All in the Family

karin, leslie and willow_everett-wa_lah_3765Did you know that plants come in families?

You may remember learning taxonomy in your high school biology class. Way back when, I taught my classes of 15-year-olds the seven levels of classification: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. (Since that time, scientists have been busy, and we now have domains, which precede kingdoms.) All these can have super- and sub- added to their names, as well. If you’re talking about plants, “phylum” is replaced by “division” and “order” is sometimes replaced by “series,” just to keep things as confusing as possible. Continue reading “All in the Family”

What Plant is This?

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I was looking through my camera downloads for blog-topic inspiration when I noticed that I have many lovely photos of pretty flowers, but no idea what they are. Some were taken in exotic (at least compared to Colorado) locales, others at our local gardens. It’s past time I get around to identifying these plants. And if I have a need to identify my mystery plants, maybe you do too. Here is how I go about putting names to pretty plant faces.

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A Recipe for Botany

blog captureAre you a gardener, or interested in gardening? How about going deeper and delving into a bit of botany? Do you like to cook? I find great satisfaction in planting a seed, nurturing the crop to harvest, then discovering the tastiest way to prepare the results. Plus, I want to understand the plant I’m eating. That’s why I was so excited to discover a new-to-me blog, The Botanist in the Kitchen. (I’ve added it to my list of links for your convenience.)

I immediately realized that the two authors, PhD biologists Katherine Preston and Jeanne Osnas, are my kind of people. In fact, it was blog-love at first sight.

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Vampire Plants

Humpback_anglerfishWhen I think of parasites, I typically think of creatures such as tapeworms, fleas, ticks, and leeches—nasty invertebrates that drain the life out of us humans. Then, I might recall that some higher animals can also be parasites, such as the deep sea anglerfish. You’ve likely seen pictures of anglerfish, with their huge, pointy teeth in a large head, followed by a tapering body. When these fish mate, the male permanently attaches itself to the female and lives off her bloodstream for the rest of his life, his sperm his only contribution.  (See National Geographic’s video of a particularly beautiful anglerfish species.)

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Slimy Lady’s Fingers

Okra @DC LAH 229I’m really not a fussy eater. While I draw the line at some animal parts (Rocky Mountain oysters, anyone?) and various invertebrates (no deep-fried scorpions in my diet!), I’m not nearly as fussy about dining on plants. Of course, I think some plants taste better than others—I’m a big fan of broccoli, artichokes, and papayas, for example, while I tend to avoid cucumbers and those bitter Italian greens—but for the most part, if it’s prepared well, I’ll eat it.

Except.

I don’t do okra. I’ve had okra (also known as lady’s fingers or gumbo) in soups, stewed, curried, stir-fried, roasted, deep fried, and in various other random recipes that my friends—skilled in the culinary arts—assured me I’d love. All I can say is, they were wrong. I admit, I like the flavor. No problem there. But the slime gets me every time.

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Aspen Gold

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One of the joys of living in Colorado is the gorgeous gold of the aspen in fall. Other regions may boast more colorful foliage—the reds and purples of the hardwood forests to the east, for example—but nowhere else do we get the combination of cobalt blue skies, spectacular mountain scenery, and shimmering golden leaves. Such a treat is not to be missed, so we recently joined some friends and went leaf “peeping.”

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Thigmo-what?

LAH_5161My pole beans, which got a rather late start, are finally climbing their way up the strings on my bean tower. I’m always impressed that the plants know just what to do. Those reaching tendrils that come into contact with the string immediate start to coil around it, securing themselves to the support. A few plants were still free, waving in the light breeze. I tucked them between the two strands of twine, so they too could wind their way upward.

A few rows over, my pea vines have their tendrils securely wrapped around the netting I put up for them. We all know that pole beans climb and pea tendrils wrap, but I wondered how they knew to do so. After all, most plants don’t have this ability.

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