Monday, October 28, 2013

Plant Story: Wandering Watermelons

watermelon, xigua
watermelon, xigua
Everyone knows watermelon, right?  Big green fruit with red interior and black seeds. An essential part of American summer picnicking. 

So it was a surprise that In China, not just in American Chinese restaurants, watermelon is the usual dessert. The meal ends when slices of watermelon are served. 

It is a long way from Denver to Shanghai. Where is watermelon from?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Plant Story - Garden Cosmos, Colorful and a Little Bit Wild

garden cosmos, Cosmos bipinnatus
garden cosmos, Cosmos bipinnatus
We had three nights of killing frosts and in the yard, my beautiful cosmos are all dead. These pictures are how it WAS.
garden cosmos
garden cosmos

The boquets I picked three days ago are all that remain.
garden cosmos

Monday, October 14, 2013

Touring China --

downtown Beijing
downtown Beijing
In September I took a tour of China with the Denver Art Museum's Asian Art Association, coordiated by Access China Tours. We went from Beijing to Dunhuang in the west through Xian and Chengdu in central China to Lijiang and Dali in the far southwest (Yunnan Province) ending in Shanghai. The contrasts are staggering and I am trying to organize what I saw. We tend to talk about "going to --" as if landing in the capital or the top tourist location will show you all the place has to offer. It is not that easy!

In US terms, our trip was like seeing New York City and Washington D.C., the countryside near Atlanta, Georgia and Biloxi, Mississippi, as well as visiting Taos, New Mexico...different in levels of urbanness, climate, history, ethnic mixes...

Dunhuang, China
Dunhuang dunes
Beijing is "China"...As the capital most tours go there. The traffic was pretty continually snarled and the air gray. That said, the Forbidden City (a quaint old name, in modern Chinese the name is the Former Palace), Tiananmen Square, the art museums and the Great Wall are all well worth seeing. In September, it was warm and relatively humid.

Dunhuang, in Gansu Province, is about 1500 miles (2,438 km ) west of Beijing, on the edge of the Gobi Desert. It was dry! Days were hot and nights very cool. Great sand dunes loomed above the town. An important trading area, the people were and are a mix of races and ethnic groups. A small place with a long interesting history.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Botany Rules: Why Change Scientific Names?! Part 2

Helianthus pauciflorus
stiff sunflower Helianthus rigidus
when the photo
was taken, now Helianthus
     Plant names of American plants are changing more right now than they have for centuries because of the joint impact of the Flora of North America Project and DNA sequencing. I talked about the Flora of North America project last post.  LINK   

  There would certainly have been changes in American plant names as a result of the writing of the Flora of North America, but the concurrent emergence of DNA sequencing has produced surprising new data to integrate. 

      Compared to animals, plants have a simple structure. Botanists recognize only three tissues: root, stem and leaf. Flowers and fruit are specialized leaves. From descriptions of the arrangement and details of these three tissues botanists created plant classification. They used all the tools they had: complex measurements, chemical analysis, geographic patterns, and ability to hybridize, for example. 
     After 400 years of applying these techniques, plant biologists thought they were pretty close to having found the true relationships among plants. They were wrong. DNA data has revealed many surprises. In particular, it has shown convergence, where two plants look very similar but turn out not to be closely related at all. For example, flowering plants living in ponds or streams have similar characters for living in or under water, but their ancestors are found all over the plant kingdom. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Botany Rules: Why Change Plant Scientific Names?! Part 1

Trientalis europea, formerly Trientalis latifolia
Trientalis europea, formerly Trientalis latifolia. Why?
   Two very important things happened to plant names in the botanical world starting in the 1980s:  the flora of North America project and DNA sequencing. I'll talk about the Flora of North America today and DNA sequencing next time.

     For the post on California coastal forests ( LINK) I looked up the plants I saw this May in plant books published in the 1970s. I found the plants but when I checked, almost all the names had been changed. Specifically star flower, in the old books as Trientalis latifolia is now Trientalis europaea, what was called Rubus vitifolius, the Pacific dewberry is now Rubus ursinus and Montia perfoliata, miner’s lettuce is now Claytonia perfoliata, 

   Books and botanists tell people that each plant or animal has only one scientific name so it is surprising and a bit annoying to discover the name you learned is incorrect.