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Results tagged “december-19”

Dec 19, 2014: Ophrys umbilicata subsp. flavomarginata

Ophrys umbilicata subsp. flavomarginata

BPotD work-learn student Cora den Hartigh wrote today's entry:

Thank you to Andreas Lambrianides (andreas lambrianides@Flickr) for this "happy" flower from the Akamas Peninsula, Pafos, Cyprus! These orchids are rare to find outside of the grasslands of Cyprus, but they can be found in similar habitats in Israel and Jordan.

Ophrys umbilicata subsp. flavomarginata is a delightful species of orchid that is easily anthropomorphized. Just look at those cute fuzzy (hirsute) arms (actually, lateral lobes)! Otherwise known as the yellow-lobed bee orchid, this species is closely related to several other Ophrys spp. that mimic insects, two of which have been previously featured on BPotD: see the gorgeous Ophyrs bombyliflora for a discussion of plant trickery, or the sly Ophrys tenthredinifera.

Co-evolution has exquisitely tailored orchids to appeal to specific pollinators, predicating a radiance of flourishing diversity and interdependence. There are orchids that smell like chocolate or mushrooms or powerful head-spinning perfumes. There are orchids that look like flying ducks (Caleana major) and monkey faces (Dracula simia, among others). There are rare species of blue orchids or sneaky parasitic orchids - they are in fact so diverse that it is possible to find orchids in nearly every biome! One of my favourite genera is Catasetum, whose species fire pollen so forcibly when the seta of plants are brushed that the pollinators are knocked back into the air!

Another orchid story: in 1798, Darwin received a curious specimen of Angraecum sesquipedale (Christmas star orchid) in the mail from a naturalist friend exploring in Madagascar which was possessed of a remarkably long nectar spur. What could possibly pollinate such a flower? Darwin postulated some insect might be uniquely adapted to this orchid by way of a similarly long proboscis. It was not until 1903, a century later, that a moth (Xanthopan morgani praedicta) was discovered fitting Darwin's description. The orchid and moth are celebrated examples of Darwin's evolutionary theories and the fine tailoring of biological relationships. You can check out a video of the moth in action. Notice that Angraecum sesquipedale is white; pollinated by a nocturnal insect, the plant presumably had no need to evolve colourful pigments for attracting pollinators, unlike today's subject.

Speaking of orchid diversity, I spent last summer working at a botanical garden that had no less than 3000 species of orchid at any given time. The collection had been gifted from a private donor in Vancouver and was housed in three misty greenhouses that were positively intoxicating! If you visit Edmonton, consider checking out the Muttart Conservatory. Alternatively, you can always take a moment to peruse the web site of the Orchid Species Preservation Foundation!

Dec 19, 2013: Syncarpha vestita

Retired UBC Botanical Garden educator David Tarrant sent along these photographs from his November excursion to South Africa's Cape Floristic Region. Thank you, David.

Syncarpha vestita has the common name of Cape snow in English or [wit]sewejaartjie in Afrikaans. The genus is restricted to the Eastern Cape and Western Cape regions of South Africa, with about 30 species. In the evergreen fire-dependent shrubland known as fynbos, Cape snow is one of the many different shrubby species of this region.

David noted to me in his email that Syncarpha vestita has upright woolly grey-green leaves that overlap and large rounded composite flower heads with papery white bracts. From a distance, Plantzafrica describes these plants as "[resembling] flocks of beautiful, clean sheep". Plantzafrica (first link in the previous paragraph) also suggests that the pollinators for Syncarpha vestita are likely palynivorous (pollen-eating) beetles such as Spilocephalus viridipennis and Trichostetha capensis.

Syncarpha vestita is also described as a fire-ephemeral species. Seeds germinate after fires (fires are often lightning-induced). The seedlings grow rapidly, so this shrublet will often be a major component of the plant community for the seven or so years following a fire. After seven years, the dynamics of the plant community are such that Syncarpha vestita gets outcompeted by initially slower-growing species and begins to decline in number. The strategy for Cape snow is to then exist as dormant seeds, waiting for the next fire (it is akin to the hare from the tortoise and the hare stories). To read more about the germination of the seed after fires, see: Brown, NAC. 1993. Seed Germination in the Fynbos Fire Ephemeral, Syncarpha vestita (L.) B. Nord. is Promoted by Smoke, Aqueous Extracts of Smoke and Charred Wood Derived from Burning the Ericoid-Leaved Shrub, Passerina vulgaris Thoday. (PDF). Int. J. Wildland Fire. 3(4):203-206.

Dec 19, 2011: Juniperus communis

I'll make a stab at doing the "Botany and Spirits" series this week, as it looks like most days this week will afford me enough time for lengthier posts.

Photographed only a few metres away from the squirrel midden featured on BPotD last month, this common juniper plant is only one individual of the most broadly-distributed conifer species in the world (according to conifers.org: Juniperus communis). Native to most of North America north of Mexico as well as much of Eurasia, it also reaches into Algeria, Morocco, Nepal and Pakistan. I would guess there are exceedingly few vascular plant species one could find both within 100km of the Arctic Ocean and on the south side of the Mediterranean Sea.

The blue fruits of juniper are in fact seed cones, so therefore developmentally similar to cones such as the ones found on Cupressus, for example. However, the scales that form the cone are merged and fleshy in juniper, producing what are called juniper berries (technically speaking, not true berries).

The name for juniper in French is genièvre and in Dutch jenever, and through a bit of abbreviation, this leads to gin--the distilled beverage for today's entry in the series. The predominant flavouring for gin is juniper, though one local distillery uses at least 13 other botanical flavourings. Several different distillation and flavouring methods are used for the production of gin, with variation occurring in number of distillations, when flavourings are added, and types of stills used.

Wikipedia explores the colourful history of gin, including the Gin Craze of the early 18th century in Great Britain. Purportedly, of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London at the time, over half were gin shops. It also makes mention of some poetry regarding the social ills of excess imbibing: "The principal sin, Of Gin, Is, among others, Ruining mothers" (one of the British names for gin is "mother's ruin").

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