… is a rare plant endemic to Marin County, California. Only a single population is known from serpentine soils on Ring Mountain, Tiburon Peninsula on the northwestern side of San Francisco Bay.
While the land on which it grows is protected, the limited distribution of this species puts it at high risk of extinction due to random events like drought or wildfires. It is also threatened by damage from off-leash dogs, hikers, cyclists, wildflower collectors, and other vandals.
The Hawaiian Silversword: Another Warning on Climate Change
by Zach Fitzner
The Hawaiian silversword (Argyroxyphium sandwicense), a beautiful, spiny plant from the volcanic Hawaiian highlands may not survive the ravages of climate change, according to a new study in Global Change Biology. An unmistakable plant, the silversword has long, sword-shaped leaves covered in silver hair and beautiful flowering stalks that may tower to a height of three meters.
The Hawaiian silversword flowers only once in its life of 20 to 90 years, not unlike the much-loved agave. Because of this, records show that the number of silversword flowering in any given year varies wildly from zero to 6,632 plants. It depends on pollination from other individual plants for reproduction, so the trigger for flowering events is a key piece of a puzzle not currently understood, like many aspects of ecology…
Fruit bats and bat fruits: the evolution of fruit scent in relation to the foraging behaviour of bats in the New and Old World tropics
by Hodgkison et al.
Frugivory among bats (Chiroptera) has evolved independently in the New and Old World tropics: within the families Phyllostomidae and Pteropodidae, respectively. Bats from both families rely primarily on olfaction for the location of fruits. However, the influence of bats on the evolution of fruit scent is almost completely unknown.
Using the genus Ficus as a model, the aims of this study were to explore the chemical composition of fruit scent in relation to two contrasting seed dispersal syndromes in Panama and Malaysia and to assess the influence of fruit scent on the foraging behaviour of neo- and palaeotropical fruit-eating bats…
A Hard Look at 3 Myths about Genetically Modified Crops
Superweeds? Suicides? Stealthy genes? The true, the false and the still unknown about transgenic crops
by Natasha Gilbert and Nature magazine
In the pitched debate over genetically modified (GM) foods and crops, it can be hard to see where scientific evidence ends and dogma and speculation begin. In the nearly 20 years since they were first commercialized, GM crop technologies have seen dramatic uptake. Advocates say that they have increased agricultural production by more than US$98 billion and saved an estimated 473 million kilograms of pesticides from being sprayed. But critics question their environmental, social and economic impacts.
Researchers, farmers, activists and GM seed companies all stridently promote their views, but the scientific data are often inconclusive or contradictory. Complicated truths have long been obscured by the fierce rhetoric. “I find it frustrating that the debate has not moved on,” says Dominic Glover, an agricultural socioeconomist at Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands. “The two sides speak different languages and have different opinions on what evidence and issues matter,” he says.
Here, Nature takes a look at three pressing questions: are GM crops fuelling the rise of herbicide-resistant ‘superweeds’? Are they driving farmers in India to suicide? And are the foreign transgenes in GM crops spreading into other plants? These controversial case studies show how blame shifts, myths are spread and cultural insensitivities can inflame debate…
Until 2013, the oldest individual tree in the world was Methuselah, a 4,845-year-old Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) in the White Mountains of California.
But then researchers announced the dating of a 5,062-year-old P. longaeva, which isalso in the White Mountains, according to the Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research group. The tree has not yet been named.
The next oldest tree on the list is a national monument in Iran: The Zoroastrian Sarv (Sarv-e-Abarkooh), estimated to be about 4,000 years old, or older. This Mediterranean cypress tree (Cupressus sempervirens), which is in Abarkuh, Yazd, Iran, may well be the oldest living thing in Asia…
For most of the U.S., winter is finally loosening its icy grip. Besides freshening your wardrobe, cleaning house, or planning your next national parks trip, why not celebrate by admiring some flowers and plants, perhaps the most telltale signs of spring’s arrival?
Sure, you can stop and smell the roses, but why not also marvel at the rafflesia arnoldii, touch-me-not, Eastern Skunk Cabbage, corpse flower, voodoo lily, and hydnora africana? While you could trek across the globe to view these bizarre blooms, in some cases, you need only venture as far as your local botanical garden…
Trachyandra tortilisis a small bulbous plant from South Africa’s “Namaqualand” region. Usually seen growing in deep sany soils, sometimes in heavier, silt-like soils, where the plants tend to be dwarfed growing only to a maximum of 15cm in height.
For many, their vision of the Sonoran Desert, located in the southwest part of the United States and northern Mexico, is one of a vast and barren wasteland of rolling sand dunes and desolate landscapes. But nothing could be further from the truth, as the Sonoran Desert annually becomes a lush environment of amazing springtime color when the indigenous plants bloom after a winter of rain…
It is common knowledge that flowers have evolved specifically to attract certain pollinators. Recently, however, it was found that some plants have gone even further by attracting insects to ward off any inefficient pollinators.
Recent studies have found that the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum) actively attracts Oecophylla smaragdina, a type of weaver ant. These ants then work to fight off small insects that approach the flower. This prevents most small pollinators, which prove to be less efficient than large pollinators, from pollinating the flower. The mechanism by which the plant attracts the ants is yet unknown.
It’s Not a Fairytale: Seattle to Build Nation’s First Food Forest
Forget meadows. The city’s new park will be filled with edible plants, and everything from pears to herbs will be free for the taking.
By Clare Leschin-Hoar
Seattle’s vision of an urban food oasis is going forward. A seven-acre plot of land in the city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood will be planted with hundreds of different kinds of edibles: walnut and chestnut trees; blueberry and raspberry bushes; fruit trees, including apples and pears; exotics like pineapple, yuzu citrus, guava, persimmons, honeyberries, and lingonberries; herbs; and more. All will be available for public plucking to anyone who wanders into the city’s first food forest.
“This is totally innovative, and has never been done before in a public park,” Margarett Harrison, lead landscape architect for the Beacon Food Forest project, tells TakePart. Harrison is working on construction and permit drawings now and expects to break ground this summer.
The concept of a food forest certainly pushes the envelope on urban agriculture and is grounded in the concept of permaculture, which means it will be perennial and self-sustaining, like a forest is in the wild. Not only is this forest Seattle’s first large-scale permaculture project, but it’s also believed to be the first of its kind in the nation…
Endemic to hot deserts and grassy mountain tops in an area of about 6 km² west of Nazas, Durango, north-western Mexico, this species is threatened by illegal collecting and temperature extremes. It had an estimated population size of more than 10,000 plants in 1994. A subsequent visit in 2000 revealed a population reduced by more than 95% to less than 500, apparently largely a result of the 1997 freeze on Mexico’s altiplano. New plants are propagated from seed sown in the natural habitat.
When we imagine drama playing out between predators and prey, most of us picture stealthy lions and restless gazelle, or a sharp-taloned hawk latched on to an unlucky squirrel. But Ben Baiser, a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard Forest and lead author of a new study in Oikos, thinks on a more local scale. His inter-species drama plays out in the humble bogs and fens of eastern North America, home to the carnivorous pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea. “It’s shocking, the complex world you can find inside one little pitcher plant,” says Baiser.
A pitcher plant’s work seems simple: their tube-shaped leaves catch and hold rainwater, which drowns the ants, beetles, and flies that stumble in.
But the rainwater inside a pitcher plant is not just a malevolent dunking pool. It also hosts a complex system of aquatic life, including wriggling mosquito, flesh fly, and midge larvae; mites; rotifers; copepods; nematodes; and multicellular algae. These tiny organisms are crucial to the pitcher plant’s ability to process food. They create what scientists call a ‘processing chain’: when a bug drowns in the pitcher’s rainwater, midge larvae swim up and shred it to smaller pieces, bacteria eat the shredded pieces, rotifers eat the bacteria, and the pitcher plant absorbs the rotifers’ waste…