Archive for April, 2008

And we Think Gray Plants are Awesome?

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

“The vegetable kingdom in Mars, instead of having green for a dominant colour, is of a vivid blood-red tint,” wrote H.G. Wells in War of the Worlds a century ago, when astronomers were trying to account for the planet’s color.

He may have been on to something, though not on that particular planet. Today, scientists searching for extraterrestrial life believe plants on other worlds might not be green. Their color would depend mainly on the type of star supplying the light used in photosynthesis. Plants on Earth are green because our sun is a relatively hot F-type star and chlorophyll is the appropriate photosynthetic pigment. But, as Scientific American reports, plants on planets orbiting feeble red dwarfs, the most abundant type of star in the Milky Way, might need to be black to absorb all the available light. On the other hand, plants growing in the light of a supergiant F-type sun might be shiny blue to survive its scorching rays. Don’t miss the fantastic artist’s renderings of these and other alien plants in the accompanying slide show.

The Real Methuselah

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

With all the brouhaha about Bitter-gate, lapel pins, and polygamists in Texas, you may have missed the marvelous news that Swedish scientist Leif Kullman has discovered the world’s oldest recorded tree so far. It’s not, as was once believed, Methuselah, the 4,700-year-old bristlecone pine living in California’s Inyo National Forest. It’s a 9,550-year-old Norway spruce inhabiting a Swedish mountaintop. Kinda spindly looking but, hey, if we’d been around for almost ten millennia we wouldn’t be nearly as cute.

Let Them eat Plums

Friday, April 18th, 2008

In its front-page story on how soaring food prices are making life even harder in the world’s poorest countries, the New York Times notes that “one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil, and sugar.” A 24-year-old Haitian describes the taste: “It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt.” In the Business section, trend watchers say the success of technology brands like Apple and Blackberry is at least partly behind Madison Avenue’s current fascination with everything plum, from the new American Express Plum Card to Plum TV, a channel aimed at resort communities like Nantucket, Aspen, and the Hamptons. A marketing maven explains the thinking: Colors like plum and purple “evoke royalty, sophistication” and can appeal to “the individual’s desire for zest and to be distinct.” Another notes that “plum says calm; plum says clean; plum says health.”

A Rose by any Other Name Would not Smell as Sweet

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

And now, another reason why air pollution is bad. It not only wrecks our lungs but also destroys flower fragrance. According to a new study, the scent molecules produced by blossoms bond quickly with ozone and other pollutants, producing chemically altered aromas that no longer smell like flowers. This, according to the researchers, could at least partially explain why wild populations of pollinators, especially bees, are declining in some areas, including California.

Why Should the Devil Have all the Best Tunes?

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Ian Darwin Edwards asked this question during a presentation at the BGCI congress in Cape Town, South Africa 10 years ago. It was a catchy way of saying that when it comes to capturing the public’s attention, advertisers are veritable Pavarottis while we in the garden world can be pretty tone deaf.

A decade later, it’s still a good question. Public gardens are still trying to find their voice. In the face of massive climate change and mass extinction, we’d better hurry up.