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Bones in the Shadows, Werewolf Spiders, Flesh Eating Plants: Lost Spirits Adrift in the Moors on Halloween

Sundew

Drosera capillaris and other species

Droseraceae

We don’t actually have any moors in town.  That’s for our U.K. blog correspondent blog friend Mary.   But John and I today were lost spirits adrift in Seabranch State Park.  But don’t think all’s hunky dory just because there is a restroom and a Ranger. Deep and dark where the Rangers dare not go lurk magic mushrooms, witch grass, devil’s potato, poison ivy, and gargantuan mutant plants drooling for fresh meat on Halloween.

We were bewitched by the bloodthirsty Sundews, species of Drosera, almost 200 carnivorous species worldwide, five in Florida, and two in our usual enchanted forest.

Our locally common Drosera capillaris is not closely related to the other Florida species; rather, its two closest relatives are South American.  Sundews get around as if they had broomsticks.

Sundew.  All photography today by John Bradford.

Sundew. All photography today by John Bradford.

Why would a nice little rosette turn to the carnivorous side? Plants, after all, make their own food by photosynthesis, so who needs butchery?   Flesh-eating plants indulge in cannibalism not for energy, but for what we might refer to as fertilizer elements. When a plant harvests an insect—or a human—we’re talkin’ nitrogen and phosphorus in habitats where N and P don’t come easily.

Knowing that, some thinkers might now wonder, if N and P come from the beef, how does the Sundew acquire additional micronutrients.  With preliminary research, so far it seems the minor nutrients arrive by root in the usual fashion, but the weird thing is, the Sundew roots require pre-activation by a blood meal up top.

Gotcha!  (Before the spider did)

Gotcha! (Before the spider did)

It might be a good idea here to mention what the Dews do.  Their paddle-shaped leaf blades have on the upper surface fearsome tentacles tipped with glistening sticky glue. Birdlime for bugs. The reddish foliage no doubt attracts victims to the plant.  When a tiny buggie touches the sticky hairs the creature naturally gets agitated and starts kicking and cursing, only to become  mired like Brer Rabbit punching the tar baby.

When an insect is entrapped in some of the hairs, separate previously uninvolved hairs on the same leaf reportedly bend toward the atrocity.   How do they know to do that?  It’s a mystery of nature.  The hairy entanglement pushes the twitching corpse onto the surface of the leaf blade where enzymes suck the last spark of life from the foul remains.

In some Sundews, although probably not our local species, spring-loaded hairs around the leaf margin fling incoming insects onto the lethal sticky hairs toward the center of the blade.

A single Sundew doesn’t snuff many insects.  But an entire Sundew meadow of can decimate the ranks of those embarrassing creepie-crawlies worse than the ORKIN man might.  This puts the plant into competition with predatory beasts, possibly the only documented case of animal vs. plant competition for food.   The cheated beastie is the Wolf Spider who in a huff builds a supersized web when Sundews force the extra effort. And to balance the scales of justice, the Sundew too suffers diminished performance in the company of the ungracious arachnids. (Based on recent Florida research by ecologist David Jennings and collaborators.)

Sundews live not by nutrition alone.  They too need love, or at least love’s outcome: pollination.  If I were a pollinator on the wing, I’d shun those gooey botanical bastards with their deadly flypaper just under my six feet!  No thanks, I’ll go trick or treating in safer neighborhoods.  USF Professor Frederick Essig has observed the flowers to host surprisingly few visitors.  He observed further that as the day progresses the flowers close up, pushing the male stamens with their pollen against the female stigmas of the same flower, effecting a pollination “selfie.”   As he speculated credibly, the automatic self-pollination may allow Sundews to multiply in a jiffy to populate the entire mud bank.  Don’t wait for pollinators, gobble them, then go pollinate yourself.

Our day in the park started out fine, but we did experience an unfortunate incident upon wandering a bit off the beaten path trying to photograph a bird.  There is a remote swampy corner where the plants are so vastly oversized you have to wonder if something has caused mutations.  The deeper you push into the swamp, which is tough to penetrate, the plants and spiders become increasingly massive and bizarre until you lose sight of the sky in the gloom, with animal “voices” whispering and grunting from the shadows.  We wondered if maybe the mutations dated from a radiation leak at the nearby Hutchinson Island nuclear plant.  I was concerned about going into that ominous place, fearing mutation myself, but John couldn’t pass up a hot photo op. (He has a new lens.) So in he charged while I waited safely on the trail eating fruit and nut granola bars.  After hearing some strange sounds, maybe toads,  in the distance, and after waiting an hour, I reckoned John must have found an easier trail out and returned to his hearse to skulk back to his unholy lair in time to feed his bats.  Or perhaps chickened out and skedaddled when the raven spoke.  So, unconcerned,  I departed too. But later, the office called because a worker found a camera along the trail and was canvassing the park volunteer roster to find the owner.   Yes, John’s camera was easy to identify by the new lens. You may view footage recovered from camera.  CLICK  if you dare.  If you’ll join the search mob, we’ll meet at the graveyard at the stroke of Midnight.  Bring your own torch,  and I”ll pick up some eye of newt.    Happy Halloween.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Drosera, Sundew

 

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The birds and the bees pollinate the trees, and now a sneaky peek at secrets in the creek.

Eelgrass (not a true grass)

Vallisneria americana

Hydrocharitaceae

Today’s blog represents a typographical techno-experiment. For the semi-blind like me, typing, proofreading, and correcting are always challenges. This week I’m trying voice recognition software and dictating into the computer. Let’s see how it goes.  Bear with me!

Vallisneria in the creek.  By John Bradford.

Vallisneria in the creek. See the cylindric female flowers on their curly stalks.  By John Bradford.

This afternoon John and George visited a sparkling stream gurgling through the dry sandy pine woods at Seabranch State Park.  The contrast between the clear brook and the desertlike scrubland is striking, an oasis in the Sahara.  But of course, in place of date palms we saw sweetbay magnolias, pond apples, and red maples.  The muddy shores are as lush as the Amazon itself, housing oversized arrow arums, spadderdocs, arrowhead plants 7 or 8 feet tall, and even-taller grasses.

Today’s special botanical treat was hiding below the ripples wafting gently to its own music.  CLICK  Not wishing to sink up to our armpits in creeky goo, we fashioned caveman plant retrieval hooks from dead palm petioles and snagged a couple of the submerged plants.  We hauled ashore Eelgrass, also known as Vallisneria americana, a relative of the more familiar sea grasses of coastal pollution fame.

Vallisneria has its own pollution creds in a surprising way.  Research in the Detroit Area shows some strains of Vallisneria to be highly resistant to water pollution.  You might expect water plants generally to be diminished or extirpated by pollution, end of story.  But, surprise, it seems that decades or centuries of exposure to water-borne toxins have caused evolved tolerance.  Evolution in a historical timeframe is always interesting.   And here is a thought: if pollution kills the competition and Eelgrass has “learned” to cope with it, you might say pollution is good for Eelgrass…or just call it another human-induced tilt in the balance of nature.  And I was thinking today’s creek looks so pristine, well maybe not, eh?

Female flowers by John Bradford

Female flowers by John Bradford

Eelgrass lives beneath the surface of the water, yet still it requires pollination.  How?  Many aquatic plants raise their flowers above the surface like a periscope on a submarine.  But Eelgrass doesn’t; it uses the water itself.

A male plant.  This is the structure that releases the male flowers to float to the surface.   Photo by David Cameron (permitted noncommercial use).

A male plant. This is the structure that releases the male flowers to float to the surface. Photo by David Cameron (permitted noncommercial use).

Rooted in the submerged mud, the plant produces floating female flowers on a twisty thread resembling a coiled spring.  The tops of the female flowers and their pollen- receptive stigmas sit at the water surface in a tiny dimple.  Produced on separate plants, male flowers are the size of a pinhead and float unattached from the base of the plant to rise to the water surface like tiny lifeboats.  These little bobber boys have no physical connection to their mother plant.  CLICK HERE to see floating male flower highly magnified.  They’re top-heavy carrying the pollen on stubby elevated stamens.  You might say they resemble minuscule sailboats with top-heavy masts.  And like sailboats, they drift in the breeze and currents. When they come upon the dimple with the female stigma waiting wihtin, the male flowers slide into the slippery slope and tip to dab their pollen load onto the receptive surface of the female flower.  Then its curly stalk pulls the now-expectant female flower protectively into the briny deep for the fruits to mature unmolested.

Vallisneria

We can’t end without a quick quack to the ducks.  Some dine on today’s species. In fact, the scientific name of the redhead duck is Aythya valisneria.  The Vallisneria plants form at their bases hardened buds to help the Eelgrass spread and as a retreat for tough times.  Botanists call these little tubers turions, but duckies just call them lunch.

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Here’s a link to illustrate the pollination event:  CLICK HERE

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2014 in Eelgrass, Vallisneria

 

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Herbicides, Native Critters, and Us

Rainbows, Butterflies, and a Few Poisons

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

John and George today wandered Seabranch State Park the party-colored autumn wildflowers under heavenly heavens.  Funny what you ponder while playing in Mother Nature’s sandbox.  Today’s niggling thought was, “the flowers are spectaculous, but where are all the birds, bees, and butterflies?”  Now this may just be imagination or merely rosy historical re-creation, but compared with earlier life experience, butterflies and bees seem sparser.  Of course, “Silent Spring” documented Rachel Carson’s similar perception way back in 1962.  The Eagles were dying in ‘62, yet John and I think maybe we saw one far yonder today.  “Situation turned around,” we gloat.  Not so fast there Polyanna.

Katydid.  Todays' photos by John Bradford  (except maybe the butterfly.  Forgot who took that picture.)

Katydid. Today’s photos by John Bradford (except maybe the butterfly. Forgot who took that picture.)

Pretend there really has been decimation in the Hundred Acre Wood.  Who’d be surprised?  Assaults to wildlife are beyond obvious:  habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, and bioinvasion leap to mind.  The mounting evidence against the popular neonicotinoid insecticides such as imidacloprid (Merit) in bee Colony Collapse Disorder is getting harder to sweep under the carpet.  You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, and you don’t dismiss lightly Harvard University research.  But today it’s herbicides, not insecticides.

Don’t weed-killing herbicides kill just plants?

Not necessarily.  Many herbicides have links to mammalian cancers, developmental deformities, endocrine disruptions, and more.  Many to this day are chlorinated hydrocarbons, the very chemical class Rachel Carson indicted convincingly before we shot a man to the moon.  The nation’s most-used weed killer, Atrazine, is a chlorinated pesticide in the water water everywhere.  This billion dollar baby is implicated in amphibian decline, not to mention data indicating human toxicity. Even in the drinking water?  You bet:  Right here in the Sunshine State:  CLICK.  And I take little comfort in the notion of,  “well, concentrations are low, so don’t sweat it.  Let the BRITA snag it and don’t tell the Tourism Bureau.”

Grizzled Mantid

Grizzled Mantid

Continuing with the big question, don’t weed killers murder just plants?  Answer 2.  Plants are the salad bar at the bottom of the food chain.  In that connection, a whole new herbicide familycalled sulfonylureas has crept up on us, although they are not widely known among the hoi polloi.  Examples include Manage, Manner, the cutely named Sedge Hammer, and many more with active ingredients ending in –sulfuron, such as halosulfuron.  These are touted as environmentally compatible, and may be the best of the SOB’s.  Sulfonylurea herbicides have two potentially troublesome attributes:  they are extremely water soluble, and they are jaw-droppingly deadly at snuffing plants.  Agricultural doses can be as low as grams per acre.   A little dab’ll do-ya.

So here’s the worry.  Super-water soluble suggests slippage into canals and aquifers, although breakdown is probably rapid, usually.  In the water AND lethal in minute quantities hand-in-hand wink at undermining microscopic plankton at the base of aquatic food chains.  I am not saying this is happening on a Chicken Little scale.  Just the opposite, you have to search under stones to find kindred neurotics.  Yet we fret.

Asclepias curtissii likes scrub.

This Milkweed likes scrub. Do Monarchs like it?

Even if the watery ecological pyramids have rock-solid bases, here’s a parting gift.  Monarch Butterflies are in decline.  Have you noticed?  Have you shrugged and muttered, “insecticides”?  An article in Scientific American this summer (online June 2014) collared a different suspect: the weed-killer Round-Up (glyphosate).  Monarchs breed on Milkweeds, predominantly in the U.S. Corn Belt.

The Corn Belt has been de-weeding itself with showers of Round-Up applied to crops Round-Up resistant GMO crops.  The regional weed purge has spared too few Milkweeds to sustain Monarchs as we knew them.

What a freakin’ pity.  Maybe it’s not just our imagination.

Where did the Milkweeds go?

Where did the Milkweeds go?

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2014 in Herbicides

 

Bluestem Grasses

Andropogon (and Schizachyrium)

Poaceae

Today’s sunny fieldtrip took John and George through the north end of Seabranch State Park near Hobe Sound, Florida, the present epicenter of our green interests.  Today’s word to describe the glory of nature: Bluestem Grasses!

All Bluestem Grass photos today by John Bradford.

All Bluestem Grass photos today by John Bradford.

These are those large puffy-topped grasses, sometimes over 6 feet tall so pretty in October.  Always reluctant to pick favorites, apply tickle-torture and I may confess preference for those gorgeous wands of puff.  It isn’t just the silvery tops dancing in the breeze, but also the array of foliar colors.  So autumnal, a celebration of sunbeams and flickering memories, such as fond recollections of childhood strip mines.

I grew up in West Virginia immediately across the Ohio River from bigtime earth-rape.  Bluestems restore a tentative wisp of beauty to the toxic post-mining landscape.  (“Restoration,” yea sure.  Let’s go see the phosphate mines here in Florida.)  CLICK to see a Bluestem (“Broomsedge”) consoling an old mine crater in Illinois.

Bluestems make all the difference along roadsides, in old abandoned farm fields, along railroad tracks, and on rocky hilltops across much of North America and worldwide.  By the way, grouse like them.  Here is a Bluestem enhancing John’s path of life.

Several species coexist locally.  If you are nutty enough to try to sort them out, try our grassy web site.   Distinguishing these species can be extra-exasperating because:  1. The common species can be bewilderingly variable.  2. Different nearby regions house different species assortments.  3. Some hybridize.  4. They do not stick to their textbook habitats or to field-guide dimensions.  So for today, they’re just all “Bluestems.”

Andropogons usually have two bunny-ears.

Andropogons usually have two bunny-ears.

As hinted a moment ago, they tolerate the world’s worst soils:  graded roadsides, rocky hilltops, hellish railroad tracks, and scrub.  These rugged grasses have a few tricks, some of them studied in only one or few species.

Trick #1.  Some Bluestems have symbiotic root fungi (mycorrhizae) procuring phosphorus from shamefully nutrient-poor soils.

Trick #2.  Bluestems suppress potentially competing vegetation.  It is not mere competition.  Recent research shows some to diminish the “normal” nitrogen-fixing (fertilizer-providing) bacterial associates of non-grass species.

Grasses are turning out increasingly to have their own symbiotic arrangements with unconventional nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  Although data are sparse and preliminary, Bluestems sometimes have such unconventional nitrogen-fixers.  So could they sabotage the other guy’s nitrogen relations while enhancing their own, making the Bluestems kings of the starved soils?  Can they form a nitrogen monopoly?

Even weirder, one species preferentially takes up its soil nitrogen as ammonia, as opposed to slurping in nitrate, the other form in which plants take up nitrogen.  The selfish Bluestem is able to diminish soil nitrate to the detriment of potential competitors, while it somehow enhances soil ammonia for its personal private consumption.

Andropogon floridanus Jupiter Inlet Oct.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2014 in Bluestem Grass

 

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Feay’s Palafox

Palafoxia feayi

Asteraceae

Today John and George hotfooted it through the oven-baked Saharan scrub in Seabranch State Park near Pt. Salerno, Florida.  It was so torrid my shoes melted off my feet.  Really.  Ask John.  (Well, one fell apart.)  Recently a paved bicycle Autobahn made its way through the park.  The concrete ribbon is wide, flat, and dang sunny, and it offers passage through dozens of scrubbish species growing in isolated clumps recovering along the disturbed trail margins.  A unique “garden” view of Prairie-Clovers, Florida-Rosemarys, Golden Asters, and assorted grasses and sedges alone and uncrowded.  One of the finest species to behold is Feay’s Palafox, a member of the Aster Family.

Feay's Palafox.  All photos today by John Bradford.

Feay’s Palafox. All photos today by John Bradford.

William Feay (1804? – 1879) was a Savannah, Georgia, physician turned teacher with botanical instincts in the mid 19th Century.  During the Civil War Savannah Georgia was no place for a nice botanist.  He scooted to Florida, where he collected the original Feay’s Palafox specimen, conceivably abetted by another botanical M.D., Alvin Chapman, of Chapman’s Oak.  Just think, Feay’s Palafox is a souvenir of  the War Between the States.

Feay's Palafox

Feay’s Palafox

You don’t spend much time in scrub without seeing Feay’s Palafox, a slightly woody subshrub standing 2-8 or more feet tall with its showy white or pink flower heads.  Unlike most members of its family, the heads consist entirely of “disc” flowers, that is, the sort of flowers associated with the black center of a Sunflower head.  Our species hangs out in scrub or similar habitats, and seems to be fire-adapted.  Recent study show its strongest root-fungal symbioses to thrive after burning followed by decline during non-burned years, although the decline could be due to the recovery of competition.

What’s intriguing about Palafoxia is its circle of relatives.  We have three species in Florida: 1. Palafoxia texana,  a western species with a tiny weird toehold in the Florida Panhandle.  2. Palafoxia integrifolia, almost restricted to Florida.  And Palafoxia feayi, which is limited to Florida.

Feay's Palafox

Feay’s Palafox

The rest of the genus, about 9 additional species, are all more or less desert plants in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico.  This is reminiscent of Agaves, where we have two dubiously native species in Florida related to a big group in the Southwest, Mexico, and Caribbean.

That our local Palafoxia species live in Florida’s sandy scrub “desert” is no surprise then, given that they are far-flung offshoots of a posse at home in Death Valley and the Sonoran Desert.  Palafoxia supports a vision of Florida scrub as a now-isolated remnant of a once-contiguous Tex-Mex arid land stretching around the Gulf, eventually divvied up by changing conditions.  Similar Florida scrub-loving derelicts with Mexican roots include Scrub Jays and Gopher Tortoises.

If the Florida species of Palafoxia are spillovers from points west, do they represent one spill, or three separate splashes?  The latter:  Our three species are not closely related to each other.  Palafoxia texana stands aloof.   It does not even have the same number of chromosomes as our other two Florida species.  Likewise alone is Palafoxia integrifolia; as botanists who studied it said, it is “unquestionably the oddball of the genus Palafoxia,”  so odd, it used to be regarded as a separate genus.

Palafoxia integrifolia

Palafoxia integrifolia

Palafoxia feayi is allegedly most closely related to two species of the extreme Southwestern U.S., Mexico, and the Rio Grande Region.

How such an odd mixed up geographic pattern could come about boggles the brain.  One thing is certain, it dates back a long time, roughly (according to the botanists cited below) some 60 million years, before the continent-spanning genus fragmented into isolated lineages from Baja California to Seabranch State Park.

This all goes to reinforce nobody’s secret: Florida scrub is vastly older than other Florida habitats, with a history all its own.  When you walk in a Florida scrub, enjoy a little hint of the Tertiary Period when Mexico extended to Palm Beach,  when palm trees grew in Ohio, and when Gopher Tortoises raced Jackrabbits here from Chihuahua. (Apparently the tortoise won.)

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Notes:

Most of today’s data and taxonomic assessments on Palafox come from B. L. Turner and M. I.  Morris, Systematics of Palafoxia (Asteraceae:  Helenieae).   Rhodora 78: 567-628. 1976.

Our two local species are easy to separate.  Palafoxia feayi is semi-woody, well over a yard tall, and has the flower heads surrounded by linear green or purplish bracts.    Palafoxia integrifolia is shorter than a yard tall; its bracts are more or less white, and narrowly elliptic.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2014 in Feay's Palafox

 

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Witch’s Butter

Nostoc commune:  icky gross slime, or emerald carpet?

Cyanobacteria

Today John, George, and the Florida Association of Environmental Professionals Treasure Coast Chapter combed the wet regions of Jonathan Dickinson State Park for grassy plants.  About a million species to enjoy.  The pine woods vistas and wildflowers were gripping as always. Blue Curls were at their best.

Blue Curls by John Bradford.

Blue Curls by John Bradford.

Now look on the ground below that fetching wildflower, there’s something even better.  What grabbed me with the most gusto today were waves of green jello on the otherwise bare scrubby soil.  We’re talking about huge bacterial colonies of the  blue green bacterium (cyanobacterium) Nostoc commune.   Some observers erroneously call these blue-green “algae.”  And some get upset when the “algae” befoul their pristine lawn of pride.

Nostoc (by GR, John is drawn to beauty, but I like the lowdown and slimy)

Nostoc (by GR, John is drawn to beauty, but I like the lowdown and slimy)

This is one mighty germ.  It is photosynthetic growing in microscopic strings of cells in colonies as big as dinnerplates.  This species fixes nitrogen in special air-tight cells called heterocysts, seen as the larger light-colored cells in this photo link microscope view.

When you transform atmospheric nitrogen gas into forms plants can use, that’s fixed nitrogen.  Legumes and some other plants do it with the assistance of certain bacteria.   The symbiotic bacterial helpers in some cases, such as in Cycads, are species of NostocNostoc is the “algal” partner in some lichens as well, but today you have Nostoc living proudly off the leash.  If this nitrogen-fixing mat isn’t nitrogenizing the hungry scrub sand I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!

Nostoc in JD Park

Nostoc in JD Park

You could walk through the scrub for years in dry weather and never spy Nostoc, except maybe as an inconspicuous dry crust we crush while seeking interesting things.  This organism can dry out to a mere nothing for months, probably many years, and eventually bust out into its idea of glory when wet and ready.  Then dry times resume and bye bye for now.

The world is full of odd symbioses, and Nostocs (including today’s species? perhaps not) have an unusual relationship with a tiny midge prone to lay its eggs in the Nostoc jelly for a safe haven and nourishment.  What the fly offers the Nostoc is odd, if not adequately studied:  the larva seems to induce changes in colony shape with an enhanced grip on its substrate and probable enhanced photosynthetic production.  If I had nothing else to do, I could happily spend tomorrow searching for the larvae before the present Nostoc patches go back into hiding.  Want to go play golf tomorrow?  No thanks, I’d rather look for maggots in bacterial slime blobs.

Nostoc commune and related species are global and like arid places.  They tolerate blistering heat, arctic freezing, blazing sun, and extended drought.  No surprise they prompt research to probe the molecular biology behind happy life in extreme environments.   Nostocs make so much fatty gel they’ve raised the eyebrows of biofuelophiles.  They are so responsive to wet-dry cycles they cause research on environmental gene control.   Nostoc reacts to extreme sun exposure with a UV-screen not known in any other living thing.

That UV protection is perhaps linked to an example of why we don’t eat the weeds, even if other people do.  A recent article in the Journal of Ethnophamacology  described the traditional consumption of Nostoc commune in Peru.  Yummy good–but the fly in the ointment is a neurotoxic amino acid possibly linked to neurodegenerative disease.  There’s always something.

Maybe it is no surprise how these close relatives of the oldest fossils known on earth survive nasty conditions perhaps resembling the primitive Earth when cyanobacteria ruled.  Back when we were an almost-uninhabited planet.  Like Mars.

Hmmmm, too bad Mars is so dry these days.  Maybe a little green Martian Nostoc would come forth with a good honest wetting.

Mars Rover footprint, or John's tripod print?  You decide.

Mars Rover footprint, or John’s tripod print? You decide.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2014 in Nostoc commune

 

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Caesarweed

Caesar Weed

Urena lobata

Malvaceae

A joyous week of going native.  Tuesday evening it was fun to bore the West Palm Beach Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society with my yada yada yada presentation, such an energized and cheerful group.  Then this morning John and I joined ecologist Arnaud Roux for a sunny slog through Jonathan Dickinson State Park soggy shores to prepare an upcoming professional workshop on grassy plants.  We enjoyed the Blue Curls, Roselings, Chaffheads, Liatris and so much more as pretty as a state park brochure.

The pink "mini-Hibiscus" flower (by John Bradford).

The pink “mini-Hibiscus” flower (by John Bradford).

So many lovely native wildflowers, so let’s talk about a Category I invasive exotic weed stuck in your socks.  You don’t live in Florida long before meeting Caesarweed.  Even if you never encountered its pink “Hibiscus” flower, its burrs have encountered you.  The sock-stickers are segments of the fruit, which comes apart like slices of VELCRO pie.  They arrive home in your pants cuff, liberate themselves in the Maytag, and transfer amusingly to your wife’s apparel.

VELCRO pie.  By Top Tropicals (permitted use)

VELCRO pie. By Top Tropicals (permitted use)

Clinging may help explain the enormous range of this around-the-world weed of unclear origins, possibly in or around Tropical Asia.  Florida has been home since at least the 1800s.  Like many weeds, Caesarweed enjoys the company of humans as we create disturbed habitats, disperse its bristly hitchhikers in our spouse’s delicates, and enjoy its useful attributes.

As with so many widespread plants, the traditional medicinal uses are too many to list and actually a bit boring, although if you suffer “windy colic,” forget that medicinal marijuana, this is the weed for you.

Horticulturists are familiar with urease as an enzyme in soil microbes critical for transforming the natural decay product (or commercial fertilizer) urea into plant-useful ammonia/ammonium.   You can buy “urease inhibitors” to ration the conversion.

NitroGainUI-logoR

Caesarweed has urease in its seeds, clearly giving them a kickstart at germination time.  Urease-enhanced plant seeds are not rare, but even so, I dig the idea of a powerweed equipped with its own fertilizer-making enzyme.  So often weeds have special means of establishment after their relocational skills plop them in strange new worlds.

Speaking of special adaptations, flip over a Caesarweed leaf.  At the base on the main veins are glands, apparently to feed protective ants.

The leaf glands.  Apologies for the crummy focus. Don't blame John...my bad.

The leaf glands. Apologies for the crummy focus. Don’t blame John…my bad.

Beyond historical and modern medicinal interests, humans cultivate Caesarweed for fibers up to a yard long.    Not a huge surprise really, as the Hibiscus Family is a fibery bunch: Cotton, Kenaf,“Indian Hemp,” and more.  While some parts of the world are trying to figure out how to discourage Caesarweed’s growth, others research ways to boost germination rates and enhance growth as a commercial crop, especially in Africa where the plant acquires the name Congo Jute.  Before synthetics, Florida used to be a fiber growing and testing center.  It would be fun to know if Casaerweed had any participation in that.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Caesar Weed

 

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