I'm one of those people who's damn near allergic to everything — or at least, according to my doctor, to all forms of dust and tree pollen, which might as well be everything. This was particularly frustrating at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak this spring, as every day I woke up with a scratchy throat or runny nose I immediately assumed the worst. (Don't worry, I'm fine; it was allergies every god damn time.)
While I tend to thrive better in cities that offer some respite from our botanical oxygen-pooping friends, I recently learned that American urban planning generally favors male trees, which produce more pollen. From Atlas Obscura:
Read the rest
[W]hen [Tom Ogren, horticulturalist and author of Allergy-Free Gardening: The Revolutionary Guide to Healthy Landscaping] studied frequently landscaped plants in other cities, he noticed the same thing: males, all the way down. “Right away I started realizing there was something weird going on,” he says. While tracking down the origin of this trend, Ogren stumbled upon perhaps the first trace of sexism in urban landscaping in a 1949 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture. The book advised: “When used for street plantings, only male trees should be selected, to avoid the nuisance from the seed.”
Urban forestry’s apparent sexism seems to boil down to our distaste for litter. The USDA reasoned that tiny allergenic spores are likely to be blown away by wind or washed away by rain, making pollen an easier civic task to manage than, say, overripe fruit or heavy seed pods that would need to be cleaned up by actual humans.
UNC's Paul Jones writes, "Ohio and North Carolina have for years been fighting about which state own the right to say they were the Home of Aviation or the First in Flight. But now NC has something no other state can claim -- First in Fly-Eat! The license plate features not only the famously hungry plant, but also it's fabled food, the fruit fly -- in the process of being trapped. Proceeds go to preserve Venus Fly Trap habitat. Joint projects of the NC Botanical Gardens and the Friends of Plant Preservation."
Read the rest
Joey Santore's YouTube channel Crime Pays But Botany Doesn't has meat-and-potatoes approach to the wonders of the natural world: it's direct, informative and often funny as hell. Recently, while out in the field doing what he does, Santore came across what appeared to be an abandoned coyote pup. Emaciated, and possibly showing signs of mange, it was in pretty bad shape. After a quick chase, Santore cornered the pup and, well, just watch.
With the pup in rough enough shape that Santore was able to catch it, I'm hoping for the best, but assuming the worst. If it survives, I'll be happily surprised. Fingers crossed for a bit of good news on this one. Read the rest
MIT researchers have figured out how to infuse common plants like watercress and arugula with luciferase, the chemical that makes fireflies glow. The process make the plants emit a dim glow for up to four hours.
Previous efforts to create light-emitting plants have relied on genetically engineering plants to express the gene for luciferase, but this is a laborious process that yields extremely dim light. Those studies were performed on tobacco plants and Arabidopsis thaliana, which are commonly used for plant genetic studies. However, the method developed by Strano’s lab could be used on any type of plant. So far, they have demonstrated it with arugula, kale, and spinach, in addition to watercress.
For future versions of this technology, the researchers hope to develop a way to paint or spray the nanoparticles onto plant leaves, which could make it possible to transform trees and other large plants into light sources.
“Our target is to perform one treatment when the plant is a seedling or a mature plant, and have it last for the lifetime of the plant,” Strano says. “Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes.”
• Engineers create plants that glow (MIT) Read the rest
Cat Whitney's thread of her favorite spooky plants includes some of the plant kingdom's most horrifying denizens: Aristolochia Salvadorensis..."looks like a flayed skull, and reminds some of Darth Vader"; Hydnellum peckii..."The infamous bleeding tooth or Devil's tooth fungus"; Antirrhinum seed pods..."the seedpods of some species resemble human skulls"; Tacca chantrieri..."the Black Bat Flower"; Monkey Orchids..."as I'm personally terrified of primates & apes, I'm putting them on here". (via JWZ) Read the rest
In Madagascar, botanist Anton Sieder recently discovered an orchid with huge flowers that smell of champagne. Royal Botanic Gardens researcher Johaan Hermans confirmed that the plant, now named Cynorkis christae, is new to science. From The English Garden:
“It is quite a find,” said Johan, who saw the orchid in the flesh in January this year after travelling to the mountains with a team from Kew and Paris. “One of the most noticeable traits of this new orchid is its sweet scent, which one of our team likened to smelling like champagne,” he added.
Cynorkis christae also has enormous flowers, with a 5cm (2in) wide lip and a 16cm (6in) spur. Most of the flower is pure white, while the top petals have distinctive maroon markings...
The plant was named after Anton’s wife Christa, hence Cynorkis christae.
"New Orchids Discovered in Madagascar" (The English Garden via @NadiaMDrake) Read the rest
Whenever it seems that timelapse has become a bit overused, someone like Jamie Scott refreshes the format with something like Spring, a dizzying film of flowers in bloom. Read the rest
Peter Wohlleben is a German forrester who has revolutionized his field by developing community forest management that does not require pesticides or heavy machinery, and recruits local communities as stakeholders in forestry preservation; but the thing that made him known around the world is his 2016 book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World, which presents evidence for unprecedented (and even spooky) degrees of cooperation among trees in a forest. Read the rest
Illustrator Yukai Du created this lovely animation of Richard Karban's TED talk on plant communication. Read the rest
It's hard to fund space exploration research -- the commercial applications are speculative and far-off -- but there's never been a better time to study super-efficient, closed-loop botany of the sort that will someday accompany human interplanetary missions, thanks to the need to develop better grow-ops for the burgeoning legal weed market in Canada. Read the rest
Just when you'd forgotten about all that leaked radiation.
These parasitic corpse plants (Monotopa uniflora) don't need chlorophyll for energy, so they are white or pale pink. Krik & stony of Black Owl Outdoors found some in the wild. Read the rest
The Guerrilla Grafters are a group of rogue artists who roam San Francisco, covertly grafting fruit-tree branches onto ornamental trees to create a municipal free lunch. John Robb calls it "resilient disobedience."
How can you improve the productivity of your community even if the officials are against it?
One way is through resilient disobedience. For example, there’s a group of gardeners in San Francisco that are spreading organic graffiti across the city. How? By grafting branches from fruit trees onto ornamental trees that have been planted along sidewalks and in parks.
They are using a very simple tongue in groove splice that’s held together with annotated electrical tape. Good luck to them.
Personal Biochar Kilns, Portable Factories, DiY Septic Tank Cleaning, and Guerrilla Grafting
(via Warren Ellis) Read the rest
Avinoam Danin is Professor Emeritus of Botany in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He curates Flora of Israel Online. His latest book is Botany of the Shroud: The Story of Floral Images on the Shroud of Turin.
Avi Solomon: What first sparked your lifelong fascination with botany?
Avinoam Danin: My parents told me that when I was 3 years old I always said "Look father, I found a flower". My grandparents gave me the book "Analytical Flora of Palestine" on my 13 birthday - I checked off every plant I determined in the book's index of plant names.
Avi: How did you get to know the flora of Israel so intimately? Read the rest
This is a photo of bird being eaten by a plant.
According to a story from the BBC, it's not unusual for a carnivorous pitcher plant, such as this one, to get its "hands" on a frog, a mouse, or even a rat. But poultry is a rare dish.
The plants kill by tricking prey into investigating the pitcher, usually by offering sweet nectar. Once part of the way into the pitcher, the prey finds it impossible to climb back out. Then it drowns. And then the plant slowly dissolves it—Saarlac-like—over a long period of time. Read the rest