Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Fruit - diversity on display

Squashes, pumpkins, and the like belong to one of only 4 species of Cucurbita.  There is a surprising amount of diversity on display in terms of fruit color, size, and shape for just 4 species, and TPP is not certain that all 4 species are displayed here.  Still in makes for a pretty eyeful. There may also be some gourds included too.  Here's the link to Homestead Seeds should you want to grow some of these.

What's up with these acorns?

A person walked into my place of business handed me these acorns and wanted to know, what's up with these acorns?  The short answer is nothing is up with them, they are the way they are supposed to be.  However the tree that produces these acorns is not very common so not too many people have ever seen one.  This is an overcup oak, Quercus lyrata, and it is native to wetlands in SE North America, but people tend to not plant them where they will do well and as a result they often look chlorotic.  The distinctive acorns are really cute, aren't they?  An easy ID and TPP even knows where they got them because there are only 2 trees around, and only 1 of them is doing well.  However I do admire their curiosity.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - really ancient?

One of TPP's bright young colleagues, Herve Sauquet, has used a combination of morphology and molecular data to construct or model the first or ancestral flower.  It has several whorls of 3 floral organs and to TPP's eyes, the model so derived looks a lot like a Magnolia virginiana.  Many people have long thought that earliest flowers would have many spirally arranged parts.  Actually there are several differences, so the similarity to a Magnolia is just superficial, mostly just the several perianth whorls.  The oldest fossil flowers just don't look like this and molecular data suggests that flowering plants are older (149-256 my) than the fossil record indicates and so far no one has a really convincing pre-Cretaceous flowering plant fossil.  Several pteridosperms in the fossil record have angiospermy features, but no certain flowering plant ancestor can be identified.  

Friday fabulous foliage - ID of unknown

Welcome to the great midwest. Monday and Tuesday this week the highs were in the 80s (quite summerish 3-4 days ago), right now a sleety snow is falling and there is a good chance of a frost tonight.  Spent yesterday moving tender plants inside.  Our university's arborist stopped by with a leafy twig and asked if TPP could ID it.  Yes, this is part of the service TPP still provides in retirement (experience counts big time).  This was not a tree TPP recognized right off, but it had opposite compound leaves with three leaflets and long pink petioles.  The buds were long and conical covered with imbricate bud scales, so yes, just as you were thinking, very maple like.  A good woody plant key took me straight to Acer, and then on to A. mandshuricum, Manchurian maple.  So both our arboretum and herbarium just gained a new species and a voucher.  This is an ornamental species, just not real well known.  It should turn a nice fall color, if we actually get a fall (as the snow continues to fall).

Friday fabulous fungi - inky caps

After a period of mild drought, the area finally had a rain episode that delivered over 6.5 inches of rain over three days.  And since it is fall, mushrooms are popping up all over.  This is a cluster of inky caps, Coprinopsis atramentaris (formerly a Coprinus).  These are edible, but can be quite toxic if ethanol is also ingested.  This is a very common mushroom, and they usually begin dissolving into a black inky goo right away, a process called autodeliquescence, starting at the edge of the bell shaped cap.  

The Phactors have been apple picking up in Michigan, and this means some good eating.  Mrs. Phactor is a renowned pie maker and here's a couple of images to back that up.  Northern spies are our main cooking apple.  Note how flaky the crust looks and no runny filling.  Outstanding pie.  

Dump heaps and plant domestication

One of the well known hypotheses about plant domestication (Edgar Anderson) dealt with the idea that nomadic camps had dump heaps, places where inedible things got pitched.  Reuse of camps would bring these people back after some time and discover that seeds had sprouted and grown leading to the idea and practice of purposefully growing things.  Sure, maybe, but nomadic people probably already know how plants grow, but they see no need to plant what they can find in the wild reliably.  While throwing apple peels on our own dump/compost heap this AM, TPP noticed a nice looking seedling emerging along the edge and an examination determined that it was a mango seedling from some discarded pit.  Well, it  will not grow here in the upper Midwest, and it is a member of the poison ivy family, so TPP will deal with the leaves carefully.  Sure is a cutie though.

Friday fabulous flower - closed for business

TPP doesn't know if he's late with the last FFF or early for the next one.  Guess the blogs could have been numbered but that would be just too damned organized and it's a little late now.  OK this image comes from the F1 and her flower garden, the one being abandoned to start over again on her own property.  This particular plant is a fall flowering species, and it is just a little peculiar in the flowers don't open.  This limits pollination to bumblebees who are big enough and strong enough to pry open the corolla.  This is the bottle or closed gentian, Gentiana andrewsii.