Category Archives: Rotanical News

The Devil’s Fingers, or The Octopus Stinkhorn

You say creepy like it’s a bad thing. In the world of Rotten Botany, there are few things more glorious than the moment when our Rotanists discover a plant they did not already know about. I recently happened upon the following video which shows time-lapse footage of the Clathrus archeri, aka Devil Finger Fungi aka Octopus Stinkhorn. The fungus can be seen “hatching” from its egg-like sac. And guess what it smells like after it has fully matured? Rotten flesh!  Its hope is to attract flies to spread the spores in its “tentacles.”

Clathrus archeri is native to Australia and New Zealand although it can be found introduced in forests in Europe and North America (they have been documented specifically at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park near Santa Cruz). If you see this fungtastic wonder, DO NOT APPROACH. It won’t harm you…well, actually, it could (see below) but we don’t want YOU to harm it. Take a photo, though, to share with rotanical lovers everywhere.

According to Kew Royal Botanic Gardens the unexpanded (not yet “hatched”) eggs of stinkhorns are considered a culinary delicacy in some countries but related species to C. ruber, have had reports of poisoning: eczema, convulsions, and sickness are anecdotally said to be the result of handling the Clathrus ruber fungus.  The related stinkhorn, Phallus impudicus, has been used to treat wounds (with the dried “dust” or spores) to prevent infection.

 

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

Zombie Plants: The Walking Dead of the Plant Kingdom

Oh ye zombie fans, it’s not just those rotting-limbed creatures of movies and comics and voodoo lore that posses the ability to return from beyond the grave. There are coursing, pulsing, wild things at rest just beneath the soil, calling out not the mournful desire for “Brrrainnns!” but rather the haunting cry for “Raaainnns!!” The near-dead, seemingly-dead, not-really-dead zombie plants of rotany, longing for but a drop of moisture, or perhaps a good defrost, to come back to their former glory.

800px-GreenPolypods

Meet the Resurrection Fern, sometimes known as Miracle Fern. (I like to call it Zombie Fern)
Pleopeltis polypodioides also Polypodium incanum (Florida)

You may already be familiar with the Resurrection Fern for its place in the old-school houseplant’s hall of fame. Named for its uncanny ability to recover from a dried up, dead-husk type state, to a semi-lush version of its former green self, upon being soaked overnight in water. In my personal experience the brown still remains on the edges if it’s gone completely dry for too long, but no amount of neglect can actually kill this rotanical.

Before and After of Res Fern (245x192)

It’s a real fern, too, not just an imposter. A creeping little epiphyte of a fern, with varietals native to both the Americas—including areas of the southeastern United States—and Africa. Being an air plant means it takes its nutrients from the air, rather than through the soil, which contributes to its success in reviving after long periods of near-death-experiences. They are fairly small in size, many of those available in retail nurseries or places like Paxton Gate fit in the palm of your hand. You just take the dry, curled up little thing and place it in a dish of water and watch the magic. It takes about a day to see the full glory, but improvements occur within the hour.

There is evidence that the native Floridian variety, Polypodium incanum, was used in combination with Shoestring fern (Vittaria lineate) by the Seminole and Mikasuki tribes as a treatment for chronic health conditions including ill babies. Many of the ferns were traditionally used in a bath as a treatment for insanity.

Creek Indians called this plant Ihosi:Cokhissi—derived from Ehose, a mystical being that causes people to get lost, and kokhesse, meaning whiskers. (This last definition came from Daniel F. Austin’s insanely amazing book Florida Ethnobotany. Out of print, but you can read parts of it on googlebooks.)

Zombie Moss

Edmonton Journal Moss Photo

Very recently a type of ancient arctic moss was discovered by University of Alberta Professor Catherine La Farge. She discovered the plant material at the toe of the Teardrop glacier in Northern Canada. La Farge noticed that some of the moss at the edge of the ice seemed to have a tinge of green to it, so she harvested it and brought it back to her lab.

The moss is actually 400 years old—having been buried during what is known as the Little Ice Age (1550-1850). It went down, and it got up again. Big time.

La Farge took the moss, ground it up, and planted in petri dishes full of potting soil. Four weeks later, life emerged. She said, “Now we have to think there may be populations of land plants that survived that freezing. It makes you wonder what’s under the big ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctic and alpine glaciers. And we have a 400-year-old lineage of genetic material.”

The implications are not just botanical either. There could be something life-saving, or life-preserving, in the cells of such resilient plants. Read the full article about La Farge’s groundbreaking discovery here:

Edmonton Journal Article on Zombie Moss

zombie

Photo one taken from Wikimedia commons

Photo two taken from Edmonton Journal’s article on the arctic moss, Shaughn Butts

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Mistletoe’s Back Side: Shitty News About Our Favorite Kissing Plant

748px-Mistletoe_Berries_UkAh, the holidays. Christmas boughs and holly, and mistletoe. It’s that time of year,  when co-workers and would-be-exes try to trick you into standing just perfectly under that semi-parasitic little rotanical, a sprig of mistletoe, wishing only for a kiss.  You may recall last holiday season I posted this awesome news about the cancer curing properties of the fair mistletoe. Click here to read more.

Well, this year I’m going a little more down-market, if you will. Yes, that’s right, I’m talking shit. Literally.

Recently some Argentine researchers made a surprising study. It was previously believed that mistletoe was spread in the Lake District of Argentine (and other places throughout the world) by birds. That birds feeding on the plants would get the seeds stuck to their legs and thus disperse them as they went from tree branch to tree branch.

It turns out a nocturnal marsupial, Dromiciops australis is the exclusive distributor of mistletoe seeds in their neck fo the woods. They chomp ‘em down and, you guessed it, distribute them via defecation. The seeds happy in a bed of pure compost, can sprout right there on the branch. This is actually a common (and very effective) means for plant distribution throughout the world, very similar to what happens with Strangler Figs.

Mistletoe, which has many varieties unique to different tree species, is a hemi-parasitic plant. It takes part of its nutrients and most of its water directly from its host.

 

Tagged , , , , ,

Mycelium Running or Underground Messengers of Distress

HyphaeIf you are a plant-brained type, or more accurately a fungaholic, you’ve no doubt heard of Paul Stamets’ book, Mycelium Running.  It’s about the amazing and awe-inspiring powers of the little ol’ mycelium, those underground thread like ‘shrooms. As his subtitle suggests, How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World mushrooms can be used for everything from building houses to fuel to cleaning toxic waste up from the soil, not to mention our bodies. 

Once thought to have a sycophantic relationship with other plants, fungi got a bad rap. But numerous studies have shown that they have a symbiotic (mutually beneficial, can’t we all just get along?) relationship that those fungi seek out. The fungus gets carbon from the plant, and the network they form through the soil helps the plants draw nutrients from a wider area. Plus they help compost. But that is not all, no, that is not all…

A recent study had revealed that they actually act as underground transmitters when  a plant is in distress. That’s right, they herald the cry of war in the deep, dark, dank underground.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland used five bean plants. Three were planted together, and the mycelium were allowed to grow between them in their usual fashion. The other two plants were planted together but inhibited from having mycelium in their soil. And then they botanist unleashed the hounds on them. Well, they unleashed aphids which is the rotany equivalent.

The plant that was attacked by aphids began emitting chemicals that help to attract wasps, something that many plants do when in distress. And while this is amazing enough, it’s hardly news. But this is: the plants that were connected via underground mycelium began also to produce the “distress” chemicals. But when aphids were released on the mycelium-free plant, it’s neighbor did not produce chemicals.

Previously, botanists believed that this chemical transmission was via the air from plant to plant. This astounding discovery means that the plants were using the mycelium to communicate. That’s right, folks, there is an entire underground network of mycelium and they are communicating from plant to plant, fungi to fungi.

The findings could turn the tides significantly on how to control pests without chemicals. Most food crops–such as wheat, maize, rice, beans including soy, and barley support a symbiotic fungi.

According to one of the study’s authors, Professor John Pickett of Rothamsted Research:

In a field of plants that have some inducible resistance to aphids, we could use a plant that’s susceptible to aphid  attack to ‘switch on’ the defence mechanism through the natural underground connection. Aphids affect all higher-latitude agricultural regions, including the UK, the EU, North America, and North East Asia and there’s the potential to deal with other pests and diseases, in other regions, in a similar way.

Fungus are unique and classified in their own kingdom (The Kingdom of Fungi!!) because of the cell walls which contain chitin. Animal cells also contain chitin, but plant cells cellulose. Coulld you say they are half-plant, half-human. Almost. In truth, they fit neither group and so are their own kingdom, though generally considered the domain of botanists. (Mycologists and botanists certainly have a symbiotic relationship!)

Roots of nearly all groups of plants have symbiotic fungi.

Never underestimate the power of a mushroom. Stamets doesn’t. And Smurfs don’t.

smurf on mushroom

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Farm and Food Science Fellowship~ A Journalist Grant from Berkeley School of Journalism

My great Uncle Fritz's tractor, which remains on the old homestead in Texas.

My great Uncle Fritz’s tractor, which remains on the old homestead in Texas.

I found out about this today from my local Urban Agricultural Alliance and thought I’d do a quick post to spread the word. The UC Berkeley School of Journalism is offering a Food Fellowship, deadline for application is April 1st. The grant is $ 10,000, described below:

Aimed at early and mid-career journalists, the Fellowship presents an opportunity to report ambitious longform stories on the full range of subjects under the rubric of food systems: agricultural and nutritional policy, the food industry, food science, technology and culture, rural and urban farming, agriculture and the environment (including climate change), global trade and supply chains, consolidation and securitization of the food system and public health as it relates to food and farming. In 2013 we will award five, early and mid-career journalists $10,000 to travel and report these stories.

Here is the complete link to find out more:

http://journalism.berkeley.edu/projects/foodfellows/

 

Not exactly rotten, but botten just the same.

 

 

Tagged , ,

We Are Watching You: Plant Sense, Neurobotany, Plantopomorphizing, and Other Rotten Thoughts on Plant Brains

Feed me, Seymour!!!

Feed me, Seymour!!!

What plantophile hasn’t, at one point or another, hummed to their plants, or perhaps imagined a small face in the center of a pansie? And poets, since time immemorial have waxed about the amazing beauty and cunning of the natural world. We plant lovers “plantopomorphize” our favorite green companions by naming them (I once had a Purple Velvet plant named Nico). And who doesn’t remember that 6th grade science fair project that proves plants thrive when listening to classical music? Alice’s garden of flowers is a prime example of an imagined “language” and personality of individual plants. And of course there is the Secret Life of Plants, the book that claimed that plants have brains. And feelings.

Scientists sometimes (still)chagrin this book, because its authors Christopher Bird and Peter Tompkins, made radical claims (radical at least in 1973) such as the idea that plants have emotions and that actually originate in a “supramaterial world of cosmic beings [such as] fairies, elves, gnomes, sylphs, and host of other creatures, were a matter of direct vision and experience to clairvoyants among the Celts and other sensitives.”

The popular books based in the Findhorn community of Scotland, including the seminal work by Paul Hawken (of Smith and Hawken fame) The Magic of Findhorn (1975), give cred to the idea that something else is in control when plants are involved. The book,  which features a skeptic (Hawken) joining the community for a year and witnessing incredible gardening feats, says this on its first edition jacket (thanks, Mom!):

There have been stories in the press and other media about a small community in the north of Scotland called Findhorn where people talk to plants with amazing results—stories of vegetable and flower gardens animated by angelic forms where Pan’s pipes are heard in the winds—stories of plants performing incredible feats of growth and endurance: 40-pound cabbages, 8-foot delphiniums, and roses blooming in the snow.

Modern botanists, in their own way, are extending the idea that plants have brains. According to an article in Natural History from May of 2012, the first international plant neurobiology meeting was held in 2005 in Florence, Italy (can I get on that invite list?) Their website defines plant neurobiology (what I like to call neurobotany) as ” a newly named, but also old and fascinating field in plant biology addressing the physiological basis of adaptive behavior in plants. Perhaps this field could be called ‘Sensory Biology in Plants.'”

The Natural History article outlined three reasons for plants having nervous systems:

  1. Plants have genes similar to those that specify components of animal nervous systems, specifically proteins that have been show to have distinct roles in neural function.
  2. While said proteins are likely to not have “neural” functions in plants, they are believed to behave in ways very similar to neural molecules.
  3. Some plants show synapse-like regions between the cells, where neurotransmitter molecules facilitate cell-to-cell communication.

Say what, you crazy rotanist??? Basically, plants have their own “version” of nervous system. And if you want some more scientific proof for what Bird, Tompkins, Hawkens (and before them even Darwin had a similar theory) are saying about plants having “feelings” a recent study with peas might give a little more validation. Peas, when stressed from drought, close their “pores” (known in botany as stomata.) The study showed that a non-stressed, well watered pea plant whose rooted near by a stressed plant will also close its stomata as a precaution. Yes, it gets the vibes of stress!

Of course this is all basically scientific evidence of what shamans and plant magic workers have been saying since we had teeth.

So maybe there is a real-life Audrey II out there, waiting to get its “jaws” on us. One that thinks, feels, longs, yearns…a rotanist can hope!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,