Friday, August 30, 2013

Weekend Walkabout: Alert Gardener Spots Tillie Tree!

Alert Gardener Jim of Miami sent me some remarkable photos of a tree that is absolutely festooned with native Tillandsias. There are at least three separate species, probably more, living in great profusion on this tree in a suburban lot.
The trees around this tree (most of the same species) have hardly any Tillies at all. What is it about this tree that makes it so remarkably attractive to Tillandsias?
I've consulted my textbook on Tillandsias, Air Plants by David Benzing, and have not found a definitive answer. But there are some clues. Tillandsias can be very fussy about where they will grow. They like a certain sort of bark, and often, the presence of certain mosses or a particular species of ant. Does this tree harbor the right sort of ants? Does it grow the best moss? Or is it nearest to a sprinkler-sprayer so the Tillandsias get more water during droughts? What do you think??
When so many Tillandsias are involved, I have to ask that question of symbiosis vs. parasitism. At what point does the tree get hurt by its enthusiastic guests? According to my research, (completed with a couple of books, sunscreen, and a mimosa in my backyard), Tillies can cross the line into parasitism by weighing down and breaking tree branches, and blocking light that the host needs to photosynthesize. This tree seems healthy enough, but I'll bet it's worried....

We have no Tillie Trees here on the sand dune, but I do know of some gorgeous Gaillardia pulchella flowers that are perfect for weekend contemplation:
Have a wonderful weekend, and for those in the USA, Happy Labor Day!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Your Program Will Be Deleted

After studying the interconnections between plants and fungi, I'm even more disturbed about the rate of extinctions happening on our little planet. I feel like parts of our bioprogram are being deleted at such a high rate of speed, most people don't even notice it.  Who remembers Cyanea dolichopoda, the Hawaiian haha? Seems to me if we keep deleting at our current rate, our program will be deleted, too!

I'm reminded of the Star Trek Next Generation episode, "Remember Me", when Dr. Crusher gets caught in a warp bubble anomaly, and people and things keep disappearing from the ship, until she's alone. The episode came out in 1990, just before that Cyanea disappeared, come to think of it....Dr. Crusher's isolation is where we may be going: The Age of Alone....
Plants are getting caught in the pincers of genetic alteration for trademarked corporate profit, and habitat loss from climate change and our ever-surging population. Lush scenes like this (Fairchild Tropical Gardens) have already disappeared from many people's lives....
But there are some bright spots. The Seed Savers Exchange in the US makes me happy, because for about 40 years, people who care have been harvesting, banking, and exchanging seeds of just about every heirloom plant you could think of. Many varieties are still around, instead of deleted, because ordinary people have cared enough to keep them.

Universities are getting into the plant repository business in record numbers, but I'm a little suspicious of some of that activity, given that many universities have strong ties to corporations that genetically manipulate a species, then make it patented and sterile to boot. Not impressive.

Many plant societies are concentrating on preserving species. Several cactus and succulent societies around the world have extensive seed banks and make some available for sale and exchange. Considering how vulnerable many succulent species are, living in tiny niches, that makes me happy. I want today's kids to enjoy the same wonderful plants that I grow and love.
What plant-saving projects have you seen, or participated in, in your part of the world?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Another Fragrant Tillandsia, and a Bunny!

Tillandsia caliginosa
Another lovely Tillie has bloomed, and it's one of the rare scented species. Tillandisa caliginosa (kah-lee-jee-NO-sa) has tiny, brown and yellow flowers. But the flowers smell powerfully of mimosa, honey, and bread dough. A rare treat for the Tillie gardener, I've been happily huffing T. caliginosa's perfume this weekend. And of course, still working with my Corel program and making pots.

Here's one of our neighborhood cottontail rabbits, so sweet! We've named him Victor- he comes to our garden to watch the sunsets over the river, seriously. (Bunnies are very artistic and spiritual creatures.) Here's Victor watching the sunset with great interest and appreciation....Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Weird Wednesday: More Fun With Fungi

Pensive Tuesday will resume soon, but I'm having so much fun learning about the symbiosis of plants and fungi, I just gotta keep going!

Yesterday I learned that what we refer to as "carbon sequestration by forests" is actually "carbon sequestration by fungi", at least in the northern boreal forests. Huh?
Scientists in Sweden have found that while plants temporarily sequester carbon, they send it down to their roots as sugars, which are quickly eaten by symbiotic fungi. Those fungi that give the plants their Fungi-Net, or Fungaphones. The carbon then remains in the soil as residue. So between 50-70% of stored carbon in the soil is really from fungi, via the plants. It's always more complicated than it looks!
It's complicated....

As our climate keeps warming (or, to be more precise, as we keep warming our climate), it's not clear how this relationship which is so important for keeping it cool will be maintained. Drought and heat release the carbon from the soil, but will warming temperatures encourage greater forest growth and carbon sequestration? The net result remains to be seen, but now scientists are looking at the correct relationships in order to figure it out. Certainly deforestation of any kind is clearly a big bad for the climate, and for us.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Lithops Weekend Update

Not much happening with the Lounging Lithops. Most have completed regeneration, some still have the old leaves in a semi-shriveled state:
I just finished a series of stoneware "Coconut Bowls". They are thusly dubbed because they reminded several people of coconut shells. I guess I sort of get that. They've been much more useful than I thought they would be, and actually stack pretty well, so I will probably make more.... They range from 8cm to 15cm in diameter.

And I'm keeping up with my Corel practice. Here's a shot from Fairchild Tropical Gardens down in Miami....
Blue Study, Fairchild, MR 2013
Have a wonderful and creative weekend!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Weird Wednesday: Say Hello With a Funga-Phone!

Enough art for awhile, I'm back to science today. I've often wondered how plants communicate with each other. No vocal chords, no silicon chip capability, no opposable thumbs. Poor, silent creatures, right? Turns out, they do chat with each other, via Funga-Phone!
Oh, the gossip in this place! The awful din!
Scientists in both Scotland and China have been studying how plants use their symbiotic soil fungi as a communication system. When a plant is attacked by pests, like nasty aphids, it can activate certain genes that protect it, or secrete pheromones that make it attractive to wasps that eat aphids. But how can it warn its neighbors that it's under attack by sticky green hordes? Originally, it was thought that plants could only use pheromones of alarm, carried on the breeze. But that's not very reliable. What if the wind isn't blowing, or is blowing the wrong way? Plants turn on their Funga-Phones....

Soil fungi form networks among plants, and the plants can pass communication molecules through their symbiotic fungi. In other words, it's like a Phyto-Internet. This method has only recently been discovered, so who knows what all plants can discuss?

But what about Tillandsias? They have no soil. How do they dish the dirt when they got no dirt??

Not much to talk about, again....
I suspect that in the wild, Tillies might utilize the fungi that grow on their host trees. Or maybe pass messages through their symbiotic ant networks. Or perhaps they have a different way to communicate entirely. It's definitely a possible avenue of research. Does anyone know how the TillyNet works??

Monday, August 12, 2013

Morose Monday: Why Does This Always Happen To Me??

Morose Monday has pre-empted Pensive Tuesday in normal linear time, but Weird Wednesday is still on....
As an (alleged) painter, I try to do studies to improve my technique. I do these studies when I'm between paintings, and sometimes, they turn out OK. But other times, usually on Mondays, they...don't.
OK, so today I'm closely following instructions for painting an apple in watercolor. How hard can it be, right??
Here's the result the teacher got:
Apple by Teacher

I try really hard, I go step by step,  yet I still win the Bad Kitty Award....

Apple by Me
I really don't know how this happens, but it usually does. Not just on Mondays.... Though on Mondays, I usually get the Face of Pain. Can you spot the apple's Face of Pain??

Hope you're having a better Monday than I am....

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Mosquito Plant: Fact or Fiction?

Pelargonium citrosum is being sold everywhere here as "The Mosquito Plant", or "The Mosquito Repellant Plant". I found a little one, leggy and disheveled, at the back of a nursery, and bought it for a few bucks several months ago. It's now over a meter tall, and gloriously fragrant. But what is it, and does it really repel nasty mosquitoes?
Well, clearly, this is a scented geranium, genus Pelargonium. No mystery there. It smells and looks exactly like many lemon-scented geraniums I encountered in Europe. These plants were brought to Europe from (I'll give you 2 guesses but you'll only need 1!) South Africa, and became insanely popular during the Victorian period. The essential oil is still a fundamental ingredient in hundreds of perfumes, and is often used to bolster the much more expensive rose. Olfactory facets of citrus and rose dominate, but there are also more minty pelargoniums, and even one that smells vaguely of chocolate!

During the summer, I make little posies from the abundant leaves, and the delicious scent is cooling and refreshing.

But do the leaves repel bugs? Alas, no, I have not found it so. Tiger mosquitoes still plague me in the garden. And I doubt it's a hybrid of citronella grass and geranium. I mean, come on! The American Botanical Council says that P. citrosum is not a valid taxonomic designation. So this does sound like nothing more than the clever marketing of an old favorite.

But hey, it's a Pelargonium, it's tough, grows very fast, and is thoroughly delightful. I can't imagine living without its perfume in the garden. So what's not to love?

Pelargonium Leaf, MR, 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Weird Wednesday: Revive a Bryophyte for Science!

Bryophytes are pretty weird little plants. Mosses and liverworts have been around for over 400 million years. They are at the opposite end of the evolutionary timeline as Tillandsias; Tillies may be the newest kids on the plant block.

So these "old timer" bryophytes frequently get buried by glaciers during ice ages. And they can sit patiently under the ice for a really long time....

A number of unfortunate bryophytes have been stuck under the ice for half a millennium, since the Little Ice Age! But as glaciers everywhere retreat with global warming, these plants are actually reviving. Here's the link:

Dr. La Farge is the curator of the very cool-sounding Cryptogamic Herbarium; do you think she imagined her career when she was just a kid? I doubt it. But she and her team of scientists are growing these long-dormant plants, and glaciers are looking more like long-term depositories of many plant species; Mother Nature turns out to be an efficient archivist!

A random bryophyte.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

An Unusually Fragrant Tillandsia

Tillandsia straminea looks like a wallflower among much showier Tillies like T. xerographica, but it has a secret. Its tiny white blooms are wonderfully fragrant. One blossom can fill a small room with a honeyed lilac perfume. The blooms come out one at a time, so the fragrant effect lasts for several weeks. Most Tillandsias are odorless, this is a beautiful exception!