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Common and Oregon ash species profiles

17 Oct

Let’s take a break from all the issues and events for a long-absent species profile.

For reasons that you’d have to extract from me over drinks, I’d have to say that the ash is my absolute favorite tree. I feel a very personal connection to them — particularly the common ash, Fraxinus excelsior. (Incidentally, this would have been the species of Yggdrasil, the World Ash of Norse mythology.) The only native ash in the Pacific Northwest is Fraxinus latifolia, the Oregon ash, so I feel obliged to look at that, too. In fact, I’d like to take more of a class approach in this particular “species” profile.

It is pretty easy to identify a true ash, which is to say, any member of the genus Fraxinus. They are unique in having opposite branching and compound leaves, meaning all buds and twigs arise directly opposite from one another, and each leaf is composed of several leaflets.

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Current issues roundup: You’re not going crazy edition

3 Oct

It’s common enough to hear people jokingly refer to vegetarians as plant murderers. But today I present you with a study that may cast this notion in a strange new light. That’s right: plants can communicate using sound — and I’m not just talking about the Botanicals Twitter Kit.

Researchers from Britain, Italy and Australia recently found that plants not only respond to sound, but likely use clicking sounds to communicate with one another. The report, published in Trends in Plant Science, details experiments that used powerful acoustic equipment to record clicking sounds coming from the roots of corn plants. A simulated noise produced at the same frequency also caused young roots to grow in the direction of the sound.

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Current events roundup: Super old-school plants edition

16 Jul

We’re due up for a current events post, and this week’s theme is crazy ancient plants. Specifically, let’s talk about the intense gardening jealousy I feel toward the researcher who germinated a 32,000-year-old plant, and how in the world scientists discovered a 298-million-year-old forest underneath a coal mine in China.

So, the recipient of my botanical stink-eye is researcher Svetlana Yashina, who extracted the placenta (photo below) from the frozen seeds of a long leafed campion plant, Silene stenophylla, and grew them into flowers. While the flowers aren’t particularly dazzling (or envy-inspiring), it’s incredible that this plant sprang from a seed that lay frozen in the tundra of northeastern Siberia for 31,800 years.

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Better botany by (book) design

14 Jun

The first week of any new job can be a little slow, and arriving at your first federal posting is certainly no exception. There’s a stack of field guides on a nearby desk, so I’ve decided to flip through and do some comparing while I wait for my colleague to finish getting set up on all our various computer profiles. So, especially if you’re looking to pick up a Pacific Northwest field guide, here’s my summation.

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, Western Region, Elbert L. Little, ed.

Grade: C

The book provides a very cursory discussion of botany basics (plant parts, leaf shapes, etc.), some of which is illustrated, and details on major habitats and proper usage of the book itself.

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Upcoming changes & projects

8 Jun

Faithful readers! I have begun my new job on the Lower Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. All is well in the world of silviculture, save for one thing: I do not have phone service or reliable Internet. So, I’m moving to a two-week schedule since that will be easier to swing in between evething else.

Look for upcoming posts on sudden oak death, tree physiology and maybe even the chemistry of paper milling, as well as a book review comparing various floras for the Northwest. Hooray! You know you are going to love it!

Pacific dogwood species profile

29 Mar

People often ask me what my favorite tree is. It’s tough to say, but if I had to name a favorite genus, it would be Cornus — the dogwoods. I am not alone in loving these trees; they are grown far and wide as ornamentals. They are cosmopolitan, meaning they are found all over the world in similar climate bands. Oregon has two native species, one shrub and one tree. This profile will focus on the tree, which is Cornus nuttallii, or Pacific dogwood.

This species is small, generally staying under 25 meters in height. It is also a bit of a fragile beauty, as it is very susceptible to dogwood anthracnose; this disease is caused by the fungus Discula destructiva. It has killed many older trees in the wild and makes this particular species less favorable as an ornamental tree.

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From a plant’s perspective

23 Mar

I haven’t made a current issues post in a while, and something from 2007 may not qualify as ‘current.’ But the idea that “looking at the world from other species’ points of view [can be] a cure for the disease of human self-importance,” seems as relevant as ever.

This is a TED talk about looking at the world from a plant’s perspective, which close friends know is a subject that is dear to me. The speaker, Michael Pollan, is the author of books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Botany of Desire (which I hope to review at some point). I first saw this link posted by a friend/coworker of my husband‘s. The two of them cook for a fabulous Japanese restaurant here in Portland, so I’d imagine they approach this talk from a foodie angle, while I approach it from — spoiler alert! — a botanical perspective. I want to make some comments after the video:

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The importance of recording everything: A book review

22 Feb

Field Notes on Science and Nature (ed. Michael R. Canfield) was recommended to me by a teacher a while back. It made loads of Best of 2011 lists, too, and for good reason — it’s a fascinating exploration of keeping field notes.

On the surface, this may not sound so interesting, but the book illuminates the approaches of several contributors spanning fields from anthropology to wildlife conservation, and it not only explains what sort of things they record, but why, and even what benefit there is in doing it one way instead of another. A great example is the chapters that alternately sing the praises of Polaroid instant film and of black-and-white sketches. Because each contributor makes a convincing case for his or her method of choice (which often involves explaining why another method should not be used), it can seem like a tangle of contradictions. But the wealth of perspectives is exactly why I found it valuable.

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Oregon white oak profile

10 Feb

Quercus garryana is a special tree because it is the only native oak found north of Eugene, OR. It lives on the west side of the Cascades, primarily in the Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue River Valleys, and along the Gorge. It also occupies a similar range in Washington and British Columbia, and grows up into the foothills in California.

It is a very drought tolerant and slow growing tree. Historically, frequent low-intensity fires have maintained its dominance on oak savannas throughout its range. Because it is fire resistant when mature and a vigorous sprouter at all ages, it is adapted to thrive in this type of fire regime, which also keeps the seedlings of faster growing species at bay. Native Americans set fires in these habitats to promote the growth of important food sources like the Camas lily, prized for its starchy bulbs (and pictured with oaks above).

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Douglas-fir species profile

29 Jan

I thought it might be nice to go back and cover some of the basics about forestry for the benefit of readers who want to learn more. Specifically, I think some of you have been waiting for tree ID posts since I started this blog. I know I get excited about knowing what plants are around us.

This might be old news to many of you, but I’m going to start doing species profiles of native woody plants in this area. What better way to start than with one of the most common sights in the Pacific Northwest: the Douglas-fir!

The first thing to know is its many names, because they say a lot about this particular tree. The Latin name (genus and species) is Pseudotsuga menziesii. The species name refers to the person who discovered this tree, and the genus name means “false hemlock.”

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