Berry Go Round Number 58

by Jeremy Cherfas on January 28, 2013

Hosting Berry Go Round needn’t be an ordeal. But if it is, I’m encouraged by one particular submission.

Exhibit A: The Mystery of the Killer Bean

If eaten with confidence (as in the case of someone convinced of their innocence), the high concentration of toxins would cause the stomach to reject the bean, and a life-saving vomit would occur.  If someone was nervous, and stalled the consumption with small bites or delayed swallowing, the toxin would have more time to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and death would thus occur.

E. Green’s story about the Calabar Bean (Physostigma venenosum) suggests that the best way to get through this trial is just to plough straight on and do it. So here we go.

I don’t much mind people linking to their older posts, but I draw a kind of line for a year-old obituary of someone who had died five years previously, no matter how important the subject really was.1

Exhibit B: Is everybody happy?

Amongst that botanically inclined group, 87% agreed they were happy, and 89% cited doing something ‘worthwhile and useful’ as contributing to that high degree of happiness. ‘Scientists and Researchers’ were only 69% happy (presumably because it was zoologists, physicists, chemists – i.e. non-botanists – who were interviewed…?). And the least-happy group (i.e. most down-in-the-mouth, miserable lot)? Bankers(!) – and which fact has been seized upon as proof that there is in fact a supreme deity ‘out/up there’ who is looking after us all down here… – who are only 44% happy: ‘Result!’ (said a Herr Scha den Freude, ‘diminutive garden denizen’ of Zurich).

Nigel Chaffey at the AoB Blog provides our rallying cry this month. Plant people are just happier than everyone else. So who is going to repeat the survey elsewhere?

Exhibit C: How to make some botanists even happier

A discovery like this makes you wonder where you’ve been all your life—how could such a thing be novel after so many decades of botanical exploration? I needed to find out what this tasted like, and as the post was not merely a description but an invitation to experimentation, my course was set. I rounded up some likely suspects—herbs as well as friends—and we assembled the fixings by a “bring your own…” process

Sally and her friends at Foothills Fancy go all Carthusian in their attempt to recreate chartreuse, and it seems to have worked. You’ll find full details of the botany and the process, though not much about the taste itself.

Exhibit D: By Jove, mushroom magic:

Can you imagine farms where man-made lightning bolts strike the ground and induce large flushes of mushrooms? Well, this is what scientists in Japan are doing. … No, it isn’t exactly like lightning—it’s more like the shock you get from a metal doorknob after dancing in your polyester leisure suit.

Who told her about my polyester leisure suit? I’m linking to the version that was submitted at the Cornell Mushroom Blog, rather that to Miwa Oseki Robbins’ own blog, not least because there’s some spam in the comments there that would worry me.

Exhibit E: Joshua tree complications

Most insect pollinators transfer pollen more or less inadvertently: they accidentally collect pollen on their bodies as they visit a flower for one reason or another, and then they accidentally leave some of it in the next flower they visit. Yucca moths’ behavior, by contrast, is volitional — assuming we can ascribe volition to an organism with the approximate mentative power of a keychain LED torch.

Chris Clarke, at Pharyngula, adopts a thoroughly speciesist point of view towards another creature’s mental abilities, but I forgive him for his lucid explanation of just what’s happening to the Joshua Trees out there just north of Area 51 in the Mojave Desert.

Exhibit F: Cormospheres and the blogosphere

[A]s a words lover, I was delighted to read a whole bunch of spherical words in a paper recently: cormosphere, caulosphere, calusphere, phyllosphere, anthosphere, and carposphere (and let’s add spermosphere).

BGR’s onlie begetter Laurent has got balls on the brain, and uses his love for words to investigate these “special places of biological interactions, usually between plants and microbes,” or at any rate their popularity in scholarly articles.

Exhibit G: How to grow a picture-book woodland tree

To grow a picture-book woodland tree – with a deep wide crown, short fat trunk, and thick low branches – you need space, time, and more time again. Like good Slow Food, the recipe is simple but can’t be rushed. You just can’t skimp on space nor time.

Ian Lunt takes the time and space to explain just how a beautiful, welcoming, climbable tree comes about, and a fine recipe it is too.

Exhibit H: World’s smallest flower

In parts of Asia the plant is used as a food source. Being about 20% protein and 40% starch, it is a great addition to the diet in some developing countries. Laos and Thailand are two of the biggest Wolffia harvesters. It is grown on still water surfaces as a floating mat of the tiny flowers and harvested as often as every 2 weeks. … Walking by a pond with a thin layer of green film on the surface doesn’t quite stimulate the appetite the way an apple orchard or greenhouse full of tomatoes might.

Amen to that, and another student contribution to Alien Plantation. If only Jonathan Heinz had told us what duckweed tastes like. “Sweet cabbage,” apparently.

Exhibit I: New plants taxonomised

[T]he single October-December issue of Systematic Botany had 14 new species in it, alone – in addition to the most popular botany story of the year, a new genus of ferns called Gaga (named, of course, for Lady Gaga). … We also found new things from right under our noses: like a new crocus in Turkey, a carnation in Russia, or the new Monstera from Honduras that was already commonly used by locals to weave into hats. In 2012, we even found three new species of dandelion (two from Italy and one from Scotland).

I fantasise about the botany bloggers of the future writing little historical squibs about Gaga, much as I might do today about Rudbeckia or Siegesbeckia.

Exhibit J: Midwinter botanizing in Wyoming.

Our word for the day is anemochory, meaning seed dispersal by wind.

Hollis takes a walk through the snow and finds many plumed seeds ready to rush off in search of somewhere good to grow.

Exhibit K: A plant grows in Bratislava

Able to reproduce without pollination, adept at dispersal, prepared to colonize the tiniest bit of open habitat – it’s no wonder dandelions have done so well.  And their growing season is long.  They are among the first flowers of spring and the last in fall.

Why Bratislava? Well, why not. Dandelions are ubiquitous, but that doesn’t stop Hollis appreciating their finer points, including their anemochory.

Exhibit L: Bees and pesticides

Neonicotinoids are now one of the most broadly used class of insecticides, to the extent that a recent report suggests a ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments could reduce yields of key crops by 20% and cost the EU economy as much as €4.5 billion per year.

Plantwise from CABI treads a careful line through the recent study, which got a lot of press elsewhere. Big question: how does the cost of not using neonicotinoids compare with the cost of not having bees?

Exhibit M: Expensive evergreen leaves

[S]alal exports from southern Vancouver Island alone generated $6–10 million dollars in export revenue, and professional salal gatherers can earn a competitive living wage.

Gaultheria shallon is one of those do-it-all plants for the people of the Pacific Northwest, although for Thomas M., another student contributor to Alien Plantations, its appeal seems to lie in its potential to pay back his student loan.

Exhibit N: Seedlings emerging safely

Many testicles, for instances rocks or heavy soil, may get in the way of the seedling as is venture up into the world. The main stem of a plant is called the shoot apical meristem, in the beginning stages damage to the shoot apical meristem would mean dead to the plant.

Honestly, the main reason I’m linking to this one is that Cupertino in the second word of the extract. Took me a while to figure out, and having done so, I’m happy (See Exhibit B) to share. Also, it leads perfectly to …

Exhibit Oh!: Banter about curcurbits

I defer to Prof. Beard on Greek footwear and Roman sex toys, but I’m not so sure about that cucumber.

Our very own Luigi is unwilling to let a misidentified curcurbit slip, and rises to the challenge of correcting Professor Mary Beard’s misapprehension. Alas, despite his entreaties and repeated requests via all the channels he can muster, the good professor has not seen fit to respond.

And that’s it, for now. I’ve vomited forth loads of goodies, without being poisoned by lingering too long over any of them. I urge you to do differently: chew them over, digest them, and respond. I guarantee no ill effects.

February’s Berry Go Round will be hosted by Sally at Foothills Fancy. I wonder whether she’s ready to try mimicking the local liqueur called Centerbe? That knocks her 62 species into a cocked hat.

Now, why not consider submitting to, or even hosting, the next Berry go Round?

Footnotes:
  1. C’mon Mike, you can do better. []

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