A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants
By Ruth Kassinger
Have you ever had a plant die while under your care? You may not have thought twice about it. For Ruth Kassinger, the death, or murder as she describes it, of her 12 year-old kumquat tree propelled her on a quest to understand how plants function and just where she may have gone wrong. During her quest, Kassinger describes the quintessential studies that lay the foundation for our understanding of plants while exploring some of the fantastic roles plants play in our society today.
Kassinger begins the undertaking of how to understand plants by looking at the basic physiology inside of the plant, then discusses the roots, leaves, and flowers. Within each section, Kassinger combines personal anecdotes with botanical history and tales of current researchers/plant enthusiasts. Combining all of these viewpoints gives the reader a broad understanding of botany and makes the book an enjoyable read for anyone even vaguely interested in plants.
If you have ever tried to raise or live with a plant, or you've just looked at a plant and thought, "Well, huh.", this book is for you. Take the dive. I promise you will learn a thing or two. You may even want to try some of the quintessential experiments in your own home or find a plant that fits your life style!
The Canada goose. If you live anywhere in North America you are probably familiar with these large, chin-strapped birds. They are one of the few species that seem to be unaffected by human development. In fact, they seem more than happy to call humans their neighbors - although the feeling is not always mutual.
I grew up in a suburb outside of Cleveland where you were just as likely to be stopped by a family of Canada geese crossing the street as you were to be stopped by a train at the tracks. An oxymoron, the geese were as spectacular to look at as they were a nuisance. During middle school, my brother and I ran a cross country meet that required you to run two loops around a pond on a community college campus, prime real estate for Canada geese. After the race, we both had to go home barefoot because my mom did not want to get goose poop all over the car.
I realized during my master's degree though, that I had completely overlooked this species during my childhood. I was staying at a field site in the Catskills of New York eating my supper near a pond and witnessed something incredible. As I sat there, I noticed a flock of geese gathering next to me. Two geese flew to the other side of the pond and began honking. Immediately, the geese to my left began honking back and getting into a V-formation with a group of geese still gathered behind them.
The geese honked across the pond and within the "V" for about a minute. I could not help but chuckle to myself as they reminded me of the take off scene in the movie Airplane!, where Roger, Victor, and Clarence talk to mission control. (The two geese already in the pond being mission control, and the geese honking information being Roger, Victor, and Clarence.) The honks within the "V" reminded me of Roger, Victor, and Clarence asking "huh?" in the cockpit; while, the louder ones between the geese in the pond and the "V" were the geese giving and receiving liftoff commands.
After the minute of intense honking, the "V' took up and landed near mission control. As the "V" landed, the second group began to get into formation and the honking began all over again. Immediately following, I was compelled to call my parents and share with them the spectacle I had just witnessed. Unfortunately, they thought I had gone of the deep end and found it to be hysterical. "Amy, did you decide to try any mushrooms while you were in the forest?" and, "When was the last time you spoke to a person?" Ugh.
In their defense, I was REALLY excited about what I had witnessed and thought it was both extremely interesting and hilarious. After calming down and explaining my disbelief that I had grown up with Canada geese and never paid attention to their behavior and this behavior was exactly like Airplane!, a favorite of my dad's, my parents seemed to appreciate the story in the way I had hoped. Although, they still tease me about it to this day...
About the Author
Amy Hruska is the creator of Beasts & Leaves and currently a researcher in the Department of Botany at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Thoughts and opinions expressed above are her own.
For more information about Amy visit: amyhruska.weebly.com
Today, is the inaugural World Gorilla Day. It may come as a shock as gorillas may be the most charismatic species on the planet due to their similarities to humans and their current listing as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Why hasn't World Gorilla Day been around before today? Why start today? World Gorilla Day has been created to celebrate both the 50th anniversary of the Karisoke Research Center (operated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, DFGFI) and raise awareness and funds for their conservation efforts of both subspecies of Gorilla beringei. However, as the DFGI notes on their page, there are numerous organizations working hard to conserve our two gorilla species and their subspecies and such a day is not meant to celebrate just one organization. It is meant to celebrate the many and, most importantly, to celebrate the gorillas who are fighting for their survival.
As previously mentioned, there are two species of gorilla: Gorilla beringei (ssp. beringei and graueri) and Gorilla gorilla (ssp. diehli and gorilla) - both found in the forests of central Africa. Their current distributions are largely restricted to areas not impacted by human activities. Gorilla diets primarily consist of herbs, leaves, stems, bark and fruit; but, G. gorilla ssp. gorilla do feed on social ants and termites. All species are long-lived with life spans expected to be at least 40 years old (the maximum life span is unknown). Poaching, habitat degradation and destruction, and climate change all pose major threats to both species of gorillas. G. beringei subspecies also have the additional threat of civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Where can you learn more about gorillas?
There are a lot of different resources for learning more and supporting gorilla conservation efforts. The best place to learn more is probably IUCN's Red List summaries for G. beringei and G. gorilla. Other useful resources are the DFGFI, WWF, The Gorilla Organization, and Gorilla Doctors.
Also, be sure to check out all the amazing footage of gorillas on YouTube to brighten your day! Feel free to share your favorite gorilla facts or videos below!
You can officially find Beasts & Leaves on both Twitter and Facebook! We are also excited to offer the opportunity to share posts and questions on Facebook for those who may not want to submit an entire blog post!
Check out submission details on our About page.
#Nature4All #ecology #iamanaturalist
Ficus is a genus of plant familiar to most people. From the delightful edible fruit of Ficus carica to the Ficus species found in homes and offices worldwide, Ficus is a relatively regular player in our day to day lives. There is an estimated 750 Ficus species with native ranges throughout the tropics and subtropics. Perhaps, some of the most charismatic of these are the strangler figs (also known as banyan trees). These trees begin growing in the branches of a different species as an epiphyte and send roots down from their host's crown, slowly over taking their host tree.
Prior to moving to Hawaiʻi, the only Ficus species I was familiar with were the ones that produced edible figs (though I had never seen the tree), and the house plant in our living room growing up. Since moving though, I have gotten to experience their impressive characteristics first hand and have realized just why they have captivated so many.
First, their flowers are enclosed in what look like unripe fruits and pollinated solely by specialized fig wasps. These fig-wasp relationships represent one of the most fantastic cases of coevolution in our natural world. Second, and maybe even more impressive, figs survived what the dinosaurs could not and there is fossil evidence supporting that figs were important for mammals who also survived and flourished after the dinosaurs. Third, these trees have played important supporting roles to humans throughout history, both has sustenance and cultural icons.
While Ficus species are diverse and found throughout the tropics and subtropics, these plants were unable establish in the Hawaiian islands on their own. Either they did not successfully disperse to the islands, dispersed and didn't establish, or were unable to reproduce and persist without their unique pollinators. Historically, it was their reputation as hardy species that brought Ficus trees to Hawaiʻi by humans. Their quick growth and larger than life size were thought to be useful for watershed management by the Sugar Planters' Association during the early 1900s. Ficus trees would have been relatively harmless too, had their specific wasp pollinators not been introduced (no wasp, no seeds). However, reforestation efforts were deemed too slow without the natural seed production of Ficus and pollinators were introduced for at at least two Ficus species, with many other Ficus associating wasps and insects being recorded as introduced in the last thirty years.
Today, Ficus species can be found in arboretums and parks throughout Hawaiʻi. More worrisome though is that some species have made their homes in Hawaiian forests and, with their pollinators, are more than just a nonnative addition. With small bird-dispersed fruits filled with thousands of seeds, these trees are now considered to be invasive. While the Sugar Planter's Association may have had good intentions for trying to better the watershed, introduced Ficus trees and their pollinators have been an additional battle in the war against invasive species in the Hawaiʻi.
For More Information About Figs
Check out these useful tips for helping a botanist or naturalist identify your mystery plant: HERE
“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.” - Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
"Cock-a-doodle-doooo", the rooster begins at 0530 in the morning. The outside world begins to stir as the sun rises over the horizon, creating a beautiful cotton-candy sky. Sunlight pushes back the shadows and reveals Crayola Light Chrome Green Prosopis leaves. As more rays peak over the horizon, the rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri) travel down from deep in Mānoa Valley and take their positions in their Prosopis pews outside my window. Soon their chorus of harsh hymns will begin. As I shuffle from the bed to lanai, I observe the not-so feral cat below wake and patiently wait for humans to walk by and provide her with six breakfasts.
Across the way, I can see our neigboring Myna couple (Acridotheres tristis) now has young nestled at the base of their coconut (Cocos nucifera) frond. Conveniently for the Mynas, the tree has no coconuts currently on it and they are not likely to be disturbed by local fruit pickers. I begin to wonder if there is at all a correlation to their nest placement and the lack of fruit on the tree.
Most of the landscape before me is a mix of concrete, structures, and flora and fauna introduced to Hawai‘i. However, I feel fortunate that the landscaping crew incorporated a variety of native plant species too: Hibiscus arnottianus, Vitex rotundifolia, Scaevola taccada, and Wikstroemia uva-ursi. All the interactions between species unique compared to elsewhere in the world. Species navigating a big city and relying on other species that may not be part of their ancestral memory. As I am still working to adjust to city life myself, I cannot help but admire the resiliency of these plants and animals that now call bustling downtown Honolulu home. As I notice my mind begin to wander, I myself wander back inside to continue my morning routine...
As the sun heats our concrete jungle, my wild neighbors are still hard at work. I make my way to water our lanai garden. Two red-vented bulbuls (Pycnonotus cafer) are perched on the banister closely inspecting the glossy, green cherry tomatoes - days away from beginning to turn yellow. The sound of the sliding door causes the inquisitive duo to quickly fly to the Prosopis; but, they maintain a close watch of my movements.
During my watering, I hear a song unfamiliar to our little neighborhood. A whimsical whistle followed by rapid clicks. A young male white-rumped shama (Copsychus malabaricus) is searching for an area to call his own. I hope he has luck. He would quickly be the new headliner of our daily concerts.
As my watering routine ends, I again notice the two red-vented bulbuls across the way; now, displaying rather mischievous behavior. One of the two is carrying something large, green, and squirming. I quickly reach for binoculars inside to witness what such a food item could be. A large caterpillar. I take note of two distinct circles where I'd expect eyes to be. They are white in the center transitioning to royal blue to black. The caterpillar is larger than the bulbul's head. Surely, it won't be able to eat it. I watch as the bulbul thrashes the caterpillar into submission. Before I can witness just how a bulbul tackles such a food challenge, they fly out of sight. (Research later reveals the caterpillar to be an oleander hawk-moth caterpillar, Daphnis nerii, another introduced species to Hawai‘i.)
As the sun begins to set, it's easy to notice the world slowing down around me. As we eat supper in our lanai garden, we eat mostly in silence observing all that is happening around us. We note the cumulus clouds highlighted by a pink and violet backdrop. The two native white terns (Manu O Ku or Gygis alba) return to their new home in the monkeypod tree (Albizia saman) 50 meters away. A particularly spectacular species because it is one of the few native birds that have adapted to urban life.
The rose-ringed parakeets return briefly to their Prosopis pews to chirp a quick evening hymn before returning to their homes in the back of the valley. As they fly off, their green feathers are well contrasted by the colorful sky behind them. Their beauty almost makes up for their loud, harsh hymns. The roosters and chickens return to their roosts in the Mango (Magnifera indica) tree, knocking down overly ripe mangoes in the process.
Our neighborhood feels like it is taking a collective sigh. Trees return to a grayscale of shadows, birds roosting for the night, and the not-so-feral cat receiving the last of her suppers from a middle-aged woman dressed in athletic attire. We take part in that collective sigh as we watch our wild neighbors, and discuss our days and anything new we may have learned.
As the moon begins to replace the sun, we notice a different set of neighbors stir. We begin to see rats (possibly Rattus rattus) scamper on the building roofs across from us. They travel their distinct highways and socialize with one another. Two rats begin to play tag on the telephone wires. Often underappreciated, rats are incredible creatures and amazing busy bodies.
As we begin to clean up our plates, I look at my queen of the night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) and wonder when it might bloom again. The flowers are not only stunning at night; but, they are quite beautiful even as they wilt. Finally, we head inside to clean up and prepare for rest and the new day ahead...
This is a repost from my personal blog. I wanted to post it here as well to encourage people from all backgrounds to contribute to Beasts & Leaves. Just as I believe we are all scientists, I believe we are all naturalists when we observe and research the natural world around us. .
At some point today, you asked yourself a question about the world around you. No big deal, right? Wrong. Questions are the gateway activity into science. Don't believe me? Think back to those early science classes of your youth. Recall the months leading up to the science fair when your teachers were explaining the necessary parts of your presentation. Do you remember listening as the teacher explained the scientific method in detail?
"Step 1: Make observations... Step 2: Develop a Question... Step 3: Develop a hypothesis... Step 4: Design an experiment... Step 5: Draw conclusions... Repeat."
Fast forward back to your question from today. Was it based on observations you previously made? Or, maybe your observations came from conclusions you made in a previous experiment? I know, I know. You don't DO experiments. I am sorry, but, again, you're wrong. Remember that time you tried a new brand of toilet paper because something on the package made you think it might last longer (and for a much better price!) than the stuff you were using? While, you probably didn't design the ideal experiment, you followed the scientific method to determine if that toilet paper really did last longer.
1. You observed it's "new technology" and it's price. 2. You asked whether it would last longer. 3. You predicted that it would because of its "new technology". 4. You bought it, used it, and compared it to previous toilet papers. 5. You decided if it really did last longer than the previous brand you used. If not, you may have repeated the process with another brand.
Science is simply the way of thinking that we use to navigate the world around us. In day to day life, you ask questions and test different predictions to improve your life. You may not explicitly be designing experiments; but, you've gotten through life partly because you asked questions, made predictions, and decided if your predictions were accurate. Now, imagine if you were to make that method even more systematic and ask even larger questions - you could improve the lives of many. This is one of the main goals of professional scientists.
Today, people are marching for science. Professional and nonprofessional scientists alike. Why? Because science is not and should not be affiliated with a political party and the knowledge that we gain from science should be utilized to benefit the common good. You may think - "Scientists should just stay in their labs and stop involving themselves in politics." However, if we want to see the world improve, we have to actively support scientific results being used to improve our world.
Imagine if you found that perfect toilet paper that both lasts a long time AND is affordable. You've maybe spent six months to one year testing many different brands. What if a family member disregarded your choice of toilet paper on the shopping list you gave them? What if they paid too much for toilet paper that your family will use up in half the time? Or what if they bought paper that you know is more likely to clog your plumbing? If you hadn't caught the mistake, you could have had to pay for a plumber to fix it.
Now, imagine this again on a larger scale with higher stakes than just your plumbing. This is where we are as a society. This is why professional and nonprofessional scientists alike should be advocating for professional scientists to be involved in government. Scientists spend lifetimes working toward creating the best shopping list. Is it perfect? No. But, should we then revert back to items that aren't as effective? I hope we can all agree the answer should be "no". Not incorporating the knowledge and expertise of scientists during policy making is like choosing to turn down layup advice from a professional basketball player. This is why citizens are marching.
Regardless of your personal feelings toward the march, or your political affiliations, my hope is that we all understand how important it is to have policy that is supported by science. This is how we will progress as a society. This is how we can continue to live long, prosperous, and healthy lives. Not by ignoring what we already know or trying to find ways to avoid our current understanding of our world. I also hope that today's march contributes to a future where science is acknowledged more as part of everyone's day to day life. Not just because of the medical and technological advances we all benefit from, but because everyday we rely on science to understand and improve our own individual universes.
Smells are linked to our memories. They follow us throughout our lives - evoking nostalgic emotions and providing comfort. Each smell accompanied by a series of flashbacks, reminding us of who we are and the journeys to where we are. For me, many of these scents are associated with the outdoors. Lilac blossoms. Freshly cut grass. Soil on my fingertips. The perfume that hangs in the air before a rainstorm. And, my personal opus: the smell of autumn leaves.
To me, autumn leaves represent independence and authenticity. Adventure and bliss. It awakens childish curiosity and a carefree attitude. The early cliché memories of raking leaves into piles with my family - only to ruin the piles by jumping into them. My first experience as a botanist - a sixth grade project collecting leaves and identifying the different tree species. My dad driving me around the Cleveland Metroparks with our dog and collecting colorful leaves to press. Songs and campfires at Camp Mi-Bro-Be. Hikes with campers while the leaves changed to vibrant yellows and reds. Colors that seemed even more spectacular because we were away from our hometowns at camp. To the ecology labs during my undergraduate studies - the aroma of autumn leaves filling the air while we measured tree diameters and took our quizzes. These were the moments that led me to be a professional ecologist. These are the moments that flood my mind when I smell senesced leaves on the ground.
As I have progressed in both my career and life, my opus has only grown longer. From beautiful and lonely autumn days conducting research in the forests of New York to camping trips with the best friends a girl could as for in West Virginia. Autumn leaves will always provide a sense of nostalgia and security. They will also continuously provide inspiration and promote curiosity. Inspiration and curiosity that I am eager to share with those who are interested in the natural world.
During my time in West Virginia, I began brainstorming ways to share my enthusiasm with others. I would have dreams of starting a blog (or, more ambitiously, a podcast). Those ideas always fell short though because I wanted something bigger than just a place to share my personal enthusiasm. So, those dreams remained dormant. I have finally realized that what I want is to share my own enthusiasm and also hear from others. I want to foster a community that connects people from all walks of life. A place where anyone interested in the natural world can share their observations, experiences, and knowledge and connect with those who are also interested. Thus, I have created Beasts & Leaves.
As Beasts & Leaves developed in my mind, I decided to start with fairly open-ended submission guidelines and expect that I will probably be the only person posting for a while. Currently, I have listed general guidelines for natural history, ecology, and creative writing contributions; however, I am open to working with authors who are interested in other contributions, such as photo journals or videos. Additionally, I created "Ecologist of the Month" to highlight those who do ecological work. "Ecologist of the Month" will highlight the different types of ecological work various professionals do and the roads they took to get there.
Our planet is so much more than a resource to be used - it is a place to find peace and inspiration. My hope is that Beasts & Leaves will be a fun place to share knowledge, connect with others, and encourage curiosity about the world around us. Please, consider contributing and encourage family, friends, colleagues, and students alike to check it out!