Science

Urban Farming in Berkeley

Apparently we not only have our local Urban Adamah urban farm, on land, but we now have at least 2 new roof-top urban farms in Berkeley.

What?!?

From Berkeleyside,

Photo: The rooftop farm created by Top Leaf Farms at 2201 Dwight Way in Berkeley. Photo: Alix Wall

Whatever challenges a rooftop presents, though, are not apparent to a farming novice visiting the roof on Dwight. One can walk through numerous terraces and see neat rows of crops growing; it looks no different than a regular farm, except for the fact that you can also see the tops of nearby office buildings and past those, the Bay Bridge in the distance.

Carnivorous Plants and Convergent Evolution

Nature has the story.

(B)y studying the pitcher plant’s genome — and comparing its insect-eating fluids to those of other carnivorous plants — researchers have found that meat-eating plants the world over have hit on the same deadly molecular recipe, even though they are separated by millions of years of evolution.

“We’re really looking at a classic case of convergent evolution,” says Victor Albert, a plant-genome scientist at the University of Buffalo, New York, who co-led the study…

(C)arnivory has evolved repeatedly in plants, probably to cope with the nutrient-scarce soils in which they grow, Albert says. “What they’re trying to do is capture nitrogen and phosphorus from their prey.”…

(T)he new study is important because it demonstrates how this convergence can occur down to the molecular level, …says Aaron Ellison, an ecologist at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts….

Gaining the ability to eat an insect is of little use if a plant cannot first entrap one, and here evolution has come up with more diverse solutions, Albert notes.

Drought Ideas

Well obviously you can plant cactus and succulents in your front yard to reduce your watering. Why else are you re4ading my blog? Cactus are also the future of desert-grown food supplies. Well you knew that already too, anyway. But now IO9, the sci-fi website, wants you to know that Cactus may be the future of bio-fuels. Who knew!?!

1328840697037760431[1]

As drought strikes broad regions of the world, farmers are focusing on the crops that can feed people—not the crops that can power their cars. But what if there was an energy crop that could grow where traditional crops can’t? Even in a drought? Enter the cactus.

The prickly pear cactus is one of the more common cacti in our world. It’s also a member of a unique group of plants that use an unusual photosynthesis pathway that evolved due to extreme growing conditions, in arid climates with long, hot, dry days and cool nights….

CAM plants have a special way of going about the business of photosynthesis: They only absorb carbon dioxide when it’s cool out, which means they don’t lose as much moisture as they would during the sunny, hot daylight hours. Then, when the sun comes up, they close their stomata—their pores….

Though there’s plenty of research to be done on how these plants would do as bioenergy fuel, Mason and his co-authors suggest that prickly pear could help make biogas—or gas which is made when organic matter is broken down without oxygen—along with other forms of bioenergy like bioethanol.

Whew, that’s a lot of science!

Top Ten New Species Discoveries

From Scientific American we get a Mexican Bromeliadt, only recently described!

EB0316E8-2472-429E-860C2247F519158F[1]

Tillandsia religiosa, a solitary flowering plant with rose-colored spikes and flat green leaves, grows in rocky terrain in Morelos, Mexico. T. religiosa has long been known to native people of the region, who incorporated it into nacimientos (altar scenes depicting the birth of Christ) at Christmas. Yet scientists have only recently described it.

Photograph by A. Espejo

Beautiful.

Variegated Aloe – Natural Variation or Mutation?

A house on my street has these mounds of aloes. Not too attractive as far as it’s design, but something very cool popped up out of it.

Aloe nobilis mutation

Is this how variegated versions of plants are made? By mutation?

I’m considering asking to buy this lil special guy and try to see if I keep it healthy it will put out pups. Have you ever seen one like this? Cuz I never have.

Thx!!!
Jbot

Jbot,

It does look like an albino variegation mutation on that Aloe nobilis. In full sun and low water it will likely fail long term, so indeed try to bargain for it. That type of mutation is usually better grown where they get afternoon shade and a bit more care since they lack so much chlorophyll they are a bit “sickly”, but look pretty good with the right care.

Good luck and if you get it and grow it out and want to share a pup in a few years let me know!

Take care,

Hap

Botanical Illustrations, Epiphyte Edition

1370[1]

Tillandsia linearis (Bromeliaceae) Collection: , Brazil; flowering habit.
Artist: Mee, Margaret

From the Catalog of Botanical Illustrations, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution

Plate Number: 1370
Publication: The Bromeliads. 1969. Plate 6; “Margaret Mee”. Ed. Sylvia de Botton Brautigam et al. Rio de Janeiro: ArtePadilla 2006. Page 166

Remarks: The painting was displayed in the traveling exhibit: “Margaret Mee: Return to the Amazon” (1/16/96 – 8/20/99). The painting is matted in 30″ x 39″ matt and is on loan to Eva Pell, Under Secretary for Science, Smithsonian Institution and is in Room 325, Smithsonian Castle. Loan is through Richard Stamm, Curator, SI Castle Collections (11/19/10).

Beautiful painting! Click the image to embiggen, or click through to the link for more Tillandsia illustrations. Most of the Smithsonian botanical images I’ve posted in the past were old, maybe 100 years or so, but not this one, this is recent. So if you are recently also illustrating botanical subjects let me know!

Giant Chalk Dudleya

dudleya_brittonii7[1]

Dudleya brittonii is what I would call a California Native, but not everyone would agree with me. It is a Baja Native, i.e. Mexico, or Baja California. Is that California or not? Only the geologic formations can know for sure. But I’m betting that Eons of development would indicate that Baja and the US part of coastal California are part of the same Biome.

That’s my argument for including this plant in a list of California natives.

The other argument would be that some of these are growing naturally all the way up as far as San Diego County anyway so what’s this scientifically insignificant argument really about?!?

Around the Plants-o-Sphere

Hort Log has quite the discovery. Photographic proof too.

This is the juvenile form of Rhaphidophora – often called a shingle plant as the leaves flatten and wrap tightly around tree trunks.

That’s crazy!

Frog in the Greenhouse

image

It’s the VERY LOUD little Pacific Chorus Frog in the greenhouse, trying to poach flies from the carnivorous plants. #cute #frog

Photo by Rikki

Spiny Cactus in Africa

Cactus are just like any other exotic plant – they can become invasive and a pest. In Africa there were Opuntias that were planted for the fruit and the flowers and now they are killing the local livestock.

The National Environment Management Authority has said it will issue a licence for the release of an insect that will feed on a cactus that kills their livestock in Laikipia county….

Wahungu said there are set procedures to be followed to release the insects as they have never been used in Kenya. He cautioned that this will be an experiment and any biological release can bring unexpected repercussions. Wahungu said they will not leave anything to chance.

The residents led by Laikipia North MP Mathew Lempurkel said they have lost thousands of livestock after they feed on the fruits of the opuntia type of cactus, which have sharp tiny thorns that damage the intestines of the animals leading to death.

Unfortunately I am skeptical of this type of pest eradication effort. I don’t think it will end well.

Lithops Researched

Now researchers have discovered how the partially subterranean “Living Stones” still manage to harvest enough sunlight while avoiding drying out in the parched landscape, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

I’ll need to read the whole article and study. Not right now of course, I’m busy at work. Later. Yeah.

lithops_lesliei_venteri

Lithops lesliei ssp. venteri

Endangered Cacti

Citing everything from grazing to insects, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday granted endangered species protection to two cacti found in Arizona.

The Acuña cactus, found in Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties, is one of two Arizona cacti granted endangered species protection Monday….

These plants, the Acuña cactus and the Fickeisen plains cactus, are the latest two to go through the process and be put on the endangered list.

That is one pretty plant which is the main criteria the government uses for determining what species get protected. I would protect that! The Acuña Cactus (Echinomastus erectocentrus var. acunensis), also known as the Pineapple Cactus, is found in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.

The Fickeisen plains cactus (Pediocactus peeblesianus fickeiseniae), also known as the Navajo Pincushion Cactus, is tiny and also cute and also worthy of protection in my aesthetic opinion.

 

If a cactus can be “cute,” the Fickeisen plains cactus qualifies. “Cactophiles” are smitten by this petite plant with cream-colored flowers. Unfortunately, illegal collection by enthusiasts and commercial cactus dealers has contributed to the decline of many species in the genus Pediocactus.

Silver Ball Cactus

Parodia scopa

Parodia scopa
Silver Ball Cactus

Small, globose to 4″ diameter with dense spines. Can grow tall, to 20″! But generally they stay pretty short. Moderate clumping, yellow flowers. Hardy to 25F. From Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

It turns out the fruit is dehiscent. Nice to know! Not particularly unusual. But maybe you’ve learned a new word and concept today? Science!

Wax Flowered Hoyas

Here’s a couple of recently blooming Hoyas for you. Enjoy!

Hoya kerrii2

Hoya kerrii has the heart-shaped leaves so fondly remembered from Valentine’s Day.

Hoya Mathilde

Hoya “Mathilde” is new to us and we haven’t had any ready for sale yet, but here you get a preview of the flowers.

hoya_australis

Hoya australis I featured a few months ago, but I thought I would add it to this entry anyway. I must be in Summer Repeats!

Let me tell you something more about the Hoyas. Hoyas are in the Milkweed Family, Asclepiadaceae is the former name of the former plant family now treated as a subfamily, Asclepiadoideae, of the Dogbane Family, Apocynaceae, which also includes such famous succulents as the Pachypodiums and Adeniums! (Science!)

Or let me quote a couple o’ the books in print..

“These tropical, vining plants have rigid, glossy leaves and bowl-shaped clusters of star-shaped flowers so stiff and shiny they seem to be made of wax. Provide rich soil, regular water, warm temperatures, and sun protection. Plants thrive in bright shade and humid hothouses, blooming best when pot-bound… Water minimally during winter dormancy.”
Debra Lee Baldwin, Designing with Succulents, p.196.

“Hoya and the closely related Dischidia comprise vining plants that barely fit the definition of a succulent…. Hoya and Dischidia species are native from India through New Guinea, northern Australia, and even Southern China. Most Hoyas grow more-or-less wholly as epiphytes. As a result, even though they are from tropical regions with heavy rainfall, they have to be able to withstand considerable dryness, and so have evolved thick, succulent leaves.”
Fred Dortort, The Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World, also p.196!

Also from the Smithsonian Collection

Earlier today I posted a botanical illustration from the Smithsonian Collection. Science!

And here we find an aircraft from the Smithsonian Collection.

houseflies-airplane
Photo: Eric Long / Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

It goes without saying that the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has some of the neatest collection of planes in the world… Designed and built by famed aircraft modeler Frank Ehling in the 1970s, they are the smallest flying models the Museum owns.

It’s a fly-powered aircraft, indeed. Science!

(h/t the straight dope)

Barbados Gooseberry Cactus

pereskia

Pereskia pereskia (Cactaceae)
Plate Number: 1722
Publication: The Cactaceae Vol. 1 Pl 2, Figs 1,2 and 3
Collection: M. Simon, U.S.A., New York; flowering branch, fruits.
Artist: Eaton, Mary Emily – Date unknown – watercolor

From the Catalog of Botanical Illustrations, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution

© Smithsonian Institution

This cactus is now properly named Pereskia aculeata, P. Miller 1768. It’s from the Caribbean but can also sometimes be found in Florida. The pink flowers are fragrant and the fruit is edible. It is a climbing, semi-vining cactus with true spines and true non-succulent leaves.

Parodia Flowers

Below is a tricky one to identify.

First we have what is unquestionably Parodia rutilans:

parodia_rutilans3

Here’s a picture of the cactus under that giant yellow flower:

parodia_rutilans2

Every source I have indicates that P. rutilans and all of its subspecies all have brown spines. Now they can have a more purplish flower too. But the edges are purple, while the center still remains at least yellowish.

Then there’s this plant:

notocactus_roseiflorus

The cactus is superficially similar to the one above. But this one has very clear black spines that fade to gray. You can really see that in the picture. Other aspects of the spination are also very clear and clearly not Parodia rutilans or related subspecies. And while P. rutilans can have a purplish flower, it still has a yellow throat while this one has a whitish throat (the photo shows some reflection of the yellow stamens on the petals).

Also, this flower has had a lot of trouble opening without heat. It’s a spring bloomer and we usually do not have enough heat this time of year for this flower to fully open. So I have lots of pictures from the last few years of this plant with buds, but this is my first one with a fully open flower. Previously, from the spination and the buds I thought this might be an Echinocereus, and with the heat issue that makes a lot of sense too. But now that this flower is finally open I can say very clearly that this is not an Echinocereus.

What is the one factor that makes me certain? The purple stigma.

So what is it?

I have a book that very clearly indicates that this is Notocactus roseiflorus. Case Closed? No! All Notocactuses have been moved into Parodia for a couple decades now, so then the question is what Parodia would this species name have been moved to. And unfortunately the answer is Parodia rutilans. Which clearly this is not. No way. Not even close. Not a subspecies. So I went back and did some more research on Parodia rutilans and the plant at the top and really, it’s quite certain. To quote my copy of Anderson, “Aureoles densely white wooly… Central spines light reddish brown, straight or pointed slightly downward…”

Now I had been using a made up name, Parodia rutilans ssp. roseiflorus to indicate the P. rutilans that had the purplish flowers as mentioned above, but that’s not a real name. I just made it up. So that’s gone by the wayside. So now I have to live with the fact that Parodia rutilans’ flowers can vary and rename all the ones with the brown spines to just simply Parodia rutilans.

And since I can’t come up with any other name ever attached to this black-spined purple-flowered cactus I will have to suffice with Notocactus roseiflorus for now. Unless someone can help me come up with another name that is current.

Science!

California Natives???

A redacted letter from a concerned citizen:

Cactus Jungle:

You have on your list Fouquieria xxxx from California, this incorrect (sic)….. Fouquieria splendens is the only one that grows in the United States, all the others grow in Mexico and Baja. Your Fouquieria xxxx looks more like Fouquieria xxxx from Baja….. Do you have any more information on your plant? I have grown all of the known Fouquieria’s (sic) and have been in Mexico many times studying and collecting them.

Mxxx

Mxxx,
Thank you for your concerns. The word “California” can refer to the current political boundaries of the state formerly governed by Arnold Schwartzenegger, or they can refer to the ecological and geological physical area (among other options). We prefer to include plants native to Baja California as part of the ecological area of California.

Thank you,
Peter

Editors Note: Science!

Reader Questions

Aaron asks the classic cactus vs. succulent question, on the Instagrams.

Agave, euphorbia, Pachypodium, aloes and others alike are not cactus correct? They are succulents yes? To be a cactus it has to be under the family of cactaceae? Educate me my mentor! aweezy_27

Aaron,

Yes, you are right! Only cactaceae are “true” cacti. All other spiny plants that look like a cactus are not a cactus. The difference is in the “aureoles” – only cactus have aureoles. On the other side, there are succulents in many plant families, including cactus etc…

Succulent is a strategy, Cactus is a Family.

Science!

Cactus Flowers! It's Spring!

The Echinocereus grandifloras are in full bloom this weekend, so you know it’s spring out here at the Cactus Jungle.

echino_grand_0413_02

We call this one “Amber Peach”

echino_grand_0413_01

Rikki insists this one is “Tropical Pink”

echino_grand_0413_03

I named this one “White Lightning”

In case you were wondering, these are all hybrids. They are intergenic hybrids between Echinopsis and Echinocereus. You may see these on various websites and at certain nurseries under various and sundry names. Some call them Trichocereus Hybrids or Lobivia Hybrids or Tricho-Lobivia Hybrids, however current taxonomy puts all Trichocereus and Lobivias into Echinopsis.

You may also see in certain quarters where they insist on particular cultivar names. However we have gotten our original parent plants for these hybrids from the original hybridizer and he does not name them himself. So we are free to call them by our own cultivar names. If you have better names for them than we’ve come up with, we’re happy to take suggestions!

Ice Plant Politics

Some people think that our cute little blooming Delospermas are Ice Plants, just like along the highways and coastlines of California.

But they’re not! I mean, sure, they’re related and all, and the leaves are similar enough and the fruits are also edible enough so that maybe you could call them Ice Plants if you really wanted to, but the biggest difference is that these are not invasive. So I choose not to call them Ice Plants.

Here are some in bloom right now at the nursery. Look at all the pretty flower colors!

Magenta Delosperma

Would you call that Magenta? I would. Maybe some would say it veers toward fuschia. I would not.

Yellow Delosperma

Yellow is easy to ID. Plus it is particularly popular with the native bees. They like yellow! There must be lots of native yellow flowers, like the Mimuluses. I would like to name this color, Rapeseed Yellow.

Pink Delosperma

Pink is a varied color. Is there a shade of pink that would match this? It kind of matches MAC Eyeshadow’s “Swish” Swatch.

Red Delosperma

Red! Finally! Actually kind of a crimson red, so you know its good.

Orange Delosperma

…and Orange.

By the way, the most popular Delosperma flower color on my Instagram feed is…

Wait for it…

Pink!

Science!

String of Hearts

Ceropegia woodii variegata

That’s a bloom sticking straight out from the side of the plant into the black backdrop.

Why? What did you think it was?

Let’s talk Family Resemblance. These look like they should be related to the Stapeliads. Are they? Let’s check.

Well, they’re in  Apocynaceae which is, as we all know, is known as the…. Dogbane Family!

And what’s the Sub-Family? Asclepiadoideae! Hmmm. Didn’t that used to be it’s own family? Asclepiadaceae? The Asclepiads? Yes! Yes, it did. And what about the Stapeliads? Have we forgot the Stapeliads? Well now they’ve decided to give the Stapeliads their own Tribe in the Asclepiads Subfamily of the Dogbane Family. And that Tribe is called… Stapeliae. Huh. So they are related, but not quite the same tribe. Good to know.

(also, they’re related to the Hoyas, too.)

Science!

Mediterranean Sea Squill and the Botanical Games (Science!)

Urginea maritima in very full bloom. You can see there are lots and lots of reasons for the bees to get excited.

I wonder what the bulb below really looks like? It’s hard to get the bulb and the blooms in the same photo.

Bulb photo.

Gee, how tall is that bloom stalk?

Really tall. So tall that I have to stand pretty far back to get both the bulb and the blooms in the photo.

And if you were wondering what the Botanical Games are, join me after the break… Read More…

Mars Rover

According to space.com,

Mars looks remarkably like the California desert in a new photo beamed home by NASA’s Curiosity rover, researchers said today (Aug. 8).

In the new black-and-white image, Curiosity’s Gale Crater landing site bears a striking resemblance to the desert landscape a hundred miles or so east of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where the rover was built, scientists said.

“To a certain extent, the first impression that you get is how Earthlike this seems, looking at that landscape,” Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, of Caltech in Pasadena, told reporters.

Indeed. If you zoom in on the photo a little closer…

What is that? Is that a ….

It is! It is a….

Cactus on Mars!

Merry Widow Cactus

Echinocereus purpureus, although the recently out-of-print The Cactus Family (Anderson) says its more recently changed to the corrected E. reichenbachii ssp. reichenbachii, but we also grow E. reichenbachii and then there’s E. baileyi which they say is more properly known as E. reichenbachii ssp. baileyi and E. armatus which Anderson insists is really E. reichenbachii ssp. armatus, so that’s all just too confusing and I prefer to go with the E. purpureus for this one.

Now that’s what Botany and Botanical Latin and the whole Horticulture trade is all about – getting the proper names right.

Science!

(The Merry Widow Cactus common name above is real, although Anderson also has listed the less distinctive Purple Candle Cactus.)

Cactus in Bloom

Mr. Subjunctive from Plants are the Strangest People sends along a funny.

From Iowa.

This is growing on E Washington St. in Washington, IA; the photo was taken 26 March 2012. I’ve seen it on previous trips as well, and thought of y’all, but things hadn’t worked out to take a picture of it, and we don’t actually go to Washington that often.

I think the bloom is new since the last time I saw it. Both the color (black?!) and form (more like an aroid flower than a cactus flower, really) are noteworthy. I presume, based on the bloom, that this is a Discocactus of some sort? It’s a slow grower, but I suppose that’s to be expected for any Iowa cacti.

-Mr. Subjunctive

First you need to click the picture above to get a closer look at the details. And then, here’s a Discocactus in bloom, so we can judge the similarities and determine the species.

From the Catalog of Botanical Illustrations, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution

Plate Number: 1806
Publication: The Cactaceae Vol. 3 Pl 24, Fig 4
Client: Britton, N.L. and Rose, J.N. – Size: 11×14

Discocactus bahiensis (Cactaceae) – Type; Collection: Rose, J.N. 19783, Brazil, Bahia; flowering plant.
Artist: Eaton, Mary Emily – Date unknown – watercolor

No, definitely not a Discocactus.

Science!

Old Plants

Oh No! Next come the Dinosaurs! We’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t have a happy ending.

The oldest plant ever to be regenerated has been grown from 32,000-year-old seeds—beating the previous recordholder by some 30,000 years.

A Russian team discovered a seed cache of Silene stenophylla, a flowering plant native to Siberia, that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River (map). Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the seeds were 32,000 years old.

Pretty.

(ht Rikki)

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