Sunday, October 24, 2021

Why Include References in this Blog?

I've been writing this blog weekly since 2013, describing places or plants, or botanical ideas. Most weeks I include references. Reading other people's blogs as I worked on English ivy, I noted, again, that few of them include references. So why do I? Why go to that extra work? 

What the references do is to show you, the reader, where I got my material. It is an academic thing, of course. But knowledge is built on knowledge. I have first-hand observations, but I get a lot of information from other people. In academia, it is important to give those people credit. Here on the internet, manners are different, but the core reason for including references is to let readers know where the information came from remains critical. 

grapes and grapevine
grapevine, as in "I heard it through the grapevine"

If the first reason for listing references is to give credit where credit is due, the second is to be transparent about where the facts and ideas came from. That's the one I'm going to talk about.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Plant Story--Folklore of English Ivy, Hedera helix

English ivy, also called common ivy or just ivy, (Hedera helix, ginseng family, Araliaceae) is a large woody vine native to central Europe. (See last week's blog about its botany link). It was and is conspicuous, a plant most people know. The plant is big, climbing and clinging, long-lived and evergreen. All of these feature in its rich folklore.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Plant Story--English Ivy, Hedera helix, Aggressive Vine

English ivy (Hedera helix, ginseng family, Araliaceae) is so common as to be invisible. You see it climbing high on buildings or covering a vacant lot, the handsome five-pointed dark green leaves, making a thick verdant mat. To me, English ivy high up on brick walls represents old established places, rich in history. 

In fact, English ivy has so much history I divided writing about it into two blog posts. This one is about the plant's biology, next week, the folklore.

leaves of English ivy, Hedera helix
leaves of English ivy, Hedera helix

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Plant Story--Blue Grama and Hairy Grama, Small but Important

Blue grama and hairy grama, Bouteloua gracilis and B. hirsuta, respectively, are short grasses that are very important in the dry plains of the Midwest and West. They can be found from  Canada and Mexico and east and west to coastal states. I am talking about them together in this post because they are hard to tell apart. A few specialists can tell their leaves apart, but, mostly, grassland ecologists don't try, relying on the seed heads to recognize the differences.

hairy grama, Bouteloua hirsuta
hairy grama, Bouteloua hirsuta

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Considering Weeds

I like plants. I have a yard and garden. This week, weeding, I contemplated weeds. What exactly are they?

weeds in the grass

"Weed" is a wonderful concept. It is totally human; a weed is a plant that interferes with human activity, which can be reduced to "a plant in the wrong place." I checked the American Weed Science Society's website--they dedicate their careers to controlling weeds, so need a good working definition--and that website defines a weed as "a plant that causes economic losses or ecological damage, creates health problems for humans or animals, or is undesirable where it is growing." 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tree Cholla, Extrafloral Nectaries, and Ants

Visiting New Mexico, you can't miss the big cacti. Prickly pears stand two to three feet tall, not hugging the ground like the ones in Colorado. Chollas can be more than eight feet tall.

In July, the tree cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata) was flower.  With deep rose-purple flowers, it was doubly noticeable. 

tree cholla, Cylindropuntia imbricate
tree cholla, Cylindopuntia imbricata, in flower

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Camouflage in Plain Sight

wood sorrel

I taught ecology for years. The text books feature dramatic examples of ecological principles--camouflage illustrated with a big green katydids shaped like a leaf, mimicry illustrated by a nonvenomous snake banded like a coral snake, or an example of mutualism with an orchid and exotic bee--almost always tropical. Which tended to make you think that to see biology you should go to the tropics. In fact, though, those basic principles--camouflage, mimicry, mutualism--and all the other pillars of ecology--predation, parasitism, competition--are everywhere.