Berry Go Round #26

Welcome to the 26th edition of Berry Go Round!  February was a botanical box of chocolates, but this month is the much anticipated herald of spring.  So what if the crocuses are just beginning to peek above the soil on my mountain and it’s going to snow two days this week?  This Berry Go Round has photographic evidence that spring has arrived at lower elevations and latitudes.

But first, let’s look back to autumn: On a November hike in the Ozarks, Ted from Beetles in the Bush came across a spreading patch of an uncommon clubmoss, Lycopodium digitatum, covered in delicate strobili.

 Lycopodium digitatum strobili

Lycopodium digitatum strobili

As lovely as a flower can be, I find myself more drawn to the oldest, nonflowering plant lineages.  As Jessica at Moss Plants and More learned to her dismay (and adeptly corrects), most people don’t even notice these plants and the people that do rarely recognize the astonishing diversity and subtle beauty of mosses and others of these small, ancient plants.

But now, on to warmer places!

Ben at Get Your Botany On! takes us botanizing in Florida where tiny (and not so tiny) flowers are abundant.  I was especially pleased to see this picture of a pawpaw:

Asimina incana flower

Asimina incana (pawpaw) flower

Pawpaws have sublime fruit.  I’ve only eaten Asimina triloba, but I bet A. incana is equally delicious.  It’s too bad they don’t store well enough to be grown commercially as I’d be willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money to get them on my cold mountain.  You can read more about pawpaws and other fantastic fruits in the Annonaceae family at Will Townes’ delightful blog.

Diane from Hill-Stead’s Nature Blog uses the emerging Connecticut plants and animals to remind us that spring is a time for rebirth and new beginnings.  She starts with a pussy willow in full bloom, which brought back fond memories for me – pussy willow was one of the first plants I learned to identify as a child.

The Berry Go Round links this month seem to be making me homesick, and this next is no exception.  Botany Photo of the Day recently wrote about this stunning magnolia:

Magnolia campbellii subsp. mollicomata 'Borde Hill'

Magnolia campbellii subsp. mollicomata 'Borde Hill'

Growing up in the southeast, everyone had a magnolia in their yard and there were seemingly infinite varieties.  All the grandmothers would argue over which variety was the best or commiserate over early bloomers having their buds killed by a late frost.  I remember Magnolia grandiflora best: it has enormous, creamy flowers that smell of citrus and smooth bark with branches perfectly arranged for climbing.

Despite the seeming never-ending winter this year, spring has finally arrived at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.  Take a walk with Jane to see some of the early spring blooms, including crocus and camellia.  A bit further south, Wayne at Niches shares the phenology data he’s been gathering on trout lilies and some interesting pollination tidbits.

Mystery fruit

Spencer's mystery fruit

Of course, the tropics don’t have seasons like we do in the temperate latitudes, so they get to see things like this odd bloom from the the Brazil nut tree year round (botanical trivia: Brazil nut trees are in the same order as the camellias from the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden).  Spencer at Anthromes sends us a question from another tropical place, Panama.  He’s found a tasty fruit, but can’t identify it.  Help him out before he poisons himself!

You probably wouldn’t expect to find something to eat like Spencer in Panama just wandering around a typical suburban neighborhood in the US, but you’d be wrong!  Dr. Lalita Calibria at Adventures of a Phytochemist shows us how we can use the “weeds” growing in our lawns.

In warmer seasons I prefer to drink tea, but until the snow melts I rely on coffee in the mornings.  So I was horrified to learn this month that not only is the changing climate killing coffee, but important coffee relatives with interesting chemical properties are critically endangered.  A generation got behind the save the whales movement and made a great deal of environmental progress.  I wonder if a save the coffee movement could do the same today?

Speaking of the environmental movement, poplar trees are being investigated as a potential biofuel (more botanical trivia: poplar trees are in the same family as pussy willows).  At first, trees may seem like a bad choice for a biofuel, but poplar has a few things going for it.  First of all, it grows fast – 5-8 feet PER YEAR fast.  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it can be grown on land that isn’t suitable for crops, so we wouldn’t have to pit energy against food needs.  Thirdly, the Populus genome has been sequenced, which makes it easier to modify it to be an even better biofuel.

The last entries to this carnival are most certainly not least.  In fact, they might just be my favorites.

First is a post on marimo by Jaime over at Talking Plants.  Marimo are balls of Aegagropila linnaei algae that form in certain lake conditions.  Some botanists might argue that algae aren’t plants, but I hope the Berry Go Round botanists will make an exception for this fantastic species.  Unfortunately, marimo are in global decline.  Read Jaime’s post to find out why.


Marimo by Lin.y.c on Flickr

Another favorite is The Phytophactor’s description of “Real Crappy Plant Research.” I remember learning about the enormous pitcher plants of southeast Asia in my plant systematics class and being totally amazed to learn that they eat small mammals.  That just seemed so unlikely – why couldn’t it scratch or chew its way out? It turns out that they DON’T eat small mammals – they’re more of a toilet for tree shrews and other such animals.  While the animal drinks the nectar, it’s positioned so that its poop is captured in the pitcher!

The Phytophactor also let us know that the Botanical Society of America is now posting links to its member’s blogs. It’s a great way to get exposure for your blog if you’re a member and a great place to find blogs regardless.

And that’s the end of this edition of Berry Go Round!

Feel free to volunteer to host an upcoming Berry Go Round (we need a host for next month!) and don’t forget to send in your submissions for April’s edition.