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Botany Photo of the Day
In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.

October 2005 Archives

Oct 31, 2005: Solanum laciniatum

Solanum laciniatum

Apologies that today's entry is so late – I was updating the garden's web server last night, and ran into some difficulties that eventually spiralled into the site being entirely unavailable for twelve hours. Anyway, it's obviously up and running again, and everything is mostly working fine, though there are still a few troubles, so a short entry today.

The common name for this tomato relative is “kangaroo apple”, which hints at its native distribution: Australia and New Zealand. This plant is grown as an annual in the alpine garden, though it often survives a mild winter and persists as a perennial. The “Plants for a Future” database has a good account of the plant: Solanum laciniatum.

Nature / photography resource link: The Photography of Josef and Lubomir Hlasek contains hundreds, if not thousands, of nature images. Discovered via Scott's Botanical Links.

Oct 30, 2005: Tropaeolum majus (tentative)

Tropaeolum majus

Kind thanks to Ken McCown for this image of a nasturtium shared via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Group Pool (Flickr posting). This photograph was taken in the Huntington Botanical Gardens Herb Garden in California. As Ken mentions in his comments on Flickr, best seen at original size (warning, it's big!).

Unfortunately, I need to attach “tentative” alongside the name as it may be a cultivar that I'm not familiar with – there are nineteen cultivars listed in the RHS Plant Finder for Tropaeolum majus, after all. For a gardening perspective, read this article on nasturtium by Dr. William Welch of Texas A&M University.

The family Tropaeolaceae is monotypic, which, if you'll recall from an earlier entry, means that it contains only the one genus, Tropaeolum. It is distributed natively in the New World, from Mexico south to the southern tip of South America.

Botany resource link: Why the Banana Needs Protection via Jeremy Cherfas on the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute Public Awareness weblog. You may have seen media reports a few months ago about the impending extinction of bananas. As is most often the case, things are a little more nuanced than that.

Oct 29, 2005: Mahonia ×media 'Charity'

Mahonia × media 'Charity'

I'm rushed for time today, so I can't write as much as I'd like. Fortunately, I can direct you to some writings describing Mahonia from the garden's interpretative sign and this thread on the garden's forums (with other photographs, including some that are just a touch more true-to-life).

This was an overexposed photograph which I decided to save by performing the calculations command in Photoshop. I selected both blue channels, inverted each, then used the “linear burn” calculation.

Photography resource link: Shooting Wildflowers via the excellent Human Flower Project weblog.

Oct 28, 2005: Racomitrium canescens and Cladonia spp.

Racomitrium canescens and Cladonia spp.

The boulder beneath this miniature jungle was part of the same rock slide as the rock in the BPotD entry on lichen diversity, yet it supports different organisms. Unlike the dome-shaped rock less than 10m away that was covered by the crustose lichens, this boulder has crevasses and depressions which accumulate water, air-borne dust and organic material at a comparatively rapid rate. After forty years, this boulder is not only blanketed by these non-vascular organisms (roadside rock moss, pixie cup lichen and club cladonia), but some vascular plants have started to colonize it as well: parsley fern, grasses and saxifrages – a small-scale example of ecological succession.

Botany resource link: Native American Ethnobotany database from the University of Michigan - Dearborn. “A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants.”

Oct 27, 2005: Populus trichocarpa

Populus trichocarpa

There is much to write about black cottonwood, including: how it's a “hot plant in biology” because its genome has been sequenced; its ethnobotanical uses; whether it should instead be correctly known as Populus balsamifera subsp. trichocarpa; and who its closest relatives are (see Hamzeh, M and Dayanandan, S. 2004. Phylogeny of Populus (Salicaceae) based on nucleotide sequences of chloroplast TRNT-TRNF region and nuclear rDNA. Am. J. Bot. 91:1398-1408. – institution or subscription access required to read).

Instead, though, I'm going to write a bit about stream ecology, since that is what I had in mind when I took this photograph. I look at this image and I “see” grizzlies and orcas. Why? Organic input into streams from the surrounding watershed (such as these leaves) supply nutrients and energy to either detritus-eating invertebrates or aquatic fungi and bacteria (which are in turn ingested by invertebrates). Small predatory fish and large predatory invertebrates eat the detritivores, and are in turn eaten by salmon and other fish. From salmon, it's only one more step to grizzly bears and orca whales. I'm simplifying a little, because there are other foundations in stream food webs, (e.g., photosynthetic algae which then feed invertebrate herbivores which then feed...). Still, one study has estimated that imported detritus supplies over 99% of the energy input in some streams where the headwaters are heavily shaded (see: Fisher, SG and GE Likens. 1977. Energy flow in Bear Brook, New Hampshire: An integrative approach to stream ecosystem metabolism. Ecol. Monogr. 43:421-439.).

In addition to supplying energy and nutrients, plants play other roles in stream ecology. As examples, they are important in regulating stream temperature (overhanging branches provide shade and accompanying temperature gradients), mitigating heavy rainfall by moderating the inflow of water (i.e., ensuring that inflow from rain occurs over a longer period of time instead of heavy bursts that can cause mud slides or flooding), and, of course, providing habitat for forest denizens that rely on the watercourse for food and drink.

Photography resource link: Counting Triangles, an article by Michael Reichmann of The Luminous Landscape. I picked this article today because I only noticed after processing this photograph that the dry area of the rock in the upper left repeats the shape of the leaves in the spiral pattern (as does the rock itself).

Oct 26, 2005: Vitis vinifera 'Cabernet Franc'

Vitis vinifera 'Cabernet Franc'

Updated Oct. 30, 2005 at 10:30pm: I contacted the winery, and these are not 'Cabernet Sauvignon', but rather 'Cabernet Franc'. I'm usually pretty good at taking notes while I photograph, but not this time. Weblog entry changed to talk about 'Cabernet Franc'.

I visited the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia on the weekend to wine-taste and snap a few photographs of the vineyards. Typical of my inopportune timing, I went several weeks after the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival so wine inventory was spotty at a few places, but there was still much to taste and photograph. These 'Cabernet Franc' grapes were inside a giant plastic bin, recently harvested and soon-to-be processed.

In the late 1990s, it was determined by Dr. Carole Meredith of University of California, Davis, that 'Cabernet Franc' was one of the parents of 'Cabernet Sauvignon' (the other was 'Sauvignon Blanc') – this was popularly covered in the media, including this article from the Discovery Channel: “DNA analysis reveals mysterious past of cabernet sauvignon”. You can also read more of the history and qualities of 'Cabernet Franc' via Wikipedia.

If you have questions or would like to read some discussions about grapes, check out our Grapes and Grape Vines discussion forum.

Botany / image resource link: The Magic of Australian Native Plants photo gallery from the Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants contains hundreds of Australian plant photographs (though a bit on the small side). One of my favourites is the photograph of the growth habit of Eucalyptus camaldulensis at Greenough, Western Australia on this page.

Oct 25, 2005: Lichen Diversity

Lichen Diversity

The boulder forming the substrate for these lichens was part of the Hope Slide forty years ago. Unless this rock was previously exposed as part of mountainside (which I doubt), forty years of lichen colonization and growth have led to this mosaic containing six species or more.

As pioneers, these crustose lichens play an important role in the establishment of succeeding (i.e., sequentially following) organisms such as mosses or vascular plants. The bulky tissue of the lichen (particularly the thallus, or body) slowly traps air-borne dust and silt, while the fungal hyphae of the lichen penetrates and helps etch a thin layer of the rock's surface. The fine particles of soil in combination with dead or decaying lichen tissue form a medium where moss spores or vascular plant seeds can establish and grow. Over a long period of time (assuming no mechanical disturbances), a layer of mosses and herbaceous plants will replace these lichens. Although the period of time may be measured in decades or centuries, it is essentially instant in the scale of geologic time.

If you'd like to see this photograph in more detail, I've uploaded it here: Lichen Diversity (1.3 MB).

Botany resource link: 100 Plant Facts for Campaigning Conservationists from the excellent Plant Talk magazine.

Oct 24, 2005: Gladiolus flanaganii

Gladiolus flanaganii

The common name for Gladiolus flanaganii, suicide lily, refers to the death-defying stunts photographers and observers need to perform to see this plant in the wild. Growing on cliff faces in the Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa, finding a plant is an adventure not for the timid. Fortunately, this treasure is becoming easier to find in cultivation.

South Africa is the centre of diversity for the genus Gladiolus, with over half of the roughly two hundred and sixty known species growing natively only in that country (i.e., endemic to South Africa). Astoundingly, the interbreeding of only eight of those species have produced the over thirty thousand cultivars of gladiolus known to currently or previously exist (Gladiolus flanaganii is not one of those eight species).

The flowers of Gladiolus flanaganii last little more than a day, then quickly decay. As can be seen from this photograph, the progression from unfurling to senescence occurs first in the bottom-most flowers.

Photography resource link: Digital Cameras – A Beginner's Guide by Bob Atkins via photo.net. This should be required reading before you purchase a digital camera, including such tips as why you shouldn't be impressed by high “digital zoom” magnifications.

Oct 23, 2005: Gaultheria mucronata

Gaultheria mucronata

The (dare I say it) edible, tasteless fruit of Gaultheria mucronata provide a mass of lilac-coloured blueberry-sized globes lasting throughout the winter in the Pacific Northwest of North America. Various texts claim that fruit of all members of the genus Gaultheria can be toxic, but it is known that the indigenous peoples of Chile relied upon Gaultheria mucronata as a food source. I’ve eaten it without ill effect, though not for the taste. Rather, I find the sensation of popping the thick-skinned fruit a bit of a novelty.

Often known as pernettya, and less commonly as prickly heath, for many years this plant was placed in the genus Pernettya. This lasted until it was recognized that all members of the genus Pernettya were genetically indistinguishable from Gaultheria. As I mentioned in a previous entry, modern taxonomy suggests that nomenclature should reflect evolutionary relationships, so the names of all Pernettya species were changed in accordance with the evidence, and transferred to Gaultheria.

Botany resource link: Identification Of Major Fruit Types, via Wayne Armstrong's botany site. Pumpkins are pepoes.

Oct 22, 2005: Disanthus cercidifolius

Disanthus cercidifolius

The specific epithet for redbud hazel, cercidifolius, implies that the “leaves are of Cercis”; the resemblance is such that a quick glance at the shrub can lead to misidentification during certain times of the year. However, when the chlorophyll in the leaves of Disanthus cercidifolius begins to break down, a panoply of colours are revealed dissimilar to the autumn colours of Cercis.

The genus Disanthus is monotypic, meaning it contains only one species (compare with a monotypic family – it would only contain one genus, like the Nepenthaceae). Similarly, it is recognized that Disanthus has no close relatives within the witch-hazel family, relatively speaking. For more on its phylogenetic relationships, see: Li et al. 1999. Phylogenetic relationships of the Hamamelidaceae inferred from sequences of internal transcribed spacers (ITS) of nuclear ribosomal DNA. Am. J. Bot. 86:1027-1037.

Photography resource link: The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service Photo Gallery contains a suite of categorized photographs which are made available for use free of charge.

Oct 21, 2005: Decaisnea insignis

Decaisnea insignis

Another milestone today – this is entry number two hundred.

Decaisnea insignis is commonly known as “dead man's fingers”, a name inspired by its fleshy blue fruit, which ripen near Halloween and dangle menacingly from its branches. The follicles (pod-like fruit) contain black watermelon-like seeds surrounded by an edible, clear pulp. I would describe the taste as not unpleasant, but bland. The texture is more interesting – akin to jelly.

The akebia family, or Lardizabalaceae, contains eight genera. Decaisnea is an oddity as the only shrubby genus among a clan of woody climbers. Like most other members of the family, Decaisnea is native to southeast Asia, and in the case of Decaisnea insignis, western China. Two members of the family are an interesting botanical exception: Lardizabala and Boquila are native to Chile, forming what can only be called an odd biogeographical distribution for the family, as Chile and Asia were never in historic continental proximity.

The emerging foliage was previously featured on BPotD: Decaisnea insignis.

Botany resource link: UBC's Biology 321 – Bryophytes course site. Many images of mosses and liverworts, along with some introductory information about moss and liverwort morphology.

Oct 20, 2005: Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens

Even though the flowering season for the greater yellow lady's slipper is long gone, I'm going to sneak in this out-of-season photograph. I imagine that I'll be sharing a few non-seasonal images from time to time during the winter, just in case your favourite BPotD entries are showy flowers.

This photograph was taken July 20, 2004 in southern Manitoba, several weeks after the normal flowering season should have concluded, thanks to a cool, wet spring and early summer.

If you are familiar with this plant, you may have learned it as Cypripedium calceolus var. pubescens (e.g. University of Wisconsin-Madison species page). The Connecticut Botanical Society succinctly describes why the name has changed, and refers to the account of the Flora of North America project: Cypripedium parviflorum and this particular variety, Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens.

Here's a challenge regarding the genus Cypripedium: name the only two states in the lower 48 (excluding the District of Columbia) where you cannot find a member of the genus Cypripedium growing natively. One of the states is very surprising. I think all provinces and territories in Canada have at least one member of the genus (as does Alaska), but I need to check some of the Arctic floras to be certain about Nunavut.

A few recent items of interest regarding Botany Photo of the Day:

  • Tangled Bank Number 39 is up and running on The Questionable Authority weblog. I submitted the recent entry on Acer circinatum to join the collection of roughly two dozen other links to recent science-based writings and images. Well worth the visit to see what other science writers have to offer!
  • There were a couple new comments yesterday on the BPotD entry for the lichen Letharia vulpina. Susanne Alterman, a grad student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is seeking help collecting specimens from across North America – if you can pitch in, I think your contribution would be greatly appreciated. She has instructions and forms on her site.
  • Back in early May, I was humbled to be able to entertain Dr. Daniel Pauly, his wife and guests from Germany on a tour of UBC Botanical Garden, which I noted in the entry on Philadelphus delavayi. UBC announced two days ago that Dr. Pauly will be the first Canadian to receive the International Cosmos Prize (biography of Dr. Pauly via the Cosmos site). The biodiversity tragedy unfolding in the world's oceans is only being brought to light due to the work of scientists such as Dr. Pauly.

Nature / science resource link: Since we're on the topic of oceans, check out Bone Eating Snot Flower via Deep-Sea News. As you might guess, not a flower, but rather a literal interpretation of the name Osedax mucofloris, a species of zombie worm.

Oct 19, 2005: Epilobium sp.

Epilobium sp.

This is one of my all-time favourite photographs.

The capsules of this unidentified species of Epilobium (or willow-herb) have split open, revealing a mass of seeds tufted by silky white hairs. As you might guess, the hairs aid in wind dispersal. Since wind-dispersed seeds can travel long distances, this species is likely fairly generic in the conditions it requires for germination and growth; seeds which only travel a short distance are more likely to find conditions similar to the parent and can therefore be expected to have more specific growth requirements. There are disadvantages to the short-distance dispersal strategy, though, particularly for perennial plants; these include potential for inbreeding and competition for resources.

Photography resource link: Petteri Sulonen's Why Most Landscapes Suck. I should qualify this link by saying that even though I add a link to a photography resource, I may not actually agree with some or all of the opinions therein. I do, however, subscribe to the notion that thought-provoking articles are worthwhile, particularly if they force (re)examination of ideas and beliefs.

Oct 18, 2005: Agaricus praeclaresquamosus

Agaricus praeclaresquamosus

This photograph is courtesy of “leafdesigner” (a member of the UBC Botanical Garden Forums) of Battle Ground, Washington. leafdesigner submitted this image via the BPotD Submissions Forum here. Thanks for the image, and also thanks for writing accompanying text! leafdesigner writes:

This mushroom with the mouthful of a scientific name is sometimes called the “western flat-top agaricus”. A member of the same genus as the cultivated or “button” mushroom, it is poisonous. The odor of crushed flesh is disagreeable, being described as “creosote-like” or “smelling of library paste”. A good field mark is the bright yellow staining that occurs when the base of the stem is nicked, although this also happens with the equally poisonous Agaricus xanthodermus.”

I'll add an additional link: Agaricus praeclaresquamosus via Mykoweb.

Botany resource link: the Fungus Identification Forum, recently separated out as its own discussion area on the garden's forums after a request from one of the forum members. Identification of fungi can be extremely challenging, often requiring the use of a microscope and “spore prints”. Unlike lichen identification, though, you don't need to walk around with a chemistry set (a story for another day). Despite often requiring lab work, identification to genus is possible for many fungi with a good image and description, like so: Hydnellum peckii (which I absolutely have to find one day for BPotD!).

Oct 17, 2005: Acer circinatum

Acer circinatum

Updated Oct. 20, 2005 at 1:30am: Welcome to readers of Tangled Bank No. 39! If you don't know what Tangled Bank is, it's a biweekly collection of recent science-based writings and images from weblogs around the world, hosted by a different weblog for each edition – it's a great way to find out about other science weblogs!

Updated Oct. 17, 2005 at 8:05am: Welcome Boing Boing readers! If you're new to the site, you might like to check out a few other photos such as chocolate vine, 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard or the first BPotD, Melliodendron xylocarpum. Also, have a gander at the BPotD widget! – Daniel.

The idea and concept for this photograph of variability in autumn leaf colour of vine maple is thanks to Dan Otis, who assembled the collection for his own photo during the recent Maple Society Symposium field trip. Dan kindly allowed me to also take a picture, so I'm sharing it with you. Bear in mind, though, that if you like the image, please be sure to thank Dan in the comments, and not me – after all, all I had to do was show up and press a button after he did the work. This is the third in the series of three shots on Acer circinatum, previously featured here and here.

From a previous entry, Anthony asked “Why would being in the woods affect the color of the maple leaves?”, since I'd mentioned that the vine maples in the woods were yellow in autumn colour, while those in exposed sites were a brilliant orange-red. For an outstanding article on the topic, check out “Autumn Colours – Nature’s Canvas is a Silk Parasol” (PDF - 750K). Written by Dr. Rob Guy and Jodie Krakowski of UBC's Faculty of Forestry for UBC Botanical Garden's journal Davidsonia (I'm working on its new web site with open access to all recent articles), I'll quote the abstract to answer the question in brief:

The variety and widespread nature of leaf colour change in autumn has led to investigation of the biochemical pathways and compounds responsible. The synthesis of bright red colouration initiated by longer nights prior to leaf abscission in deciduous species points to some adaptive value for this expensive ephemeral trait. It is hypothesized that during the breakdown of the unstable chlorophyll and the dismantling of the nutrient-rich photosynthetic apparatus, red anthocyanins provide a more biochemically parsimonious alternative to the elaborate xanthophyll system. This alternative enables leaves to screen out excess light energy and circumvent photooxidative damage to leaf cells, while allowing photosynthesis to persist at low rates in support of metabolic processes and phloem loading required for nutrient resorption from leaves.

In other words, the formation of red pigments in the autumn provides protection, preventing the too-rapid breakdown of chlorophyll which could occur in exposed (read: excess light) areas. As you can clearly see in the leaf in the upper right, the bottom-right corner has the pattern of the leaf above. Where the leaf above shaded this leaf, no red pigments were produced. Where the leaf was exposed, bright red anthocyanins were formed. To take this to a broader perspective, vine maple trees in shaded forests and under low light conditions have little need to produce red pigments, as the breakdown of chlorophyll can occur at a modest pace. However, vine maples in exposed sites turn flame orange and red, so that the pigments produced will slow the rate of chlorophyll breakdown. The leaves in this photograph are from trees that are partially exposed, hence the attractive blend of colours.

No botany resource link today, since I'm answering one of Victoria's questions regarding plant taxonomy and names: Why is it that so many plants are in limbo as to their correct/finalized/accepted names?

I recently gave a lecture on the topic, and I had stated there were two broad reasons. I'm going to split one of those reasons into two, so I'll give three reasons here. Please know, though, that any one of these reasons can be combined with another one or all three can occur in a particular scenario.

The first reason is analogous to bookkeeping. Imagine a scenario where a name is published for a plant and it is later discovered that another taxonomist had already published the name describing a different plant (or, as has happened occasionally, the same taxonomist!). The most recent name would have to change since the older name (assuming everything is scientifically valid) would have priority. Or, imagine that someone names a plant that had already been named. The latter name is dropped as a synonym of the original version. Essentially, these rules try to enforce the notions that each species of plant has only one validly published name and that each name can only apply to one species of plant. As you might suspect, the modern days of rapid communication and information warehouses mean that names needing to change due to bookkeeping are now not a big proportion of the whole.

Disagreement about whether a subset of a species is distinct enough to be a subspecies or variety, and if so, which one of the two it should be is the second reason. I'll direct you to this page from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on “How Plants Are Named” for a discussion on the differences between subspecies and varieties. Frankly, this is a reason that makes me roll my eyes, because it causes much consternation over a relatively trivial matter. Should it be Pallaea glabella subsp. simplex or Pallaea glabella var. simplex? From the BBG link, you'll note that some scientists have tried to define when each should be used. Other scientists argue that only one or the other is needed, and they then refuse to recognize the other when publishing floristic works or databases, so in the fern species above, some scientists would use subspecies and others would use variety. This reason for instability of plant names makes little sense in the face of the overwhelming loss of biodiversity.

The final reason is the biggie. You first of all need to know that the modern system for scientifically naming plants predates Darwin's and Wallace's Theory of Evolution. Plant nomenclature did not therefore have mechanisms to reflect evolutionary relationships, though plants were recognized as being part of identifiable natural groups (e.g., composites or legumes) and very similar plants shared the same genus. As the conceptual lynchpin of modern biology took hold, however, the same general system of plant nomenclature was mapped onto evolution, such that this general principle emerged: plant names and classification should reflect evolutionary relationships.

The utility of this principle is immense, simply because closely related plants share similar characteristics. Given a scientific name for an unknown plant, a taxonomist can make several predictions about its morphology. A biochemist can predict the compounds she might be able to extract or use the knowledge of plant relationships to target groups of plants in search of a particular chemical. A horticulturist can use methods from propagating related species to increase the chance of successful propagation, perhaps helping conserve an endangered species. I'll expand on this area when I answer Victoria's question about the importance of taxonomy, but it will suffice for now to say that the predictive value when nomenclature and classification are tied to evolution is supremely important.

The downside, however, of tying the two together is that our understanding of evolutionary relationships both continues to develop and will doubtfully ever be completed. As new techniques are developed (e.g., rapid analysis of nucleic acid sequences) or new evidence is found (e.g., fossils, new species), different hypotheses may be formed about evolutionary relationships. Given that plant names and classification should reflect evolutionary relationships, the name of a species, genus or family may change to reflect the new hypothesis. It so happens that the rapid accrual of information through modern molecular techniques is causing a significant clarification of plant relationships, therein also requiring significant changes to plant names recently. Will it ever settle down? Perhaps, but it is hard to predict what future techniques might be developed to determine relationships. I suspect, though, that the massive loss of biodiversity will sadly make things simpler for our descendants due to smaller datasets.

Oct 16, 2005: Euonymus alatus 'Compactus'

Euonymus alatus 'Compactus'

Most members of the spike-thorn family are tropical, but a few genera, including Euonymus, are well-represented in temperate climates – in some areas, too well-represented. Though the striking foliage of compact burning bush has high ornamental appeal, it's been observed to be an invasive plant in eastern North America. This behaviour has not been noted in the maritime climates of western North America, where it is a Great Plant Pick (PDF) | GPP web site.

Photography resource link: Michael Reichmann of The Luminous Landscape refutes the notion that everything worth doing in photography has already been done in “Been There, Done That”.

Oct 15, 2005: Malus 'Jonagold'

Malus 'Jonagold'

The Apple Festival is on today and tomorrow. If numbers of people visiting the garden is the measure, it's the biggest event of the year (and certainly one of the biggest within the entire university) – I do have to say that 13,000kg (28,000lbs) of apples is quite a sight. Anyway, you'll have to excuse me if I've been a bit brief recently and for possibly being abbreviated the next couple days.

The 'Jonagold' apple is a half-sibling to 'Elstar', as it also has 'Golden Delicious' as one parent, with 'Jonathan' as the other. 'Jonagold' was introduced by the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, and later received an “Outstanding Fruit Culitvar Award” from the American Society for Horticulture Science.

Botany resource link: Plant Hormones goes into great detail into the chemistry and physiological effects of plant growth regulators.

Oct 14, 2005: Nerine bowdenii

Nerine bowdenii

Commonly known as either nerine or Cape flower, Nerine bowdenii is a native of South Africa. The name of the genus refers to the Nereids, or sea-nymphs, of Greek mythology.

Planted for an autumn display of pink colour, this mass of flowers is from the UBC Alpine Garden.

Photography resource link: For inspiration, the floral abstract photographs of Duncan Smith and Adam Clutterbuck.

Oct 13, 2005: Zinnia haageana 'Old Mexico' and Autographa californica

Zinnia haageana 'Old Mexico' is an All-America Selections Winner from forty-three years ago –, a cultivar that has stood the test of time. Considering its performance in trials done by The Gardens at the University of Georgia, that decades-long popularity is no wonder. It has performed similarly well this year at UBC.

Autographa californica is the moth, commonly known as the alfalfa looper. The sickle-shaped white spot on the wing is an easy diagnostic feature.

The adult moth does no damage, while the caterpillar is rarely present in numbers large enough to have an economic impact on crops. In fact, the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program for cotton and loopers states: “Moderate populations of loopers may be more beneficial than harmful, as they support populations of natural enemies that also attack the more destructive bollworms, budworms, and beet armyworms.”. Similar statements are made on the site regarding loopers and other Californian crops such as lettuce, artichoke and tomatoes. Along with a suite of predators, alfalfa looper is also susceptible to a baculovirus.

Botany / conservation resource link: Botanic Gardens Conservation International “brings together the world's botanic gardens to work for plant conservation through science, education and horticulture.”

Oct 12, 2005: Coprinus comatus

Coprinus comatus

Tom Volk covered shaggy manes as his Fungus of the Month for May 2004, so I'm going to refer you to his site to read about some of the science behind this fungus, one of the previous “Foolproof Four”. I do have to share one term with you regarding the genus Coprinus: autodeliquescence (doesn't that roll off the tongue?), or self-digestion. These fungi break down their own tissue as a way to aid release of spores – Dr. Volk goes into more detail on the phenomenon.

You can also read more about Coprinus comatus via MykoWeb or see the original non-close-up image of this photograph on the UBC forums.

On a different tack, I'd like to thank Beverley for volunteering to add zone information in comments where applicable. Gardeners, please remember that zones are simply guides and may not accurately reflect your situation.

If you haven't read the comments from yesterday's entry, I'd encourage you to do so. Peter Wharton shared his recollections about the expedition where he collected the seed for the Gleditsia, adding a personal touch.

Also, Victoria Weber posed some interesting questions about plant taxonomy, which I had to think about how best to address. I've come to the conclusion that since I can't think of a site that answers her questions compactly, I'll answer them over time within BPotD entries. I can then collate the writings and publish it somehow as a separate article on the garden's web site or journal. Does this approach work for you, Victoria? I know it's not an immediate answer.

I've also been contemplating Tim Bray's essay on Memory, particularly the concluding bit about the ephemeral nature of the electronic and his suggestion to commit pixels to paper. If I were to self-publish a BPotD book using one of the online high-quality photographic book services available (which I'll likely do for myself in any case), would you be interested?

Photography resource link: Mark Hobson's article on Book Publishing (via Nature Photographers Online) seems an appropriate accompaniment to the above.

Oct 11, 2005: Gleditsia japonica var. koraiensis

Gleditsia japonica var. koraiensis

How did I take this photograph? Very carefully. This Japanese honey locust is located near a rubbish bin, an attractant to the local population of yellow-jacket wasps. Since the bin is sealed, the wasps instead congregate on this tree – one landed on these pods a few seconds after taking this shot. Oddly, most of these 20cm (8in) long pods had been (or were being) chewed down by the wasps, particularly those pods in less exposed areas.

This is yet another one of those plants in which the scientific name has not been settled on. As you might suspect from the name koraiensis, this is the Korean morphological variety of the plant identified as distinct from the rest of the species by Nakai (it also grows in China and Japan). Authoritative taxonomic databases do not reflect Nakai's interpretation, instead placing it strictly as the species Gleditsia japonica (and here).

In Phylogenetic relationships in Gleditsia (Leguminosae) based on ITS sequences (Am. J. Bot. 2003;90:310-320), Schnabel et al. are not able to provide a definitive answer as to whether the variety koraiensis should be recognized taxonomically, to wit:

In addition, our two molecular data sets show different relationships among the G. japonica accessions. The cpDNA data suggest that the South Korean and Japanese accessions cluster separately from the Chinese accessions. In contrast, all the analyses of ITS data alone and the ML analysis of combined data place the South Korean accessions in one clade and the Japanese and Chinese accessions in a second clade. More extensive sampling of G. japonica, especially in China, will be necessary to determine whether any of the subspecific designations of G. japonica are phylogenetically justified and to clarify the taxonomic complexity of this group.

It needs to be noted that clarifying the taxonomic complexity at this resolution was not the main goal of their work, as they were looking at Gleditsia more broadly.

Fortunately, acquiring more data for this species is achievable, as it is not threatened. Perhaps the name will be “finalized” one day. For now, I've used the varietal koraiensis, as it adds a tiny bit of information about this particular plant at UBC.

Nature resource link: I linked to it five months ago, but it's worth mentioning again since there are so many new readers of BPotD – “Beauty and the Botanist”, an essay by the late Dr. Stan Rowe (full disclosure: his biography was written by my uncle). If you've ever wondered about BPotD's tagline, “In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily”, this is the essay that serves as the inspiration.

Oct 10, 2005: Malus 'Elstar'

Malus 'Elstar'

The apple cultivar 'Elstar' is the result of a cross between 'Golden Delicious' and 'Ingrid Marie' made in 1972 in Wageningen, The Netherlands. It is now one of the many varieties of apples grown in British Columbia, primarily in the Okanagan and Creston Valleys. Despite being responsible for only 25% to 30% of Canada's apple production during the last decade, British Columbia accounts for 65% to 70% of all Canadian exports (Canadian apple production).

Although most apples grown are from only a dozen or so different varieties, many British Columbian orchardists also have a few trees of heritage or uncommon cultivars. Those few plants help supply the over sixty varieties of apples that are available for purchase and tasting at the annual Apple Festival at UBC, coming up next weekend. If you're a local, you absolutely need to attend.

Botany resource link: Apples, from Mark Rieger's Fruit Crops site.

Oct 9, 2005: Rhizocarpon geographicum

Rhizocarpon geographicum

Yellow map or world map lichen is frequently used in lichenometry, a geobotanical technique employed to estimate the age of exposure of a rock surface. Since Rhizocarpon geographicum quickly colonizes newly-exposed rock surfaces and has a known rate of growth, geologists can, for example, examine glacially-deposited rocks and determine the rate of glacial retreat. For an excellent introduction to lichenometry, read Lichens, Lichenometry and Global Warming (PDF), a short and well-illustrated paper by Richard Aston in the September 2004 issue of “Microbiologist”.

Photography resource link: Photographer and writer Freeman Patterson. To see a sampling of his photographs, click on Prints. Use the small vertical grey bars to access different albums of his images.

Oct 8, 2005: Acer circinatum

Acer circinatum

Acer circinatum, second of a three-part series on this plant. The first can be seen here. The last of the series will include a written piece about the whys and hows of autumn leaf colours.

Botany / conservation resource link: H. Bruce Rinker's article entitled, “The Weight of a Petal: The Value of Botanical Gardens”. An excellent (but brief) article summarizing the benefits of research and conservation gardens, such as UBC.

Oct 7, 2005: Petasites japonicus var. giganteus

Petasites japonicus var. giganteus

Credit to “Weekend Gardener” of Coquitlam, British Columbia for this image of a “man-eating plant” (submitted via the BPotD Submissions Forum). Kind thanks!

As promised in this BPotD entry for the Asian Garden, here is another photograph of Petasites japonicus var. giganteus, or Japanese butterbur. As alluded to by Weekend Gardener in the written accompaniment to his submission, this plant can be an aggressive grower given the right conditions. I'm hesitant to attach the moniker “invasive” to it (like so many others have on the web), primarily because its ability to disperse is limited. That being said, it may indeed be biologically invasive in some areas, so caution should be exercised if you are considering growing it.

The size and structure of the leaves hint at the habitat ecology of the plant – moist soils in a shady forest. Large leaf surface area typically equates with a high rate of water loss, hence the need for moist soils. The large leaf surface area is also a mechanism for capturing as much available light as possible, a strategy typical of growing in shady conditions. The leaf itself is relatively thin compared with the sturdy similarly-sized leaves of some Gunnera. When considered in tandem with the surface area of the leaf, thin large leaves imply the plant cannot be exposed to high winds. Accordingly, forests offer protection from any potential mechanical damage or dessication caused by air movement.

Small note on the taxonomy – some excellent references suggest variety giganteus, while others use subspecies giganteus. I've used variety, but if anyone wants to convince me otherwise, I'd definitely listen to any argument.

Photography resource link: The work of Ladislav Kamarád, in particular the photographs from South America: Patagonia and Bolivia.

Oct 6, 2005: Acer circinatum

Acer circinatum

I promised some autumn colour, so here is Acer circinatum, or vine maple, growing in an exposed site within E.C. Manning Provincial Park. You can compare these trees with the ones in a shaded location featured on BPotD a few days ago. Just a slight difference.

An image planned for a future entry will be accompanied by a written explanation of why individuals of the same species colour differently. For today, though, just enjoy.

BPotD news item one: Tangled Bank Number 38 is up, this time hosted by Living the Scientific Life. Tangled Bank, if you've not heard of it before, is a collection of recent online scientific writing contributed by a number of authors. This time there are forty-one contributions, including the submission from Botany Photo of the Day, Biarum tenuifolium. You could spend an entire day reading all of the contributions – wish I had the time!

BPotD news item two: Dr. Scott Russell, who runs Scott's Botanical Links, has highlighted Botany Photo of the Day as his selection for October 5, 2005 (and he mentions the six month anniversary). Thanks, Scott – BPotD still has a long way to catch up to your nearly ten years of daily links and reviews!

BPotD news item three: I'm communicating with The Science Creative Quarterly, an online science daily, about collaboration between BpotD and SCQ (they're here at UBC as well). I'm sure you'll be hearing more about them in the near future, but for now, be sure to check out their bold site for its style and content.

Botany resource link: The Miracle of Fall from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Horticultural Extension is a comprehensive resource site about autumn colours that includes suggestions for foliage plants and foliage webcams(!). Discovered via the Librarians' Index to the Internet.

Oct 5, 2005: Lobaria pulmonaria

Lobaria pulmonaria

If you like to keep track of milestones, today is Botany Photo of the Day's six month anniversary. I suppose I should celebrate the milestone with a showy flower, or at least some colour other than green (the dominant colour in many recent photos), but I'm going to sneak in one more “green thing” before sharing some autumn colours over the next few days.

Lobaria pulmonaria, or lungwort, is a lichen found widely around the world. I've not been able to track down a complete distribution for the species yet, but I've so far found references to: western North America, eastern North America, central and northern Europe, boreal forests of temperate Asia, and an interesting outlier, India (with its subtropical / tropical climates).

This species is highly sensitive to sulfur dioxide. An increase in atmospheric pollution is partly responsible for a noticeable decline in the species over the past century (habitat loss is another), so much so that it is often listed as endangered or rare in countries of Europe.

Although this lichen commonly grows on trees, mossy rocks and wood in shady mature forests, I found it on the side of a path, apparently fallen from a tree. Sad perhaps (for the lichen), but essential as part of a nutrient input process in old-growth forests. Lobaria pulmonaria hosts a nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria, which pulls in atmospheric nitrogen into the body of the lichen. Eventually, when the lichen falls to the forest floor and decays, the nitrogen is then added to the soil, providing a necessary nutrient for a suite of plants. Marie Antoine, in “An Ecophysiological Approach to Quantifying Nitrogen Fixation by Lobaria oregana” (The Bryologist Vol. 107(1)) found that the related species, Lobaria oregana, could add over 15kg of nitrogen / hectare to the soil every year in some of the studied sites!

Photography resource link: May the Art Be With You, an article by Donna Bollenbach for Nature Photographers Online Magazine, reminds that the artistic quality of the photograph should be considered before pressing the shutter button.

Oct 4, 2005: E.C. Manning Provincial Park

Sumallo Grove

Sumallo Grove is the site of the largest trees in British Columbia's E.C. Manning Provincial Park. Seen in this photograph taken yesterday are Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and Douglas fir (or as some would say, douglas) aka Pseudotsuga menziesii. Another large tree species found in the grove but absent in this photograph is grand fir, Abies grandis. Vine maples, or Acer circinatum, provide the colour in this image. In exposed sites elsewhere in the park, the vine maples displayed brilliant orange-red colours; in the shady forest, though, the vine maples only showcased a bright yellow.

Botany resource link: This is pretty nifty – an at-a-glance guide to Autumn Colours in forests managed by the UK Forestry Commission. The site also includes a photo gallery of autumn colours.

Oct 3, 2005: Rostrinucula dependens

Rostrinucula dependens DJHC.0644B

Rostrinucula dependens is a member of one of the most successful plant families, the Lamiaceae (see that distribution map for the family!) or Labiatae. However, Rostrinucula itself is uncommon – it is a genus with only two species, both endemic to China. Only available in cultivation during recent years, the plant has no commonly used name, though UBC proposes a couple in its interpretative sign for its plant.

Photography resource link: Colour Theory as Applied to Landscape Photography via The Luminous Landscape.

Oct 2, 2005: Biarum tenuifolium

Biarum tenuifolium

Updated October 6, 2005 at 12:05 pm: This entry was Botany Photo of the Day's contribution to the 38th edition of Tangled Bank, a periodic collection of online science writing.

I know this isn't the most impressive plant visually. In fact, it's not much taller than 15cm (six inches). However, by placing it in context, I hope you'll develop an appreciation for it.

Brent Hine, curator of UBC's Alpine Garden stepped into my office a week or so ago to let me know that this little beauty was in full flower, and that he noticed it from 10m (thirty feet) away. Considering the size of the plant, you've probably concluded that he wasn't seeing the plant. And he wasn't – he was smelling it. If you were standing downwind with Brent that day, wafting into your nose would be a scent reminiscent of cow manure.

Needless to say, the pollinators for this plant are not hummingbirds or butterflies. Instead, the scent is an attractant to flies. The long, upright spike is part of the spadix. The visible portion is the producer of the foul scent, whereas further down the spadix, near ground level, are the actual, tightly-compressed fertile flowers (see here for a cross-section of one of the subspecies). Dr. Danny Beath, in an article on the International Aroid Society web site, goes into great detail on the pollination ecology of the Araceae.

Native to the rocky environments in the eastern Mediterranean, Biarum tenuifolium employs geocarpy, or the production of fruit at or below the ground surface. It is thought that this is a strategy to ensure seeds will not be dispersed far from the parent plant, as the favourable conditions for growth of new plants is highly localized – dispersing seed far beyond the parent may encounter unfavourable conditions and would be energetically wasteful. This phenomenon of limiting dispersal is termed atelechory, and it often occurs in plants of the desert or dry rocky areas.

Botany resource link: Botanical Society of America's Online Image Collection provides “educational images for instructional use”. If you need visual examples to help you learn botanical terminology, this site is an excellent reference.

Oct 1, 2005: Atropa belladonna

Well, it's the weekend, so I hope you don't mind if I reiterate my request for your contributions to the Flower Mandalas Project from a few days ago, now that you might have some contemplative time. I notice Tim Bray has made mention of it and that's helped generate a number of comments for David's project, but there is certainly room for many more!

On to today's photographs. The two images were shot within seconds of each other. All in-camera settings were the same for the photographs, and both were processed digitally with the exact same settings. So what accounts for the difference? Last week, in the photography resource link for this entry, I highlighted an article about the importance of polarizing filters. These photographs of deadly nightshade are my little contribution to illustrating why. The polarizer is at maximum effect in the first photo, then twisted a quarter turn (so essentially removed altogether) in the second photo. Note both the boost in the warmth of the photo and the reduction in glare or reflections on the glossy fruit.

Atropa belladonna is a member of the Solanaceae, the tomato or nightshade family. Like most members of the family, its various parts are poisonous, though perhaps more violently so in deadly nightshade than other members. Despite a reputation for causing death, somehow, inexplicably, someone managed to discover that the application of juice from the fruit to the pupils of the eyes will dilate them. Apparently, large pupils are seemingly attractive, as this was a technique employed both by Cleopatra and women of the Renaiisance era. You can read more on Wikipedia about atropine, the responsible alkaloid.

On a different topic, I'd like to draw your attention to the first-ever Circus of the Spineless! Circus of the Spineless is a monthly gathering of recent online essays and photographs about invertebrates, from insects to squids to spiders. I submitted the BPotD entry on Antheraea polymorpha, but that's only one of fifty or so contributions to the compilation. There is a lot of top-notch writing and photography, and if you are at all interested in the little (and not-so-little) spineless critters that share this small world with us, it's well-worth the visit.

Photography resource link: Something I'd like to try one day is Kite Aerial Photography. Charles Benton's site has many galleries of his work -- some of them even have a botanical bent.

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