04 July 2016

Book Review: An Orchard Invisible by Jonathan Silvertown

Spanning 17 chapters, this book takes us on a journey from seed evolution to dispersal, from inheritance to gastronomy, all the while keeping the topic light and enjoyable.

This book is not only filled with surprising and interesting facts, such as: the earliest seed plants in the fossil record being from the Devonian period, which was around 360 mya, but the author has a knack for explaining difficult concepts in a way that does away with prerequisite reading.

Each chapter begins with a line drawing of a plant that will feature in the upcoming chapter, along with a poem or quote that shows the appreciation of seeds goes much deeper than being just a source of food. The chapters are reasonably short and feature well chosen quotes from the scientists throughout history.

I've been meaning to read a book about seeds for quite some time and I'm glad I stumbled upon this one a few weeks ago (Edit: It was weeks when I wrote this post - which I see was November 2015!). It's the sort of book that provides enough information to satisfy, but also plants a seed (pun intended) that makes you wonder how much more there is to learn about these wonderful containers of life.

21 June 2016

Tree Flowers: June 2016: Norway Maple

The Norway maple, introduced in the late seventeenth century, have become a popular street tree due to the leaf shape and autumn colour. But before the leaves appear, the flowers steal the show.

In the Norway Maple they appear from March to April and can be numerous enough to make the tree look like it actually has leaves. I find the flowers attractive and the whole flower is yellow, including the flower stalks.

The flowers are in a cluster known as a corymb. This is where the flower stalks grow longer and try to ensure a flat-topped structure - with all the flowers forming a flat or slightly convex heard.

This is very similar, on the face of it, to another type of inflorescence called an umbel (think cow parsley). The main difference between the corymb and an umbel, seems to be that the flower stalks leave the stem at different points to form a corymb, whereas on an umbel all the flower stalks come from a common point on the stem.

These trees are tolerant of poor soils and can reach around 4 metres in 3 years. As the tree matures, the growth rate slows down. All of which, makes it a good tree for urban places, in my humble opinion.

The timber of the Norway maple is similar to that of sycamore and both are popular for making furniture. They are easy to work, making them ideal for mouldings as well as turning. However, they don't taint food, which makes them ideal for chopping boards and kitchen utensils. 

I was amazed to see just how many cultivars of the Norway maple there are. But when you look at the different leaves, from variegated to brown, from deeply lobed to almost fern-like - as well as the different tree shapes, I can see that each of the around 90 cultivars are diverse enough to be enjoyed for different reasons and used in nearly all situations.

I imagine that wherever you are in Europe or North America, there's a Norway maple near you - have you spotted it yet!?

Coombes, Allen J., and Zsolt Debreczy. The Book of Leaves: A Leaf-by-Leaf Guide to Six Hundred of the World’s Great Trees. S.l.: Ivy Press, 2015.
Hemery, Gabriel, and Sarah Simblet. The New Sylva: A Discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees for the Twenty-First Century. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. 
Inflorescences. 2016. Inflorescences. [ONLINE] Available at: http://theseedsite.co.uk/inflorescences.html. [Accessed 21 June 2016].
More, David, and John White. Illustrated Trees of Britain and Northern Europe. London, UK: A&C Black, 2012.

13 June 2016

Photography: Topaz Glow

I've really been enjoying messing about with photography this year. In March, I wrote about my first attempts at focus stacking, which I use a lot for the tree flower posts.

I recently came across another piece of software call Topaz Glow. Basically, it's a piece of software that can add effects to photographs you've taken. I imagine, it's not for everyone - and certainly not for every photograph (I've tried quite a few). But, I find it to be a fun tool to use when there's a single subject.

As you can see in the screenshot below, the poppy can be slightly altered - or it can be highly stylised and sometimes unrecognisable.

Here are a couple of photographs that I tried and got results I was happy with:

Plane tree inflorescence. This is the original, followed by a collage of 4 different effects. My personal favourite is the bottom right.

Green shield bug. The original followed by the effect I really liked.

This application is simple to use, while you can change plenty of setting for each effect, such as brightness, sharpness, contrast, strength, etc, I've found little need to. When the effect works for an image, I like it to be bold and vibrant - this isn't a tool I'd use for making subtle changes!

It's not a tool I'd use too frequently, but I can see myself doing sets of photos with these effects just because it's interesting.

Have you used software like this or can recommend any similar tools? It would be great to hear from you in the comments.