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.


Plant Science for Gardeners

How Plants WorkNew gardening books seem to pop up as regularly as springtime dandelions. Most simply rehash what has been said before—perhaps with a new twist or better photos. But How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do (Science for Gardeners) isn’t your typical treatise on how to grow what. Instead, the author, Linda Chalker-Scott, explains the “why” behind the “how.”

An extension urban horticulturist and associate professor at Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University, Chalker-Scott knows what she’s talking about. This is her third book on horticulture, but there is a lot more. She’s written a series of articles on “Horticultural Myths” that I strongly urge you to read. Then, learn more at “The Informed Gardener,” a series of podcasts, or the informative Garden Professors website. She’s also a driving force behind the Gardening Professors Facebook blog (an extremely helpful research-based Q&A site).


Phloem is for “Phood”

Cercidium  sp. - Palo Verde Tree @PBG 2004apr18 LAH 003Last week’s post about xylem explained how it carries water from the roots to the rest of a plant. But there’s another transportation problem that plants have to solve. As you know, plants make food (sugars) through photosynthesis. (See my previous posts on photosynthesis.) This food factory requires both chlorophyll and sunlight, and can only take place in the green parts of a plant. Usually this means the leaves, although cacti and other xeric species (such as this Palo Verde, above right) often have chlorophyll in their stems.


Botany for Gardeners: Phloem & Xylem

Aspen_EmeraldValley-CO_LAH_4270Today’s (and next week’s) botany lessons are brought to you by “xylem” and “phloem.” You may remember these terms from a biology class, but I bet you haven’t used them lately. It’s time you did. You’ll be a better gardener as a result. Besides, I used to teach biology, and once a teacher, always a teacher. There will even be a quiz at the end.

Like all forms of life, plants have to solve a very important problem: how do you move nutrients and water from one part of your body to another? Animals (at least the more complicated ones) have a circulatory system, but what do plants do?


A Plant by Any Other Name…

Blue Columbine - Aquilegia caeruleaHow do you pronounce Gomphocarpus physocarpus? What is it? And how can we ever remember how to spell it? What’s Aquilegia caerulea? You might know it as Colorado’s native Blue Columbine (right). Or how about Symphyotrichum novae-angliae? Isn’t it simpler just to say New England Aster? Scientific names are enough to drive gardeners crazy, so why in the world do we need to bother with them?

Scientific names, also called Latin names, can be annoying, but they serve a valuable purpose. We owe a huge thank you to Carl von Linné, the Swedish biologist who, back in the 1700s, invented what we now call binomial nomenclature. He also had the bright idea to use Latin, or at least to Latinize the words from another language, in order to avoid giving preference to any nationality. Scientists all around the world use the same Latin name to designate a particular species.


Seeds: Plants in Suspended Animation

Last month we talked about plant sex. If you missed that post, you can read it here. I’ll also post the same diagram from last time, from the University of Illinois Extension, so you can refer to it as we go along:flower12Imagine that the flowers in your garden are in full bloom. (I know, it’s still winter, but you can pretend.) The bees have been busy, and pollen from an anther has arrived at another flower’s stigma.  Now what?