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Posts Tagged ‘Plants’

Once a week, I am offering up a tip or action or idea that we can all engage with to work towards living in ways that allow for more health and wellbeing for all aspects of the planet. Last week we talked about the 30-wears rule.

This week the green thought is about house plants.

Air pollution is a big problem that impacts the health of just about every living creature on earth, including humans. Car exhaust, as just one example, includes soot, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (a previous Green Thought Thursday touched on VOCs), and small amounts of heavy metals. These are all unhealthy for most living organisms to absorb. In 2018, the World Health Organization found that nearly 91% of the human population of the world lives in areas where the level of airborne pollutants is above healthy levels (Health Effects Institute 2018).

Indoor plants can be grown at home or in the office such as around these cubicles. Photo Credit: Wiki Nursery Live

One partial solution is to grow house plants. Adding plants to your indoor spaces can have lots of great benefits. Different species of plant can absorb certain pollutants in the air and degrade or modify them to make them less toxic. Two specific examples are palms that filter out acetone, xylene, and toluene; and Philodendrons that remove formaldehyde. Indoor plants can also increase humidity which as health benefits such as reducing dry skin, reducing eye irritation, improving throat and airway health, and many more. There are also mental health benefits to being surrounded by living plants. Research has shown that stress and depression rates are lower among people who work and live with plants in their common spaces than in people with no living organisms in close proximity. Growing indoor plants is awesome!

What do you think of these thoughts and the solution? Is this a step you will take? Do you have any other solution ideas?

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An adult Spotted Lanternfly. Photo: Wikipedia.

Are you a fan of apples, beer, maple wood furniture, or peaches? The plants that produce these products, and many more species, are at risk from a threat that is spreading across North America. What is this threat? It is a rather beautiful insect call a Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula).

The Spotted Lanternfly was first detected in North America in 2014 when a few were spotted in Pennsylvania. Between 2014 and today, they have spread to 11 more states and are now also found in Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.

This insect, which is not actually a fly but rather a species of planthopper, is native to China, but has spread to Japan, South Korea, and the USA and is becoming a significant agricultural pest in these other countries.

In its native China, this species is not a major issue because its population is generally kept in check by several species of parasitic wasp that feed on the Spotted Lanternfly. However, these wasps are not present in the new areas the lanternfly has spread to which has resulted in their population increasing and spreading rapidly.

Spotted Lanternfly egg mass. Photo: Rutgers University.

Spotted Lanternflies do not fly long distances on their own, so adults do not disperse very far. However, the species is very effective at dispersing via their eggs. Adult Spotted Lanternflies lay their egg masses on all sorts of objects from trees to houses to vehicles. They can even end up getting scrapped off of these structures and stuck to shoes and clothing. in this way, egg masses can be transported long distances and so introduce the species into new areas rapidly.

Luckily, the Spotted Lanternfly poses no direct threat to humans or animals. However, they suck the fluids from many species of plant which can weaken an kill them. Many of these plant species are of significant economic value, and many more create extensive and important habitat for countless other animals, plants, fungi, etc. The list of plant species that are susceptible to Spotted Lanternfly infestations includes: Almonds, Apples, Apricots, Cherries, Grapes, Hops, Maple Trees, Nectarines, Oak Trees, Peaches, Pine Trees, Plums, Poplar Trees, Sycamore Trees, Walnut Trees, and Willow Trees.

Spotted Lanternfly life cycle stages. Photo: spottedlanternflykillers.com

Control efforts are underway, and extensive help from all of us will be needed to stop the spread of this insect. The state of Pennsylvania has even step up a hotline number to call and report sightings which is 1-888-4BADFLY. Control efforts include taking extra care to clean objects that could have egg masses attached to them. This is particularly important for anything passing through areas of known Spotted Lanternfly infestations. We should all make sure to clean our cars, boats, trailers, tents, clothing, shoes, and other materials if we are moving them from or through any of the above states. Without serious control efforts, the Spotted Lanternfly is predicted to continue to spread and is likely to reach California around 2033.

If you do find adult Spotted Lanternflies it is recommended that they be killed. They are fast, so we will all have to work on our reflexes. If an egg mass is found, scrape it off and put it into a sealed plastic bag with hand sanitizer (good thing we all have this around so much these days!).

So, keep your eyes open for this insect, help control their population and spread, and report any sightings! In this way we can all help to protect our forests and farms.

Thank you for visiting my blog! If you are interested in other ways to connect with me, here are a few options:

Begin following this blog!

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Once a week, I am offering up a tip or action or idea that we can all engage with to help reduce waste, use less materials and energy, help conserve species or habitats, and/or generally work towards living in ways that allow for more health and wellbeing for all aspects of the planet.

A garden planted with California natives (used as an example because I live in California! Photo: California Native Plant Society

This week the green thought is about planting native plants. Whether you have a large yard, a single flowerpot, or something in between, we all have a choice of planting native plants or non-native plants. One of the big problems with non-native plants is that they often do not stay where we plant them. Oh, that specific individual plant stays put, but plants have amazing ways of dispersing their seeds, and so the population spreads! And non-natives can have some serious drawbacks for species that are native. Non-natives may not provide the food that native animals need, or they even be toxic. They many outcompete native plant species. They may use more water than native plant species. The list goes on and on.

Native plants are a great solution. Native plants are likely to provide benefits that mirror the drawbacks of non-natives. Natives are likely to provide the food that native animals need. They are likely to occupy an otherwise underutilized niche in the ecosystem and so not outcompete other species. They use less water than non-natives. This list also goes on and on. So, when it comes time to plant something, we can all take a bit of time to learn about what plants are native to the areas we live in and select one of those!

What do you think of these thoughts and the solution? Is this a step you will take? Do you have any other solution ideas?

Thank you for visiting my blog! Please check back in next week for another Green Thought Thursday!

If you are interested in other ways to connect with me, here are a few options:

Follow this blog!

View and subscribe to my YouTube channel – A Birding Naturalist

Follow me on Instagram – abirdingnaturalist

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A study was published earlier this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment on the effects that invasive species have on other species around the globe. The study is by Tim M. Blackburn, Celine Bellard, and Anthony Ricciardi, and it can be found here.

The main thrust of the paper is that invasive species of plants and animals have been found to have a significant impact on the extinction of other plants and animals all around the world. Specifically, 25% of the plant species that have gone extinct in recent years have been the result, at least in part, of invasive species. Additionally, 33% of the animal species that have gone extinct in recent years have been the result, at least in part, of invasive species.

These numbers are pretty compelling components to the story of just how damaging invasive species can be. It is part of the reason I find working on invasive species control in California to be rewarding.

I am currently working on the control of Arundo (which is a large invasive reed), water primrose (an invasive aquatic plant), Phragmites (which is another invasive reed that is a bit smaller than Arundo), and Nutria (which is a 20 pound semi-aquatic rodent). Each of these species pose unique threats to the native species of California and to many other aspects of the ecosystem as well.

Hopefully, protocols can be developed to stop invasive species before they contribute even more extinctions!

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This is a link to a blog post I wrote for the UC Davis-USDA Delta Region Areawide Aquatic Weed Project website. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (the agency I work for) gets funding from the USDA to control Arundo infestations in the Delta.

Arundo (which I have written about previously here) is a highly invasive plant that causes bank destabilization, increased fire hazard, increased water use, and excludes native plants and animals. The Delta Conservancy has been coordinating with a the Sonoma Ecology Center and the USDA to apply treatments of herbicides and/or insects that are specific Arundo parasites to eliminate Arundo from as much of the Delta as possible. This work began last summer/fall at the Brannan Island State Recreation Area, as site that is owned by California State Parks and which has a lot of Arundo.

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Delta Conservancy Logo 3The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (the state agency where I work), which is based in West Sacramento, is currently looking to hire a Senior Environmental Scientist (Specialist)! The position is heavily involved with invasive plant work, particularly focusing on Giant Reed (Arundo donax) in the Delta. It will also be quite involved with managing Proposition 1 grants for habitat restoration, water quality improvement, and sustainable agriculture projects.

If you are interested, or know someone who might be, please check out the official job posting here. It is a great agency to work for!

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When I am out walking just about anywhere in central California, one of the plants that I see growing all around me is Mallow. From back yards in Berkeley to sidewalk edges in Sacramento to fields in the Sierra foothills, mallow, with its deep green leaves and small flowers, is all around us. But, these common weeds are often overlooked, and I think this is a real shame because they are such a delicious food!

The name mallow refers to plants of the family Malvaceae, which contains close to 2,300 species worldwide. They are found throughout the temperate and subtropical regions of Europe, Asia and Africa, and have also been introduced to North America where they are doing quite well, indeed. This family contains numerous important crops plants such as Cotton, Hibiscus, and Okra. Other species of mallow are planted as decorative garden flowers or considered agricultural pests. They grow pretty much everywhere including lawns, along edges of fields and roads, and often in our own gardens.

As a food plant, mallow has one of the longest recorded histories on record. The ancient Greek poet, Horace (65 BCE to 8 BCE), was said to enjoy a simple diet of “olives, endives, and mallows.” Greens can be eaten raw in salads or cooked as either a saute green or in soups. The seeds have many medicinal properties as well, and the flowers and buds are also edible. One aspect of mallow that I find makes it particularly satisfying as an edible is that it grows so abundantly. Large plants can be found that will supply several meals of easy-to-gather leaves, and will re-seed themselves to allow for future foraging.

Additionally, mallow plants are very easy to identify. They have round leaves that range from 2 to 5 inches across, and that grow on alternating sides of the stems. The stems and undersides of the leaves are covered with small hairs. These hairs can be somewhat bristly, especially on larger leaves, so only the smaller leaves should be used in salads. The hairs soften when exposed to heat and so do not add any unpleasant textures to a cooked dish; therefore larger leaves are fine to eat as long as you are planning on cooking them. Plants can grow in several forms from low-lying herbaceous plants only a few inches off the ground, to large bushes that can be 6 feet tall, or more. Their small, five-petal flowers (0.25 to 2 inches across) range from white to pink to purple.

Two interesting side notes on the members of the mallow family. One is that they display a characteristic called protandry which means that young plants are all males and they change to being female later in life. The other is that it is thought that the color mauve got its name from the French word for the mallow plant.

So watch for mallow when you are out and about, and enjoy!

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The life cycle of plants is quite different from the life cycle of animals. Plants go through a cycle called alternation of generations which means that there are two multicellular stages. One is diploid, called the sporophyte, and one is haploid, called the gametophyte. In contrast, our animal life cycle has only one multicellular stage, the adult that we are all in as we read/write this.

These two multicellular stages mean that there are a lot of other facets in the plant life cycle that may be unfamiliar to those of us with animal life cycles. The one that I am going to focus on here is the difference between spores and gametes. In dipoid organisms, like us, we have no spores. Our only single cell stage are our gametes. But plants have both spores and gametes and this can lead to some confusion because there are some similarities between the two. Spores and gametes are singles celled, and they are both haploid. But these are pretty much the only similarities you will find.

Fundamentally, spores and gametes are very different. One difference is in the type of reproduction that each are involved in. Spores are used in asexual reproduction, while gametes are used in sexual reproduction. Another difference is in what each needs to develop into the next stage in the life cycle. A spore has the ability to grow into the adult gametophyte all by itself. It does not need to interact with any other cell to do this, all it needs is to find favorable growing conditions. A gamete has to fuse with another gamete before it can form a zygote that then can grow into the adult sporophyte. A third difference is in the life span of these cells. Spores have a very tough outer layer that allows them to remain dormant, but viable, for extremely long periods of time (sometimes decades or even longer) in order to persist through periods of poor conditions until better growing conditions arise. Gametes are much more delicate and generally only remain viable for a matter of days, and so must find another gamete quickly. A fourth difference, related to the how long each cell lasts, is dispersal ability. Especially in more basally derived plant lineages, spores can disperse very, very long distances. They are small and light, and so can be carried by the wind for hundreds, or even thousands, of miles. Gametes, on the other hand can only disperse very short distances. The egg, the larger gamete, is generally retained and so does not disperse at all while the sperm, the small gamete, will swim to find an egg, but will generally only swim a few inches. Yet another difference between spores and gametes is the process by which they are created. Spores are created through meiosis. The structure that produces a spore is diploid and so must go through a process of chromosome reduction in order to create the haploid spores. Gametes are produced by mitosis. The structure that produces a gamete is already haploid and so does not need to change the number of chromosomes it has in order to produce haploid gametes.

So, hopefully this post explains how different spores and gametes are. I wanted to highlight this information because I see it as a common source of error.

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I recently saw, and smelled, a blooming Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus sp.) for the first time, and it was amazing!

The genus Amorphophallus is comprised of about 200 species that generally inhabit secondary forests of in the tropics and subtropics of Africa and the Pacific Islands.  The plants grow from a stem that is underground, called a tuber or corm, and from this stem they grow one leaf.  But, this is no ordinary leaf.  It can grow vertically up to 2 or 3 meters tall.  The petiole can get to be around 15 cm across, and is cool and smooth to the touch.  At the top it then splits into three horizontal blades that each have many leaflets.  It is a very beautiful leaf with the petiole a mottled pattern of light and dark green, and the leaflets a bright fresh green.  The overall impression is that it is a tree, and not a single leaf.  Each leaf lasts only one growing season before it dies back, so these plant are deciduous.  The plant will grow several leaves, over several growing seasons, to accumulate nutrients in the corm.

Once it has enough stored energy, which generally takes 3 to 6 years, it will bloom.  The single blossom can be huge!  It is a spectacular deep, dark red and black flower and it smells like something between rotten meat and spoiled fish.  The smell can be oppressive.  The one that I got to see was in the UC Davis Plant Conservatory, and the back third of the greenhouse was filled with smell.  Flies are attracted to this smell and are the insect pollinator for the flower.  The flies are so convinced that they have found a wonderful food source that they often go so far as to lay their eggs in the flower.  Flowers of the species in this genus must be pollinated the same day they open.  Once the female parts of the flower have been pollinated, the male parts (which had been concealed) open and begin to release pollen.

If anyone is on the Davis area, I would highly recommend paying the Plant Conservatory a visit and checking out the Corpse Flower while it is still blooming.  If you do not make it to see this plant’s flower, there is another Corpse Flower plant that is  likely to bloom next year and that one is even bigger!

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Over the past couple of weeks spring has been becoming ever more evident in central California.  For one, large flocks of American Robins have been showing up.  These are likely groups of Turdus migratorius propinquus, large and pale subspecies, that are migrating from their wintering grounds in central Mexico, through central California on their way to their breeding grounds which could be anywhere from northern California to British Columbia or Montana.  I saw another sign that spring is in the air Tuesday as I was walking across campus.  Near one of the large lecture halls, I heard and saw a male Cooper’s Hawk kekking from the top of a large tree.  This was the first Cooper’s Hawk breeding behavior that I have seen this year, and two day later I saw and heard him again in almost the same spot.  Hopefully he will attract a female and set up a nesting territory here.  It would be a lot of fun to watch.  Another breeding behavior that I have just seen starting is that the male House Finches have stated mate-guarding the females.  I watched one particular male as he followed a female around as she foraged, and repeatedly chased off other males that approached too close to the female.  A final sign from the birds that the seasons are changing was a male Nuttall’s Woodpecker checking out cavities as potential nesting sites.  He was moving through a couple of dead trees in West Sacramento, and stopping at any hole he could find.  he would take a few moments at each to look at the external hole, and then stick his head in to take a look at the interior.  He rejected all the contenders save for one, which he poked his head into, and apparently liked.  He climbed all the way in, and over the next 10 minutes or so that I stayed to watch, he did not come out.  Apparently that was a good spot!  To add to these avian signs of spring is one of my favorite plant signs.  The fruit trees that fill the orchards and line many of the streets in the West Sacramento and Davis areas are all in bloom!  I do love the beauty of trees covered in small white or pink blossoms.

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