Tree or grass allergies

Fingers holding tiny flowers with red stems

Ash tree flowers


Spring, summer, and fall are all allergy season for some unfortunate people who are allergic to pollen. In spring, it’s early-flowering, wind-pollinated trees. They release large amounts of pollen in hopes that a few grains will find their way to a waiting flower. Because they don’t need to attract insects, they are small and inconspicuous. In summer, the grasses take over — and people can be allergic to both grass and trees. In fall, it’s the weeds such as ragweed. Perhaps due to global warming, the ragweed season has lengthened by almost a month in Canada.

You can read about pollen allergies here.

Weather Network gallery

It’s always good to remember that weather is both heartless and beautiful, to watch out for its vagaries and to enjoy its beauty. The Weather Network Gallery is a good place to browse through hundreds of beautiful images in several categories: scenes of the season, active weather, beautiful weather, animals, gardening, outdoor activities, and travel.


Aphids can make carotenoids to capture solar energy



Aphids can make their own carotenoids and may be able to capture chemical energy directly from the sun. Green or orange individuals contain more carotenoids and more ATP than white ones. The secret of plant growth is that they capture photons and use them to create high-energy atomic bonds that can be used elsewhere to run chemical reactions that build plant material.

Unlike other organisms, they are not ingesting or otherwise harbouring photosynthetic symbionts such as bacteria or algae. They are making their own photosynthetic chemicals. They may not be able to do full photosynthesis as plants do, but among animals they are unique.

It will be interesting to find out how they evolved this unique (for animals) biochemical machinery.

New phylogeny research for seed-bearing plants

A massive analysis of 23,000 sets of genes representing most genera of plants has produced what the New York Times calls a makeover for the tree of life. They used the genomes from 150 plants but used supercomputers to identify groups of genes to compare. The seed-bearing plants go back 300 million years, to cycads and conifers, which are gymnosperms–plants with naked seeds unprotected by tough coatings. Those with protected seeds are called angiosperms.

The computer flagged certain proteins as having special significance for the functioning of plants, which could be the keys to important evolutionary relationships. Of the hundreds identified, the scientists randomly selected a few for testing, which confirmed their hunch that those proteins were responsible for plants’ following different evolutionary roads. Some of these relationships date back 300 million years, when the first gymnosperms, the group that includes pines and ginkgos, appeared.

Among other things, they’ve solved the position of gnetophytes.

The scientists organized the results into a phylogenomic tree according to their evolutionary interrelatedness, which included some surprising insights. For example, gnetophytes, a group that consists of shrubs and woody vines, are the most primitive nonflowering seed plants, according to the researchers’ analysis. Those plants date back to the Mesozoic “age of the dinosaurs” and form the base of the evolutionary tree of seed plants.

Here is one of the phylogenetic trees that resulted from this massive re-analysis:

Seed-bearing plants

Classic Orac on “CAM Natural”

Orac of Respectful Insolence points out the flaws and follies of Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s touting of  “natural” medicine. I like to spell it out because when I see “CAM” I think Crassulacean Acid Metabolism.

Oldest living plant clone

In a sense, this qualifies as “oldest living plant.” However, this grove of shrubs in Tasmania is really a colony of genetically identical, vegetatively propagated clones: “World’s oldest plant?

A team of Tasmanian botanists claims to have found the world’s oldest living plant–a vast, low-growing, one-of-a-kind shrub born more than 43,000 years ago. If their conclusions are accurate, this Lomatia tasmanica, a member of Proteaceae family otherwise known as King’s holly, would be more than three times as old as the previous record holder, a 13,000-year-old box huckleberry in Pennsylvania

The leader of the research team, Rene Vaillancourt, a plant geneticist at the University of Tasmania, says the plant ranges over an area of 1.2 km. Its age–about 43,600 years–was estimated using carbon-14 dating of charcoal found along with fossilized leaf fragments. The fragments themselves were too fragile to date, he says.

Vaillancourt admits that there is no direct evidence linking the plant fossil to the living representative. But he says the time it would take for the slow-growing organism, which scientists have been monitoring for several years, to spread so broadly in the nutrient-poor soil is consistent with the isotope dating. A report on the discovery is to appear next January in the Australian Journal of Botany.

Discovered in 1934, the plant is the only known example of its species. “We’re trying to keep the exact location secret,” says Vaillancourt, noting only that it lives in a rainforest in the protected World Heritage Area in southwest Tasmania. It has shiny green leaves, 10 to 20 centimeters in length, dissected like other hollies; red flowers that bloom off the leaf tips; and about 200 stems. This specimen is sterile, propagating itself by sending out rhizomes, or roots.

Summer Invitation

Look what you can do with a shallow depth of field for your camera. It looks almost like an Impressionist painting.

Summer Invitation, originally uploaded by Joel Olives.

Flat, composite flowers blow in the breeze. Beyond a few inches, they’re out of focus.

Mystery fruit identified

Almost four years ago I posted a picture of some yellow fruit that I found growing on a tree in Southern California.

Today, a discussion of almonds and peach pits turned into a random browse of fruit trees in the family Rosaceae and I found a picture of my mystery fruit: It’s a loquat. And they’re edible.

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