30 June 2012

Wisteria sp.

Date Photographed: 02/06/2012
Location: Lacock, Wiltshire
Resources: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=173

29 June 2012

White clover - Trifolium repens

Date Photographed: 02/06/2012
Location: Lacock, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/white-clover

Book Review: Don't Sleep, there are Snakes

I wasn't looking for this book. Lucy and myself popped to the library for her to take some books back. I'd been watching some episodes of Bruce Parry's Tribe series and was really interested in finding out a bit more about tribes in Brazil. So I went to the search computer and typed in the inspired term 'Brazil'. Two books came up for the library location that I was at.

Based on the name of the book and the fact that it was the one actually about tribes in Brazil, I chose this one! I don't regret it. It is a fantastic book.

Daniel Everett has spent around 3 decades with a tribe called the Pirahãs (pronounced pee-da-HAN), based in the Brazilian Amazon along the Maici river, North of the Trans-Amazon Highway. This is a book about their lives, culture, and language and as such I felt that it was very powerful. This is a tribe that numbers around 400, so we can say that the language is in danger of becoming extinct, so the fact that Everett has spent around 3 decades with them, specifically studying their language, is fantastic. But he didn't just document their language and let it be. He's used what he's learnt to change the way scholars in the field think about language, because while they have only 3 vowels and 8 consonants for men (7 for women), they use language in a wonderfully efficient way. I won't give away any secrets, because I don't want to take away the excitement of discovering the language usage of this tribe.

The book is seperated into two sections; life and language. Life looks at their day to day life and how Daniel learnt many lessons for living with and as part of the Pirahã tribe. Language looks at the way they use language. But it's not that much in depth that it cannot be understood by lay people. I consider myself a lay person of language study and feel that Everett builds up his argument very well so that all readers can keep up.

It's wonderful reading about this tribe and how they use and love their environment. They have no desire to import any external culture or technology into their culture or way of life and this is brilliant to read. While you may get the initial idea that this tribe is basic and composed of unintelligent members, I can say that I came away with the feeling that I wanted to be part of this tribe, or at least visit them. If you liked the tribe in the film Avatar, than you may understand what I mean when I say that they're similar. They are so adept at their way of life, they appreciate their way of life, they are happy with their way of life. All of this means that they don't wish to change or 'evolve' their way of life to 'keep up with the Jones's or the Kardashians!

I would recommend reading this book because it provides so much on so many levels. Everett writes well, so much so that even though I have been struggling with concentration; I have been able to get through this book within a reasonable time period - I imagine that others, if so including, could easily get through this book in one reading.

Own or Loan:         Loan
Read Again:           Yes
Recommend:         Yes
Overall out of Five:4

28 June 2012

Vapourer moth - Orgyia antiqua

Caterpillar stage
Date Photographed: 27/05/2012 and 29/05/2012
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://www.uksafari.com/vapourer.htm

27 June 2012

Mealy primrose - Primula pulverulenta

Date Photographed: 08/05/2012
Location: Normanby Hall, Scunthorpe
Resources: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=1524

26 June 2012

S173 Plants and People - Notes from Study Period 4 - Part 2 of 2

In part 2 of these notes for SP4, I'll be noting about wood as an energy source, grass as an energy source, biofuels and some of the issues surrounding the use of biofuels.

Wood as an energy source
Burning wood is considered as carbon neutral as it does not release more CO2 into the atmosphere than if it was to decompose naturally. Woodlands can be managed through techniques such as coppicing, whereby the stems of fast growing trees, such as willow and poplar species, are cut from the close to the base - the coppice stool. Many more stems then grow due to the lower levels of auxin which are grown towards the tip of stems and prevent side shoots from growing - meaning that the plant will concentrate all its growth on the main stem. The lower level of auxin allows these side shoots to grow. As coppice trees are normally grown in dense groups, these stems grow straight and long in the struggle for light.

Woodlands can temporarily hold rainwater to prevent excessive water entering streams and rivers too quickly. The burning of wood provides an outlet for wood residues that would otherwise enter landfill sites.

The process of producing heat and electricity from woodfuel is basically as follows:
1) Wood is dried
2) It is then heated in the absence of oxygen (pyrolysis) to produce gases.
3) Gases are then purified and burnt to produce electricity.

Grass as an energy source
Grass grows quickly. produce large amounts of biomass per unit of growing area and leave only small amounts of residue when burned. Grasses generally grow by underground rhyzomes, spreading quickly and generate new shoots readily. Harvesting of perennial grasses  for biofuels can happen anytime between late November to April in the northern hemisphere. As harvesting gets closer to April the grass loses leaves, reducing the harvestable biomass - but it has less water content and can be baled, reducing costs. Growing multiple grass species together allows maximal interception of light and growth at different rates. As perennials they are considered carbon neutral and can be sown on degraded agricultural land - so there is no competition against land for food crops.

The largest UK powerstation, Drax, currently burns 300,000 tonnes of Miscanthus x giganteus annually.

Biodiesel is produced from oil-seed crops, such as oilseed rape, sunflower oil, palm oil, and soybean oil and make up 5% of the overall blend of petroleum in the UK. Oilseed rape is the main oil crop, producing around 1,300 litres of biodiesel per hectare planted.
Biodiesel is produced by:
1) waste or newly produced plant oil is heated to 50C
2) processed by adding mixture of sodium or potassium and methanol
3) this becomes unwashed biodiesel and glycerol, which is seperated
4) the unwashed biodiesel is washed and allowed to dry. It is then ready for use.

Bioethanol is currently used in countries such as Brazil, France, USA, UK, argentina and South Africa. It has been particularly widespread in Brazil at the expense of large tracts of natural vegetation including rainforest. Estimations of one-third of car fuel in Brazil is entirely bioethanol with two-third a mixture of bioethanol and petrol. Bioethanol is produced by:
1) converting statch to sugar for plant material containing starch - or extracting sugar from plants containing high levels of sugar, such as sugar can and sugar beet.
2) the sugar is fermented whereby microbes use the sugar as a food source
3) this becomes bioethanol and after separation from  other components by heating is added to petrol.

Biogas is mainly a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced via the breakdown of organic materials in the absence of oxygen. This includes municipal, food and animal waste, sewage, and biomass crops. A great example of the usage of biogas is the biogas created at the sewage treatment works being used to generate electricity which powers the works. Production of biogas from food waste reduces the amount of waste that reaches landfill as any waste remaining after the gas is produced can be used as agricultural fertiliser.
Sweden is currently the world leader in the use of biogas, having the first biogas-powered train which runs the 100 km route from Linkoeping to Vaestervik.

Issues surrounding the use of biofuels

Cost of producing biodiesel and bioethanol is double that of conventional fossil fuels. It may become more competative as the price of crude oil rises.

It is possible that using land for fuel crops rather than food crops rises the price of food.

Crops for biofuels require less in the way of nutrients than food crops.

Due to the growing, harvesting, and processing costs (pre-treatment, processing for energy release, removal of residual waste) research in to crops that can deal with low maintenance, low nutrient, fast growth, and poor soil.

The use of biofuels only releases CO2 into the atmosphere that was recently taken out. Rather than adding to current CO2 with that of CO2 locked away in fossil fuels for millions of years. It is therefore seen as carbon neutral. Biofuels do release nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas 240 times more powerful than CO2, in larger quantities that fossil fuels. Biofuels also generate CO2 in the vehicles used to grow and transport the crop.

I hope this is helpful. If there's anything that you want to see in these note, please leave a comment :)

25 June 2012

S173 Plants and People - Notes from Study Period 4 - Part 1 of 2

Study period 4 looks at how plants are used to provide energy for use by us.

We see that the main ways we use energy are for heat, light, power, and transport and to provide this we currently use coal, oil, gas, petrol, diesel, peat, and uranium.

We consider that the properties of a good fuel are that it should provide high energy for its level of cost. Ease of transport, extraction and processing all factor in the cost of fuel.

Biofuels are produced from biological material that has been living recently, for example wood, in contrast to coal, which is a fossil fuel created from wood that died millions of years previously. Some biofuel can be produced from waste, such as recycled plant oils. Others can be produced from crops grown for the purpose of becoming a biofuel.

Energy from plants and climate change
We are given a really interesting table that shows the following:

Energy store                         Energy (megajoules per kilogram)
Plant oil                                37
Coal                                      24
Carbohydrates (inc sugars)  17
Wood (dry)                           16

We then look at the carbon cycle and learn that all living things have structural components based on carbon. Carbon moves between reserves found in living things, such as plants and animals; decomposing organic matter, such as soil; rocks, including fossil fuels; the atmosphere; and the oceans.
Levels of CO2 are monitored in Hawaii at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Levels are estimated to have risen from 280 parts per million (p.p.m) in 1800 to 387 p.p.m in 2009.

The link between energy and biofuels
Energy cannot be created it can only be converted from one form to another. The energy in the sugar created by plant via photosynthesis comes from visible light (mainly the blue and red portions of the visible spectrum) - sunlight. The plant forms other compounds within its tissues using this sugar and it is these compounds that can be used as biofuels.

Reactions involved in photosynthesis

Stage 1: the absorption of light. This occurs within specialised thylakoid membranes in the chloroplasts. These membranes can pack closely in flattened stack called grana.
Light reactions: energy from sunlight creates ATP and NADP.2H.

Stage 2: Takes place in the stroma, a fluid that surrounds the thykaloid membranes. The chloroplast is bounded by two membranes that are situated close togethe, called the chloroplast membrane.

Dark reactions: ATP and NADP.2H are used to convert carbon dioxide to sugar.

For more information on photosynthesis, click here.http://www.emc.maricopa.edu/faculty/farabee/biobk/biobookps.html#Light%20Reactions

24 June 2012

Common Blue - Polyommatus icarus

Date Photographed: 09/06/2012
Location: Upton Scudamore
Resources: http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=icarus

22 June 2012

Elder - Sambucus nigra

Date Photographed: 02/06/2012
Location: Lacock, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.british-trees.com/treeguide/elders/nbnsys0000004324

Wolf's Milk Slime Mould - Lycogala terrestre

Date Photographed: 02/05/2012
Location: Lacock
Resources: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/wolfs-milk

21 June 2012

Scorpion Fly - Mecoptera sp.

Date Photographed: 03/06/2012
Location: The Avenue, Claverton
Resources: http://www.uksafari.com/scorpionfly.htm
Notes: While there are only three species of Scorpion fly in the UK, they are difficult to distinguish without inspection of the genitalia. Even if my hand lens was powerful enough, I doubt I'd have taken up the challenge!

20 June 2012

Hedge Woundwort - Stachys sylvatica

Date Photographed: 02/06/2012
Location: Lacock, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/hedge-woundwort

Flesh-fly - Sarcophaga sp.

Date Photographed: 11/05/2012
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/flesh-fly.html#cr

19 June 2012

Acer Gall Mite - Aceria cephaloneus

Symptoms: The small red galls, shown in the photo to the left. They appear on the upper surface of the leaf.

Cause: Aceria cephaloneus mites suck the sap in the leaf, which induces the plant to react with the galls.

Control: There is no need to control this issue for the plant, as there is no harmful effect on the host. For small infestations the leaves can be removed, which will improve the look of the plant.

S173 Plants and People - Notes from Study Period 3 - Part 2 of 2

In part two of this study period, I'll be covering notes for cork, fibre and starch.

Anatomically it is one of the outer dead layers around a tree tunk. For commercial purposes it is taken from the cork oak (Quercus suber), which is native to western Meditteranean countries.
Recorded use is as early as the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. It has a wide range of uses such as: bottle stops, flooring material, expansion gaskets, etc.
It has a structure of honeycomb, containing air and suberin a natural wax-like substance that prevents the cork from rotting. This makes cork inert, light, and waterproof with the ability to expand and reform depending on the temperature conditions.

Cork is sustainable because the harvested tree is not cut down and is therefore able to produce new cork in future years.Each harvested tree provides enough cork to produce around 4000 bottle corks.

Fibre is the elongated cells around the phloem that are strengthened with sclereid in the stems of plants. Fibre can also be located in wood, leaves, seed coat (as in coconuts) and in hairs attached to seeds (as in cotton). Fibre can be soft, such as flax. Others can be much hard and coarse, as with hemp.

Plant fibres are flexible, have good resistance to damage by abrasion, can withstand both heat and sunlight. They also have littl elasticiy.
Oil-based synthetic fibres such as nylon and polypropylene are stronger than even the strongest plant fibre - hemp. They are not damaged by micro-organisms, but deteriorate in bright sunlight, melt at a lower temperature than plant fibre and are not biodegradable.

Along with ropes, fibre can be used to make fishing lines, sacking, textiles, and very flexible paper for use in tea bags and banknotes. The abaca fibres is now being mixed with special thermoplastic that can be moulded into car parts - using up to 60% less energy than the creation of traditional fibreglass.

Photosynthetic sugars that are not used quickly are stored primarily as starch. The starch provides a source of stored energy for seeds during germination - enough to sustain the plant until it can photosynthesise.

As a food source we use starch from the storage tissues of plants, including tubers and seeds. For example, rice, wheat, maize, cassava and potatoes, etc. Starch can also be converted into syrup.

Non-food uses of starch include bioplastics, which are biodegradable and compostable. This type of product has received increasing interest with the rise in prices of oil. They need special digesters to fully break down. This releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas. Another concern is that growing crops for bioplastics reduces the amount of land available for food crops.

Hope you're enjoying the course - see you in sp4!

18 June 2012

17 June 2012

Dendrochronology - or the history and uses of tree rings

The first document currently known to discuss tree rings was that by Theophrastus in Greece around 322BC. He wrote 9 volumes regarding the History of Plants and mentioned the growth rings in two types of fir trees -  Theophrastus is incidentally frequently quoted as 'The father of botany'.

The discipline of dendrochronology was not formed until around 1928 by Andrew Ellicott Douglass - incidentally frequently quoted as 'The father of dendrochronology'. He was actually an astronomer and found a correlation between tree-rings and the sunspot cycle. The word dendrochronology is a word compounded using three Greek words:
dendron = tree
chronos = time
logy    = the study of

Tree rings
Tree rings are produced by the annual growth of new rings of xylem tissue, which is the outer layer of sapwood. As the xylem matures it dies and becomes part of the heart wood of the tree.

The thickness of the xylem layer is dependent on how favourable the growing conditions were during the year of growth. Warm temperatures and good rainfall are conducive to a wide annual ring, whereas cold and dry conditions will result in a narrow ring. Given this, we can see that growth rings occur best in temperature regions. It is important to note that if there are favourable and unfavourable conditions, for example, a good spring followed by a summer drought and a good autumn - then multiple rings can be produced within a year.

Some trees can live up to a thousand years, for instance, Giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) , Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Alaska yellow-cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), among many others. These trees can provide a wide knowledge of regional climate by working from the outer rings to the inner rings - effectively working backwards in time - but any tree older than a few decades can provide useful data. The rings from multiple trees can be plotted to see overlaps in tree rings from older wood. This method can establish a continuous history for up to 7000 years. Cores can even be drilled from living trees, similar, in a way, to the drilling of ice cores.

This science of dating wood by analyzing the growth ring pattern, which is used in many fields including dendro-
  • archeology - dating of dwellings
  • climatology - record of past climates
  • hydrology - past water availability
  • glaciology - past movements of glaciers
  • pyrochronology - past forest fires
  • entomology - past populations of levels of insects

16 June 2012

S173 Plants and People - Notes from Study Period 3 - Part 1 of 2

And so, it is time for some notes on study period 3 with yet more excitingly bad drawings that will entice you to look at them the wrong way down binoculars in the attempt to make them look passable as botanical illustrations! I've had a look at the study calendar and have seen that it shows which chapters relate to which question on the end of module assignment. So while I'll not be posting anything about the EMA, I'll be quietly getting on with it in the background!

SP 3 is all about how we use wood, fibre and starch as crops. The ideal thing about these products is that because they're not fossil fuels, they are renewable as long as what is being harvested is replaced. The good thing about this is that these crops store most of their carbon while they are young, so it can lock the carbon away for a while.

Firstly we look at how plants grow and remain upright. Remaining upright is an adaptation of plants that have evolved to live out of water. Water plants don't particularly need to be strong and grow upright, as the water supports them (along with other adaptations like air bubbles). The structure of plant stem is given strength from tissue called sclereids. These have very thick cell walls that contain lignin, which provides waterproofing and strength, and have irregular shapes. The pits of peaches are an example of these tissues. This strength allows
  • the transport of water upwards from the roots via xylem
  • for the products of photosynthesis to be transported to the rest of the plant via phloem.
You may be forgiven for thinking that the first diagram is of a rainbow, but it's actually a simplified stem followed by a close up of the different layers.

Every year the water transporting tissue called xylem creates a new layer. This can be seen as a ring when looking at the cross-section of a trunk. The rings are seen best in regions that have a growing season and a dormant season (winter). The xylem dies as it matures and is impregnated with chemicals, such as lignin and suberin and over time this becomes the heartwood of the tree, providing support.

Uses of wood
Wood is often used as a building material, for example to create timber frames, flooring, roofs, sheds, benches for some, or all, of the following reasons:
  • Insulating - poor conductor of heat due to small air pockets.
  • Flexible - can be bent as the cells will elongate (sometimes this is helped by dipping the wood into boiling water and bending it).
  • Light but strong - open structure and ligin.
To ensure availability of cheap, light building materials, engineered wood products have been created such as MDF and chipboard. They are composed of small pieces of wood that have been glued together. These sheet materials make it easy to create furniture such as shelving units, for example.

Look out for the FSC logo on wood products are this shows:
  • responsible management to meet social, economic and ecological needs
  • standards and trademark assurance
  • accreditation to businesses and organisations that supply and manage timver in a sustainable manner.
I will write a separate post for dendrochronology and will link that and part 2 to this post when written.

Part 2

15 June 2012

Plant Identification - a walk through a recent ID adventure

Sometimes it's really easy to identify a plant; you may be with someone who knows the plant, or it may be really similar to plants that you already know. At other times, however, we need to go a bit deeper and follow many research paths.

Recently I needed to go through quite a bit of research before I was able to find out the plant that I'd found. The photos below show the plant that I'm using in this example.

My first port of call are the plant books that I have, to use these well I need to consider characteristics such as: flower colour, amount of petals and sepals (occasionally tepals), leaf shape, plant/leaf/flower size, type of inflorescence, etc.

The first two are for wild flowers of Britain, the smallest is the Collins book of Wild flowers. This book is a small field guide that is handily sectioned into flower colour. This can be ideal for a quick flick through to get an idea of the type of flower you're looking at - especially if you recognise the characteristics in other flowers you know. This didn't help much this time, so I went on to my next wild flower book. This book is the Collins Complete British Wildflowers. This book has a great short cut for finding flowers by the amount of petals - which is handy if the petals and sepals have obvious distinctions! However, this blook led me to the understanding that this plant must be a species of Allium.

So, I then thought that perhaps while this may not be a wild flower, it may well be a cultivar or similar. I therefore checked my garden plant book - the RHS Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers, but unfortunately - and surprisingly, this didn't lead to a solution. So the next step is the internet!

As I thought that this may be an Allium, I initially started searching for photos of Alliums. I also used search terms for the amount of petals, the colour of the flower, and the rather interesting three green stripes on the petals. Alas, still nothing.

So I uploaded my photos to Wild About Britain (iSpot is another good website for identification help). A website that has a forum of excellent members, some of whom are true experts. The first responses were from the memebers that I would expect to supply the answer immediately, but they weren't sure. I was quite surprised. This plant must be something special. However, some members did recognise the flower as perhaps something that they had grown previously.

This led me to emailing the RHS member's advisory service in the hope of gaining an answer.

Shortly after this another member, Sophie gave the answer that we were all waiting for. This plant, tentatively, was Italian Garlic - Allium pendulinum. It looked right when I saw photos on the web search. I even checked online to see if there were any references to this plant being at the location photographed - Lacock Abbey. And to my surprise - there was. A letter from Fox Tablot to William Strangways on the Talbot Correspondence Project website.

"I have discovered a new and valuable quality in our old Neapolitan friend the Allium pendulinum. This plant has escaped from my botanic garden into the shrubbery, where it is flowering in profusion over a considerable space, in the shade of trees and in just the same sort of places as the English Allium ursinum delights in"

This was enough for me. I wouldn't, this time, need to go back to Lacock Abbey to meet with the gardener to get a conclusive answer. Some time later, I did receive a response from the RHS:

"Our Botanist Dawn Edwards says the photographs you sent for identification appears to be Allium pendulinum."

Researching plants is far from mundane. In fact, the harder the search for identification, the better. Quick searches can lead to superficial observations of the plant characgteristics, which are quickly forgotten (by myself at least!). Whereas, when you find something difficult to identify, it makes you look closely, to find something in the plant that you hadn't seen previously, but that can assist you in your search.

To apply the ideas of systems thinking. These deep searches can lead from data, such as petal colour, to information, 5 petals of white colouration with 3 green stripes, to knowledge, how these pieces of information related - perhaps giving you an idea of the species or genus. This can lead upward to understanding, where experience has enabled you to see patterns in the way of identification - this is an Allium because...
Then eventually wisdom where we can understand the principles of plants and their place within taxonomy.

In other words, these deep searches not only add to our personal knowledge base, but also enrich the activity that we so enjoy.

What is important is that we know our limitations through experience and use the resources abailable to us to lead us to the right place for advice when something is outside of our experience.

14 June 2012

Perennial Cornflower - Centaurea montana

Date Photographed: 12/05/2012
Location: Copheap Rise, Warminster
Resources: http://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/centaurea-montana/1238.html

Oxeye Daisy - Leucanthemum vulgare

Date Photographed: 19/05/2012
Location: West Cepen Way, Chippenham
Resources: http://www.ukwildflowers.com/Web_pages/leucanthemum_vulgare_oxeye_daisy.htm

13 June 2012

Spanish Slug - Lehmannia valentiana

Date Photographed: 12/05/2012
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/greenhouse-slug
Notes: Many thanks go to Sophie at http://naturanaute.com/ who spoke to an expert to get an identification on this juvenile.

Mottled Pug Moth - Eupithecia exiguata

Date Photographed: 25/05/2012
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://ukmoths.org.uk/show.php?bf=1819

12 June 2012

Red Clover - Trifolium pratense

Date Photographed: 19/05/2012
Location: St. Giles Church, Stanton St. Quinton
Resources: http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Trifolium-pratense.htm

Spider - Philodromus albidus

Date Photographed: 27/05/2012
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://srs.britishspiders.org.uk/portal.php/p/Summary/s/Philodromus%20albidus

11 June 2012

Garden Spider - Araneus diadematus

Adult left, spiderlings right:
Date Photographed: 21/05/2012 (Spiderlings), 13/05/2014 (Adult).
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://www.arkive.org/garden-spider/araneus-diadematus/photos.html

10 June 2012