Sunday, November 27, 2022

Oleander, Nerium oleander, Beautiful and Poisonous

Oleander, Nerium oleander (dogbane family, Apocynaceae) has for years been, for me, an example of how comfortably we live with poisonous plants. Oleander is very poisonous. Adults are hospitalized after eating several leaves, die from a serving of leaves. The plants contain a series of very toxic alkaloids, oleandrin, oleandrigenin, oleandroside, neroside, and more. All parts of the plant, including the flower petals, sap, honey, twigs, and roots, contain these alkaloids. They are not destroyed by drying or heat, and the smoke from an oleander fire can be dangerous. However, the story that a boy scout troop died of cooking hot dogs on oleander sticks is an urban legend (see Snopes). 

oleander, Nerium oleander
oleander, Nerium oleander

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Solanaceae, Foods and Poisons

National Botanic Garden sign The National Botanic Garden in Washington, DC has the above sign. 

There are about 2,300 species in the nightshade family, Solanaceae, so I can hardly mention them all, but here's a tour of some of my favorites:

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Long Term Studies and Record Keeping

All experiments, observational or manipulative, need to be well-designed. But you also need to summarize and publish the results. If the study goes on very long--and I've been reflecting on lessons from a 42-year project on harvester ants--there are special issues in maintaining the records.

surveying harvester ant colonies
Study of harvest ant colony longevity;
a few days of observation every year for 42 years

Technology is bound to change. I saw the notes from a grassland study in Hays, Kansas that ran from 1942 to 1972 (data now at Colorado State University); in the middle of the study colored ballpoint pens came into existence and notes that had been in heavy black ink became color-coded. How cool! Who ever thinks about pen evolution? And yet, while xeroxing was only in black and white, the color coding was a problem for copying/backing up the data.

I have carried out several studies that ran more than a decade and worked with a couple others. Here are some of the things I learned--mostly by doing them badly. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Plant Story--The Gangly, Gorgeous Queen of the Night Epiphyllum oxypetalum

"Here, wouldn't you like this?" my friend said, "it has a nice flower," and handed me a potted plant.  It looked rather like a Christmas cactus, with no particular spines, but was much bigger than a Christmas cactus, with some of the parts long and narrow, others broad and flat.

Epiphyllum oxypetalum Queen of the Night
Epiphyllum oxypetalum

"Okay," I said, since I was always a sucker for a plant, especially one I knew nothing about. It came with its name on a handmade pot label, Epiphyllum oxypetalum. What a mouthful. I ignored the name.