Beautiful video of Selaginella lepidophylla resurrected with water. (via Colossal)
Sierra magazine selected "7 of the World's Strangest Flowers." Above is video of the Touch-Me-Not, native to Central and South America but now growing many other places:
You might easily overlook this herb, with its dainty pink flowers and delicate, fern-like leaves. The mimosa pudica doesn’t just look demure, though. Barely touching its leaves causes them to fold inward and droop downward—hence the flower’s species name, pudica, Latin for “shy, bashful, or shrinking,” as well as its nicknames, “touch-me-not” and “shy plant.” The leaves usually reopen in a few minutes. Other stimuli, including warming and shaking the plant, produce the same phenomenon. The leaves fold and wilt in the evening, too, but they stay that way until sunrise…"7 of the World's Strangest Flowers" (Thanks, Orli Cotel!)
Plants and animals have to adapt to live in high latitudes and chilly mountain environments. With animals, we kind of instinctively know what makes a creature cold-weather ready — thick, shaggy fur; big, wide snowshoe paws. But what are the features of cold-weather plants? It's one of those really interesting questions that's easy to forget to ask.
At The Olive Tree blog, Tracey Switek has at least one answer. In cold places, you see more plants that grow in little mounded clumps. Of course, plants can't really rely on huddling together to create warmth. So you still have to ask, "Why is it better to grow in a mound when it's cold out?"
The dome-like shape which the cushions tend to take (made possible by an adaptation that makes all the plants in the clump grow upward at the same rate, so no one plant is high above all the others), and the closeness with which those plants grow, makes these clumps perfect heat traps. The temperature on or inside a cushion can be up to 15 °C more than the air temperature above it. The cushions are able to retain heat radiating up from the soil, as well as absorbing heat from the sun (a very dense, large, clump of green can get surprisingly warm on a sunny day at high altitude). Add to that the fact that the wind speed in and around a cushion can be cut by up to 98% from open areas, you have a perfect recipe to prevent heat loss. Many alpine cushion plants also have very hairy leaves, which trap even more heat within. This allows the plants to maintain a relatively stable, warmer than average microclimate that is resistant to sudden changes in weather and temperature outside (such as freezing temperatures at night or sudden storms). Interestingly enough, this stabilizing effect can also be a benefit when it gets too hot out, maintaining lower temperatures against baking sunshine.
Via Sci Curious
Image: Michael Haferkamp, via CC
Frycook posted this fascinating video from the Apollo era on the BoingBoing Submitterator. The basic gist: Back in the day, NASA scientists tried exposing various crops—corn, lettuce, tobacco ... you know, the essentials—to moon dust. The plants weren't grown in the dust, exactly. Instead, it was scattered in their pots or rubbed on some of their leaves. In this study, the plants that were exposed seemed to grow faster than unexposed plants.
That's pretty interesting, so I dug around a little to find out more about these studies. Turns out, growing plants in lunar soil isn't quite as promising as the video makes it sound, but it's not a ridonculous idea, either. In 2010, scientists at the University of Florida published a review of all the Apollo-era research on this subject, which amounted to exactly three published studies. From that data, we can say that the plants weren't obviously affected in any seriously negative ways by their exposure to lunar soils—which is good—but we can't really say the plants grew better their terrestrial-only cousins, either.
In the end, and as recorded in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, there were only three published primary studies of seeds, seedlings, and plants grown in contact with lunar materials. In those three cases, small amounts of lunar material were used, and the plants were relatively large. In general, the dusting of plants or the mixing of lunar fines with other support media makes plant interaction with the lunar material a small part of the plant experience. At no point were plants actually grown in lunar samples in the way that one might imagine, with the entire root structure growing through and in constant association with a lunar soil. It is no accident that the wording of most of the titles of the studies, as well as the careful discussion within the papers, refers to growth “in contact with” lunar samples—not “in” lunar samples. With only a small portion of the roots, for example, interacting with the lunar materials, it is likely that plant responses to the lunar materials were, therefore, quite attenuated due to the lack of an extensive plant/lunar soil interface. Biophysical issues, such as root penetration of dry and variously hydrated lunar sample types, were completely unaddressed. Thus, the effects of actual growth within lunar soils were simply not a part of the plant studies of the Apollo era.
On the other hand, in 2008 scientists with the European Space Agency tried growing marigolds in a medium of crushed rock—basically the much-cheaper equivalent of growing plants in moon "soil". There's no indication that the marigolds did better than those grown in real dirt, but they did grow and they did survive (even without any added fertilizer), which could be indirect evidence in support of the Moon gardeners of the future.
Read the 2010 review paper—available for free, in its entirety
Earlier this week, I showed you how scientists can use a simple, hand-operated tool to collect stratified core samples of mud at the bottom of a swamp. The deeper the samples go down, the older the mud is—until, eventually, you're looking at 6000-year-old muck, the remains of a lake bed that filled in with sediment and became swamp.
The core samples are narrow logs, each 50 cm long. (In all honesty, they looked like less-colorful versions of the 3 pound gummi worm I ordered for my 30th birthday party last year.) For the most part, they're some variation on the shade of brown, with occasional streaks of red and burnt umber, until you get to the very bottom. There, the samples turn grey. Put a bit in your mouth, as I was encouraged to do by Harvard Forest director David Foster, and you'll taste clay and feel grit between your teeth.
That's all well and good. But what do you do with core samples once you have them? For this installment of Dispatches From Harvard Forest I'm going to leave the woods and head into the lab, to see what happens to the parts of the Forest that scientists take home.
Step one: Make dirt cupcakes
Read the rest
This is the town of Kivalina, Alaska. Last fall, when the ocean water that almost surrounds the town started turning a gooey orange, people (understandably) got a bit freaked out.
After ruling out the scarier options—i.e.,chemical pollution and toxic algae—scientists eventually pinned the orange tide on the presence of a plant fungus. And they turned up some good news: The fungus wasn't dangerous to people or ocean life.
Now, months later, researchers have identified what, exactly, the fungus is and where it was coming from. There's a fascinating detective story here, because, as Jennifer Frazer points out on Scientific American's Artful Amoeba blog, it's rather surprising that there was a fungal epidemic big enough to turn a whole port orange and nobody noticed it on the plants.
[But] Perhaps someone did.
Last October, David Wartinbee, a professor of aquatic biology at Kenai Peninsula College in Alaska’s south-central Kenai Peninsula, emailed me to say he’d seen something strange, and wondered if it might be the same thing that hit Kivalina. Though his neck of the woods is over 600 miles southeast from Kivalina as the snow goose flies, it’s not inconceivable they could be one in the same in a place so far north.
In early September, Wartinbee traveled 70 miles west to a place called the Twin Lakes by float plane (reputedly the SUV of Alaska). He saw an orange film on the water, and the spruce needles on nearby trees were clearly poxed with something.
You can read the rest of this story (and see Wartinbee's photos!) at The Artful Amoeba.
This is not the best photo, but it is pretty damn mind-blowing. What you see here is Jerry Glover, National Geographic Emerging Explorer, holding the root system of a single perennial wheat plant. The photo was taken by Scientific American editor Mariette DiChristina at the Compass Summit in Palos Verdes, California.
There's more to this than just a freaky looking plant dreadlock. That root system represents something far bigger than itself: Soil health. Perennial plants build soil and protect against erosion in ways annual plants and their skimpy root structures simply cannot. It's why, since large-scale corn farming replaced perennial prairie, Iowa has lost some 8 vertical inches of precious topsoil. Glover's argument: To protect our farming resources for future generations we need to pay more attention to the potential benefits of perennial crops.
Beachgoers in Qingdao, Shandong province, China, were met with a fuzzy, green blanket of ocean last week, as the water there exploded with algae.
You've heard before about dead zones. These are patches of coastal ocean where river runoff full of fertilizer chemicals have produced massive algae blooms. As the algae die, their decomposition reduces the oxygen level of the water to the point that many fish and other aquatic life can no longer live there.
This is what a dead zone looks like, just before the death.
It's worth noting, when I pulled this photo out of the Reuters files, I could see similar shots, taken on the same beach, in 2010, 2009, and 2008. This isn't a fluke. It's an endemic problem.
Image: REUTERS/China Daily China Daily Information Corp - CDIC