quarts of red currants from our 3 young bushes. This is enough for a year's supply of currant jelly. But today the aging back is complaining about work this low.
Japanese beetles - They have hatched, but no telling how big the population will be. Hoped the wet weather in combination with milky spore fungus would keep them in check. But bought some more netting from favorite fabric shop to cover new apple trees anyways.

Balloon flowers, really

This is just one of those mind boggling things. Who knew anyone could construct things this complex out of balloons, just balloons?  Of course most of the constructions illustrated at that link are animals, but if you scroll down far enough you find some balloon flowers including a waterlily and a lily of the valley.  So much for those rank amateurs you see at fairs.  HT to Starts with a Bang blog. Attempting this could end in a bang too.

Highlights of recent botanical research

For those of you who are not research botanists, i.e., most of you, here's a link to some editor-selected articles from the latest issue of the American Journal of Botany.  One of the things that botanists don't do is talk about their research enough in terms accessible to non-specialists, and these highlights are an attempt to describe these brand new scientific publications of botanical research in more general language than used when professional botanists communicate with each other.  TPP hopes you like seeing how diverse the field of botany is, how many different ideas and topics are being researched, and all the different places this research is being done.  TPP would also like to point out that ~41% of the authors are women (as best this author could determine from the names) demonstrating that the field of botany has a high proportion of females, one of the highest if not the highest in all of the sciences.  The diverse authorship also shows you how collaborative and international science has become, especially botany.  Bonus: here's the link to the cover picture of this issue and its legend.  Our general term for such organisms was scaly, (and bristly), green monads (single-celled organisms with scales for a cell wall). Heterokont refers to having two unlike flagella and this trait helps define a large, diverse lineage of organisms (some might call it a kingdom) that includes the brown algae (kelps and rockweeds among others) and this synurophyte.  

Friday fabulous flower - yucca in contrast

This is just your basic yucca although with variegated leaves, but it is a bit more dramatic because here it is standing in front of a weeping copper European beech and the dark purple of the leaves makes the creamy yucca flowers stand out.  Yucca demonstrates and interesting pollination biology called an obligate mutualism. The yucca gets pollinated only by yucca moths and then in a very specific manner. The yucca moth female lays her eggs inside the pistil of the flower, and then she gathers a ball of pollen, climbs the style and places the pollen directly upon the stigma to assure that her offspring have ovules, developing seeds, to consume. The egg laying is gauged such that not all of the seeds get consumed. This is the only place the moth can reproduce, so each party, the plant and the moth, absolutely require each other to reproduce; both parties benefit and both parties need each other. However since humans cultivate the yucca it can be grown in places where the moth does not live, and people can also pollinate the flowers to make seed. Yucca isn't native to the upper Midwest, but in places the moth does exist interacting with this rather common introduced ornamental

Moss sweet toes

TPP just noted that summer rains always bring fungi, and the last couple of days have reminded the botanist of something else that comes with summer rains too. Moss-sweet-toes. Of course, at halfway through the month of June, out rainfall is about 50% above our monthly average for June, and there a still a dozen days to go. So it's wet, it's soggy, and every tree hole out there must be filled with water by now, the favored breeding site for mosquitos in this area. The last two trips outside in the evening were like trips to a blood bank as those thirsty female vampires of the insect world (you do know that only the females need a blood meal to get protein for their eggs?) swarmed upon us. TPP has a mosquito expert as a colleague, so perhaps it would be good to see if any bad species are around this year. This area does have West Nile virus, but so far no dead crows (nesting in a neighbor's tree) or bluejays, both susceptable species, and no reports of the virus yet, but give it time. TPP already has two samples of blood enshrined at the CDC from this tropical adventures, so reasonable precautions will be taken. So like it or not, insect repellant will remain our gardeners' friend. On the silver-lining side of things, chiggers are often less of a problem in wet years (but they are showing up now too).

Happily, a relentlessly gay garden

The Phactors' garden attracts a lot of attention and several people in the "hood" are regular visitors to see what's happenin'. Neighbors regularly tell us how much they enjoy the views, so no notes, no complaints, but to complain about a garden being "relentlessly gay", well, that would truly make us more relentless. A very dear fellow and his dog make regular visits, and after telling TPP how nice everything looked, he said, "Well, we must be on our way to see that little garden down the block. It's always so happy, so delightful, so cheerful, so gay." It is indeed a delight in a small package as the garden fills the entire lot, one of the smallest on our block, and always there is something to see. As it happens the property owners are gay, something my acquaintance well knows, and he was being cleverly amusing in his own way. Indeed, this garden supports the contention of the author of the linked article that should anyone call your garden gay it is a high complement as my gay gardening friends all have remarkably nice and very creative gardens. So yes, TPP suggests you donate to this woman's garden crusade against religious bigotry so that she may buy every string of rainbow lights in the entire city of Baltimore (Why stop there?) to hang in her garden because that's what our kind of people do when faced with those kind of people. HT the Garden Rant.

Algal designs for money!

Happy Birthday to M. C. Escher. Everybody TPP knew in college had an Escher print, or two, hanging in their rooms; they were so clever, so well designed, so much fun, but who knew he tried designing money?  The designs on this bank note are algae: a diatom, Pediastrum, Spirogyra, a volvocalean colony, and more. This is the real green stuff, of course, it's only in the USA where all the bank notes are the same boring algal-colored green

(T)Rump Roast - Recipe for disaster

So the Donald is running for POTUS. Imagine TPP's excitement. The Donald's message seems simple enough: I'm rich, I'm successful, so vote for me, and you'll have a rich, successful POTUS. So in what way is the Donald successful?  He's made a boat load of money, i.e., he's rich. OK, that was item one.  Got anything else? Any other qualities you think the POTUS should have? Or is it all just such simple ideas? For those of us with very different standards of success, the Donald seems pretty unqualified, but in comparison, candidates like Rick Sanctimonious, Mike Chucklebee, Randy Paul, and Rick "Oops" Parry begin to look better. Ted Cruise not so much. As a guide to understanding the Donald, please turn your attention of exhibit A.  Giving Lincolnland the Rauner-round is another rich, "successful" businessman, who presently thinks inundating citizens with ads blaming his inability to govern (dictate) on Dem guys. Hey, the campaign is over. You won. Now can you do anything constructive without resorting to failed GOP economic  and austerity policies as "solutions"? Can you actually govern? The answer seems obvious. And right now our rich, successful businessman has more political experience than the Donald. So much more fun awaits as states and our country continue to take on water while our successfuls drill holes to let the water out. TPP is so embarrassed that he won't be able to travel overseas anymore.    

June showers bring mushrooms

What with all the rain it was only a matter of time before some flash flooding occurred.  Wait, OK, maybe, but it was really only a matter of time before some summer fungi appeared especially after these heavy, warm rainfalls. Fall is really the best time for fungus, although the locals who only think in terms of morels think spring is mushroom season. Although TPP is greatly out of practice, this particular summer mushroom was not hard to identify. First, it's big. Before the cap expands it's round and the diameter of a baseball.  Fully expanded the cap is a hand span wide. These mushrooms tend to pop up conspicuously in lawns in fairy rings, which shows you the diameter of the mycelium, the fungal body beneath. These were growing in a small ring some 12-15 feet in diameter.  This mushroom is called Chlorophyllum molybdites, the green-gilled parasol, although really it doesn't look green at all although the gills get a greenish-gray cast as they mature. Especially when young, these look a great deal like Lepiota procera, the parasol mushroom, which is supposedly excellent eating. Not so the green-gilled mushroom, and TPP recommends you leave this one for people who know their mushrooms, but people don't heed such warnings so this species is responsible for more mushroom poisonings than any other. Perhaps that's because not everyone gets sick, although some people get seriously ill, and everyone else just has vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. TPP knows of no way to tell where you fall on the reaction spectrum other than the time-honored method of determining edibility: trial and error. No thank you; there are plenty of less iffy things to eat. 

Chlorosis on the rise

An early summer pattern of rainy weather has continued unabated. One out come of this is appearing on a number of plants: chlorosis. This is when plants are not synthesizing enough chlorophyll and leaves appear yellowish although the cells along veins are greener. This happens whenever plants are growing but can not getting enough nutrients, especially iron. It's not that iron isn't there in the soil, but our basic, alkaline, soils make if difficult for some plants to take up enough iron. The chlorosis is more pronounced in plants that like acid soils, low pH, some of my magnolias, particularly the sweet bay, azaleas and rhododendrons, some hydrangeas, and others. A lot of rain seems to worsen the condition perhaps encouraging growth that depletes nutrient supplies. So one of today's chores will be to spread some nutrients aroung to help these plants out a bit. Best to treat your plants before the situation becomes severe when it can take a long time for the plant to recover. In this case you can use a foliar spray or apply some "copperas", iron sulfate, to the soil.  

New 22nd century garden tool - Weed Phaser Rifle

This is just so cool!  It's always nice when space technology gets some new and innovative uses right back here on Earth for your own garden. Our June deluge has weeds just shooting up out of the ground, and the new StarFleet (TM) technology has arrived just in time for you to shoot back: a weed phaser rifle (some assembly required)! The wave length has been adjusted so that only green plants are affected, so you can't use the weed phaser to zap squirrels or rabbits or the neighbors' dogs (drat!).  In fact, and ironically, the human safety factor makes the weed rifle phaser illegal in most of the gun maniac states, but perfectly OK in all sane states. TPP does understand that a robotic fox is being developed for rabbit problem. (Too bad it wasn't a robot tayra; you should see them go up trees.) A digital screen on the weed phaser allows you to isolate a particular weed.  The phaser then selects targets using that image, so the phaser can be set to automatic, scanned across a bed, and it will zap each weed when the image filter is tripped! Here's the best part; there is no stun setting! Oh, no, just total obliteration of weeds including Romulan thistle! This is the answer to so many gardener's prayers!  This is better than my Father's flame thrower which was a bit indiscriminate. Please, please, make it so! 

GOP political experiments

The whole idea of experiments is that they allow you to see if things work they way you think they do. Generally this means TPP is growing plants under different conditions to factor their various needs.  Seldom do you get experiments in politics. It took decades to discover that Reagan's trickle down economics doesn't work; the data are clear now, but still the idea persists. Money doesn't trickle down; the rich just get richer.  Now the whole idea of cutting budgets to bring back prosperity is a very popular at the state level. So Michigan, how's it all working for you?  Well, not so good really, and our democratic process seems to have been trashed out in the process.  And who is it that ended up running things?  Oh, somebody you never even got to vote for.  So now what? Then there's the Kansas experiment.  Imagine if the GOP had control of the legislature and the governor's office, why then the state could be put right, or so the argument went. So Kansas, how's it all working for you?  Not so good, but then why did your re-elect Brownback?  And now, even though things aren't going so hot fiscally, a pretty obvious result of disastrous policies, Brownback doubles down, keeps doing the same thing, while hoping for a different outcome!  In some places that's considered crazy.  Well, there it is.  GOP ideas just don't work and GOP governors and legislatures have proven it. Thanks. It was a great public service. Hope people learn something, although of late the other party hasn't had any great ideas either especially here in Lincolnland. Maybe things will have to break really badly before some new ideas come forward. 

Hot, steamy field work

Summer arrived rather quickly, as usual, and after all that rain, with some hot temperatures, all that vegetation and transpiration results in a very steamy environment, sort of a field work sauna. Not being crazy, such weather is sometimes avoided, but in this case some vegetation measuring needed to be completed as soon as possible, so there you go. As a result the work goes on and you put discomfort out of your mind as much as the nasty, annoying little gnats allow especially the ones whining in your ear. The data is now in the bank but the data gatherers are a bit worse for wear. Pass the Gaterade please. You remain thirsty for such a long time after you've gotten yourself dehydrated like that. Should have know better and had some water along, but well on the way to recovery now.

Well watered June gardens

The first week of June has left our gardens well-watered with 3-4 inches of rain.  TPP had to remove water from the lily pond and will probably have to do so again today because of the 2.75 inches of rain in the last 24 hours. This is some 200-300% more rain than average. Fortunately the real heavy weather with high winds and hail passed just south of us. Can't remember when the low spots in our yard have been flooded so frequently. In late August and September it will probably be a drought. Too bad there's no way to store it all. Our rain barrel capacity is just 100 gallons. These weather fronts have our local conditions flip-flopping wildly, first aseasonally cool, cats-on-the-bed & blanket cool, now hot and steamy, a near 30F change in daily high temperature in one day. If you don't like the weather in the upper Midwest just wait a few minutes and it will change. Fortunately our neighborhood sits on a bit of a rise so no worries about damaging floods. People living on flood plains were watching out. All the rain has made weeds grow like crazy, and the only thing evening out the scales is that they are easy to pull when the ground is soft. The soft ground did assist with the removal of some wayward shrubs, spirea and a couple of old privets. TPP found a 6 foot tall pokeweed growing in a border garden; they easily get bigger, but not this early in the season. Welcome to summer.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Juneberry

It's June! When else do you expect to get juneberry? Of course the shrub (Amelanchier - there are several species) flowered a couple of months ago and now the flowers are at the stage of seed dispersal when we usually call them fruits. They are little red to purple pomes that taste a bit like a very mild blueberry, and they are a bit seedy. They may taste best a bit under ripe, but birds love them, so this is an excellent border shrub for wildlife. The plant is also called shadbush, service berry (pronounced "sar-vis" in many places), wild plum, and a number of other common names. Generally they are easy to grow plants in this region and they are quite cold hardy for you people up north. Unfortunately the foliage is also liked by Japanese beetles, a newish scourge in our area. 

Big, old-fashioned rhododendron

Our earliest azalea (R. mucronulatum) bloomed just about 2 months ago, and the latest flowering rhododendron in our gardens is just now flowering.  It's a bit old bush some 8-9 feet tall, 10-12 feet wide nestled between an oak tree (that doesn't like it), our house, and our fireplace chimney, and it has been their for decades. It was big when the house was acquired 15 years ago and the rhododendron bed was just enlarged around it. Unlike the many more compact mounded shrubs of modern varieties, this sprawling bush is what rhododendrons are supposed to look like, and still do in natural places. TPP has no idea what the name of this bease is, but he wishes you could still buy varieties that would grow like this, nothing the average gardener would want, but something for those of us who are not space challended. Among the scrambling stems, which tend to bend down and out, and then send new shoots back up, whorls of dark green leaves make a flat, round backdrop against which the pink inflorescences appear and bloom.  This year the bush is covered making this shady corner of the garden something lovely to behold. If anyone out there has any ideas about the identity of this rhododendron, or where such varieties/species can be purchase, do please share.

Over enthusiastic reproduction

2015 has been a very good spring for the silver maples, which though rather ungainly and unattractive trees are quite common in our urban areas. Saying it was a good year only means the trees set an unusual abundance of fruit and seed. In places the samaras accumulated to more than an inch thick and our entire gardens were liberally sown with seeds from neighbors' large tree not that they were in any way at fault or could do anything about it. Now they are germinating everywhere! Even potted plants have a crop of maple trees coming up.  Now when you think of this biologically, you get some idea about the odds of a single seed maturing into a forest tree and reproducing itself. Now deciduous trees like this can have reproductive lives measured in decades, yet in nature for a population to maintain itself exactly one offspring must on average survive and reach reproductive age. Just one! So what about all those seeds? Why such an overabundance of reproduction? First, the vast majority of such seeds are predated, consumed at this tender, energy rich, helpless stage. There are a lot of chubby squirrels around right now. Two, under some set of circumstances, a lot of offspring may get "lucky", so trees make lots of babies just in case. Three, it's a tough world out there, The odds of any single seed surviving and reproducing are really low, but the lottery is going to take place each year over decades. Woody perennials play for a win in the long-haul. Around here in our tamed ecosystems gardeners pull up the seedlings by the dozens, or they fall into lawns, or onto streets, or into gutters, something nature did not intend and if we didn't keep destroying all these baby trees our properties would pretty quickly become a forest of sorts. Yes, around here the climax community could be a tall grass prairie, but it takes fire to maintain the grassland and we don't like having fires around our houses so the woody plants would win. And win they will unless the Phactors remain vigilant about weeding.

Those pesky faculty - Wisconsin takes action

Several decades ago a dark comedy on the BBC was called "A very peculiar practice" and it was about academic life at Lowland University. The university had hired a new president from the USA to lead them forward, the appropriately named Jack Daniels, who decided they could save a lot of money by getting rid to the students and any non-revenue producing faculty.  University faculty are a very pesky lot, and running a university without them might be an easier job, but not much educating is going to be getting done. Also the university won't be run very well because it will have adopted stupidly and foolishly the business model. You see, at a university, if run well,and ideas and governance run both up and down and across the organizational chart. Administrators who think things only travel down are soon confronted with textbook order forms (A colleague did this to the one-time chair of our governing board of trustees to demonstrate that in fact faculty did have a role in decision making.). Shared governance is an important part of a university's culture, and please understand, the faculty are usually looking out for the best interests of students and education. But faculty study things like science, and politics, and the like, and their authoritative manner, like they were experts or something, rubs a lot of politicians, and administrators, the wrong way especially when faculty forget who they work for, i.e., the state, for those us in public education. The GnOPe, which has been called the party of stupid for some obvious reasons, has been conducting a war on education, especially higher education, for some time now, and it's no surprise because university faculty tend to disagree with their governing ideology, their knowledge denial, and their social policies, and they can influence students too!  Faculty do tend to be outspoken because our jobs are protected from retaliation by tenure by and large, unless you don't want to hear what faculty have to say. It's a great thing being a tenured full professor, let TPP tell you, and it's true his outspoken reputation might not be so great if protection against retaliation were not in place. So now just north of us, having gone after the unions, Wisconsin is turning its attention to dismantling what is arguably one of the great state higher educational systems including its flagship, the University of Wisconsin Madison. This will be done by cutting their budget, telling faculty to work harder (showing that those making the demand don't know what university faculty do or why they do it), and to make sure the faculty don't bitch too much, well, let's do away with tenure because the state should be able to fire state workers any time they want, for any reason. Now, these legislators and the governor don't think this will actually work out very well, but they don't care if it doesn't work well so long as they have enough teachers to train workers for the state. Oh, wait, that's one of the prime directives for universities in Lincolnland! 

Essentials of growing grass

The essentials for growing lawn grass are no different that for growing any other green plant: water, soil, mineral nutrients, and light. Basic botany, right? So when people are missing one (or more) of these essentials, no amount of the other two will compensate, and the grass won't grow. This lesson has been lost on person not too distant from TPP's neighborhood. As you can see here, some sparse newly sprouted grass is populating the shade under this tree, but in spite of adequate water (note the sprinklers and rain gauge) and presumably enough nutrients, the grass in this location is not going to grow into a thick, lush lawn; it will remain very sparse until some shade-loving weeds invade (Hello, creeping charlie!). Have you identified the species of tree yet! Well, you should have because it's one of the worst in this area for grass growing. It's a sugar maple, and they are handsome trees; some even have purple foliage. But sugar maples can make both sun leaves, bigger, thicker leaves on the outside of their crown, and shade leaves, somewhat smaller, thinner leaves adapted to the shady inner crown. As a result of this efficient light harvesting the mature crown of a sugar maple can intercept over 90% of the sunlight (figures of up to 96% have been cited) that falls upon the tree. Step under the crown and look up; what percent of the sky in view do you see? Bottom line: your grass won't grow because it is lacking an essential, light. You have no idea how often this turns up, and still sugar maples are touted as a good lawn tree. If you like your sugar maples, and you didn't prune the limbs up high enough to let in some light from the sides, you might as well give up and plant ferns or woodland wildflowers, and even some of them can't deal with shade this dense. Sorry, for the bad news; get over it. And get over the idea that lawns are just grass. If you'd asked 30 years ago, maybe you would have made another choice.

Socialism is the ism dismalest of all

If you don't recognize the title phrase, it's because it's from a Chad Mitchell Trio song from the 60s called "The John Birch Society".  This morning TPP received a very important telephone call from some American Super-Patriot Think Tank (something like that), which means it's funded by some super-PAC and accountable to no one, sort of, not really. They excitedly wanted to tell me about the dangers of socialism as a threat to our 'Mercan way of life and that means Bernie Sanders is running for president. After politely listening for a few moments, TPP asked if this all meant capitalism was at risk?  Yes, yes, most certainly it is. TPP suggested that having seen how badly capitalism was treating this country, its people, and its environment, some change sounds good. BTW they are meeting at the courthouse at 8 o'clock tonight. 

Monday morning science

It's June; where did May go?  Glad some early seed collection was done before our 2.25 inch rains came this past Friday and Saturday. Front ushered in some unseasonably cool weather, cool enough to send the kitty-girls back to our bed. Great news from the refrigerator! Seeds of yellow foxgloves (Aureolaria & Dasistoma) are germinating after several weeks of vernalization! Seed germination has sometimes been (and still is) a big problem with some of the species being studies. These are green, parasitic plants and they are going to be given different tree seedling hosts to assess the interaction from the perspective of both parties. Should be great fun. This afternoon will be more field work that now becomes even more pressing because you don't want long periods of time to pass between data gathering in plant communities during the growing season. And do they ever grow! Already marker poles are disappearing into the prairie canopy especially where the plots were nutrient enhanced. Always something to do this time of year.