Botany word of the month.

It appears that my intentions and reality do not mesh, yet again…a Botany Word of the Week is just simply too much for me to maintain on top of all my other projects.  But I love creating these posts and I hope you enjoy reading them – so I’ll switch to a monthly format which should be far easier for me to complete. We’ll see…intentions, you know….

Dehiscent

If you have a medical background, you’ll already know what this term means…except I’m going to use it in relationship to fruits.

When they are mature and dry enough, dry dehiscent fruit split open to release their seeds. Dehiscence is this act of breaking open at a seam. The part that splits is the pericarp (comprised of ovule-bearing structures of the flower called carpels).

The dry dehiscent fruit you are probably most familiar with belong to legumes.  Peas, beans, and lentils fall into this category.  They all have one carpel and if you’ve ever shelled garden peas, you’ll recognize the way that carpel splits open (except that you’re facilitating the split before it’s “supposed” to happen. When you allow peas to dry for harvesting, and they split open, then you’re letting them do their thing).

Do you remember this post I did a couple of years ago about the ‘Le Puy’ lentils I grew?  What I’m describing there is the explosive way the dehiscent fruit burst open when they’re ready.  And I’ll never forget the way that the seed pods of the Caragana shrubs that lined the driveway to my childhood home audibly crackled and violently burst on hot, late summer days, showering the seeds everywhere.

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‘Le Puy’ lentils…not yet dry enough to split open.

Peanuts are one dehiscent legume that don’t – thankfully – burst open when dry.   You have to help them along by breaking them open yourself.

There are always exceptions. Some legumes have indehiscent fruit, and their carpel does not split open when dry.  If you have a honey locust growing in your yard, that’s a good example.

Legumes aren’t the only dry dehiscent fruit.  There are capsules, which have more than one ovule.  Lilies and poppies have capsules.  There are also follicles, of which plants such as columbines have more than one.  Siliques are another.  These are a type of elongated fruit that kind of resemble legumes.  If you’ve ever allowed your radishes to set seed, that pod you’re looking at is a silique.  Just for fun, there are also silicles, which are not as long as siliques.  Honestly, I’m not making this up, even if it sounds a bit giggle-inducing.

What is your favourite dry dehiscent fruit to grow?  

 

Some links for further reading:

https://www2.palomar.edu/users/warmstrong/termfr1.htm

http://science.jburroughs.org/resources/flower/fruit2.html

 

Botany word of the week.

Aggregate fruit (as well as some bonus chatter about accessory and multiple fruits, pseudocarps, drupes, achenes, carpels, and…um…monkey bread?)

Occasionally (or possibly frequently, given the weird world we live in), things turn out to be different than advertised. Sort of like that purse I ordered off of the Internet. But I digress….

Case in point: raspberries and strawberries.  Are they actually berries?  You already know where I’m going with this!

What does it mean to be a berry?  Quite a few things, really, but one of them is that the fruit must develop from a flower possessing one ovary.  Strawberries and raspberries don’t fit the bill.  If you take a look at the fruit of a raspberry, you’ll notice that it is made up of a bunch of little nubs. You could pull each one apart, kind of like a loaf of monkey bread.  (Mmmm…how can you tell I haven’t eaten breakfast yet?).  Each one of these is called a drupe (drupelets), and they are produced from the multiple ovaries of a flower.  Each drupe contains a seed.  In the case of a strawberry, those little seed-like things on the outside are not actually seeds, although they do contain seeds. Those small bumps are called achenes.  Because these fruitlets were all joined together, they are called aggregrate fruits.  (Just to be confusing, not all multiple fruits – those with more than one ovary per flower – are aggregate.  Some don’t join together to form a single entity).

Raspberries

And, to add to the fun, strawberries are categorized as an accessory fruit (aka pseudocarp) in addition to an aggregate fruit. Some of that yummy fleshy stuff we eat is made up of tissue that originates near the carpel (modified leaves that surround the ovules) of the flower.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way…I’m off to enjoy an aggregate fruit smoothie!  (Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?).  Do you grow raspberries and/or strawberries in your garden?  What ways do you use them in cooking and baking?  

Sources:
Geggel, Laura, “Why are Bananas Berries, but Strawberries Aren’t?”, LiveScience, January 12, 2017, https://www.livescience.com/57477-why-are-bananas-considered-berries.html.
UCMP Berkeley , “Anthophyta: More on Morphology,” accessed March 3, 2020, https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/anthophyta/anthophytamm.html.  (This is a really good resource if you need a refresher on how fruits are formed).

 

Botany word of the week.

Pappose

A plant that bears a pappus (or more likely, pappi) is said to be pappose. With purpose.  And no porpoises.  (Please stop me before I go any further).

What’s a pappus, you say?

See this dandelion flower (actually a cluster of florets) that has gone to seed?  If you’ve ever held one in your hand and pulled a single seed away from the head, and then eyeballed it really closely…you’ll see that the fine, fuzzy white stuff on top (actually a modified calyx) sits above the thin brown seed like a skeletonized parachute.  The parachute calyx is a pappus, and although you can’t see all of them really well without a microscope, if you could count, you’d find that there are around 100 bristle-like filaments comprising each one. As dandelion seed is dispersed via wind, this pappus structure proves very useful, able to carry the seeds up to 100 kilometres (62 miles).

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Dandelions aren’t the only plants that are pappose – you’ll find that most members of the daisy (Asteraceae) family are as well – but I’ve got one more fascinating dandelion pappus story to share before I sign off on this post. Get this: In 2018, researchers at the University of Edinburgh (using some cool gadgets such as a wind tunnel, lasers, high speed cameras, and x-ray microtomography) discovered the precise number of and the specific way the filaments in each pappus are arrayed makes even more of a difference to the efficiency of wind dispersal of the seeds than previously thought. It was an accepted theory that the resistance (drag) of individual filaments to wind makes dandelion seed so good at flying. It turns out that the way that moving air flows around each individual filament – and the filaments around it – creates a sort of stabilized vortex ring, allowing the seeds to stay buoyant for an impressive time and over long distances. You can read all about the physics of this amazing adaptation here.

Sources:
Martina Ribar Hestericova. “Dandelion seeds create vortexes to remain aloft.” Physics World. October 22, 2018. https://physicsworld.com/a/dandelion-seeds-create-vortexes-to-remain-aloft/.
Nature. “Revealed: The extraordinary flight of the dandelion.” October 17, 2018. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07032-6.

Flowery Friday: Valentine’s Day edition.

I quite often set up theme days in the Alberta Gardening Facebook group I administer (especially during the winter, when we’re all suffering from cabin fever!). This morning, for some Valentine’s Day fun, I requested that everyone list their favourite red, pink, and white garden flowers/veggies/fruit.  I thought I’d do it here, too, and compare answers.  So far, they’ve posted amazing photos of petunias, daylilies, tomatoes, onions, raspberries, roses, poppies, tigridia, dahlias, peonies, and painted daisies…and they’re still at it.

I’ll start us off.  Next to sweet peas, roses are my very favourite flower, and I’m especially fond of the hardy roses that withstand our crazy cold climate and look pretty marvelous doing it.  The Explorer series is one example…and you have to admit these rich red double flowers of the beautiful shrub rose ‘Champlain’ are quite stunning.  (If you’re ever in the small town of Pincher Creek, in southern Alberta, you’ll see this rose featured in the Lebel Mansion rose garden, maintained by the Oldman River Rose Society).

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What are your favourite red, pink, and white garden flowers (or vegetables or fruit)? Please feel free to link up to photos on your blog, Instagram, whatever – show us the plants that you love!  ♥

Botany word of the week.*

Marcescence

This is the retention of the dead and dry leaves (and sometimes other parts such as fruit or seed pods) on some deciduous trees through winter.  Persistence, or as I like to think of it: a relentless lingering, somewhat along the lines of my cat’s queries for elevenses, twelveses, oneses, twoses (you get the idea).  Some trees seem to exhibit marcesence as  a trait – oaks are apparently one of them, although our climate isn’t mild enough for most Quercus spp. so I can’t perform a decent study on multiple varieties.  I did take a wander past the row of bur oaks (Q. macrocarpa) that grow near the train station in my neighbourhood, and while there were a few single leaves straggling on the branches, the trees were pretty much completely bare.  But we have to count that as an insufficiently representative sample (which, incidentally, also seems to be my cat’s views on the amount of food I give her).

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There are several theories on what causes marcescence, and what purpose it serves.  I believe in the case of this elm tree (and others like it in our city), the early frosts and severe cold we received back in September led to a failure of the formation of the abscission zone.  (This is an area of separation created by the natural weakening of cell walls between the petiole and the leaf.  While deciduous trees abscise in autumn, conifers do it pretty much all the time.  Another big difference is that deciduous trees normally fling everything off and conifers are, well, waaaaaaay more reserved). The leaves in my photo basically died on the spot and the tree wasn’t quite ready for that to happen. The wind took most of them off but some are still hanging around, waiting for spring like the rest of us.

Some researchers speculate that marcescence is a defense mechanism for the tree, protecting it from the munching of herbivorous predators such as moose and deer (who are going to eat fresh, tender young branch tips over icky dry foliage every time.  You can’t blame them, really).  Another idea is that the dry leaves act like little windproof shawls for the leaf buds, protecting them from winter desiccation.  Perhaps.  Still another thought is that the trees are deliberately generating their own mulch, dropping it at just the right time – spring, not autumn – for maximum moisture retention and as a source of nutrients.  Far-fetched?  Maybe, maybe not.

So what happens in the spring, when the buds of the new leaves break?  The marcescent leaves may remain on the tree, still waiting for a really strong wind to snap them off, or they may be pushed off the tree by the new growth, in which case they are instantly sucked up into a magical vortex so that you never have to rake them up.  

Then again, there are never any guarantees when it comes to magic, so have that rake handy, just in case.

Sources:
Finley, Jim. “Winter Leaves that Hang On.” PennState College of Agricultural Sciences. 2012. https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research/centers/private-forests/news/2012/winter-leaves-that-hang-on.
Gast, Richard. “Marcescence: An Ecological Mystery.” Adirondack Almanack. November 19, 2017. https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2017/11/marcescence-ecological-mystery.html.

*To be completely truthful, I’m not sure which specific day of the week the Botany Word of the Week will be posted.  Or that it will actually be posted weekly.  It may kind of float around and periodically pop up and surprise you.  Hopefully that’s okay.  

Flowery Friday.

SPFPNormandeau

The package from Burpee Seeds classified this sweet pea as “High Scent,” which immediately captured my attention and imagination as I stood in front of the racks of seeds in the garden centre in early spring. Sure enough, they didn’t falsify such a claim.  These sweet peas smell like all the deeply delightful Lathyrus odoratus cultivars – whatever they were – of my childhood.  I’m growing them out on the balcony and I keep stepping outside for a sniff.  I may be a little obsessed.

Tuesday tidbits and a long overdue apology.

Heartfelt gratitude

Flowery Prose has sort of been languishing on the backburner for the better part of a year now as I’ve been tackling a zillion other projects…and while this has been going on, I’ve completely broken all the rules of good blogging.  Blogs that are worth their salt are built on the interactions between writer and reader. Although you’ve all been utterly fabulous and continued to read and comment whenever I’ve managed to squeak out a post (which has been less and less often as the months have gone by), I have, sadly, completely failed with regard to responding to all the fantastic comments I’ve received, as well as reciprocating by reading your blogs.  I not only need to issue a huge apology, but I need to take action.  So…effective immediately, you’re going to see a re-energized Flowery Prose.  I am also going to make a far greater effort to spend time finding out about what is going on in your part of the world, via your blog posts.  Please don’t expect huge strides, as I’m still swamped with projects.  But I am going to make a change.  Baby steps.  Thank you so much to all of you for sticking around this entire time, even when there was a whole lot of silence on my end – I am deeply grateful for your kindness!

SFPNormandeau

It looks as if I will have to fire my research assistant…this is the fourth time today I have caught her sleeping on the job….  😉

Writing updates

The Central Library here in Calgary and the local writer’s group Loft 112 have a cool little thing going on…they’ve set up a Short Story Dispenser, conveniently located near Luke’s Café on Level 1M.  While you’re sipping your tea or coffee, you can indulge in a randomly-selected one-minute, three-minute, or five-minute short story that is released from the dispenser at the touch of a button.  The stories have been written by both international and Calgary-based writers – and I’m absolutely delighted to say that two of my five-minute stories are currently stuffed somewhere in the dispenser, waiting for someone to read them. If you live in Calgary and area, Loft 112 is still looking for more stories to fill the machine, so take a look at the call for submissions and have fun with it!

SSDFPNormandeau

Local interest

I recently found a little gem of a book by a southern Alberta-based writer, Joyce Moore: A Guide to Alberta Outdoors – Rides, Hikes, Birds, and Beasts (Bayeux Arts, Inc., Calgary, 2009). It’s a brief but lively collection of nature/outdoors columns that were syndicated for several rural newspapers in the 1990’s.  She writes about ranching in the Highwood River area, the undertaking of several challenging and stunningly beautiful mountain treks, and observations of birds and other wildlife found in the Rockies and the foothills.  A one-lunch-break read, and a fascinating look at our beautiful province by a woman who clearly loves and respects the environment.

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