Sunday, October 19, 2014

Plant story: The amazing dioecious buffalo grass, Buchloë dactyloides

buffalo grass, male flowers
buffalo grass, male flowers, sticking up 

Buffalo grass, Buchloë dactyloides' (or Bouteloua dactyloides) [previous posts on buffalo grass and bison; drought tolerance, name] is a short drought-tolerant native American grass. It was one of the dominant (most common) grasses of the American high plains with a broad range from Mexico to Canada across our driest grasslands. It is highly regarded as food for cattle and bison. It is now being widely planted as a water-efficient lawn grass.

The success of buffalo grass is the more amazing to me because buffalo grass is dioecious. Dioecious means that there are male plants and female plants that have to mate before a seed is produced.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Plant Story - American Squashes

zucchini and yellow summer squash
zucchini and yellow summer squash
Sorting out the squashes is a job for experts, which I am not. They are wonderfully confused.

“True squashes” are plants in the genus Cucurbita (Cucurbitaceae, cucumber family). About 15 species make up Cucurbita, all of them native to the Americas. 

Melons, such as cantalope genus Cucumis, watermelon, genus Citrullus (blog about watermelon) and others--all the melons--are from Asia, Africa or Europe. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Visiting Dali, China--Among the Rice Fields


rice

At the end of September in 2013, I came into Dali in Yunnan (southwestern China), just as the rice was about to be harvested. I was on an Art in China tour with the Asian Art Association of the Denver Art Museum (coordinated by Access China Tours). (I wrote a blog giving an overview of the trip: see overview blog). China is famous for its rice, but in fact rice is grown only in the southern half of China. Historically the north grew millet, now it grows corn (maize). Here in southern China, however, rice is king.  
ripe rice, Dali, China
ripe rice, Dali, China

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Forensic Botany--Investigating Crime with Dr. Jane Bock

Dr. Jane Bock
Dr. Jane Bock
Some botanists retire to garden, some retire to travel…Dr. Jane Bock retired to investigate crimes.  

She is a forensic botanist, one of a small group of experts who use their a knowledge of plants to help solve crimes. 

How can plants reveal the truth? It turns out there are many ways. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Visiting New Mexico -- Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument near Santa Fe

Our friend Sue Baum, spending six weeks in Santa Fe taking pottery classes at Santa Fe Clay, was told not to miss the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, so we happily went along on her visit. The directions from Santa Fe were clear and the distance not far, but we still managed to take a series of wrong turns (picture below). On the trip back to Santa Fe we got it right the first time!
Road Closed! Eastern New Mexico
Road Closed! Eastern New Mexico
Tent Rocks was worth the wrong turns we made before finding it.

Kasha-Katuwe National Monument, New Mexico
Kasha-Katuwe National Monument, New Mexico
There were strange and impressive formations, a combination of rock and sand, variously eroded. Kasha-Katuwe means "white cliffs" in the Keresan language of nearby Pueblo de Cochiti. Layers of volcanic deposits alternate, the harder layers protecting the softer from erosion.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Plant Story--Aspen, Populus tremuloides, widespread and speading

aspen
Quaking aspen, usually just called aspen, Populus tremuloides, is a familiar plant, which is part of what makes it remarkable. A member of the willow family, Salicaceae, it is related to willows and cottonwoods, and more closely, to aspens of Europe and bigtooth aspen, Populus grandidentata. 

Though you may also know some of its relatives, in North America you are likely to know it as well. Quaking aspen is the most widespread tree of North America. Of something like 1,000 trees in North America, it is Number One. Aspen is found from northern Canada to Mexico, from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts (map at USDA Plants). The elevational range is also great, from sea level to 10,000'.