The truth behind the mysterious underwater circles that periodically appear off the coast of Denmark has been discovered, and sadly it doesn’t involve aliens, fairies, or the fabled lost city of Atlantis.
In 2008, a tourist snapped photos of several large dark rings that appeared near the white cliffs of Denmark’s island of Møn in the Baltic Sea. The circles, several as large as a tennis courts, sparked numerous theories of their origin—some more outlandish than others. In 2011, when the formations reappeared, scientists discovered they were actually round bands of marine eelgrass, similar to rings of mushrooms known as fairy rings.
Because eelgrass usually grows as continuous underwater meadows, scientists were still baffled by the rims of lush eelgrass with barren cores. Now, researchers say they at last know the rings’ true cause. The scientists found large amounts of toxic sulfide built up in the muds where the eelgrass grows…
Some of the bristlecone pines found in the White mountains of California are over 4500 years old. A specimen known as The Old Man, is 4676 years.
Bristlecone pines receive very little water and food throughout the year: average annual rainfall in the White mountains is less than 30 centimetres, and the trees stand on dolomite, a form of limestone that contains few nutrients.
To survive on this ascetic diet, Pinus longaeva invests very little energy in growth. As a result, they’re quite small despite their immense age – the tallest bristlecone is just 18 metres in height – and the trees’ girth increases by just 0.25 millimetres a year.
“It shuts down all its non-essential processes,” says Sussman. “This looks half dead most of the time, perhaps with just one branch that appears to be alive.”
“I’ve heard everything between 1500 to 3000 years as an age estimate for the largest welwitschias,” says Sussman about these strange plants. She photographed this example – probably around 2000 years old– in the Naukluft desert in Namibia.
“The welwitschias are strange and unique” she says. “Surprisingly enough, they’re part of the conifer family and live only in the very specific climate along the coast of Namibia and Angola where coastal fog and desert meet.”
To capture moisture from sea fog, the welwitschia, also known as tree tumbo, has evolved special leaves. These leaves become tattered and frayed with time – earning the plant the description of being “octopus-like”. In addition, it has long tap roots that sip water deep underground and anchor the plant as it is buffeted by desert winds.
Its unusual appearance caused Friedrich Welwitsch, the botanist who discovered it for science in 1859, to “do nothing but kneel down and gaze at it, half in fear lest a touch should prove it a figment of the imagination”.
The oft-overlooked Common Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa, is my plant of the day. The flowers’ resemblance to human throats led mediæval folk to believe that this species could be used to treat scrofula.
Of course, it was this same disease that was known in England and France as the King’s Evil; the touch of the reigning sovereign was supposed to represent a divine cure. English monarchs traditionally gave an Angel (a type of gold coin) to the sufferer at the same time, until the practice was ended by George I in the early 18th century.
This llareta, family Apiaceae, parts of which are over 3000 years old, calls Chile’s Atacama desert home. Llaretas can be found throughout the Andes in Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.
A relative of parsley, its moss-like appearance belies thousands of flowering buds on long stems which are so densely packed together they can take the weight of a human.
“When I saw the llareta for the first time I immediately recognised it from photos I had seen,” says Sussman. “Many of them dotted the hillside, some more strangely formed than others, sort of like mutated topiary on steroids.”
Because the llareta is dry and dense, it burns well, like peat. “Its function as fuel is endangering its survival, as even park rangers charged with protecting it have been known to burn it to keep warm on cold nights.”
Milford, MA // Cedar-Apple Rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) is a fungus that infects the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana, not actually a cedar) wherever there are apples or crabapples in the same range. The fungus cycles between Juniperus and apple trees from season to season, and the galls on Juniperus are very distinctive in my neighborhood once they mature. The orange spore horns become bigger in the rain and will shrivel and swell with the weather, and some of them get so big they would fill the palm of my hand. If you were wondering, the galls are squishy and slimy when hydrated, and they look a lot less cool once they release their spores and start to decompose. // May 2013
Some tropical flowers reflect sound so nectar-seeking bats can find them more easily.
by Susan McGrath
Nature’s inventiveness knows no bounds. Consider the case of the nectar-drinking bat and the night-flowering vine whose lives intertwine in the lowland tropical forests of Central America.
Glossophaga commissarisi, a tiny, winged mammal with a body no bigger than your thumb, flits among the flowers of Mucuna holtonii, lapping nectar, much as hummingbirds and bumblebees do. In exchange it pollinates the plant. In daylight flowers can flaunt their wares with bright colors such as scarlet and fuchsia, but at night, when even the brightest hues pale to a moonlit silver, Mucuna flowers resort to sound to catch the ear of nectar bats.
At La Selva Biological Station in northern Costa Rica a vigorous old Mucuna has woven a leafy ceiling above a forest clearing and lowered dozens of flowers into the opening on long, green stalks. The flowers dangle at staggered heights in the vaulted clearing like chandeliers in a shadowy ballroom, each palm-size inflorescence a whorl of pale yellow, pea-pod-shaped buds on arched stems…
These golden Desert Sunflowers (Geraea canescens) and purple Desert Sand-Verbena (Abronia villosa) are relatively common spring wildflowers of the arid southwest.
Beginning to appear by mid-February in some regions, they are both annuals that overwinter as seeds and depend on rain to germinate - more winter rain means greater shows of spring wildflowers. They flower and form seeds as long as they can, while rains continue to provide moisture; as soon as dry weather arrives again, the plants die. This reproductive strategy is especially useful in desert habitats, as the plants don’t have to worry about living through drought conditions.
Both of these species have hairy stems, another common feature among desert-growers. The hairs cut the wind, helping to reduce water loss through evaporation.
Common names: Mexican Giant Cardon, Elephant Cactus, Cardón Gigante.
Pachycereus pringlei is a species of cactus that is native to northwestern Mexico in the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Sonora.
The Mexican Giant Cardon is one of the largest cactus known. A common individual reaches a mature height of 5-10 m with individuals up to 18 m. Because it is a plant of slow growth, their average life is measured in hundreds of years.
Most adults cacti have a large number of long lateral arms, which gives them an image of tree, these arms can reach 25 tons or more in weight. Apparently, the leatherback is very resistant to harsh climate of Baja California, characterized by drought and high temperatures.
The fruit of the cactus is quite nutritious, and is available in abundance during the dry season when other food source is scarce, making it the largest source of nutrients for many desert birds and nosed bats (Leptonycteris curasoae). These bats are the main pollinator of the night cactus flowers and depends on them for survival.
Most cactus populations have remained intact through the centuries, indirectly due to the low density of population in the peninsula of Baja California, as many areas are remote or difficult to access.
This odd species of sundew hails from northern Australia. Unlike most Drosera whose carnivorous leaves curl from the tip backwards when capturing prey, the leaves of Drosera falconeri fold in half, not unlike the traps of a Venus fly trap. This, along with other morphological traits, have lead some to cite this species as an evolutionary link between Drosera and the closely related Dionaea, though I don’t believe it is any closer in relation than other sundew species. Either way, this is a unique member of the genus …
Mystery of bottle gourd migration to Americas solved:
(Phys.org) —A team with members from several institutions in the U.S. has finally set to rest the mystery of how the bottle gourd found its way to the Americas. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team explains that new DNA analysis has revealed that the bottle gourd made its way to South America by floating over from Africa.
For several decades, scientists have been wrangling with the mystery of how the bottle gourd, which is believed to be native to Africa and Asia, made its way to the Americas where it grew wild approximately 10,000 years prior to being domesticated. Some believed the mystery had been solved when a research team using DNA techniques reported back in 2005 that the bottle gourd in the Americas had Asian DNA, suggesting the gourd made its way to North America by early people carrying it across the land bridge that existed between what is now Alaska and Russia.
In this new effort, the research team contradicts that earlier finding claiming that newer DNA analysis tools show that gourds in the Americas actually have African DNA, which suggests they made it to the New World by floating across the ocean…
… sometimes called by its Native American name Kinnikinnick, is a low-growing woody shrub adapted to sub-arctic and montane climates. It is found throughout the west and north, and reaches south in the east through the Appalachian mountains.
The plants are evergreen, holding on to their thick, waxy leaves through the winter. In the fall, they produce large red berries that are purported to be a favorite of bears (the source of the common name). The plants contain a compound called arbutin, which has antimicrobial properties; prior to the discovery of modern antibiotics, infusions made with bearberry leaves were one of the few effective treatments for mild bacterial infections.
Nearly all members of the genus Arctostaphylos, which contains the red-barked evergreen shrubs called manzanitas, are western in distribution, primarily in California. Common Bearberry is not only the most widespread Arctostaphylos species in North America, it is also circumpolar, found at northern latitudes around the globe.