Articles » Botany
The 2017 award of the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine to three Americans, Michael Rosbash, Jeffrey Hall and Michael Young, has served to stimulate our interest in a phenomenon that is actually well-known. We all know why people get hungry about the same time of day, or wake up about the same time, or suffer from jet-lag. It is because of biological clocks. So what was so special about the work of these three scientists? The story actually goes back to 1729! Read the rest of this entry »
Appreciating the Creation
Many people claim they are not interested in science, but this is not really true. Perhaps they never really studied nature, but there are few people who do not notice how interesting and beautiful the surrounding countryside is. Did you realize for example that magpies are common in the western half of North America, but not in central Canada? Some people say that these distinctive birds are so common in Edmonton that this is the “magpie capital of Western Canada” (a dubious distinction). Read the rest of this entry »
How Does Your Garden Grow?
Even in Alberta, there are many crops which we could choose to grow in our gardens. Do you like perennial flowers? Lots of people grow a wide variety of such plants, but maintaining them involves a constant battle with weeds. Others choose edible plants to grow. These may also be artistic, as in some cabbages or large areas planted with lettuce, or string beans. Humming birds love the bright red string bean flowers, so the garden can serve several uses. Other people choose plants that taste good but are not particularly attractive to look at (potatoes for example). Read the rest of this entry »
Upside Down Source of Fancy Photosynthesis
During the 1960s and 1970s, improved strains of wheat and rice resulted in a doubling of crop yields. Despite predictions of disaster from some environmentalists, the world continued to feed quickly growing human populations. This green revolution, kick-started by the research of American plant scientist Norman Borlaug and Indian rice geneticist M. S. Swaminathan, provided much higher yielding crops. However for optimum growth, these crops require the widespread application of nitrogen fertilizers and other chemicals. As a byproduct of this practice, a significant amount of fertilizer ends up in natural waterways. As a result, scientists now consider the application of such chemicals as “so last century!” (Nature October 30, 2014 p. S52). The hunt is now on for crops that do not require chemical inputs and yet produce high yields. Read the rest of this entry »
The Venus Flytrap: A Major Enigma for Evolution
Among the wonders of the natural world are plants that eat animals, and the best known example is the Venus flytrap Dionaea muscipula. In Charles Darwin’s book on insectivorous plants, he described the plant and its ingenious design in great detail, but did not offer even a clue about its possible evolution (Darwin, 1896, pp. 286-320). He even called the plant “one of the most wonderful plants in the world” (p. 286).
This carnivorous plant is found growing in peaty sandy soil mainly in one small place, the extreme far east coast of North Carolina (Schnell, 2003, p. 85). It catches its prey, mostly ants, beetles, spiders and other crawling arachnids, with a complex, well designed, mitt-shaped trapping mechanism located at the terminal portion of the plant’s leaf (Ellison, 2006; Ellison and Gotelli, 2009). Read the rest of this entry »
Diatoms: Jewels of the Marine World
Diatoms are a major group of plants which float in open water, and they are one of the most successful types of microscopic algae known. The estimated over 100,000 known species are found in the oceans, in freshwater, in soils and even on damp surfaces. Most diatoms are unicellular, although some can form colonies in the shape of long filaments or ribbons. As eukaryotes or cells with a nucleus, they have highly complex cells, comparable to other eukaryotes such as mammals and even humans (Philippe, et al., 1994, Journal of Evolutionary Biology 7: 247). Read the rest of this entry »
Problem Solving Takes Brains!
Have you ever noticed that everybody seems to place a high value on problem solving? I can well imagine one’s mother saying “This room is way too messy! How are you going to manage your clothes, toys, electronic gadgets (or whatever) so that this does not happen again?” She clearly expects you to come up with a plan and to follow it! Possibly you may come up with some way to organize your treasures in order to keep mum happy. Read the rest of this entry »
Way Too Rich for Evolution
Unless a lake is considered polluted, we don’t reflect much on all the living organisms that the waters contain. As a matter of fact however, most lakes have many different kinds of single celled plants (algae) floating happily in the top several metres of the water column. While in certain situations, people say that variety is the spice of life, many scientists worry about why there is such diversity/variety in lakes and the sea. Read the rest of this entry »
All the Beauty!
Every season of the year provides its share of interest for young adventurers, or the young at heart. In winter, for example, have you considered how beautiful the silhouettes of the trees are against the snowy background? The deciduous (without leaves) trees look particularly artistic because we can see the branching pattern. Every tree has a characteristic canopy shape as a result of the way that the branches grow. This shape enables the tree in summer to display its leaves to best advantage so that the maximum possible sunshine is intercepted and the minimum number of leaves remains in the shade. Read the rest of this entry »
Have you ever discovered that something you thought quite ordinary (or even ugly), was actually a priceless antique? I remember harbouring such sentiments when I was a teenager. Since then, of course, I have learned better how to identify valuable items. Read the rest of this entry »
Subtle Traps in the Borneo Jungle
Whatever you may think about cats, there is no denying that they are beautifully designed. No, I do not mean their attractive appearances and charming personalities. I mean their design features which allow them to catch mice. The cat, of course, is an expert in the strategy of the hunt. She lies in wait, preferably in a spot where she is not too conspicuous. Then she stalks her prey, slinking along ever so quietly. Finally she winds up for a mighty spring through the air with a precise landing spot… right where the unsuspecting victim hesitates. Then voila! Here she comes to show the victim to you. Naturally you are very impressed with this cat’s achievement. If her strategy were not perfect, there would be no victim since mice are notoriously cautious. Read the rest of this entry »
When I think about gardens, a happy little ditty comes into my mind.
- You can learn a lot of things from the flowers
Especially in the month of June
You can learn a lot of things from the flowers
All on a golden afternoon. Read the rest of this entry »
Clever Plans in Plants
Have you ever read The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl? It is such a fun story! Even grown ups laugh about this nasty scheming reptile who keeps devising new and ingenious ways to catch children for his supper. He describes his schemes as “secret plans and clever tricks.” Various jungle animals however foil each sneaky plan and the nasty croc eventually gets launched by an elephant into outer space. Read the rest of this entry »
Only a ? in a Guilded Cage
Have you ever seen a plant growing inside a cage? We saw such a sight at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia. It makes you stop and think doesn’t it? Is the cage there to protect the tree or to protect the people? Is this some sort of carnivorous threat or what? The little evergreen tree inside the cage is actually a very non-threatening 50 cm tall. The cage is there to prevent anyone from running off with the rarest known tree species on earth. The existence of this highly unusual tree, known as the Wollemi Pine, was just discovered in late 1994. Scientists are still dancing with delight. Read the rest of this entry »
Cleaning up in ponds
Some things in nature are so unexpected that our reaction can only be one of wonder or amazement. Did you know that some plants, innocent in appearance, but vicious in character, lurk in ponds throughout the world? These plants attract, catch and eat aquatic insects, water fleas and young tadpoles, fish fry, tiny worms and very young insect larvae including mosquito wrigglers. Read the rest of this entry »