Category Archives: Natural
The common names of plants sometimes tell a lot about a plant, and sometimes they just offer subtle hints, and sometimes they may even lead one astray. In Thompson Ethnobotany, by Nancy Turner and others, the roots of the twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius, a close relative of the lily-of-the-valley) are described as “very poisonouos” and the fruits as “not eaten”.
I was in Alaska teaching a class of 3rd graders about plants. I was waiting for my group to assemble prior to a hike. One little Tlingit tyke was sitting down with some twisted stalks piled in his lap. “Hey George, want some cucumber plant? Tastes just like cucumber.”
I was instantly rebuffed by the term “cucumber plant”, which seemed an irresponsible name for a poisonous plant. Read on
I am informed that my first word was “Bowies” which meant flowers. That should give some indication of how I got where I am today, which is to say botanically oriented. Actually there was a long lag period between bowies and the point where I used Latin names for plants.
The first Latin name I knew for a plant was Quercus, the oak. Quercus came into my head during a round trip across the country from Baltimore to the west coast and back, just in time to start graduate school. Edith rode with me on that trip in a Chevy Camper Special. On the way back we traveled through Canada. Read on
High in the mountains,
Close to the sky,
Are clearings on ledges,
With whispery traces …
The Wee folk were merry.
Singing and dancing,
Traced on the ground,
‘Round a post set with flowers … Read on
Since the Okanogan country is so big, our botany class could usually plan alternative field trips to avoid unpredictable bad weather, sideskirt road detours or just head for the best displays of flowers on that particular day. But one day the entire region was blanketed in wildfire smoke that had blown in from the next county.
There were no alternates to our planned hike to a wetland. And so the class went to a bog in a deep valley near the Pasayten Wilderness.
Well, it really wasn’t a bog. It was a poor fen, which is a bit of minutiae that nobody but a wetland scientist would care squat about. Read on
A botany student heard that some sensitive plants growing in a headwater seep were holding up a timber sale, and wished that he might see them. Another botanist told him where these plants, called Victorin’s grape-ferns, could be found. He visited the spot where the plants were growing on an isolated lens of serpentine soil, and wanted to know what their scientific name was.
Fortunately, he had a botanical flora in which to match the name to the appearance of the plant. Unfortunately, no names matched the pictures in the flora. Read on
Now there is Evolution by Accident?
This is a great concept that may open a few people’s minds a bit. Particularly scientists. It is a sign that scientists are finally getting beyond Darwinian dogma in their publications.
The F-pilus (or sex pilus) is a stellar example of this process from the microbial world.
There are these two bacteria, see, one “male” (F+) and one “female” (F-). You can tell them apart because one has a pilus (a microbial penis). The pilus is basically a stick of DNA with some genes. I know you don’t believe me, so here is a picture from a microscope:
F+ microbes have a special purpose in life that F- do not.