Archive for August 2011

Boo On Spider Mites

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

Another gem from Denim and Tweed today: “Making themselves at home: Spider mites disable plant defenses, then spin their own.” That might offer a clue to why it’s so hard to get rid of spider mite infestations once you’ve got ‘em—the first round might prep your plants to make it easier for the second wave (or rather, more difficult to fend off the second wave). Plants and insects have such complicated relationships…

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A Rose By Any Other Name

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

I was discussing the value of botanical taxonomic accuracy with my beau the other day. Apparently, taxonomy is a hot topic this week—I just stumbled across a post about taxonomy as a field through a recent Denim and Tweed post. The post brings up good points about the paper it mentions (the lack of analysis of overall biological field growth being chief among them), although it doesn’t get into the discussion about the inherent value of taxonomic reassignments, which was the topic of my exchange.

Why keep moving plants around the hierarchy? Why give them such funky names?

Well, say that one plant species is plodding along happily in its genus for decades. Suddenly, the Taxonomists of Doom reassign it to a different genus on the basis of new (likely genetic) data. The new genus was previously thought to have been reproductively incompatible with the old genus, so no one tried to hybridize this plant with members of its new genus. But this reassignment offers new opportunity for hybridizing and introducing potentially competitive traits into, say, agricultural or commercially important landscaping plants that wouldn’t have otherwise been considered.

That is a hypothetical, though not improbable, scenario. But consider also reassignment of plants into genuses that are known for their pharmaceutical benefit—screening every single species of every genus is an extremely tall order. If a plant, on the basis of new genetic information, were reassigned to a genus that is more commonly associated with producing compounds with commercial or medical application, why, that plant might offer new opportunities for drugs or other beneficial products.

The crazy Latin and ancient Greek naming system might not make sense to my beau, who would prefer that the species be numbered like the Borg do, but these names also tell us something about the plants—their physical characteristics, where they were first discovered, the environment they grow in, or other plants they may be associated with—without ever even having to see the plant.

Perhaps because I’ve spent time around plants and biological research, the descriptive hierarchical naming system does make sense to me. And, as a gardener, I do get irked when I discover a plant I have been calling one name had actually been reassigned years ago. But the irksomeness doesn’t come from the shifting nature of plants’ names but rather more from myself not confirming the name’s accuracy. I have started to use The Plant List, which has popped up a lot on botanical blogs I follow, to confirm (or at least check the spelling of) plant names when I purchase a new plant or stash of seeds. It is nice to have at least some sort of reference, if plant name accuracy is important to you. It does, sometimes, seem to lack certain plants—but then, some of the ones I grow are hard enough to find even on Google!

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More Gas, Less Drag

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

I don’t usually get superexcited about physics. There are plenty of topics in the more cranial sciences that make my eyes spin around in their sockets. But when you drop superheated metal spheres into vats of liquid and race them, anyone can get stoked about the topic—especially when you can correlate the balls’ movement with that of stealthy submarines or speedster race cars.

Last month, I had the chance to interview Ivan Vakarelski of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology about his team’s well-featured research that had been published in Physical Review Letters.

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Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

It has been a few days since I landed back in Washington, DC. My smuggling attempt was successful--all of the plants, cuttings, and seeds I brought made it through just fine. Now I just have to see whether they'll root. Some don't look quite happy, especially Radrumnia x Tolumnia 'Charlie' and my Dendrobium loddigesii.

This blog will be nixed as I switch back over to The Indoor Garden(er) in the coming weeks. I'll be importing these posts to that blog and probably reformatting it to look and feel more like this one.

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Natural products in Burkina Faso

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

For my first Tumblr post, I’m totally self-promoting my own writing: the last article I wrote for Chemical & Engineering News about the life and research of Mouhoussine Nacro, a natural products chemist in Burkina Faso studying nutrition and natural dye processing techniques.

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Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

So. It has come to this: I am returning home. Much sooner than I had anticipated. But a long-distance relationship is terribly difficult, and it is more important to me than any professional opportunity could be.

Thus, my plants are caught in a sticky situation.

Try getting a phytosanitary certificate from the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture at all, let alone during Ramadan. Not going to happen. So I am going to attempt a sneak.

These two baggies contain about 35 plants--can you believe it? Bulbs, leaf cuttings, bareroot plants--the works. I also have most of the few dozen seed packets I recently purchased (some of the ones I sowed had too few seeds to really split them up, but I can get more if I'd like).

Let's hope customs doesn't ask questions...


Pretty Plants: Adenium sp.

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

Unknown Adendium sp. in the landscaping near my apartment at KAUST.


Announcing A New Blog

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

In my previous life, I occasionally shared posts that were unrelated to plants. They were about volunteer events (often related to plants, or at least sustainability, which sometimes go hand in hand), travel (sometimes related to plants), food (almost always had plants in it somewhere), and my weight-loss journey and physical activities (completely unrelated to plants).

I am making a greater distinction about the content included on this blog, however. And so soon, I'm breaking away from that. But just this once. I wanted to share my new venture: my exercise log, Bagging The Baggage.

In the tumult in the past year, I reached my goal weight on Weight Watchers, then proceeded to balloon out and gain 20 pounds back while preparing for the move to and actually living in Saudi Arabia. It has been an incredible struggle to get back down to 200 pounds, and I haven't been able to stay under it (except when I had Doha-belly and could barely eat for a week), let alone reach my goal of 185 pounds again. The emotional stresses and lack of a community of support surrounding healthy eating and physical activity make it difficult for me to maintain the physique I had achieved just this past March. Then, I had a personal trainer once a week, semiregular Weight Watchers meetings, parkour bootcamps three times a week, and a whole heck of a lot of friends and acquaintances with various health- and activity-related goings-on that encouraged me to be conscious of my choices. Here, I haven't built such a structure of people in my life, and I find it difficult to maintain what I once did on a regular basis.

To encourage myself to formulate some sort of routine, I will keep a log on Bagging The Baggage of any physical activity that is more than a usual commute--gym, classes, group bicycle rides, and the like. I also plan on doing exercise videos, logs of the machines and equipment I use, and showcasing areas that I may do other exercises (for example: parkour). Hopefully, this will help keep me more accountable than just to myself--because I know that doesn't work for me.

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