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Tag Archives: botany

Museum’s Charlie Brown Tree Gets “Spruced Up”

This January what I like to call the Museum’s “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” in the Arctic/Subarctic gallery, got polished up with some new paint and a new background. It’s still lopsided as ever (it did grow in the arctic after all) but now it has some friends in the background. This often missed mini-diorama is about Manitoba’s treeline: the part of the province where trees start to disappear.   The black spruce (Picea mariana) tree in the diorama is known as a “krummholz”, a German word that means “crooked wood”. Krummholz trees grow in environments that are extremely difficult to survive in, including the far north and the tops of…

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Oh no, mistletoe

Although Christmas is considered to be a “Christian” holiday, many of the rituals we associate with it, such as kissing under mistletoe, are actually pagan in origin. European mistletoe (Viscum album) was considered to be a magical plant by Druidic priests because it mysteriously grew on the branches of trees without its roots reaching the soil. Further, it stayed green in winter, and produced its berries in November and December when other plants were going dormant. Druidic priests collected mistletoe from oak trees to hang in homes in the hopes that it would ward off evil. The custom of kissing under it might have grown from a Scandinavian myth regard…

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WHY I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT HOUSEPLANTS

When people find out I’m a botanist they always start asking me about their houseplants. Unfortunately, I really don’t know much about houseplants as they are pretty much all tropical or desert plants, not native species, which is where my expertise lies. Not wanting to seem rude by saying “how should I know what’s wrong with your stupid Ficus”, I began thinking about the things I could say using my knowledge about plant ecology. The best advice I was able to come up with is to learn about where your houseplant comes from originally and use that information to adjust how you treat your plant. In this spirit, here is…

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What a difference a year makes

One of the first papers on pollination I tried to publish got rejected because I had data from only one field season. So I withdrew the paper and did another year of research. But why is having two years of data so important? It is mainly because the world is a messy place. This year I conducted a second year of pollinator surveys at the Yellow Quill Prairie Preserve. One thing I learned was that the flowering season starts much earlier than I had anticipated. Initially I thought August would be the month with the most flowers blooming but now I know that May has more due to the abundance…

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I always feel like something is watching me

Usually when I do field work I’m by myself. But sometimes I get the feeling that I’m being watched. The main things that have been watching me this year are the cows. The Yellow Quill Prairie Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, is sustainably grazed by a herd of cows. Aside from using some of my plot stakes as scratching posts and knocking them down, they generally leave me alone and I leave them alone. Sometimes, though, they get a little curious and stare at me with those slightly vacant eyes as if they are expecting me to do something spectacular, and that’s when I start to feel…

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Spring has sprung

Once again I am studying pollinators at the Nature Conservancy’s Yellow Quill Prairie Preserve (http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/where-we-work/manitoba/featured-projects/yellow_quill_prairie.html) just south of Canadian Forces Base Shilo. Last year I made the mistake of starting my field surveys too late and missed the blooming of a number of early flowering plants like prairie crocus (Anemone patens), three-flowered avens (Geum triflorum) and chickweed (Cerastium arvense). This year I did my first survey on May 11, which was already almost too late for the crocuses but just in time for the others. Spring is not the busiest time on the prairies as bee populations are not at their peak yet. However, it is a very important time…

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Make Goldenrods Great Again!

This is a blog about pollination. It’s gonna be great! You’ll love it. I write the best blogs. There’s this one plant—it’s a Goldenrod—it is THE best plant for pollinators. Manitoba has THE best plants for pollinators. Not like Ontario. All the pollinators love Goldenrod: bees, flies, butterflies, moths—even beetles. All the other plants in the prairie—losers. Can’t attract the pollinators! Can’t do it! But that Goldenrod! So many pollinators visit it that there’s this bug—it’s an ambush bug—that it sits on the Goldenrod and eats the pollinators that show up. It eats them! Totally devours them! Nothing left but a pathetic husk. Sad. Goldenrods are the best. They used…

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More about Mycorrhizae

Have you ever seen an uprooted tree while walking in a forest? If so, you might have noticed strands of white thread-like structures attached to the tree roots and running through the soil. What you were seeing were mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi surround and bind almost all of the plants growing in an ecosystem together. Some of them, like the honey fungus (Armillaria mellea) are even luminous, glowing in the dark. The honey fungus is also the world’s largest organism (that we know of, at least); one specimen stretches for an astounding 2.4 miles (3.8 km) (Ferguson et al. 2003)! This fungus is attached to hundreds of trees, which are…

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Mycorrhizal Mushrooms

Have you ever wondered why the only fresh mushrooms you can get in stores are button, cremini and portabello (all different varieties and stages of Agaricus bisporus)? Or why the fancy mushrooms, like morels (Morchella spp.) and chanterelles (Cantharellus spp.) are generally only available dried? And why are those dried mushrooms so expensive anyway? Can’t they just plant them in a field like wheat? To understand the answer to these questions, you need to know a few things about what mushrooms really are. A long time ago scientists classified all organisms as either “plants” or “animals” largely based on whether they had a means of locomotion. For this reason, mushrooms…

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Legacies of Confederation: Endangered Orchids

When Manitoba became part of Canada in 1870 the stage was set for one of the largest land transformations in history. In the last 150 years nearly all of Manitoba’s wild prairies fell to the plough. The little patches that remain as ranch land, private nature preserves, and federal and provincial crown lands are home to a suite of increasingly rare organisms, among them two spectacular prairie orchids: Western Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera praeclara) and Small White Lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium candidum).  Models of these two species are on display in the Manitoba Museums’ Legacies of Confederation: A New Look at Manitoba History exhibit. Found only in moist, tall grass prairies with calcium-rich or alkaline…

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