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Posts Tagged "Plants"

Anecdotes from the Archive

The southwest bike tire massacre

puncture plant through bike tire

I recently visited Tucson, Arizona and was happy to see a fair amount of people riding bicycles rather than driving through the city’s downtown area. There are wide bike lanes and plenty of racks for parking, and even a monthly street fair where bikers can pick up new and used parts or equipment. All this [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

Editor’s Selections: Plants, Ancient Homes, Amazonia, Stick Figures, Death, And The Plague

Featured in my ResearchBlogging.org column this week: First, a fantastic discussion that encompasses our relationship to the environment and the importance of local knowledge: visit Safari Ecology to learn about the importance of the plant Commelina to the Maasai. The hop over to Originus to learn how archaeologists identify dwelling sites in the absence of physical remains. While we’re [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Amborella, the Ancient Shrub with the Hoard of Foreign Genes

amborella_200_wiki

Amborella is a humble shrub with a noble pedigree: it is the first plant to have split from the rest of the flowering plants after their evolution that has survived to the present day. Its rather rudimentary-looking flowers and evergreen leaves may be testimony to that fact. This wasn’t known until relatively recently, though, partly because the plant dwells on only one island in the world — Grand Terre in the remote French archipelago of New Caledonia in the South Pacific — and partly because it was only when we got a look at its DNA that we could see this.

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The Artful Amoeba

Fern Frozen in Time by Volcanic Flow Reveals Stunning Detail

Osmunda_fossilized_fern_comparison_Bomfleur_et_al_2014_200

It defies belief, but a 180 million year old fern fossil unearthed in Sweden is so exquisitely preserved that it is possible to see its cells dividing. So pristine is the fossil, reported scientists from the Swedish Museum of Natural History in the journal Science in March, that it is possible for them to estimate [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

An Eye-Popping New Look at Flowers’ Highly Public Private Parts

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People who lack the gardening bug often regard flowers like fashion models: pretty but boring. Jens Petersen, the man who gave us the groundbreaking photographs of fungi in “The Kingdom of Fungi”, which I reviewed here in March, has a new book of photographs (still available only in Danish, unfortunately, and called Blomsterliv — “Flower [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Grasses’ Secret: They Have Flowers, and Some Are Gorgeous

grass_anthers_pink_closeup_jtf_200

Growing up, I felt certain that grass and most trees did not have flowers. They just had leaves and seeds — that was all I could see, anyway. It wasn’t until college that my eyes were opened. Not only do all trees except conifers and tree ferns have flowers, so do all grasses. All of [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

In Darkened Forests, Ferns Stole Gene From an Unlikely Source — and Then From Each Other

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Scientists knew neochrome was odd before they started rooting around in its family tree. A union of independent proteins — red-sensing phytochrome and blue-sensing phototropin — the super-protein combines two already-great pieces into one fantastic whole that helps plants grow toward dim, filtered light. It’s a slick little adaptation for living on the murky forest [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Flying for Free the Horsetail Spore Way

Equisetum_spores_elaters_wiki_pd_200

In spite of their sedentary reputations (putting down roots being, perhaps, the ultimate symbol of stability), plants are capable of a surprising range of movements, and not just the Venus flytraps of the world. Observe: At :36, the spores appear to scuttle about like dozens of itsy bitsy spiders, and at 1:17 they launch themselves [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Suspicious Virus Makes Rare Cross-Kingdom Leap From Plants to Honeybees

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When HIV jumped from chimpanzees to humans sometime in the early 1900s, it crossed a gulf spanning several million years of evolution. But tobacco ringspot virus, scientists announced last week, has made a jump that defies credulity. It has crossed a yawning chasm ~1.6 billion years wide. And this is likely bad news for its [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

My Favorite Biology Finds in London’s Natural History Museum

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  This past year, I made a pilgrimage that every natural history lover should, if possible, make. I visited the Natural History Museum in London, the house that Richard Owen built, the home of the first dinosaur bones ever discovered, the first Archaeopteryx fossil, and a first-edition copy of  “On the Origin of Species”. If [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Love Wine and Tea? Scientists Discover Plant Part Whence Their Pucker Springs

tea_cup_variety_wiki_pd_200

When you take a sip of red wine or black tea, you’re swallowing a stiff swig of tannins. These astringent plant chemicals give the beverages their characteristic pucker. Now, the part of plant cells that makes and transports tannins — long overlooked by botanists — has at last been discovered, hiding right under our noses. [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

You Know You Want To Help (6-Legged) Monarchs. Here’s How.

monarch_caterpillar_milkweed_Marshal_Hedin_flickr_permission_200

Last year, a hard year by monarch butterfly migration standards, 60 million monarchs showed up at their misty wintering grounds in Mexico. This year, so far, a mere 3 million have straggled in — and late, too, according to a disturbing must-read piece (“The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear”) published last Friday in the New [...]

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Expeditions

The Lawson Trek: Paddling the Intracoastal Waterway

Lunch on an oyster shoal after a surprisingly easy first morning of paddling. (It got harder.)

We stopped for lunch during the first day of the Lawson Trek on an oyster shoal, an uncharacteristically hot October sun stinging my shoulders, but surprisingly unbothered by four hours of kayak paddling. We had crossed Charleston Harbor against the current — the tide was coming in, whereas we were heading offshore. From the Charleston [...]

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Expeditions

Call of the Orangutan: A Camera Trap Menagerie

elephants 1

In order to get more information about the forest here at the Sikundur research station in North Sumatra, I’ve set up four camera traps, which I’m using to get a better look at the wildlife around the site. The traps have been so successful in such a short time period that together with another graduate [...]

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Expeditions

The Lawson Trek: Finding Something New

Either this is the only existing portrait of John Lawson or there isn’t one. It’s the right time period, the right attitude, the right name, and the right artist, but questions remain (for example, Lawson was never knighted, but the portrait’s history identifies him as “sir”).  Source: From the private collection of Elizabeth Sparrow. Used by kind permission.

Editor’s note: For The Lawson Trek, journalist Scott Huler is retracing the journey of discovery undertaken by canoe and on foot in 1700-1701 by John Lawson, the first observer to carefully describe and catalogue the flora, fauna, geography and inhabitants of the Carolinas. For all the posts in the series, click here. We cannot get [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Japan Could Lose 561 Plant Species by the Next Century

Polemonium kiushianum

A massive new study of Japan’s native plants reveals an extinction crisis in the making. The study examined 1,618 threatened Japanese vascular plant species, most of which can be only be found in extremely limited ranges and many of which already face shrinking populations. According to a paper published June 12 in PLoS ONE, the [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Flower Power: Collaboration Keeps Rare Plant off the Endangered Species List

Georgia aster

Fifteen years ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) acknowledged that a rare plant called the Georgia aster (Symphyotrichum georgianum) deserved and needed protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Unfortunately, a lot of other species also needed protection—some of them much more urgently. As such, the Georgia aster was determined to be a [...]

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Extinction Countdown

From Saved to Stolen: Thief Absconds with Extinct-in-the-Wild Water Lily

Nymphaea thermarum

This is why we can’t have nice species: Last week one of the world’s rarest plants was stolen from public display in London at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. An unknown thief or thieves walked in, pulled or dug up the plant and disappeared with it. The tiny thermal water lily (Nymphaea thermarum) is the [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Lawsuit to Remove Plant from Endangered Species List Completely Backfires

Indian Knob

Oh what a difference a few years makes. Just four years ago, the rare California shrub known as the Indian Knob mountain balm (Eriodictyon altissimum) was poised to drop off the endangered species list after the threats to its existence had mostly been abated. This week, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decided [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Endangered Plants for Sale Online: Are They Legal?

Pritchardia remota

Did you know that it is often legal to buy and sell endangered species of plants through the mail? It’s true. Take, for example, the rare Hawaiian palm tree Pritchardia remota, one of several species collectively known as lou’lu. The tree, like many in its genus, is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species [...]

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Extinction Countdown

What Happens When Forest Elephants Are Wiped Out in an Ecosystem?

forest elephant family

As go the elephants, so go the trees. That’s the message of a new study published in the May 2013 issue of Forest Ecology and Management that found more than a dozen elephant-dependent tree species suffered catastrophic population declines in new plant growths after forest elephants were nearly extirpated from their ecosystems. The fruit-bearing trees [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Amazing Hawaiian Plant Loved by Tourists but Endangered by Climate Change

silversword

Every year up to two million people visit Haleakalā National Park in Hawaii, the only habitat for the endangered Haleakalā silversword (Argyroxyphium sandwicense macrocephalum), a spectacular and unusual plant that is now threatened by climate change. According to research published January 7 in Global Change Biology, these silverswords have suffered a dramatic population decline in [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Dung from Critically Endangered Kakapo Parrots Could Save Endangered Plant

kakapo

A fossilized sample of thousand-year-old parrot dung has revealed a previously unknown ecological relationship that could help save a threatened parasitic plant from extinction. Yup, conservation science is sometimes weird. The plant in question is called Dactylanthus taylorii (aka wood rose or Hades flower). A parasitic plant that only grows on the roots of about [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Kenyans Reportedly Chewing “Potency” Herb into Extinction

Add another species to the long list of plants and animals being eaten out of existence so men can try to get it up in the bedroom. This time, instead of medically useless tiger penises or sea turtle eggs, it’s an African plant called White’s ginger (Mondia whitei ), often wrongly referred to as “white [...]

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Extinction Countdown

New record size for a genome goes to rare plant

paris japonica plant largest genome

A rare plant called Paris japonica has a genome 50 times longer than that of humans, making it the longest genome ever recorded. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, announced the discovery last week, and details appear in the September 2010 issue of the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. The Paris japonica genome weighs in [...]

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Food Matters

Introducing: The Food Matters Crew

Credit: Kathleen Raven

Do you ever wonder about the science behind your food? We do, too. Our group of writers serves up juicy topics like genetic engineering, gut bacteria and the chemical reactions that occur during cooking. Together, we’ll peer inside factory farms, dark jungles, cafeterias, laboratories and those trendy molecular gastronomy spots. Grab a bite, and sit [...]

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Observations

Did Climate Shocks Shape Human Evolution? [Video]

In a video, noted scientists debate the connections between ancient climate changes and the emergence of modern human traits.

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Observations

The Race to Catalogue Living Species before They Go Extinct

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The U.S. has spent several billion dollars looking for life on other planets. Shouldn’t we spend at least that much finding and identifying life on Earth? That is the argument behind a taxonomy analysis by a trio of scientists in Science, published on January 25. They argue just $500 million to $1 billion a year [...]

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Observations

Allergies from Pollen Projected to Intensify with Climate Change

allergies pollen increase climate change

Spring and summer allergy sufferers might already have noticed a slight increase in days spent sneezing each year. And new research suggests that allergies triggered by pollen are set to increase—in both duration and severity—with climate change. The seasonal scourge ragweed has already been expanding its range in North America, thanks in large part to [...]

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Observations

Will Humanity Face a Carbohydrate Shortage?

farmland-from-space

Photosynthesis is the single most important transformation on Earth. Using the energy in sunlight, all plants—from single-celled algae to towering redwoods—knit carbon dioxide and water into food and release oxygen as a byproduct. Every year, humanity uses up roughly 40 percent of the planet’s photosynthesis for our own purposes—from feeding a growing population to biofuels. [...]

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Observations

Moss Sperm Smells Sweet Enough for Sex

moss uses bugs to spread sperm

Moss, that cushy, moisture-loving ground cover, is more promiscuous than we thought. These plants might not have the sexy flowers of a peony, but according to new research, they do manage to attract small pollinators with a subtle sweet smell. Previously, scientists had presumed that these primitive plants needed a layer of water for their [...]

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Observations

A Rose Is a Rose, Until It Isn’t: 5 Reasons Plant DNA Is Totally Crazy

seedling

You may not give your houseplants enough credit. What looks like an innocent philodendron gathering dust may actually be a riddle wrapped in a mystery shrouded in potting soil…at least genetically. Turns out plants have some interesting genetic quirks that keep geneticists guessing. As challenges in finding gene-sequencing shortcuts, called barcodes, have made clear, deciphering plant [...]

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Observations

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers Were Genetic Mutants

sunflower

The word “sunflower” brings to mind a mane of vibrant yellow petals encircling a dark whorl of seeds. But not all sunflowers are alike. Some sunflowers have scraggly petals, for instance, or small centers. Many of the sunflowers Vincent Van Gogh depicted in his famous series of oil paintings look rather unusual, sporting wooly, chrysanthemum-like [...]

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Observations

Green Chemistry’s Real Roots [Video]

Plants mastered chemistry a long time before humans, billions of years actually. In fact, we humans and most of the rest of the life on Earth can thank tiny cyanobacteria for mastering/evolving the molecule known as chlorophyll. Chlorophyll—a pigment that absorbs blue light—is the key to photosynthesis, and photosynthesis is the key to turning sunlight [...]

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Observations

Fossilized food stuck in Neandertal teeth indicates plant-rich diet

plant food found in neanderthal teeth

Ancient humans’ lax dental hygiene has been a boon for researchers looking for clues about early diets. Traces of fossilized foodstuffs wedged between Neandertal teeth have revealed plentiful traces of grains and other plants, supporting the theory that these heavy-browed humans were not just meat-eaters. "Many researchers have proposed biologically or technologically mediated dietary differences" [...]

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Observations

Plants cannot “think and remember,” but there’s nothing stupid about them: They’re shockingly sophisticated

New research shows that plants "can think and remember," according to a news story published this week. Plants can transmit information "from leaf to leaf in a very similar way to our own nervous systems," BBC News wrote. The article continues to assert that plants remember information and use "information encrypted in the light to [...]

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