Electric Pollen

 

Did you know that flowers carry an electric charge? So do bees.

Researchers at the University of Bristol have been investigating this amazing phenomenon.

Flowers are negatively charged, a charge they acquire from the atmosphere around them. On a sunny day, every meter of atmosphere from the ground upwards carries a charge of around 100 volts. Flowering plants draw from this charge, in the end themselves becoming slightly electrified to about 40 volts.

 
<img src="https://daisydukesgardens.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/covered_in_pumpkin_pollen_by_dalantech.jpg" alt="" title="Bee Covered in Pollen" width="735" height="438" class="alignleft size-full wp-image-1610"

 

Bees, on the other hand, are positively charged. Flying through the air at high speeds and bumping into dust particles along the way, a bee's tiny hairs become positively charged much the same way your socks become after shuffling along a carpet.

 

Flower in normal light, ultraviolet light and a representation of its electric fields.

 

When a bee lands on a flower it is an electric connection. The meeting of these two charges causes pollen to literally jump from the flower on to the bee. This static will keep pollen lodged safely onto the bee’s body until is rubbed off back at the hive or on to a flower of the opposite gender, resulting in a successful pollination.

This process is just another incredible addition to the pollination methods employed by flowers. Along with seasonal coincidence, color, pattern and fragrance, flowers use an electrical charge to convey critical information to bees.

 

A bee doing what it does best.
 

It is an important tool in identification, allowing bees to discern the shape of a flower by the electric charge outlining its petals. It can also notify a bee whether or not it is bearing pollen. When a bee lands on a flower, the charge of that flower spikes by about 25 millivolts and remains so for almost 2 minutes after a bee’s departure. A heighten electric state is a signal to bees that follow that the flower has just been visited and may not have as much pollen as expected.

To test the relationship between bees and the electrical charge of flowers, researchers created a laboratory meadow of fake flowers. These “flowers” were in fact plastic cups dotted at the bottom with either a sweet sugary solution or bitter quinine.

 

Bee pollinating a pear tree.
 
When bees were released among the flowers, they visited both the sugary and bitter flowers at an equal rate. However, when the researchers gave the sweet cups a slight electric charge, the bees began to differentiate between the sweet and bitter flowers with an 80% accuracy. Soon after the electric charge was disconnected, the bees lost their accuracy and began to visit both flowers once more at an equal rate.

 

Flowers sprayed with colored particles (color in box corresponds to colored particles) to reveal their electric field. Courtesy of National Geographic.
 

So far, bees are the only insect known to science capable of detecting electrical fields. A fascinating chapter in the evolutionary story of plant life and their main pollinators, researchers at the University of Bristol are continuing their studies to deepen our understanding of this marvel of nature.

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Light-Eaters


It may be hard to tell, but this plant is nomming on some delicious light

 

An interesting fact about plants: they eat light.

Plant’s use light as our bodies use food, converting it into carbohydrates, sugars and more in order to fuel their existence.

Animal and plant cells are relatively similar in makeup. Plant cells however contain a few extra cell organs, called organelles, in order to facilitate the conversion of light into a food source.

 


Courtesy of http://srialls.blogspot.de/

 

These organelles are called chloroplasts. They are photo-reactive centers which contain chlorophyll, the main pigment along with carotenes and xanthophylls, used to absorb photons (particles of light).

Chlorophyll is most adept absorbing blue light, followed by red. Green spectrums are poorly absorbed and thus reflected, giving plant life a general greenish hue.

 


Just bouncing off the un-absorbable green

 

Each plant cell contains up to 100 chloroplasts, translating to approximately 8 million of these photo-sensitive organs per square centimeter of leaf, making it comparable to a living solar panel. Since all green parts of a plant contain chlorophyll, all these parts are capable of harvesting light although leaf tissue remains the most proficient at this process.

 


Imagine this, but on a leaf and multiplied by a million and more

 

For basic photosynthesis, 3 components are needed: photons (light), carbon dioxide and water.

When carbon dioxide, water and light are present, photosynthesis produces carbohydrates for the plant and releases oxygen as a by-product. The basic equation for photosynthesis is as follows:

 

 

Basic, generalized photosynthesis is a two step process.

The first step involves water and light. When light hits a pigment of chlorophyll, the chlorophyll absorbs a light particle and loses an electron. This loose electron is used by other parts of the chloroplast to convert the absorbed photon into two forms of chemical energy, ATP and NADP.

It is also used to split water (two hydrogen ions plus one oxygen ion, H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen, stealing its hydrogen ions to later produce carbohydrate sugar and releasing the oxygen (which is of no use to the plant) into the atmosphere.

 

 

In the second step, a loose hydrogen ion bonds with the NADP to form NADPH. Carbon dioxide is absorbed through microscopic openings in a leaf called stomata and then captured by a plant enzyme called RuBisCo. The carbon dioxide is fixated in the plant cell using ATP and NADPH energy.

This cycle is called the Calvin cycle and produces carbohydrates and glucose for the plant to nourish itself as well as reserving some ATP and NADPH to form new RuBisCo and other plant molecules in order to repeat this process continually.

 

 

This is why it is so important to remember, your plants always needs two things: LIGHT and WATER. Without these very simple elements, your plant cannot produce food for itself and, in conjunction with poor environmental conditions, with eventually die.

 


Remember to water the plants for the love of god

 

The process of photosynthesis is simply amazing, the fact that a living organism can create food for itself through the consumption of light. What is even more amazing is that this reaction is responsible for nearly all oxygen present on earth. That means no plant life equals no oxygen which in turn equals no us!

 


We need both land and marine plants to survive

 

We can thank our botanical based friends for keeping us alive by being good stewards of the earth and by respecting and promoting green spaces in our cities and homes. Just remember to water and provide an ample amount of light for your plants and you are sure to have a healthier, peaceful and oxygenated home.

 


Hugging trees actually feels awesome

As Pretty as a Bed of Moss


What would a forest be without moss?

 

Few can argue, there is hardly a thing prettier than a soft bed of moss. Green, lush, delicate, it’s easy to conjure the touch and feel of moss against ones fingers. There is just something whimsical and melancholic about it.

 


If I lived in the forest, I’d be taking a nice little nap right about there

 

Much like their shade and water-loving forest companions, fungi and ferns, mosses propagate through spore dispersal. The times you have seen moss covering the side of a tree, rolling over the forest floor or perched upon stone, it isn’t always flat and plush. The occasions we see moss plump and leafy, it is in the gametophyte stage of its life cycle. Mosses reproduce sexually (although it is also capable of asexual reproduction i.e.. when smaller parts of itself are broken off and relocated), meaning there is both male and female moss. A male gametophyte will produce male gametes, sperm, and a female gametophyte will produce eggs. A leafy green moss is preparing itself for reproduction.

 


This patch of moss is just raring to go

 

Moss thrive in wet, damp conditions for more than a few reasons. One of these is that moss lacks a vascular system. Picking up a clump of moss and turning it over, you may notice there is very little in the way of a root system. The small, thread-like roots called rhizoids help moss cling to surfaces and do absorb some water but scarcely enough. It is for this reason that a clump of moss is very much like a sponge. With very small roots and no vascular system, the entire body of a moss is responsible for water collection and absorption. In the safety of shade and moisture, moss has found a place where it can use this handicap to thrive.

 


Somebody looks happy, must be getting enough water!

 

A second reason for moss’s water-loving nature: water plays a crucial part in its reproductive cycle. When a male gametophyte’s sperm are ready for dispersion it will release these gametes into the raindrops that fall upon it. Once the sperm are contained in a drop of water, it will splash onto the neighboring female moss, fertilizing them. When the female gametophyte has been fertilized, it is now in sporophyte generation.

 


An interesting use of moss to creating living furniture

 

This is where moss changes from its plush, leafy state. Little nodding hoods rise out of moss patches, suspended by a single filament. This bobbing hood is called a capsule, protected by a calyptra. The capsule is the mature sporophyte, containing thousands of ripened spores. Once the calyptra is shed, the capsule will expand and contract in response to fluctuating moisture levels in its surroundings, releasing its spores in the meantime.

 


Moss in sporophyte generation

 

After all its spores have been released, the little hood will brown and dry, eventually falling off. Following this last step, the reproduction cycle will start anew!

 


Moss graffiti made by cutting and pasting pieces of moss or cutting a pattern out of sheet moss

 

Moss is indispensable for a shaded garden. If you find yourself in a north facing home or without much sun, try growing moss on a stone or a terra-cotta pot. If you have a shady windowsill, you could cover the outer ledge with moss to create an eccentric lookout.

 


Moss on a rock is very zen

 

To grow moss on pottery or stone

You will need…

Moss that you have found outside, growing on top of soil or in a lawn
2 cups Buttermilk and
a Blender

Mix the moss and buttermilk in a blender until you achieve a milkshake-like consistency.

Paint this mixture on your chosen pot or stone. Mist it twice daily for 6 weeks, ensuring it is kept out of direct sunlight. If you let it dry out, you will have to start over again.

 


Lovely moss windowsill

 

To grow moss on an outside ledge

You can used the recipe above and paint it on a windowsill or, if you would like a cushionier, plusher moss selection, take a shallow gardening tray, typically used for seed progation and fix it to your windowsill with glue, screws or otherwise.

Fill it will a thin layer of potting soil and then plant your mosses, making sure to water them daily until established. Voila, a pretty and mystical windowsill!

Once again, make sure your mosses are not left to dry out. Its hard to worry about overwatering, since moss is such a profound water consumer.

 

If you happen to find a parched or dried out patch of moss

You can always resuscitate it. Simply let it soak in water, then let it dry out completely and then soak and allow to dry out once more. Place it in a humid and shady place and it should come back to life in a few weeks.

For more moss related projects, visit our post on terrarium gardening.

 

Words that make you sound cool:

Sporophyte ˈspôrəˌfīt The stage of a plant life cycle that produces spores, alternating with the gametophyte stage.

Into the Light

Tomato seedlings lean towards the light.
 

Plants will bend themselves outside of their natural growth habit to reach into light. A plant on a windowsill turns to face the sun, letting you know its not receiving enough of it.

This phenomenon is known as phototropism. It demonstrates how perfectly necessary it is for plants to receive light and in the right amount. Although plants may vary in their light requirements, all need to consume light to survive.

Sometimes a room is filled with so much light, it doesn’t matter too much where you place a plant. But if your space is dimly-lit by the sun or only receives sunlight at certain periods of the day, you may find yourself with a lop-sided houseplant begging for light.

 

Dandelions face the sun from under fallen leaves.

 

Having a lop-sided plant does not necessarily effect its ability to survive. However it can make a plant less aesthetically pleasing for us, since it will prefer to look out the window instead of into our living space. The side of the plant not exposed to light may have its leaves yellow and eventually drop as well.

A plant does not have a brain, nor does it have a nervous system. But it does have hormones and these hormones control the intricate workings of plant life. In this case, the hormone auxin is responsible for helping plants lean towards light.

In the tip of every shoot and root, as well as under woody fiber and bark, is the meristem tissue. This is the only place plant cells divide and thus the only place from which a plant truly grows. It is also where auxin is produced.

 


Meristematic growth in shoots, roots and cambium.

 

Auxin flows from these centers to other parts of the plant, reacting to the presence of sunlight and moving away from it. If you see a plant growing directly upwards, its meristematic areas are receiving a balanced amount of light and its auxins are moving proportionately on all sides downward. In the absence of balanced light, auxins will soon distribute unevenly, not only away from the light but accumulating on the shaded side of a plant.

Where the auxin accumulates, a plant’s cells will drop in pH and acidify. It is only in this acidic environment that the affected cell’s hydrogen bonds are disrupted and the enzyme expansin can begin to break down the cell walls within the stem.

 

Auxin’s role in phototropism.

 

As the cells weaken, they swell and elongate, causing the stem to bend. When the tip of the stem and its meristematic tissue begin to receive balanced light once again, the stem will cease to bend and resume growing straight, remaining forever in its contorted position.

How a plant moves towards the sun is certainly curious. In one sense, it seems almost a conscious reaction that a plant would move shaded parts of itself into light so that it can continue to photosynthesize to its full potential. At the same time, however, it remains entirely unconscious as it is natural for auxins to move towards where there is the least amount of light regardless.

 

An indoor fig gives its best face to the light.

 

Phototropism is very pronounced in winter, when days are shorter and houseplants struggle to get as much sun as they need. As a simple solution, turn your plant once per month so that all side receive light thought the winter season. This can be done anytime of the year of course when in a space with low-light.

 

Tropicals grow straight as an arrow under a fluorescent light hung above.

 

If interested, you could also use filtered lights to keep your plants growing straight. Interestingly enough, certain parts of a plant will grow depending on the wavelength of light it receives. While natural sunlight contains a complete spectrum of light, plants are stimulated most by red and blue light. Blue light corresponds with bushy, vegetative growth while red light can promote flowering.

Plant tips respond especially to blue light, the same provided by fluorescent lights and blue LED lights. As a solution, a blue LED light or cool white fluorescent could be placed on the other side of a room in order to balance natural light from a window during daylight hours.

 

 

Words that make you sound cool:
Phototropism ˌfōtəˈtrōpizəm the process by which plants grow towards light.

The Fantastic World of Mushrooms


Perhaps the world’s most recognizable mushroom, Amanita muscaria.

 

Mushrooms inhabit shady, damp places, growing out of rich humus as well as from under bark and atop decomposing organic material. 

 


Dictyophora indusiata, left and Aseroe rubra, right.

 

Most vegetation on earth uses photosynthesis in some way or form to produce sugars for food. Fungus, mushrooms, mold, rust and yeast instead feed on organic debris. This sets them apart so radically from other plant life that they have been given their very own kingdom, the kingdom of Fungi.

 


A Shaggy Ink Cap, left and Staheliomyces cinctus, right.

 

Botany still has many secrets to unravel regarding vegetative life and mushrooms are as mysterious as they are odd. Mycologists presently have no answers as to how mushrooms use sunlight to their benefit since fungal organisms do not contain chlorophyll and decompose matter as a food source instead of photosynthesizing light. It is clear however that mushrooms and fungi do respond to the sun, as they grow towards natural light just like all other plant species.

 


Lactarius indigo

 

Fungus plays a very diverse role in nature, both as a life giver and also a grim reaper. Their survival mechanisms are a reflection of this, helping mushrooms flourish in the nature by means of three growth habits: symbiosis, saprophytism and parasitism.

 


An edible mushroom, Hericium erinaceus

 

A fungus that relies on symbiotic relationships adheres itself to the root system of another plant organism. Here it steals carbohydrates and sugars from the host in order to feed itself. In exchange, the fungus synthesizes minerals, water and nutrients from the soil which the host plant absorbs through their fusion. An example of this are Mycorrhiza, which are extremely beneficial to a healthy, organic garden. They can be purchased at garden centers and tossed into soil before setting in new plants.

 


Mushrooms chillin’

 

Saprophytic mushrooms grow on logs, damp organic material and excrement. They nourish themselves by decomposing these materials (literally eating them) and fixing nutrients in the soil. You may see them on lawns, mossy logs or even buildings.

As parasites, fungi generally select dying or weak host plants. While they do not always directly kill their hosts, they do hasten their death by siphoning resources in order to feed themselves. This process plays an important part in natural selection and ecosystem renewal.

 


Colus pusilius, left and Lycoperdon curtisii, right.

 

Mushrooms are made of chitin instead of cellulose, the building block of most herbaceous plants. Chitin forms long, thread-like filaments that branch off in all directions called hyphae. They look very much like the branches of a tree, in fact, or a system of roots. A collection of hyphae is called a mycelium. A mycelium could be said to be the true body of a fungus.

 


Mycelium with long hyphae exploring a leaf, left and a log, right.

 

A mushroom that we see above ground is actually the sex organ, or fruiting body, of the mycelium. It carries the spores necessary for its reproduction which it will distribute from its gills (what you see under a mushroom cap) or pores.

Making more mushrooms is a bit of a romantic affair. A spore contains only half the genetic material required to reproduce, meaning that eventually it will have to seek out another mycelium in order to produce mushrooms again and thus more spores.

 


Amanita jacksonii pushing its way up through the forest floor.

 

What is so unique about fungus is that it can reproduce both sexually and asexually. Asexually, a mycelium can clone itself indefinitely, dividing its own cells to produce more hyphae, to reach further into the wild in search of a partner. This cloned mycelium will never be able to produce mushrooms until it finds another mycelium to share its gene-containing nuclei with.

When it does, the two mycelium will fuse their hyphae. Here they will transfer their nuclei through cell division from one to the other so that both hyphae contain one of their own nuclei and one of their partners. The mycelium can then form fruit and will send up what we see as mushrooms. Inside the mushroom, the two nuclei finally fuse. Here the genetic information of the two mycelium is joined.

 

 

Following this union, the nuclei then divide again through meiosis (the same cell division used by us to create sperm and egg) to make four new nuclei all containing half the genetic data necessary to reproduce. This data is encapsulated in a spore and released into the wind. If it lands in the right place it will germinate and grow into a brand new mycelium which in turn will ultimately spend its life cycle in search of other mycelium with whom to produce mushrooms.

 


Decomposing the decomposer. After a mushroom releases its spores, it dies and is decomposed by molds.

 

For us home gardeners, mushrooms can be cultivated at home with very little effort thanks to readily available mushroom kits. With just a little misting and some indirect light, you can have fresh mushrooms within a few weeks. If you are interested in growing your own mushrooms, please enjoy the video below and the following links.

 

Hawlik Vitalpilze
http://www.pilzshop.de/pilze+zuechten/13/ac

Pilzmännchen
http://pilzzuchtshop.eu/bio-home-pilzzuchtsets-indoor/index.php

Pilzbrutversand Krämer
http://www.shii-take.de/

 

words to make you sound cool:
Mycelium mīˈsēlēəm the vegetative body of a fungus

 

Skeletal remains: elements of change, renewal and death

The greenish hue of summer turns yellow and soon the skeletal-like remains of a leaf can be found. It is intricate in design, knit in webs. The veins of a leaf are akin to those of all other living beings.

A leaf falls because a plant organism is programmed to go through a senescence. No divine intervention, only plant hormones and an environmental change.

Life is mysterious and botanists alike are perplexed: how does a plant use hormones to induce itself to die?

This we know, that the shortening of days and lengthening of nights plus fluctuations in temperature gradually prevents and shuts down a leaf’s ability to photosynthesize. As the levels of chlorophyll in a leaf diminish, the leaf weakens. The delicate webbing of veins within the leaf are used to slowly drain any useful elements to the root system of the plant and then are closed through an abscission layer at the base of the leaf. The leaf drops.

Plants of every kind will drop their leaves at some point but not all do so at the same time and neither all at once. Evergreens and needled-plants are no exception.

Walking through the trees in autumn is a simple pleasure and while the spectacular change of color is a charming process of nature it is in a way a reminder of our shared life-force.

Green spaces, in their constant cycle of renewal, likely give the illusion of perpetuity. But a seasonal senescence, most grandly illustrated in autumn, is also part of a plant’s biological aging. It is when they pause, shed and start anew…one season older, aging and wheeling towards the inevitability of death just like us.

But what mother nature leaves for death, she also gives new life. The skeletal remains of leaves decompose, return to the earth and fertilize their surroundings. Soon the reflective tone of autumn is replaced with the pregnant ecstasy of spring.

Take this time to reflect and, most of all, appreciate fall…it’s really one of the prettiest times of the year!

 

Words to make you sound cool:
Senescence si-ˈne-sən(t)s the process of biological aging