Ceci n'est pas une tomato. A Tomato is Botanically a Fruit, but is it also Linguistically a Vegetable? This is a video about how we (as humans) define and use tomatoes, except it's really a video about how we define, use and interact with Art. [more inside]
The Best Strawberry You've Never Had - "The strawberry is native throughout the northern hemispheres. It is, weirdly enough—along with the apple and stone fruits like the peach—a member of the rose family... It is an incredible-tasting fruit. A fraise de bois tastes like you've never really eaten a strawberry before. Everything is magnified: It's both much more acidic and much sweeter than any supermarket strawberry. It's rich and powerful, reminding you why the Greeks saw the strawberry as a symbol of Venus." (via)
Rafinesque (previously) was not known for his social graces; as John Jeremiah Sullivan writes, Audubon is the "only person on record" as actually liking him. During their visit, though, Audubon fed Rafinesque descriptions of American creatures, including 11 species of fish that never really existed. Rafinesque duly jotted them down in his notebook and later proffered those descriptions as evidence of new species. For 50 or so years, those 11 fish remained in the scientific record as real species, despite their very unusual features, including bulletproof (!) scales. Turns out we missed another 17 species that Audubon threw in there for fun.
Rafinesque’s “absurd” botanical legacy, Gray wrote, amounted to little more than a “curious mass of nonsense.” Gray’s note wouldn’t be the last unkind obituary in the annals of taxonomy, nor would it be the worst. That’s because the rules dictating how taxonomists name and classify living things bind these scientists in a web of influence stretching far back into the 18th century. When an agent of chaos like Rafinesque enters the scene, that web can get sticky fast. In a field haunted by ghosts, someone has to reckon with the dead.
The mysterious and useful Vegetable Lamb of Tartary: a plant whose ripe seed-pods yield tiny live lambs. Or was it a plant growing in the shape of a full-size lamb, but with an umbilical tether to the ground? (Oh, and do you know about the barnacle goose?) A tale from the medieval science grapevine. [more inside]
The Plant Food Tree of Life leads you through the major plant foods and their evolutionary relationships. It is a complement to the list view of the same information, in which each link takes you to a related article at the excellent blog, The Botanist in the Kitchen.
We've talked about wood identification before (previously), but there's so much more than The Wood Database, starting with Identification Of Common North American Woods. [more inside]
A photo of deformed daisies taken near Fukushima has recently gone viral. As serious as the Fukushima disaster is (previously), these particular deformities were probably not caused by radiation, and similar mutations have been found in a variety of plant species all over the world. The condition is known as fasciation or cristation, it has a number of potential causes, and it can look pretty cool. In some plants it's even a desired trait: the cockscomb celosia, aka "brain flower", is deliberately cultivated for its fasciated blooms.
In 1963, a new volcanic island called Surtsey (previously) was born south of Iceland. In the summer of 1969, botanist Ágúst Bjarnason, who had been monitoring the progress of plant growth on the new island, made a discovery that he has kept secret until now.
"Once when I was in Reykjavík I received the message from Surtsey that a mysterious plant had been discovered in the lava. Those who discovered the plant, three or four foreign nature scientists and one Icelandic botanist, weren’t able to identify it..."
In 1928, a farmer digging in his garden found a flower blooming underground. Three years ago, scientists discovered that it's so well adapted to living underground that it has lost almost all of its chloroplast genes. While this species is unusual for an orchid in the extent of its parasitism, it turns out that all orchids are actually parasites--stealing nitrogen from tiny fungi in the soil without trading any carbon back as plants usually do. See photos of the underground orchid here.
Secrets of the orchid mantis revealed – it doesn’t mimic an orchid after all
In his 1879 account of wanderings in the Orient, the travel writer James Hingston describes how, in West Java, he was treated to a bizarre experience:[more inside]I am taken by my kind host around his garden, and shown, among other things, a flower, a red orchid, that catches and feeds upon live flies. It seized upon a butterfly while I was present, and enclosed it in its pretty but deadly leaves, as a spider would have enveloped it in network.What Hingston had seen was not a carnivorous orchid, as he thought. But the reality is no less weird or fascinating. He had seen – and been fooled by – an orchid mantis, Hymenopus coronatus, not a plant but an insect.
Are you interested in plants? The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew aren’t just a tourist attraction -- they also run one of the world's leading botanical research institutes. To show off how important and fascinating modern plant science can be, they've commissioned a series of snazzy short videos to showcase their work. Start with the award-winning Forgotten Home of Coffee (6:00) (based on this worrying Kew study from 2012), then come back for the rest. [more inside]
In January, one of the last remaining specimens of a nearly extinct water lily was stolen from Kew Gardens. Collectors and nursery owners continued to beg Magdalena for the plant. “All the time,” he said. “All the time.” He sensed that people were willing to break the rules. “When there is no way of getting it, people grow sick and obsessed.” When the water lily was taken from the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Magdalena wasn’t shocked in the slightest. “What surprised me is that it took so long,” he said.
Whether your object's shaped like a ship, a pine cone, a violin, or a bunch of grapes, this handy cheat sheet from Barbara Ann Kipfer's Flip Dictionary will tell you the suitable Latinate adjective. [more inside]
Where most other naturalists took samples, she used her paints to make a "unique snapshot of the world’s natural habitat more than 100 years ago." Although she didn't take up oil painting until she was nearly 40, North became a prolific painter of flora (and sometimes fauna) from around the world, often capturing not just the plant but the landscape around it. [more inside]
"My subject is a barren one – the world of nature, or in other words life; and that subject in its least elevated department, and employing either rustic terms or foreign, nay barbarian words that actually have to be introduced with an apology. Moreover, the path is not a beaten highway of authorship, nor one in which the mind is eager to range: there is not one of us who has made the same venture, nor yet one Roman who has tackled single-handed all departments of the subject."Naturalis Historia was written by Pliny the Elder between 77 and 79 CE and was meant to serve as a kind of proto-encyclopedia discussing all of the ancient knowledge available to him, covered in enough depth and breadth to make it by a reasonable margin the largest work to survive to the modern day from the Roman era. The work includes discussions on astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology and botany organized along Aristotelian divisions of nature but also includes essays on human inventions and institutions. It is dedicated to the Emperor Titus in its epistle to the Emperor Vespasian, a close friend of Pliny who relied on his extensive knowledge, and its unusually careful citations of sources as well as its index makes it a precursor to modern scholarly works. It was Pliny's last work, as well as sadly his sole surviving one, and was published not long before his death attempting to save a friend from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, famously recounted by Pliny's eponymous nephew Pliny the Younger.
Here is a reasonable translation that is freely available to download from archive.org for your edification.[more inside]
Of Sisters And Clones: An Interview with Jessica Rath
Every apple for sale at your local supermarket is a clone. Every single Golden Delicious, for example, contains the exact same genetic material; though the original Golden Delicious tree (discovered in 1905, on a hillside in Clay County, West Virginia) is now gone, its DNA has become all but immortal, grafted onto an orchard of clones growing on five continents and producing more than two hundred billion pounds of fruit each year in the United States alone.via Edible Geography [more inside]
Search for wildflowers by location, color, flower shape, flower size and time of blooming. 3,126 plants indexed. This web site helps those of us with limited knowledge of botany to identify flowering plants that are found outside of gardens. This help is provided by presenting you with small images of plants. You can use a number of search techniques to get to the images that are most likely the plant you are looking for. When you click on a plant image the program shows you links to plant descriptions and more plant images. The site has about 5 ways of searching for a plant. You can use these searches in any combination. Some searches eliminate some plants from consideration. Most searches give a "score" to each plant depending on how well the plant matches the search criteria. The plants with the highest score are displayed at the top of the results. Click here for Instructions. [more inside]
Mosses Make Two Different Plants From the Same Genome, and a Single Gene Can Make the Difference
One of the most astonishing secrets in biology is this: every plant you see makes two different plants from the same genome. And, scientists recently reported, a single gene from an ancient, powerful lineage can make the difference.
How would you like to go on a mindbending 3D journey into the devouring maws of four different carnivorous plants? [more inside]
The vanishing groves: A chronicle of climates past and a portent of climates to come – the telling rings of the bristlecone pine.
32,000 years ago, a squirrel buried some fruits from a flower related to the narrow-leafed campion in a riverbank in Russia. Either the squirrel forgot, or got eaten itself, and the buried cache of fruits stayed, preserved by the permafrost. This year, Russian scientists discovered the cache, recovered the fruit, and thawed it out to see if they could recover the seeds. Some of the seeds did indeed germinate - and this winter, millennia after first growing on their parent plant, those seeds bloomed.
Romeyn Hough's American Woods is one of the most astonishing books of the late 19th century, a 14-volume set containing a thorough survey of the trees of the U.S., complete with thinly sliced samples of the wood of each tree. Complete sets of this mammoth undertaking are today rare and highly prized.
Photographs of an almost perfectly preserved 298 million year-old fossilized forest discovered under a coal mine in China [pdf] (In Wuda, Inner Mongolia). [more inside]
Leafsnap is a free field guide for iPhone (Android coming soon) that uses the phone's camera and some biometric processing to identify trees by the shape of their leaves. Development was financed by the National Science Foundation (NYT article), and includes research by Columbia University, University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution.
The World's Most Beautiful Bark (Or: Trees Worth A Closer Look) l Photographer Cedric Pollet travels the world, barking up trees for a living l A little about the photographer l More of the beautiful images from his book and more.
Various Japanese plants (and fungi) spring to life in Omni/ScienceNet's "Action Plant" series of time-lapse videos shot in Kōchi prefecture.
Seasonal Poetry in Sanskrit : The blog Sanskrit Literature has been running an excellent series on plants that appear in sanskrit poetry. Some examples : Jasmine (malati), Lotuses and Water Lilies, Mango.
During the past 4 days, the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science has stayed open 24 hours to accommodate the record crowds filing into the museum at all hours. Why? A rare Amorphophallus titanium, aka “Corpse Flower,” named Lois is finally about to bloom. Now, Lois is not your average, run-of-the-mill stinky plant. Only 28 Corpse Flowers have bloomed in the US, so Lois has become a local celebrity with her own blog, Flickr feed, live webcam and cupcakes. She even has her own playlist, with songs such as “That Smell” by Lynyrd Skynrd, “I’m Comin’ Out” by Diana Ross and the classic “Smelly Cat” by Phoebe from Friends. And like any trendy Corpse Flower, Lois also has her own Twitter account. She's also a bit of a diva. Yet despite predictions, Lois still hasn't bloomed as of Wednesday morning. In response, Lois makes excuses, bad jokes, complaints and snarky comments.
A little background about that oddly shaped yellow fruit and the potential for bananageddon.
Welwitschia mirabilis lies around the Namibian coastal desert like misshapen heaps of horticultural debris, either singly or in untidy clumps. Each plant has two huge leaves lolling out from its gaping trunk that collect moisture from the sea fogs. These plants would win no awards for beauty - the Regius Keeper of Kew Gardens described them as "one of the ugliest" plants brought to England, and it's hard to disagree with the Daily Mail's description of it as "hideous ... leprous ... snaking and sinister". None the less, it is a tourist attraction in its own right and supports the Namibian coat of arms where it symbolises fortitude and tenacity. If you're still hanging out for some Welwitschian goodness, here's a video and lots more photos on Wikimedia Commons. You can even try growing one yourself!
Botanical Drawings for the Digital Age "Macoto Murayama can spend months on one of his botanical illustrations, and when he’s done, the plant looks like something that blossomed in outer space."
As a boy he grew plants up his bedroom wall. Patrick Blanc's most recent vertical garden is eight stories tall.
Have you ever wondered what New York was like before it was a city? Find out at The Mannahatta Project, by navigating through the map to discover Manhattan Island and its native wildlife in 1609. [more inside]
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, casually referred to as Sōkendai (a contraction of Sōgō kenkyū daigakuin daigaku), was founded in 1988 as the 96th national university in Japan. Amongst other things, it is home to the Soken Taxa Web Server which in turn hosts the first online Japanese Ant Color Image Database that currently lists 273 species of ant, the Illustrated Guide of Marine Mammals and the Marine Mammals Stranding DataBase, the Mammalian Crania Photographic Archive that currently includes 704 specimens, the Morning Glories Database that covers the many mutants of Ipomoea nil, closely related species and interspecific hybrids, the Makino Herbarium Database, which is named after the pioneering Japanese botanist, Tomitaro Makino, and the Japanese Bees Image Database.
"All of the nomenclatural, bibliographic, and specimen data accumulated in MBG’s electronic databases during the past 25 years are publicly available here. This system has over one million scientific names and 3.5 million specimen records." (Description from website.) Searchable by scientific or common name, the database includes brief descriptions, images and references (with some links to full text in Botanicus), and specimen and distribution lists that are available in Google Maps and Earth. Quite a nice resource for anyone interested in botany. [more inside]
Whether you're a casual cultivator or gardening guru, PlantCare.com has a wealth of information about the care and feeding of indoor and outdoor plants. You can search the extensive plant database to find information on thousands of house plants, participate in and discuss your favorite gardening topics in the plant forum, and expand your plant knowledge with hundreds of gardening tips and guides.
Where did all the acorns go? With reports of acornless oaks coming in from all over the U.S., what is a squirrel to do? [more inside]
Don Berto’s Garden. "The plants of the ancient Maya whisper their secrets to those who speak a shared language."
The glass flowers of Leopold Blaschka were created to provide enduring botanical teaching models. During his lifetime 4,000 models were created; a selection of 17 specimens are currently on display at the Corning Museum of Glass. MeFi has previously been treated to the splendor of the Blaschka marine invertebrates.
The UC Davis corpse flower bloomed yesterday: "Amorphophallus titanum, also known as Titan Arum or the Corpse Flower because of its smell, takes up to 15 years to bloom and rarely does so in cultivation...The stink is astounding." (Another stinky flower previously discussed here.)
The Mathematical Lives of Plants "Scientists have puzzled over this pattern of plant growth for hundreds of years. Why would plants prefer the golden angle to any other? And how can plants possibly "know" anything about Fibonacci numbers?"
In the 1920s Joseph Rock, an Austrian-born botanist went to live in Lijiang, in Yunnan province. During expeditions over the next three decades he photographed shamans, trulku, petty kings, nomads, astounding scenery and flora and fauna across much of southwest China. He also studied the language and culture of the Nakhi people previouslywhose homeleand centred around Lijiang. A contemporary blogger is now posting some then-and-now images of the places and people Rock recorded.
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