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State Flowers Word Search

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word flower search.jpg
After you have found all of the bolded names of state flowers, use the remaining letters to spell out a hidden message (they're in the right order)!

Answers:
hidden message flower search.jpg


Holly, mistletoe, amaryllis, poinsettia and pine probably are in your house this holiday season. Here are some interesting things about these plants:

Amaryllis is planted as a bulb. It has red, pink, or white flowers that bloom just after the leaves reach their greenest point. It originated (strangely for a Christmas plant) from the Cape of Good Hope. They need little nourishment, and will grow in peat moss or pebbles. 

Poinsettia.jpgPoinsettias' bright red petals are actually leaf bracts. If you look, you will most likely see a small bunch of yellow flowers. How did it become a Christmas tradition? Here's how the story goes:

A Mexican maiden had no money to buy a gift, so an angel appeared and told her to gather some of the weeds that grew abundantly by the road. She did and left them in front of the altar. They then bloomed into the first poinsettias. The star-shaped leaves are said to have been symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem, and their red color represents sacrifice.

Untitled-1.gifMistletoe was considered to have magical healing powers by the Druids, so they hung it at wintertime. The Scandinavians made it out to represent peace, relating the plant to their god Frigga, who was goddess of love. And that is how the tradition originated of kissing under the mistletoe. But, when  the Church banned mistletoe because it was apparently a heathen custom, some farmers suggested using holly instead. Holly has therefore become another trademark of Christmas. 

Trees, as you might already know, came through Martin Luther and St. Boniface. The Norse people thought their god Thor lived in a tree. St. Boniface cut down the so-called Tree of Thor to undermine this myth, and he found a fir growing in its branches. He then decided to take the fir home. Martin Luther, however, decided it would be a good idea if those trees were a Christmas celebration. He saw it as an alternative to the traditional Catholic nativity scenes. And that is how they came around to be Christmas symbol.

Surprisingly, every Christmas plant has an interesting historical story behind it. 

Christmas Tree Cutting in the National Forests

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Christmastreecutting.jpgThe day after Thanksgiving means the beginning of the Christmas season. The radios begin playing Christmas carols as people put up their lights and decorations. Bits of wrapping paper deck the floors as people hurry to hide their presents. Kids wonder what they'll get as they try to surprise their family with some useless -- but essential -- item. Nativity plays are written and then rehearsed at the top of the actors' lungs.

But the Christmas tree plays just as big a part of the festivities as any of those things. Traditionally, Dad carries it in, Mom puts the lights on it, and finally the kids get to help decorate it. But as we've learned, getting your tree from the wild adds much more to the whole tradition.

Many national forests across the country allow you to cut your own Christmas tree. When we heard about it for the first time, we thought it sounded suspiciously like logging. However, there are many reasons why it is better than getting one commercially.

By doing this, you are helping with the maintenance of forests. It may be viewed as a better alternative to prescribed burns or selective logging. When clumps of trees are too close to each other, they don't get enough light to grow properly. So, if you choose a tree that's standing next to at least one more, it will make the other trees in the stand healthier. Usually, forests not offering this program have to either use prescribed burns to remove stands of trees and dry wood that is a potential fire hazard or hire people to cut down some of the trees. They have to do something, or wildfires will start easily and quickly get out of control. So you're also helping to make forests safer.

Additionally, places with a large demand for trees set a limit on obtainable permits. In the desert states, where trees are not as common as in other places, available permits may total just above 6,000. However, where self-serve Christmas trees are not as popular, there may not be any limit at all. Besides this rule, there may also be restrictions regarding how many trees one family may take. The numbers can vary from one per family to five per person, so it's a good idea to clarify this if you plan to get more than one Christmas tree.

It is illegal to cut the top part off a tree. Accordingly, the highest you can cut is six inches off the ground. In some places, the circumference of the trunk also has to be six inches or less. Still, I would recommend following this rule whether it is enforced or not, because the trees with thicker trunks are older and will take longer to grow back. Chainsaws are also prohibited. Another general rule is that you're supposed to cut at least fifty feet from the road. In most places, however, there are specific plots indicated with ropes or ribbons for cutting trees and you don't have to worry about that.

chorusfrog.jpgGetting a Christmas tree that has already been cut can have its own problems. In 2009, Washington sent shipments of Christmas trees to Alaska. Unfortunately, live Pacific Chorus frogs had made their homes in the trees. This species of frog can carry fungi or viruses, including the chytrid fungus that has killed amphibians on many continents. The frogs were not native to Alaska, and residents were told to kill the frogs if they found them in their tree. In 2007, a load of Washington trees headed for Hawaii was redirected to Alaska when they found two yellow jacket queens and a kind of hornet riding on them. Hawaii is much stricter than Alaska about what it lets in (they probably learned from the mice, mongooses and mosquitoes introduced by early settlers), and requires trees to be shaken by a machine before entering the islands. No matter where you live, introducing non-native species is a problem.

If there is a national forest near where you live, you can find out if they allow Christmas tree harvesting. (Do not rule yourself out because you live in the Great Plains. Both Nebraska and South Dakota actually allow cutting Christmas trees in their national forests.) For most national forests, their websites list details under the "Passes and Permits" section.

It's a good idea to know what species of tree you're allowed to cut. In Florida, bushy sand pines are available. In one New Mexico forest, any species of conifer is available. In Arizona, it varies by forest. In two of them, you can take any species of tree; one is exclusively firs; another only pinon or juniper trees. In some Colorado forests, you are obliged to take the yellow-green lodgepole pine.

Directions are also important so that you make sure you end up going to the right forest. In California, both the Mendocino National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin do allow people to take trees, but the nearby (and easily confused) El Dorado National Forest penalizes those who do.

Finally, cutting your own Christmas tree in the forest is an experience that is entirely unmatched by going to most tree lots. Finding a tree yourself is unforgettable -- although it does help if you remember to bring a camera!

Less Fog Means Withering Redwoods?

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rdwd1.jpgBesides the obvious issues that global warming introduces, like the melting of the polar icecaps or the rising ocean levels, issues affecting smaller areas are still disastrous. They are determining the future of our everyday lives and the land set aside permanently as national parks. According to a recent National Geographic news article, redwood trees, the world's tallest living things, may go extinct. We might have seen them just in time.

When we were staying in CA, sometimes we would be driving in at night. We lived about 45 minutes away from the beach, so the fog would drift in over the road and make it nearly impossible to see. We would cross over Golden Gate Bridge and look down at the gently rolling mists. While they made it harder to drive, they were also essential to the survival of these botanical giants.

The clouds kept the conifers moist, at exactly the climate they required. A hundred years ago, there was no threat from global warming. A university study said that there has been a 33 percent reduction in the amount of coastal fog produced today when compared to the data from a century ago.

The redwoods only live in the humid areas near the coast, where the fog keeps them watered. Because they have adapted to this ecosystem, they cannot live long in a drought by shutting down their systems to conserve water, as other desert plants do. This means that if there is nothing that can be done, the redwoods may dry out and wither. Some other species of tree, however, can adjust to living with less fog by not growing as quickly as they do in years when water is plentiful.

We went to Humboldt State Park on a mostly overcast, cold day. Logging had thinned many of the forests; the largest existing piece of hewn redwood, made into one person's RV, is on display at the park's visitor center. Early environmentalists had preserved large groves, which have been turned into state parks. To this day, the groves bear names like "Founders Grove," or "Rockefeller's Grove," after these early conservationists.

The tallest tree blew over in a storm a few years before and became a "nurse log." Nurse logs are decaying trees that provide the necessary nutrients for other plants to grow. Saplings, fungi, ferns, and lichen are common plants that sprout from the reddish-brown bark. Insects, like beetles and ants, live in the log's crevices. In places humid enough, these are also home to banana slugs and snails.

As well as being an impressive species themselves, these trees are essential to many other kinds of life. The terrible fact that they are in danger means that if they do not live, their ecosystem will be seriously disrupted. This issue is another reminder that the choices we make in our everyday lives do have consequences and therefore we need to decide to do everything in a manner that will not harm the planet. The fate of these giants is uncertain, the fate even of our planet is uncertain, and it's our actions that will determine it.

Sea Rockets: Incredible Sibling Plants

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srcktcmbndpctrs.jpgA small plant lies far out on a sand dune near the British Coast. You can tell that the brown and withered buds on the plant used to be beautiful white flowers.

Sea Rockets are incredible sibling plants. They can tell whether the plant next to them was sprouted from an unrelated seed or from the same mother tree.

When they sense that the foliage next to them belongs to a sister plant by using chemical signals, they don't compete with the others. But when they are in a place alone with other species, the Sea Rocket sends out more and more roots so it can become more established than its competitors.

There is a theory that plants can see, think and have some kind of communication, and this is proof. It seems that plants should be able to know what they're doing if they are able to droop when touched (The Shy Plant) or dance in the windowsill (Dancing Grass).



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