30 April 2013

Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis

Date photographed: 29/04/2013
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary

29 April 2013

Book Review: Latin for Gardeners

RHS Latin for Gardeners
When I saw that the RHS was going to publish a book at delved into the latin that forms the binomial names of plants, I knew I had to read it. It was published in October 2012 and I received it that Christmas.

This is more than just a book. This is a work of art. The RHS has hundreds of years of botanical illustrations held in its Lindley library and they grace most pages throughout the book. Along with the A-Z listings that make up the majority of the text, there are 20 plants profiles from Acanthus to Vaccinium. The plant profiles are page long spreads that look at why plants ended up with the names we know them by today, including their usage throughout time, their medicinal use and occasionally, which type soil they thrive in!

Plant themes are two page spreads that look into various themes, such as 'The colour of plants' and 'Numbers and plants'. These discussions look at the usage of Latin throughout the theme. For instance in the theme 'Where plants come from' explains the Latinised words for places such as 'canadensis' for Canada and 'australis' for Australia.

Of course such as book would not be complete without a look at the people that explored our world to bring us knowledge, paintings, and often samples of the plants in the name of science and discovery. There are 10 double page spreads that explain a bit about their lives, their contribution, and plants that are named after them. These plant hunters range from Baron Alexander von Humboldt to Marianne North.

While there are other books about the Latin used to name plants and those books are much longer, and perhaps much more in depth than this book. I feel that this was the perfect book for myself. A book that introduces the topic, but doesn't overwhelm with its dictionary layout. I was very thankful that the A-Z listing was broken up by the topics I've mentioned above, as this made the book readable, rather than something I'd have a quick scan through before leaving it on a shelf. Mind you, saying that, it is a book that I will keep on the shelf, as I know it contains so much useful information in such an enjoyable format, that I will continually dip into it to retrieve the information I need about the people and the plants of the botanic world.

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

26 April 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plants and Hearing

  1. Current serious and reputable scientific studies have shown that sounds of music have no affect on plants at all.
  2. The closest a rigorously performed scientific experiment that seemed to show plants growing better when in the presence of music was later reconfigured. This was because the heat from the speakers was being pushed towards the plant; thereby making heat the reason for better growth rather than sound. As soon as this heat was blown away from the plant, no difference was seen between the plants grown in silence and in the presence of music (experiments by Peter Scott in the Physiology and Behaviour of Plants).
  3. One area of current study is looking at the vibrations of bees on plants. It is well known that bees get flowers to release pollen via their buzzing. However, physical contact also takes places showing that this area of study will probably be fruitless.
  4. Scientists will need to consider what the auditory system of a plant would be, as it will be different to that of animals. Only in this way can they design experiments that could possibly lead to evidence that plants can hear.
  5. It seems to be a fact that with no current evidence - plants cannot hear. With around 400,000 plants on the Earth, it also seems to be a fact that they do not need to. They grow sufficiently successfully with their other senses, therefore perhaps there has been no evolutionary advantage to developing hearing in plants.
Chamovitz, D. (2012) What a Plant Knows, Oxford, Oneworld Book.

25 April 2013

Rhododendron fulgens

Date Photographed: 23/03/2013
Location: Westonbirt Arboretum
Resources: http://www.flowersofindia.net/catalog/slides/Shining%20Rhododendron.html

24 April 2013

Book Review: The Private Life of Plants

This book accompanies the series of the same name, however, you do not need to have watched the series to enjoy the book. David Attenborough writes such vivid descriptions of the behaviour of plants and his experiences of finding them, that you feel like you're there discovering these things for yourself.

The book is chaptered into segments to align with the television series, which makes sense because these divisions look at very different aspects of plants. To support the text are marvellous photographs. So wonderful are these photographs that I could quite easily mention some recently published books that should have looked to this book for guidance. Some photographs, including the frontispiece, are taken by Sir David, and match the quality of the other photographs throughout the book.

As is mentioned in the introduction and acknowledgments, this is a book of the popular genre and not a scientific text. Therefore the book is written, largely, without scientific terminology and indeed, benefits from this. The book first published in 1995, should now be showing its age. In some parts of the book, this is true as advancements of plants scientists have been vast in the past couple of decades. Luckily as the book primarily documents the behaviour and not the science behind this, the book is still a very good read and the examples used are still, in fact, used today in various television series and books that cover botany.

My investigations into plants only begun at the beginning of 2012 and I purchased this book from a charity shop around a year ago. I purposely let it stand in the bookcase while I tried to get my level of knowledge up to really appreciate this book and to see what advancements there had been between 1995 and 2013. The book certainly doesn't require this and can be seen as a book for people wanting an introduction to the topic of plant, but not wanting to be overwhelmed by this vast topic.

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

23 April 2013

Rhododendron calophytum

Date Photographed: 23/03/2013
Location: Westonbirt Arboretum
Resources: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=3903

22 April 2013

Opal Earthworm Survey

Opal are well known for their open air surveys that everyone can take part in. I decided that I'd like to know more about the soil in our garden and provide records for the survey. They even kindly provided the pH strips, which surprisingly I didn't have lying around at home.

I began by digging a hole - 20cm x 20cm by 10cm deep. 20cm is the width of the spade blade - which made it nice and easy. I collected lots of data for the survey - which I've included below. For this post I'll concentrate on the soil data - which is what I was most interested in.

Soon after we moved here I found out how horrid the soil is in our garden. Many hours were spent digging and the more I dug the harder it got - the gardening books are right: clay soil is heavy soil. We definitely had clay soil! I checked on the British Geological Survey website and found that the clay was part of the Oxford Clay Formation. This is mudstone, siltstone and sandstone. Interestingly it shows that this sedimentary bedrock formed approximately between 154 to 164 million years ago in the Jurassic Period and that our local area would have been shallow seas at this point.

Following the field guide from the Opal website, I placed a piece of soil into a cup - around 1cm of soil. I then covered the soil piece with water and gave it a jolly good stir for around 1 minute. Now, take care to ensure it's a jolly good stir and not a moderate or calm stir - I may be making that part up, but it's definitely more fun if you give it a jolly good stir :)

Then, as you can see in the photos above, I dipped the pH strip into the water for around 3 seconds before running some clean water from the same bottle over it to clean it. I then held it to the sunlight, as per instructions, and awaited my fate.

For comparison, I've shown a fresh pH strip to the left and the used pH strip to the right. It seems that our silty clay soil is middling between 6.5 (alkaline) and 7 (acidic). This is ideal really because neutral soil is easiest for the majority of plants to use the nutrients in the soil. Clay soil is known to have a good lot of nutrients held within them. It is now the plan to fork over the border and introduce the compost from the local household waste facility, which I will then fork over again. This should act to break up the clay into smaller crumbs, which should - over time - make for a really good soil.

For those of you that would like to know the full results from this survey; please see below:
Here's the worm that I found in the soil.
My inexpert eye and the Opal guide seem to suggest that this is a grey worm (Aporrectodea caliginosa).
Survey questions            Your answers           
Sampling date2013-04-13
Name of siteMy Garden
PostcodeSN12 7JG
Start importanceY
Start outdoor activitiesY
ParticipationIn my own
Done survey beforeN
Done survey before other
Id earthworms beforeN
FinalPositionLat: 51.37589
Lng: -2.12459
Surrounding areaSuburban
Sampling siteGarden
Nearest roadLess 20
Nearest road nameBlackmore Road
WeatherSome clouds
Plant coverHalf earth half plants
Taken photo siteN
Shallow immature count0
Shallow adult count1
TimingLess 3 minute
Deep immature count0
Deep adult count0
Other immature count0
Other adult count0
Taken photo soil pitN
Plant rootsA few roots
Soil objectsConstruction material
Soil hardnessEasy
Soil fizzN
Soil moistureMoist
Soil pHPH7
Soil textureSilty clay loam
Soil smellNo smell
Soil colourColour b
Other insects0
Other non insects0
Taken photo (other)N
Where found (shallow)Soil from pit
Length (shallow)8
Shallow worm taxa id11

To do a survey yourself, click through to the Opal site and view all of the available surveys.

19 April 2013

Five Fact Friday: Antarctic Expeditions

  1. 27 January 1820 is the date of the first sighting of mainland Antarctica. It was made by Captain Baron thaddeus Von Bellingshausen of the Imperial Russian Navy.
  2. On 25 January 1895, Carsten Borchgrevink became the first person to make a confirmed landing on the Antarctic continent. 
  3. Arriving in 1899, Borchgrevink's party were the first to build on Antarctica. Their prefabricated huts were built at Cape Adare.
  4. Roald Amundsen was first to reach the South Pole, reaching it on 14 December 1911. Captain Robert Scott's British team arrived on 17 January 1912.
  5. The first filming of the Antarctic was in 1912 by Herbert Ponting with Captain Scott. Life in the Freezer presented the continent to us in 1993 and The Frozen Planet was broadcast in 2012 and provided awe inspiring stories of the life that exists in the polar regions with the most fantastic technology available.
Fothergill, A. (1993) Life in the Freezer, London, BBC Books.

18 April 2013

Word day Thursday: Indigenous

Term and pronunciation Indigenous

Etymology This word derives from the late Latin word of indigenus. It is a compound word made up of indigena and the suffix ous.

Focussing on plants, this word is applied to species, that occurs naturally in an area. It means that the species has not been introduced to an area by humans, either accidentally or on purpose. A more common term that is often used interchangeably with indigenous is native.

The Alder, native to Britain.
Usage and examples
In Britain it is often said that native species are those that populated our islands during or after the most recent ice age and before the land bridge (known as Doggerland) between England and Europe became submerged due to rising sea levels. Species that have made their home in Britain after Doggerland was submerged are known as naturalised species. Naturalised plants, especially, have a bad reputation. While the sycamore tree is naturalised here and causes no real problems, species such as himalayan balsam is invasive and cannot be easily controlled. However, if the species reached a location or ecosystem via natural processes then it is indigenous.

Other examples of trees native to Britain are: alder, beech, cherry, dogwood, elder, willow, yew, etc.

1794 is the first plant related example of the use of indigenous. It was made by Samuel Williams in the The natural and civil history of Vermont whereby he describes a plant as being "indigenous only to China and Tartary". Tartary being what is now called the Great or Eurasian Steppe.

Allaby, M. (2012) Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences, Oxford, Oxford University Press
"indigenous, adj.". OED Online. March 2013. Oxford University Press. 17 April 2013 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/94474?redirectedFrom=indigenous&>.

17 April 2013

Common Yew - Taxus baccata

Date Photographed: 23/03/2013
Location: Westonbirt Arboretum
Resources: http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Taxus-baccata.htm

15 April 2013

Book Review: The Wild Things Guide

Written to accompany the Channel 4 TV series, the Wild Things Guide was written by Dr. Trevor Dines, Sally Eaton, Clare Jones (from the production company), and Chris Myers.

The book doesn't follow the TV series with a chapter for each episode, but rather looks at specific environments; such as along transport links or mountains. The chapters explain the experiments shown in the TV series and explore many additional plants and lichens. Each chapter ends with a look to the future of that particular environment and the book concludes with a general look at what changes may occur over the next 50 years and how we can restore the balance to give our native plants a chance.

I didn't enjoy the book as much as the TV series. The overuse of the term 'wild things' was a constant irritation, although the term was used less as the book progressed. While Chris was the lead of the series, in the book he only writes a two page foreword and the majority of the writing is left to Trevor - understandably due to him being the botanical expert in a primarily botanical project. The one feature that I did really like in the book was the maps. While they were shown in the TV series, they didn't get much air time. It was wonderful to be able to spend time looking at them and seeing the trends, not only of time (when a species may have increased its population or declined), but also of distribution (for example down rivers or motorways).

While I wouldn't read the book again, it is worth reading as an introduction to a very important topic. That of landscape change in the British Isles from the perspective of plants.

One to read if you have a gap in your reading schedule, but not one to make space for until that gap becomes available. Also one to borrow rather than buy, in my opinion. This viewpoint may be skewed by my high expectations, but perhaps not.

Own or Loan:          Loan
Read Again:            No
Recommend:          Yes - because of the maps and plant histories
Overall out of Five: 2

12 April 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plants and Touch

  1. Some plants, such as the vines of a burr cucumber are far more sensitive - up to 10 times as sensitive. In fact four, e will see why this can be so important for plants.
  2. Plants, such as the venus flytrap, use touch to know when to close their traps. To trigger the trap takes two hairs to be touched within 20 seconds.
  3. Plants such as the sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) react to touch by closing themselves up. Some explanations for this include the plant attempting to remove insects from its leaves, or that herbivores may not want to eat a 'moving' plant and will move on to a plant that remains still while being eaten.
  4. Other plants die when they've been touched. This can be beneficial to the plant as it will prefer to grow away from anything that will hinder its growth. Stresses such as wind, different types of precipitation and animal contact can change how a plant grows. An experiment on the Arabidopsis thaliana showed that just stroking the leaves just a few times each day will render the plant squatter and delay flowering than one that was left alone.
  5. As with us animals, plants utilise electrical charges to register touch. The movement of electrical flow within the plant can warn the rest of the plant about any current danger. An example of this was an experiment with a tomato plant by Dianna Bowles. She iced the petiole to block any chemical flow from the leaf to the stem. This doesn't stop the electrical flow, which was used to warn the rest of the plant about the danger it was under (in this case hot metal on the leaf).
Chamovitz, D. (2012) What a Plant Knows, Oxford, Oneworld Book.

11 April 2013

Rhododendron lutescens

Date Photographed: 23/03/2013
Location: Westonbirt Arboretum
Resources: http://www.plantdatabase.co.uk/Rhododendron_lutescens

10 April 2013

Alder - Alnus glutinosa

Date Photographed: 14/02/2013
Location: King George V park, Melksham
Resources: http://www.british-trees.com/treeguide/alder/Alder

05 April 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plants of Enormity

  1. The tallest - The Australian mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) is the largest flowering plant, regularly growing over 300 feet. The largest, measured by an official inspector of forests, was one discovered fallen and was said to have been 435 feet long.

  2. The oldest - The oldest bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) of California, are estimated to be over 4,600 years old.

  3. The most massive: The giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) also of California, are the most massive plant. An example being that of the tree named 'General Sherman' at 290 feel tall, a girth of eighty feet (measured at six feet above the ground) and an estimated weight of over 6,000 tons.

  4. The biggest inflorescence: The plant with the biggest inflorescence is that of the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) with a spathe three feet across and a spadix raising to nine feet tall. See a titan arum come into flower in the video uploaded by Kew, below:

  5. The biggest single flower: The parasitic rafflesia (Rafflesia Arnoldi) grows the largest flowers with the record at around 42 inches, but regularly 36 inches across. It can do this, perhaps, because it doesn't need to gather its own food and instead 'steals' food from the vine it parasitises.
Attenborough, D. (1995) The Private Life of Plants, London, BBC Worldwide.

04 April 2013

Word day Thursday: Heterophyllous

Term and pronunciation Heterophyllous

Etymology Made up of the Greek word 'Hetero', 'Phyll' meaning leaf, and the suffix 'ous'.

Heterophyllous in the realm of botany means a plant that displays different shaped leafs on the same plant. The opposite being isophylly, whereby all leafs on a plant show the same morphology.

Usage and examples
A prime example of a plant displaying heterophylly is that of the English Ivy (Hedera helix). The photos below show the plant displaying the juvenile leafs on the left. The photo to the right shows the adult leafs, which are associated with the flowers of the ivy. In the ivy, these changes are controlled by plant growth regulators called gibberellins. To read more about this in another post on this blog, click here.

The earliest example that the OED have on this word is that used by Noah Webster in the first edition of his An American dictionary of the English language in 1828. Noah Webster's dictionary was the turning point in the Americans having their own language, a national language as Webster explained in 1789. The main changes were that of spelling, for instance centre became center, and this became the origin of Standard American English.

Allaby, M. (2012) Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences, Oxford, Oxford University Press
"heterophyllous, adj.". OED Online. March 2013. Oxford University Press. 3 April 2013 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/86499?redirectedFrom=heterophyllous&>.
Seargeant, P and Swann, J (Eds) Worlds of English, Abingdon, Routledge

03 April 2013

Primroses or the adventures in cross fertilisation

The point of flowers is to ensure that plants can exchange genetic material. This is a task that many plants take seriously, providing nectar and pollen to ensure that their pollinator will carry out its task. Although some plants do fall back on self-fertilisation if pollinators haven't been able to do the job, they still utilise some of the methods below to increase the chance that a pollinator will provide the service of pollination.

The colouring of flowers, the purpose of which is to attract the right pollinators, is one way that plants can advertise the availability of their tasty goods. Flowers towards the blue spectrum are required for insects, as they are not as sensitive to red as we are and, for example, cannot tell the difference between red and black. They are, however, sensitive to the ultra-violet part of the spectrum and many flowers appear different under UV, often displaying pathways to the pollen.

Birds can see red, which is a great way to enlist their services. They cannot, however, smell very well. Therefore if a flower is red and scentless, then it is likely to be pollinated by birds. Scent is another method employed by flowers to tell the insects where they are. Flower shape is yet another way to ensure that only the right pollinator can get at the pollen and nectar, a way that ensures that the pollinator will also take the pollen to another flower of the same species.

So, we can see that plants use various methods to ensure that their pollinators not only know where they are, but carry out the task of pollinating. However, some plants want to also ensure that they are not self-pollinated. That is, they want their pollen to only fertilise a flower on a different plant and not flowers of the plant the pollen came from.

Lots of plants can recognise their own pollen from the chemical composition on the pollen grains, making the pollen sterile to the female part of the flower. Other plants ensure that their male and female parts mature at different times so that all of the pollen will be gone from the flower by the time the female parts are mature and receptive. As we shall see below, the method of the primrose is a little different.

As in the photograph above, we can see that there are two different types of flowers on primrose plants. The flower on the left is called the pin-eyed flower and has the stigma at the mouth of the flower and the anthers deep in the throat of the flower. To the right, the thrum-eyed type, which has its sexual anatomy the other way around. The insect collecting the nectar, which is in the throat of the flower, from the pin-eyed flower to the left, will collect pollen on it's head. This pollen can only be passed on to a flower of the thrum-eyed type. Equally, as the insect collects nectar from the thrum-eyed flower, pollen is collected on the insect's body. This pollen can only be passed on to the stigma of a pin-eyed flower, which is brushed on to it as the insect delves deep to retrieve the nectar. As each plant will only have pin-eyed or thrum-eyed flowers, this enforces cross-fertilisation.

Attenborough, D. (1995), London, BBC Worldwide.

02 April 2013

Teasil - Dipsacus fullonum

Date Photographed: 10/02/2013
Location: Conigre mead nature reserve, Melksham
Resources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/plant_pages/1244.shtml

01 April 2013

Book Review: What a Plant Knows

What a plant knows explores the abilities of plants from the perspective of human senses. Covering sight, smell, feel, and hearing the author, Daniel Chamovitz, cleverly and clearly weaves his way through the experiments that have been used to explore and discover how plants recognise and respond to various stimuli.

From the experiments of Darwin and son, up to modern cutting edge science, Daniel explains what a plant can and cannot do - as far as we know. There are also chapters on how a plant knows where it is followed by what a plant can remember - that chapter using the excellent example of the Venus Flytrap. The final chapter looks at intelligence of plants and how our ideas about this are evolving - and importantly pointing out that while plants may do things a bit differently to us; they are aware.

This is the first book by the author and I hope it won't be the last. This is a book written for newbies to the topic, but even for those that do know about the processes involved, it is worth reading to get the background on the science and the evolution of the understanding that we have gained over the past two hundred years.

This is a review of the Oneworld 2012 edition, there is new edition - however, I haven't been able to see what the differences are between the two. Whether you buy it or borrow it, read this book. The only problem with it is that it leaves me wanting more!

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