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Hands Off!

Category(-ies): Plant Discoveries

Researchers from Oklahoma State University recently published a study that reveals touching the soft furry leaves of the African violet can actually cause damage to the plant. The scientists found that plants had more damage, fewer leaf numbers and smaller size when brushed with bare hands that had been applied with lotion than those brushed with gloved hands. Their results may encourage African violet enthusiasts to keep their hands off the attractive plants.

Links and resources:

  • For African violets, "hands off" means healthier via Science Daily
  • Brotton, J.C. and J.C. Cole. 2009. Brushing using a hand coated with body lotion or in a latex glove decreases African violet plant quality and size. Horticultural Technology 19: 613-616.

Thank you (once again) to Claire Thompson, UBC Work Study student, for writing this entry.

Posted by Daniel Mosquin at 12:00 PM


The "New" Carnivores

Category(-ies): Plant Discoveries

Researchers at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew have recently discovered that some varieties of tomato and potato plants are carnivorous predators that capture and kill insects for nutrients. Their discovery has added 325 new species to all known carnivorous plants, and revealed that the number of carnivorous plants may have been underestimated by up to 50%. Unlike the venus flytrap, these carnivourous plants do not directly ingest their prey, but trap and kill insects with sticky hairs on their stems, and later absorb the nutrients through their roots once insects decay and fall to ground. This ability is thought to be an adaption to living in wild areas with poor soil.


Thank you again to Claire Thompson for providing this write-up.

Posted by Daniel Mosquin at 12:00 PM


Sweet Potato Protection is More Than Skin Deep

Category(-ies): Plant Discoveries , Plant Diseases and Pests

Thank you again to Claire Thompson for providing another entry:

Researchers from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service have found beneficial compounds in sweet potatoes that provide protection against plant diseases. The research team found measurable amounts of protective compounds called caffeoylquinic acids, which act as antioxidants against several types of plant fungi.


Posted by Daniel Mosquin at 1:42 PM


"Extinct" flower found in Isle of Man garden

Category(-ies): Plant Discoveries

Claire Thompson, UBC BG work-study student, provides another write-up:

A cultivar of gladiolus thought to be extinct has been found in a garden on the Isle of Man. Gardener Edward Huyton has since donated individuals for propagation to the National Trust in England.


Posted by Daniel Mosquin at 7:00 AM


"A Guardian of Grasses"

Category(-ies): Plant Discoveries , Plants, Food and Medicine

Researchers from Purdue University and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service have discovered that many of the world's grass food crops (e.g., corn, barley, rice, rye) depend on the Hm1 gene or one of its homologues (genes similar in structure and evolutionary origin) to prevent death from a leaf blight and mold disease caused by the fungus Cochliobolus carbonum race 1 (CCR1). As the abstract for the scientific article states, "Given the devastating ability of CCR1 to kill maize, these findings imply that the evolution and/or geographical distribution of grasses may have been constrained if Hm1 did not emerge."

Grasses' Guardian Gene Found via the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

Sindhu et al. 2008. A guardian of grasses: Specific origin and conservation of a unique disease-resistance gene in the grass lineage. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA. 105(5): 1762-1767. 10.1073/pnas.0711406105

Posted by Daniel Mosquin at 3:37 PM


Rapid Evolution in Crepis

Category(-ies): Plant Discoveries

Researchers from the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CEFE) in Montpellier, France have observed rapid evolution in a population of Crepis sancta (Asteraceae) in response to the urban environment.

Crepis sancta produces two types of seeds (i.e., it has dimorphic seeds): a small seed with a pappus and a large seed without. The seed with the pappus favours high dispersal, while the seed without a pappus falls to the ground near the parent plant. In a comparison of urban and rural populations of Crepis sancta, the researchers discovered that the urban populations produced far fewer of the pappus-borne seeds. The hypothesis is that the populations have shifted away from producing pappus-borne seeds because of low germination rates in urban environments — in as few as five generations.

Plant seeds adapt to ‘city life’ via the BBC.

Thanks to Stannous F for sending along the story!

Posted by Daniel Mosquin at 2:03 PM


WWF: New Species Found in Vietnam

Category(-ies): Plant Discoveries

The World Wide Fund for Nature (aka World Wildlife Fund in Canada and USA) recently announced the discovery of eleven new species in the Thua Thien Hue province of central Vietnam (also known as the “Green Corridor”). Among the eleven new species are seven kinds of plants: five orchids, one member of the arum family and an Aspidistra species.

New Species Found in Vietnam's Green Corridor news release from WWF

National Geographic has details about some of the plants, including photographs: Gastrodia theana, Saccolabiopsis viridiflora, Anoectochilus annamenis and Aspidistra nicolai.

Thank you to Stannous F of San Francisco and Stephanie K of Vancouver for submitting this story within minutes of each other!

Posted by Daniel Mosquin at 4:40 PM


New Plant Family: The Simulcraceae

Category(-ies): Plant Discoveries

In a Scientific American article entitled “Floral Derangement”, Steve Mirsky highlights an article by Bletter et al. published in the April 1 issue of Ethnobotany Research and Applications: “Artificae Plantae: The Taxonomy, Ecology, and Ethnobotany of the Simulacraceae”. In the paper, seventeen genera of fake flora are described: Calciumcarbonatia, Celadonica, Conglomeratium, Dentumadhesivium, Ductusadhesivia, Granitus, Lignus, Metallicus, Papyroidia, Paraffinius, Photophyta, Plasticus, Polystyrin, Prophylactica, Silicus, Simulaca, and Textile.

Read more about the Simulcraceae in the original paper: Bletter N, Reynertson KA and JV Runk. 2007. Artificae Plantae: The taxonomy, ecology, and ethnobotany of the Simulacraceae. Ethnobotany Research and Applictions. 5: 159-177.

Thank you to Stannous F for suggesting this article for the garden's weblog!

Posted by Daniel Mosquin at 11:44 AM


Plants Recognize Siblings

Category(-ies): Plant Discoveries

Canadian scientists Sue Dudley and Amanda File of McMaster University have discovered that plants of Cakile edentula (sea rocket) allocate more resources to root-growth (and are hence more competitive) when grown with non-sibling plants in the same containers. When grown with sibling plants, the plants do not show the same phenomenon. The question “How do plants recognize their siblings?” is as-yet unanswered.

Plants Recognize Their Siblings, Biologists Discover from the McMaster Daily News

Plants Can Tell Who's Who via news@nature.com

Thank you to Stannous F and Junglekeeper@UBC Botanical Garden Forums for sharing this story with me.

Posted by Daniel Mosquin at 1:32 PM


Early Trees Discovery

Category(-ies): Plant Discoveries

A recent discovery of a complete fossil sample of the world's oldest known trees has solved a botanical mystery and now gives an idea of the structure of the world's first forests.

In the late 1800s, fossil tree trunks were discovered in upstate New York that were identified as being between 390 and 350 million years old, among the world's oldest known trees (more accurate methods in recent years have dated the fossils to 385 million years ago, the oldest known). A member of the extinct plant order Cladoxylopsida (closely related to ferns and sphenopsids), the trunks were assigned to the genus Eospermatopteris. However, no fossil foliage or fruiting bodies accompanied the trunks. Subsequent discoveries of other cladoxylopsid fossils continued to yield only incomplete specimens – either trunks or foliage. This group included the fossil genus Wattieza, previously known only from foliage.

Two years ago, a discovery on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation quarry in Schoharie County revealed a complete fossil that united the foliage of Wattieza with the trunk of Eospermatopteris, solving a botanical mystery.

The appearance of early forests is now easier to imagine, populated by (at least) 8m (26 ft.) tall tree-fern-like plants. They seem to have had naked trunks and bore a large crown of branches at the apex. The branches are thought to have abscised (dropped from the tree) as frond-like modules, allowing forest litter to accumulate and likely spurring the evolution of arthropod fauna.

Thanks to Peter Wharton and Aussiebob@UBC Botanical Garden Forums for submitting this item.

Posted by Daniel Mosquin at 1:29 PM