28 February 2013

Word day Thursday: Desertification

Term and pronunciation: Desertification
Etymology From Latin: A compound word made up of 'desert' meaning uninhabited and 'fication' an English suffix, using 'i' to connect the two.

Meaning
The expansion of formation of a desert.
While there are a few definitions of what makes a desert; primarily deserts can be either dry and hot, for example the Sahara desert, or dry and cold, such as Antarctica.

Usage and examples
Deserts can be created by:
  • Climate change (shifts in major planetary pressure and wind systems)
  • Poor land-use policy (removal of vegetation by overgrazing, leading to erosion and removal of top soil - or, indeed, deforestation)
  • A complex interaction between the two (for example whereby overgrazing changes the albedo effect favouring increased dryness.
In the book to the BBC series Africa, Michael Bright discusses desertification in Africa. He notes that desertification was spotted in action in Africa in the 1940s. Andre Aubraville saw the process occurring due to the removal of trees in the buffer zone the desert to the north and the savannah to the south. To counter this there are many projects in Africa to replant trees, including the Great Green Wall initiative. A project that aims to reduce the "degradation of soils in the Sahel-Saharan region, focusing on a strip of land of 15 km (9 mi) wide and 7,100 km (4,400 mi) long from Dakar to Djibouti" (GEF, 2013) 

History
The first evidence that the OED record is that in the Annales Algériennes de Géographie in 1968. However, the BBC Africa book records Andre Aubreville using the term in 1949.

Bibliography
"desertification, n.". OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press. 27 February 2013 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/50784?redirectedFrom=desertification&>.
Allaby, M. (2012) Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
"desertification". Wikipedia.org. February 2012. Oxford University Press. 27 February <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desertification#Causes >
"The Great Green Wall Initiative". GEF. Oxford University Press. 27 February 2013 <http://www.thegef.org/gef/great-green-wall>
Bright, M. (2012) Africa: Eye to eye with the unknown, London, Quercus Editions

27 February 2013

Sanderling - Calidris alba

Date Photographed: 16/02/2013
Location: Tankerton, Kent
Resources: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/s/sanderling/index.aspx
Notes: Winter plumage

26 February 2013

Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres


Date Photographed: 16/02/2013
Location: Tankerton, Kent
Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruddy_Turnstone
Notes: Winter plumage

25 February 2013

Black-headed Gull - Chroicocephalus ridibundus

Date Photographed: 16/02/2013
Location: Tankerton, Kent
Resources: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/b/blackheadedgull/index.aspx
Notes: Winter plumage

22 February 2013

Five Fact Friday: Psychoactive Plants and Fungi

Last year I watched a few programmes about tribal life, including those of Bruce Parry - who is always up for joining in the ceremonial aspects of tribal life. These tend to include ingestion of some type of plant that has psychoactive properties. These five facts look at the reasons and early use of these plants.
  1. Sometimes termed 'Plants of the Gods' many plants have been used by people for their psychoactive purposes for many thousands of years, primarily for ceremonial, religious or spiritual purposes.
  2. Some of the earliest evidence of people using plants for hallucinogenic purposes is that of the Peyote tribes using Lophophora williamsii around 5500 years ago. Lophophora williamsii is a spineless and rather small cactus that grows in the regions around Texas.
  3. Thought to have been written between 2000 and 1400BC, the Indian writings Atharva Veda mention cannabis as one of its 'Five sacred plants'. In religious festivals, the leaves and flowers of the female plant are infused into a drink called Bhang. But not only is this used for sacred purposes, it is also used for pain relief from battle wounds.
  4. Some species of Acacia tree have psychoactive uses with the leaves, stems and roots brewed together with other ingredients for healing, religious or ceremonial purposes. In India the fruits can be used to make an alcoholic beverage that is apparently enjoyed by both people and elephants.
  5. Psilocybin mushrooms, mainly of the genus Psilocybe are commonly known as 'Magic Mushrooms' because of their psychoactive properties. The natives of Mesoamerica have used hallucinogenic species of Psilocybe from pre-Columbian times right up to today for the purposes of religion, divination, and healing.
Bibliography
Benson, W. (2012) Kingdom of Plants, London, Collins.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_and_spiritual_use_of_cannabis
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhang
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acacia#Uses_in_folk_medicine
http://www.clovegarden.com/ingred/bp_acaciaz.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psilocybin_mushroom#Early

21 February 2013

Word day Thursday: Calyx

Term and pronunciation Calyx (cal-ix)
Etymology From Latin and Greek meaning the outer covering of a bud, flower or fruit. Similar to the Latin calix, meaning cup.
 
Meaning
This is the collective term for all of the sepals of a flower.

Usage and examples

The calyx is the protective layer when the flower is enclosed in the bud. The sepals can be grown together or separate and are normally green. 
  • The collective term for all of the petals in a flower is corolla.
  • When the petals and the sepals look similar the term is tepals (for example, tulips)
  • The collective term for the calyx and corolla is perianth. 
The (rather hairy) calyx of this common chickweed (Stellaria media) is clear to see as the petals are so small.


History
One of the first written examples that the OED has of calyx is that in 1686 by the proclaimed father of English natural history, John Ray, in his three volume History of Plants.

Bibliography 
"calyx, n.". OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press. 21 February 2013 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/26611?redirectedFrom=calyx&>.
Allaby, M. (2012) Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
"Petal". Wikipedia. December 2012. Wikipedia.org. 21 February 2012
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petal>

20 February 2013

Hairy Curtain Crust - Stereum hirsutum

Date Photographed: 10/02/2013
Location: Conigre Mead nature reserve, Melksham
Resources: http://www.first-nature.com/fungi/stereum-hirsutum.php

19 February 2013

Wild Things 5 of 6 - Yorkshire Dales

Sadly we’re getting ever nearer to the end of the series, with only one episode following the adventures and experiments in the Yorkshire Dales. Excitingly though, I chanced upon the book at my local library, so will be reading that over the next few weeks – with a review to come.

I have to agree with Chris that the Yorkshire Dales are beautiful. In the novel The Secret Garden, we were lead to believe that the Yorkshire Dales were a dull and dreary place. But Dickon must have gotten its knowledge from somewhere – and this episode shows us just some of the plentiful wild things on offer.

Following Chris to a farm, we see him counting the petals of creeping buttercup flowers. He explains that the breeding between the buttercups in the field cause a genetic mutation that means around every 7 years a buttercup with an extra petal is born. Counting over 20 buttercups in this meadow with 6 petals, Chris calculates that the field has been undisturbed for over 140 years. With this mutation only occurring in undisturbed fields, we can see on the maps that due to our farming methods, we have lost some of these fields over time. Chris follows this up with a cool experiment, first showing us flowers through a series of photographs in ultra violet to show us how bees see the plants. The fun part is when Chris remotely controls a small helicopter with the UV camera attached, viewing through some cool head gear – the point is to see how amazing the fields look in UV and how the yellow of the buttercups really stands out.

Next we visit Sally and learn some really awesome stuff about lichens – particularly how different lichens can tell us about the environment that they live in (click here to see the lichens that the Opal air survey are recording. Sally explains that by looking at the small things, we can see the bigger picture. The pixie cup lichen which makes water bounce off the cup spreading its spores. Other lichens such as the Caloplaca tells us that the air is clean. Other lichens can tell us that the substrate, in this case the wall, is limestone. The Xanthoria can tell us that the air is nitrogen rich, a by-product of exhaust fumes and fertiliser.

We then follow Trevor on a mission to see the very rare Lady’s Slipper orchid at a super secret location. When this Orchid is in flower, it receives 24 hour protection – a shame that it has to be done; but wonderful that it is done. Hunted to death by collectors by 1917, a single specimen was found on a Yorkshire hillside in 1930. Trevor’s enthusiasm is clear to see and clearer to understand when we see the beautiful flower that is produced (no sooner than 15 years after germinating). We then see Trevor hand pollinating the orchid to assist in ensuring the survival of this orchid. As with many orchids, the pollination method is intricate with the bee having to follow a route through the flower to ensure that the pollen is collected and then passed on.

After such as serious episode last week, it’s nice to see some lighthearted experiments. We see Sally and a brass band explaining how the bees use sound. We find that the bees flap their wings 168 times a second to heat up the hive and evaporate the water held in the nectar. We find that the musical note is an ‘E’, which is 158 hertz and copied by the band to really illustrate the point.

Excited, but saddened, that the next episode will close of this series. I can’t see how this series wouldn’t inspire anyone that watches it to get out there and look at the ‘wild things’ all around us. Hopefully there are lots of kids out there watching – the next generation of plant scientists.

Firethorn - Pyracantha sp.

Date Photographed: 27/01/2013
Location: Sandridge Common, Melksham
Resources: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=431

18 February 2013

Anthurium spp.

Date Photographed: 03/02/2013
Location: Messingham, North Lincolnshire
Resources: http://www.theflowerexpert.com/content/aboutflowers/exoticflowers/anthuriums

Shield Lichen - Parmelia sulcata


Date Photographed: 10/02/2013
Location: Conigre Mead Nature Reserve, Melksham
Resources: http://www.fungi-of-clumber-park.co.uk/PARMELIA%20SULCATA.html

15 February 2013

Five Fact Friday: Fungi



  1. There are believed to be between 700,000 and 5.1 million different species of fungi on Earth. If we go with the upper limit, that means we currently only know 5% of them.
  2. Beneath every mushroom, or fruiting body of fungus, is a network of thread-like hyphae. They create network of threads called mycelium that provide the nutrients to keep the organism alive. These threads are so tiny that in just 16 cubic cm of soil up to 13 kilometres of mycelium can be found.
  3. It is believed that fungi were the first organism to leave the seas and colonise the land. It is thought that they ventured on to land in the form of lichens around 1.3 billion years ago.
  4. The largest known specimen of fungus, Armillaria solidipes, is also the largest known organism in the world. It was found inn Oregon by Catherine Parks and extended over 900 hectares, which is around the same size as 1260 football pitches. Estimates of its weight go from 7000 tonnes to 35,000 tonnes and it may have been growing continuously from between 2400 years and 7200 years.
  5. The largest collection of fungi species is at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. They have over 1.25 million individual specimens in their fungarium; including Alexander Fleming's original culture of penicillin and species first discovered by Charles Darwin.


Bibliography
Benson, W. (2012) Kingdom of Plants, London, Collins.

14 February 2013

Word day Thursday: Basipetal

Term and pronunciation Basipetal (Bay-sipit-al)
Etymology From Latin: Base + Petal - with the sense of moving in a specified direction.
 
Meaning
The growth or development from the apex (shoot tip and root tip) to the base. Meaning that the oldest parts are nearest the apex and the youngest parts are near the base. The opposite action is called acropetal where the youngest parts are at the apex.

Usage and examples


Basipetal movement:The plant growth regulator auxin has been shown to prefer basipetal movement.

Basipetal maturation: This is when the flowers mature in a downward fashion from the top of the stem. CRM over at WAB gave Button snakewort (Liatris spicata) as an example of a plant that flowers in this way.

History
The first written usage of basipetal as recorded by the OED is that published by Student in 1869 in reference to basipetal formation of foliary parts.

Bibliography 
"basipetal, adj.". OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press. 11 February 2013 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/15958?redirectedFrom=basipetal&>.
Allaby, M. (2012) Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

13 February 2013

Cotoneaster sp.

Date Photographed: 27/01/2013
Location: Sandridge Common, Melksham
Resources: http://www.plantlife.org.uk/wild_plants/plant_species/cotoneaster_species

12 February 2013

Wild Things 4 of 6 - Snowdonia

This week we’re in Snowdonia looking at lichen, junipers, and rhododendron.

Teeing off with the troublesome rhododendron. It is so invasive that it’s something that volunteers on Brownsea Island has taken decades to remove, with a special ceremony to remove the last one in 2011.
Introduced in the 1800s, it escaped via seeds from a Hampshire garden in around 1922. Its success is the speed of its growth, along with the toxic leaves that cannot be grazed by the local herbivores and that provide a deep canopy that allows through little to no light. If this wasn’t bad enough, the Rhododendron harbours a disease. The cells of the leaves are destroyed by the fungus-like pathogen called Phytophthora ramorum, leaving blackened remains. This disease travels through the air in sporangia, the same as the spores of fungi and some land plants. The disease, looks for weaknesses in the surface of the leaf to get into the plant, with a single individual able to kill a whole tree. We see that the only way to control the ramorum is to cut down the infected tree – and all of those around it.

The major casualty of this is the Japanese larch, starting in the South West in 2009 and moving through Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by 2010. Therefore a removal of the rhododendron is occurring in Snowdonia and while this is made out to be the only culprit on the programme; the first discovery in the British Isles in 2002 was actually on an infected viburnum. Viburnum, along with rhododendron and camellia used to be the only plants infected prior to this discovery. More information on this disease can be found on the forestry commission website and the video below:

Next we’re with Sally for something altogether more lighthearted. One of the cool things about Wild Things is that its giving air to the wonderful organisms that are lichen. Lichen are thought to be the first organisms that made it out of the sea and on to land 1.3 billion years ago. Sally explains that the wet conditions brought by the westerly winds of the Atlantic create a temperate rainforest. One of the key indicators of rainforest is the lichen Sticta fulginosa, which occurs when there is on average more than 180 days of rain per year. On the map we see that this lichen can be found in Ireland along with westerly areas of England, Wales and Scotland. Oh and by the way, Sally explains that it carries quite a pong! Time is taken in this episode to explain that lichen are made up of fungi and algae. The fungi provides the algae with protection; the algae provides the fungi with food – an excellent symbiotic partnership.

We’re even treated with a display of what’s called lichen substances; the chemical compound made by the fungi to protect the vulnerable algae from UV radiation. Awesomeness right there. I really hope that Wild Things is granted a second series.

Trevor is then on the lookout for Juniper up Mount Snowdon itself. A tree, he explains, that was one of the first back our Isles at the retreat of the last ice age around 10,000 years ago. It occurs all around the northern hemisphere from the tree-line in the arctic to dry regions of the Mediterranean.

Another excellent experience see Trevor show Chris, and us, how Juniper foliage succeeds at -6 degrees centigrade where a dogwood leaf fails. Using a thermal camera, we see the dogwood leaf turn black very quickly as the water turns to ice. The ice then expands and irreparably damages the cells within the dogwood leaf by punching through the cell walls with their sharp points– even though to the naked eye, the leaf still looks fine. The juniper leaf, however, has inbuilt protection in the form of antifreeze. Naturally occurring antifreeze is common for plants and animals in cold regions, such as the arctic and Antarctic. Unfortunately, due to grazing by the sheep that live up the mountain, the juniper is becoming very scarce.

Trevor explains that all of the junipers have been mapped and farmers can now receive grants to remove sheep from these areas. Sadly, although making the issue crystal clear, Trevor searches for a mapped juniper only to find that it is dead. With the sheep eating the seedlings, there are no replacements when the old trees die. As the distance between junipers increases, the chance of reproduction lowers. Chris is very sensible when he comments that it is difficult to find the balance between the plants that grow in an area and the animals that need to graze there .

The situation is so serious, not just at Snowdon but nationwide, that the charity Plantlife has created a publication for the management of uplands for juniper. It’s available here.

Another great episode and it’s dealing with increasingly important issues in the plant world. These topics are so important, but until now haven’t received mainstream airing – or if it has, I haven’t seen it, possibly making the point.

11 February 2013

Book Review: BBC Africa

This glossy coffee table book, full of wonderful photography and stories of the wildlife that we have enjoyed watching on our TV screens for the past 6 weeks.

The book asks us to think again if we know Africa. And true enough, there is much to be understood and re-learned as scientists, along with conservationists and the local people, find out ever more about the wildlife throughout Africa.

The book is chaptered off to match the episodes of the television series: Kalahari, Savannah, Congo, Cape, Sahara, and The Future. There are two additional chapters, the first being chapter 8 which is a compilation of Behind the scenes stories and the final chapter is entitled Discover Africa. This chapter advises us on the places to go to watch the wildlife in Africa.

The photography, as you would expect with a BBC Wildlife book, is sublime. A particular favourite is that of the face of a rhino with a near-full moon in the background. Along with the stories of the TV series, there are additional stories within the book, along with a lot of additional information which really enrich what we heard and saw in the series. However, some of these additional stories are a gift and a curse, as they often talk about species you may not have heard of or seen, but do not provide photos. Therefore, we have to go off and do some research of our own to get the full story - but if you have the time this is again worthwhile. The subtitle of the book is 'Eye to eye with the unknown', in the book this is presented as double page spreads of spectacular behaviours of wildlife. A great example is that of the banana frogs depositing fertilised eggs on a leaf to await a heavy downpour to develop.

The book is apparently one of the first to introduce the technology whereby you download an app. With this app you take captures of certain photos in the book which then presents a short video clip of the wildlife in question. I felt that this was a massively missed opportunity as we were only presented with very short bits of footage we'd seen during the series with additional background music. However, it is fantastic that the BBC and their partners do keep up with technology and hopefully in future books this will be developed further.

All in all, a fantastic book. I really enjoyed reading it and would encourage you to loan it from your local library or to purchase it for your collection.


 
 
Own or Loan:          Loan
Read Again:            No
Recommend:          Yes
Overall out of Five: 3
 

08 February 2013

Five Fact Friday: Depression

This probably seems a bit of a strange way to start Five Fact Friday. But it's an important topic and five facts doesn't really do it justice, but for anyone stumbling on this post it can be used as a starting post to finding out more.

I've embedded a really helpful video, from a book of the same name, at the bottom of the post - please take the time to watch it, even if you've never encountered depression (probably especially if you've never encountered depression).

While we don't need people's attention or pity, it can be so important to have the people around us understand what's going on. It can help us feel supported during the long road to recovery or for some remission.

While these facts are well known, I've added my own personal thoughts to some of them. Please feel free to leave comments :)


  1. Everyone can feel down at times, but this will normally pass within a few days. If it does, it's unlikely to be depression. While depression is common; it's a serious condition that can deeply impact the life of the sufferer as well as friends and family.
  2. More than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression globally. So while it might not feel like it right now: you are not alone. Unfortunately, from my experience, we isolate ourselves and make a room in our house our haven.
  3. Depression can be situational and/or bio-chemical. It can be hard to know which it is; therefore ensure that you get help. There are effective treatments available such as counselling and medication. Unfortunately, again from my own experience, there is no immediate fix.
  4. Looking after plants and/or animals can really help give purpose when we feel there is none. Plants are a bit easier to start with, especially when it's a struggle to look after ourselves. I really got interested in it and now really enjoy looking after my orchids and learning more about plants in general!
  5. Being in nature or even just a picture of a nature setting has been shown to help. There are even many nature sound videos on Youtube - such as rain, whales, and rainforest videos. I can also help to get out and around nature, even if it's just the back garden, on a regular basis.

07 February 2013

Word day Thursday : Androecium

Term and pronunciation Androecium (And-rhee-shee-um)
Etymology From Greek: meaning male house
 

Meaning
The androecium is the collection of stamens that make up the male reproductive organs in a flowering plant. The term for the female reproductive organs, containing the stigma, style and ovary, is gynoecium; a collective term for all of the carpels within a flower.
This illustrates the collection of stamen as androecium. Also shows gynoecium for comparison.

Usage and examples
There are three configurations that can occur:


The first is that the androecium may be borne together with the female reproductive organs within the same flower making the plant a hermaphrodite. In this case, the androecium will normally form a whorl around the gynoecium - as in the example of the hellebore to the left.

The second configuration is that the androecium may be borne on the same plant as the gynoecium; but not in the same flower. In this case the plant is a monoecious individual.

Lastly, the androecium and gynoecium can be borne on a different individuals, in which case the term for the plant is dioecious.


History
The OED website lists John Lindley as the earliest published use of the term androecium in his Introduction to Botany in 1839.

 
Bibliography
"andrœcium, n.". OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press. 5 February 2013 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/7321?redirectedFrom=androecium&>.
 Allaby, M. (2012) Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences, Oxford, Oxford University Press.


05 February 2013

The benefits of houseplants

Having plants indoors can be a wonderful thing, especially when they are arranged with care and understanding of what the plants need to thrive. And when plants thrive, we thrive. Because they not only look fabulous, but they can soften the hard lines and materials that we use to build our living spaces and can provide many benefits to our health. 
As well as being a wonderful focus as you enter or look around a room, plants are very good at controlling humidity. This can be beneficial because a low humidity environment can increase the likelihood of developing viral infections with high humidity leading to mold and mildew and the health issues that these can bring with them.

Plants not only bring interest where ever they are situated, but as they photosynthesise they also create the rather useful byproduct of oxygen. In addition to this, many plants are well known to remove airborne contaminants that can cause us headaches and nausea. For a handy list of the most beneficial plants; see here.

It has also been shown that caring for plants can improve and maintain mental health. From looking after the plants, which gives us a purpose; to enjoying watching the plant thrive as it goes through its life cycle - certainly great therapy.

While it can be difficult to find the right spot for a plant, for instance: direct sunlight or very low light areas; it's worth doing a bit of research before you go out to buy some plants. This will save you time, because you'll know which plants are suited to the places you have available, rather than the frustration of trying to make a plant live where it's not suited (trust me...I know!).

Thank you to my parents for providing such good displays for this post. :)

498th post

While I've had this blog from March 2010, with a first blog post from my friend Mark; I didn't start posting until mid-2011. Even then posting was sporadic and it took a long time until I felt comfortable with what I was posting on the blog. I guess it took a long time for me to realise that, while I enjoy seeing that people read and comment on my posts, at the end of the day I would still be posting even if nobody was looking.

I realised that this is my diary. While there are certain topics that I want people to know that I will definitely post about; there are times when I diverge and post something just for fun or out of interest. For me, this blog documents my journey into the wonders of the natural world and I'm really glad that I can also share the journey with you all.

Ever since the beginning of 2012, when I first realised my interest in plants; I've used the blog as a digital herbarium, maintaining the adage "Take only pictures, leave only footprints". As my inquiries into plants deepens, I gain ever more respect for the natural world and the awesome ways it evolves to face the challenges of life. I hope to share ever more information and eventually knowledge with you all - not only in the hope that you'll learn something new and interesting; but also so you can correct me when I'm wildly off the mark!

I recently went down to 5 posts per week to ensure I was only posting 'the good stuff'. In addition, I'm going to try something that I haven't done before. I'm going to try a couple of weekly features. The first will be called "Word day Thursday", where I take a word from my newly acquired Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences and do a bit of research about the history of the word and its application. The second will be my 500th post and will be called "Five Fact Friday" whereby I'll round off the week's posts with five facts about a particular topic.

While I shall endeavour to ensure a weekly frequency; regular readers will know that I have a 'black dog', so sometimes I need to switch off for a while.

Thanks for reading so far - hopefully the best is yet to come :)


04 February 2013

Wild Things 3 of 6 - London

This week the gang are London bound and begin with a really interesting subject. Sally introduces us to something that we’ve seen on our pavements for years, but probably misidentified as chewing gum. However, this interesting species is a lichen commonly called the chewing gum lichen (Lecanora muralis). To explain how this lichen can survive – and perhaps even thrive – being on the pavement pounded by constant footfall Sally excavates a slab laden with this lichen treasure. We see that the lichen gets deep in the holes of the concrete by sending out microscopic threads providing an anchor. Observing the outer surface of the lichen Sally notes that it is made of thousands of tightly packed filaments, which collect moisture and nutrients from the air and protects it from our trampling. Interestingly it can even use our footwear to spread probably one of the reasons that from being a rarity 50 years ago it is now prevalent throughout the country.

Chris investigates how the Loquat tree (Eriobotrya japonica), a member of the rosaceae family and native to China has begun to make London its home. The reason being two-fold: Firstly the temperature in London is much higher than it normally would be due to the extensive construction that uses large amounts of concrete, which collects heat during the day and radiates it back out during the night. Making London up to 10 degrees centigrade warmer than surrounding rural areas. Secondly, evidence shows that after people have eating the juicy part of the plum and then discard of the stone by spitting it or throwing it into the grass or other planted areas - an ideal environment to germinate.

Chris and Trevor set up an experiment to test the greenhouse effect in London by using two glass cabinets. One filled with plants and the other concrete. After some hours in the sun we find that the air around the concrete is at 26 degrees centigrade. The air around the plants in the cabinets is at 22 degrees centigrade. Trevor explains that it is the large amounts of oxygen released by the plants that not only refreshes the air, but also has a cooling effect due to the water vapour leaving the leaves. I was very happy to see Chris and Trevor explaining the stomata which allows gaseous exchange between the atmosphere and the plant. A very interesting fact Chris gives us is that one large beech tree can supply the oxygen requirements for 10 people.

Trevor goes off exploring and shows us the gorgeous passionflower (Passiflora sp.), of warm climate areas such as Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, growing in the wild around London. While some have been found growing wild elsewhere in the country, it has only survived in London due to the extra heat there. It’s a rambling sort of plant that grabs onto other plants with its tendrils for support. While being difficult to eliminate, I wonder why we would – the flower is a wonder of nature and interestingly Trevor shows us that its fruit is edible (which to me at least is a new find!). But I can see that it can smother other plants and may decrease diversity and even be partly responsible for us losing some native species. But along with the heat of concrete, we have the current global warming, so we may have to lose a few species along the way and embrace what nature provides.

Finally we get to visit a sky high wild place in the form of a rooftop garden on the Barclays building; 500 foot up. This gravel bed on the rooftop was initially planted with grasses, mosses and shrubs 2006 to encourage other plants to grow. It has certainly been a success. It’s a low maintenance, perhaps even no maintenance wild place that is sustaining itself.

Update: Here's Trevor's blog post for this episode.

Madagascar dragon tree - Dracaena marginata

Date photographed: 31/01/2013
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://www.guide-to-houseplants.com/dragon-tree.html

01 February 2013

Engagement

Hi everyone,

A bit of a different post today as I'd like to announce that Lucy and myself got engaged yesterday!

I was very nervous and wrote down what I was going to say and did the 'honorable' thing and got down on one knee. Luckily Lucy said Yes!

It's all very exciting and it's a great feeling to know that in the near future we'll be calling each other 'what I call' (for the Miranda fans) husband and wife :)

Take care and have a fab Feb.