In the spring, the valley shimmered with myriad points of color, as if Georges Seurat had touched up a Georgia O’Keeffe. PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM MANGAN
This is one of the longest articles in recent memory, but worth every word on every page. Wishing only that there were more photos or that we could have been there to see it:
This year, a historic deluge created a Superbloom of wildflowers in one of the hottest places on Earth.
By Alex Ross
Death Valley, the majestically desolate national park on the eastern edge of California, is a rain-shadow desert, meaning that nearby mountain ranges drain moisture from incoming weather systems and stop rain from reaching the other side. Eighty miles to the west is the Sierra Nevada range, the highest in the contiguous forty-eight states, rising to fourteen thousand five hundred feet. Continue reading
The Atlantic’s science writers are back in the saddle, leading the way with the best stories recently:
Roses are red but violets aren’t blue. They’re mostly violet. The peacock begonia, however, is blue—and not just a boring matte shade, but a shiny metallic one. Its leaves are typically dark green in color, but if you look at them from the right angle, they take on a metallic blue sheen. “It’s like green silk, shot through with a deep royal blue,” says Heather Whitney from the University of Bristol.
And she thinks she knows why. Continue reading
Trees a crowd … Peter Wohlleben and friends. Photograph: Peter Wohlleben
Beech trees are bullies and willows are loners, says forester Peter Wohlleben, author of a new book claiming that trees have personalities and communicate via a below-ground ‘woodwide web’
Early this year I linked out to a profile of Peter Wohlleben, and that post was remarkably well received. The post about the woodwide web concept more recently, clearly connected conceptually, was also well received, while pointing to the findings of other researchers (if you did not listen to the Radio Lab piece, do yourself a favor and do so). I am happy to link to more about the ideas in this book, and to learn more about the man himself:
Trees have friends, feel loneliness, scream with pain and communicate underground via the “woodwide web”. Some act as parents and good neighbours. Others do more than just throw shade – they’re brutal bullies to rival species. The young ones take risks with their drinking and leaf-dropping then remember the hard lessons from their mistakes. It’s a hard-knock life.
Illustration by Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé via Wikimedia Commons
We’ve discussed ants living with plants in the past, actually in the context of acacia trees like Ed Yong mentions in his post. And there’s proof of plants sending pheromonal signals to wasps that will parasitize the caterpillars eating the plant’s leaves; this article in the NatGeo Phenomena blog reminds us of that:
Six years ago, Anke Steppuhn noticed that the bittersweet nightshade, when attacked by slugs and insects in a greenhouse, would bleed. Small droplets would exude from the wounds of its part-eaten leaves. At the same time, Steppuhn and her colleagues saw that the wild plants were often covered in ants.
These facts are connected. Steppuhn’s team from the Free University of Berlin, including student Tobias Lortzing, have since discovered that the droplets are a kind of sugary nectar, which the beleagured nightshade uses to summon ants. The ants, in return for their sweet meals, attack the pests that are destroying the plant. And this discovery provides important clues about the evolution of more intimate partnerships between ants and plants.
Burnt orchid (Neotinea ustulata) at Mount Caburn. Photo © Keith Wilson / Flickr through a Creative Commons license, via Cool Green Science for TNC
We’re always learning about new groups of organisms or cultural/scientific projects that are receiving more attention from groups welcoming citizen-provided data to promote increased study and focused conservation efforts: lichens, birds, trees, reptiles and amphibians, pollinators, birds, fish, and a number of Internet-based projects on stars and literature, including birds. In the United Kingdom (why not Costa Rica?), there’s a movement to document the strange flowers that make up the orchid family. Read our post about the same project last year, or check out what Lisa Feldkamp writes about Orchid Observer for the TNC citizen science blog this week:
Frail, exotic, delicate, alluring; orchids call to mind stories of romance, intrigue and obsession. Indeed from the time when “orchid fever” first swept Victorian England people have been driven to steal and even risk their lives in the quest for these gorgeous plants.
Orchids are also notoriously difficult to grow. Though modern technology and growing techniques have made it easier to have an orchid in your home, wild orchids are often adapted to specific climactic requirements and depend on symbiotic relationships to survive.
The rediscovered plants, Impatiens concinna, Impatiens sasidharanii, Impatiens sasidharanii var hirsute and Impatiens neo-modesta, are found to have great medicinal value.
Even without the medicinal value component of this discovery, we would consider this good news:
Four species of Impatiens (Kasi Thumba) plants believed to have gone extinct were rediscovered from the Western Ghats recently. Continue reading
The African baobab, though, is most widely distributed both in its home continent and in the neo-tropics where enslaved Africans were brought to work. PHOTO: Gavin Evans
The Baobab tree is a native African tree with numerous valuable advantages including food, shelter, clothing, medicines, hunting, fishing, water storage, etc. It is considered sacred and immortal and its species is as old as 5000 years.And some of this is heritage is shared with India as well.
In the French novella The Little Prince
, the titular prince comes from a very small asteroid planet called B612 where soil is full of baobab seeds. He tells the author that if left to grow, the baobabs would become so numerous and huge that they could make the little planet explode.On Earth, though, baobabs are quite the opposite. Anyone living in Africa where baobabs grow to enormous sizes would be able to tell you about the numerous benefits the trees provide for humans and animals.They would probably describe the marvellous generosity of its trunk and its hospitality to many creatures, and extol the hardy and light fruit pod with its deliciously powdery pulp and nutritious seeds that remain fresh and edible over long periods of time.
But there is a mystery to baobabs, as they are also found in India. How did they get there?