Field of Science

Bucket list trees - Nothofagus

Although TPP cannot remember when the list was made, a bucket list of trees was constructed, it did include a baobab (seen in South Africa) and the southern Beech.  TPP does not know this genus well, and while he's seen it a few times, you cannot say you've seen a lion if only in a zoo.  This is a high latitude southern hemisphere tree, and not sure why the southern Beech is named Nothofagus (N. solandri shown here probably).  The forest (just below the subalpine zone) is almost a monoculture and pretty low diversity until you get to the fern/moss floor of the forest.  It has the look of Middle Earth about it, and the trees have quite a covering of mosses and lichens on their trunks. The genus has quite an old looking distribution the type we now associate with Gondwana an ancient super continent. But sadly no Glossopteris. No one said this was an easy bucket list. 

The leaves are about a cm or so long.

More alpine.subalpine

Well, you're gonna get more NZ because it's the best stuff TPP has for posting. In general TPP found NZ a bit off-putting.  In many places it has been deforested to within an inch of its life; all those hills upon which sheep now graze were forested. And there are virtually no land mammals, and not even much insect life, so very unlike the tropical forests TPP loves so much.  However now and again they have a winner.  And so it is with the Kea, a largish, alpine/subalpine parrot and much like the Gray Jay in the USA's Rocky mtns, this bird is not even slightly shy.  They have a certain beguiling quality about them, maybe its the way they try to take the rearview mirrors off your car, or how they chortle to themselves in a language seemingly akin to minions.  So it was great to see a few of these birds, close up, and at home so to speak at the top of Arthur's pass parading around like they own the place, and they do.  After the hike down, it was time to have lunch and a drink at the Wobbly Kea Bar & Café.

Subalpine context

The fabulous pincushion plant posted a day ago lacked a subsalpine context, so here it is.  The community is sort of a waist high shrub land of grassy tussocks and low growing shrubs.  The area is quite wet especially in places and very low-growing mats of mossy and mossy-like plants growing in between taller plants and rocky outcrops, and in rocky places with very shallow soil.  Grassy and mossy looking plants for the most part are neither grass nor moss. The plant diversity here is actually pretty high.  It's really quite a lovely place, garden-like in a way, although those people intent on hiking distances or altitudes, or hiking with speed (joggers) fail to see anything while communing with nature in their own self-absorbed way. Us naturalists are looked upon as "in the way", just one more obstacle to be avoided. The pincushion plant posted on Friday was growing almost at TPP's feet as he viewed this scene from a boardwalk path.  

Fence gardening

Is it too early to start posting about garden ideas?  No, never too early.  The F1 has a stockade fence around her not-very-big garden/patio/yard.  It used to keep her Maine coon cat mostly confined.  Fences like this can look rather plain & ugly, and a lot of surface area seems to be wasted.  That's why the idea of using regular guttering, cheap and easy to install as linear fence garden beds seems like such a good idea, especially for smallish, faster growing plants, i.e., lettuces, baby bok choi, spinach, green onions & the like.  The picture says it all and TPP knows a good idea when he sees it again.  Water at the top and it flows down.  The system might even be hydroponic, but it need not be that complicated. Just some potting soil in some coconut fiber liner could do the job nicely.  It could also be a riot of color if you planted petunias or something like that.

Friday Fabulous Flower - pincushion plant

TPP has been on the road (left side) visiting New Zealand, doing some southern hemisphere avoidance of January weather in North America.  For that part of it the trip was highly successful.  Given that NZ plants are highly endemic, something like 80% of woody plants grow no where else, except of course for those brought to NZ by people who wanted to see a sycamore for some damned reason.  TPP shall expand a bit more on this topic and his plant bucket list as he catches you up.  In addition to being on go, a lot, dealing with iffy wifi was a nearly constant issue, and when you advertise "free wifi" you should actually make it easy to access, not nearly impossible.  
OK, well, we needs a NZ flower.  And what with all the non-natives, southern Magnolia was in bloom nearly everywhere, finding a nice native plant is not as easy as it sounds.  However TPP's travels included a trip on the tranzalpine RR over the southern alps with an overnight in Arthur's Pass.  Our B&B hostess decided that an old botanist would do better starting at the top, not the mountain top, but the top of Arthur's pass, and walking down to the so-called village, spending the rest of the time observing the biology.  TPP does not do mountain (tree, ladder, social) climbing, but the pass is subalpine and above the tree line.  Lots of nice alpine plants grow in the area, and all incorporated into a National Park.
If you have ever visited an alpine/subalpine zone, you have observed many so-called "moss" or "pincushion" plants.  These are all low-growing, small-leaved plants forming a dense mat.  As a result they all look rather similar vegetatively, but if in flower, they often give away the identity.  This is an very dense, quite firm pincushion plant with a few remaining flowers pushing to the surface.  Isn't that grand?  Fortunately the couple of remaining flowers helped with the ID, Donatia novae-zealandiae, in the Donatiaceae, its own family!  It is quite close to Sylidiaceae, another family you are probably unfamiliar with. In some places a species of sundew poked its leaves up through the crown of this very short shrub.  

Friday fabulous fern - for real

A small track off the highway is all there is at the Kaimai Summit track.  This little loop to the summit on the North Island is one of the ferniest places TPP has ever been.  Filmy ferns are everywhere, and over all TPP saw nearly 3 dozen species of ferns, although he could not identify more than a handful.  Here's a nice whorl of new fronds, and this if probably a Blechnum discolor, but that may take some confirmation.  Generally this fern is called a dwarf tree fern although it really doesn't get very tall.
The forest floor was spongy with litter and it was quite damp as might be expected where filmy ferns abound.  

Botanical Fashion?

This pantsuit outfit was seen yesterday inside a fairly fancy
shop in downtown Wellington, NZ.  TPP knows that this is about half way around the world from the big city of Chi-town, which sort of rules our small part of the fashion world.  So the question is simply, Where would you wear your pineapple decorated pant suit?  Is this the kind of fashion you spring on people all at once or do you dole it out?  Seriously, is TPP out of line?  Or is this as hideous as he thinks?  Maybe if you were giving a tropical fruit lecture, it would be OK, just at TPP matches some of his Hawaiian shirts to the lecture topic.  

Friday Fabulous Fern - Sort of

TPP missed another Friday, sorry, sports fans, a lodging that advertised free WiFi made it as difficult as possible to connect and the lap top did not want to cooperate, so without a real keyboard, no blogging.  A popular area near Rotorua NZ is just called "redwoods", and darned if it isn't a planted grove of California redwoods!  The oldest trees were planted in 1901, so they are now well over 100 and decently big trees.  There may be Ewoks here as walkways and platforms are everywhere, hundreds of meters of them.  Like a real redwood grove, there is not much of an understory, mostly ferns, mostly tree ferns, and quiet.  Hundreds of people walk, run, bike, and generally recreate in this area daily, but you know what none of them ever see?  Well, you need to travel with TPP if you want to see neato things that escape everyone else's attention.
Every 3d or so tree fern had a ferny epiphyte growing upon and within its trunk, and although TPP has seen this plant before, never was it so common.  The ferny plant is Tmesipteris (mez-ip-terr-is), a whisk fern. It's only close relative is Psilotum (seye-low-tum), which is considerably better known.  TPP is not happy calling this plant a fern, although it has common ancestry with ferns somewhere.

Lost a Friday here somewhere - but Friday Fabulous Fern anyways

Somewhere out there in the middle of the Pacific TPP lost a Friday, and a decent night's sleep too.  A day or two later it's Monday here in Aukland New Zealand.  Lots of unfamiliar plants around here, but thought a post on an old favorite might be in order.  Here's a nice view looking down on the crown, the whorl of leaves, the fronds that constitute the crown of the fern, Cyathea dealbata.  They can grow several meters tall, this one was about 3 but TPP was on a walkway above it.  The fronds are generally a meter and a half to two meters long.

"Raw" water, not a craze, just crazy

Sometimes, maybe not enough times, the lack of a scientific perspective can be dangerous to your health or that of others (anti-vacc people).  The promoters of raw water want you to have all the minerals, and Pro-biotics, in untreated water.  Now in the view of a biologist having ready access to safe, hygienic water is one of the best examples of how science and technology have improved the public's well-being.  And remember this: "In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is strength, in water there is bacteria." (David Auerbach, 2002).  TPP, as a frequent traveler in the tropics, even appreciates the marketing insight of soda makers who realized that by the time you had the water filtered and treated to make it safe for soda, you had a marketable commodity before you even added in the sugar, or its substitute, and the flavorings and colorings and carbonation, and charge nearly as much for no more ingredients.  So you can find nice, safe bottled water all across India, and the rest of SE Asia.  And you can stop wondering if the water treatment tabs you brought from home will kill elephant liver flukes as well as they kill moose liver flukes.  So the raw water people are just being stoopid and ignorant, as stoopid and ignorant as their gullible prey, presumably the same people who buy things because they are labeled "non-GMO" or "no gluten" especially items that could not possibly have a cereal grain protein.  Or could we market a homeopathic water purifier?  Would it magically remove things from water as well as it puts them in?  Or are we going to have another PT Barnum moment of never under estimating people's ability to fool themselves, but can they fool their intestines too?