Entries Tagged as 'Plantastic Mysteries'

Scientists Solve Mystery of World-Traveling Plant

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


By land or by sea? That’s the question scientists have been pondering for decades when it comes to the bottle gourd, a plant with a hard-skinned fruit that’s used by cultures all over the world to make lightweight containers and other tools. Archaeologists know that people were using domesticated bottle gourds in the Americas as early as 10,000 years ago. But how did the plant make the jump from its original home in Africa to the New World with an ocean in the way? A new study overturns previous evidence pointing to a human-assisted land migration and concludes that the bottle gourd floated across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas on its own.

Humans rarely eat the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), but rather dry out its fruit and fashion it into containers, tools like fishing floats or pipes, or even musical instruments. The plant comes in two subspecies linked to their geography: one from Africa, where the plant first evolved, and one from Asia. Researchers have long wondered whether the New World bottle gourds are more closely related to the African or Asian subspecies. If they could build a bottle gourd family tree, they thought, they might be able to figure out how the plant reached the Americas in the first place. Did it float over on ocean currents from Africa, the prevailing assumption until about 10 years ago, or did humans carry the plant with them when they walked across the Bering land bridge from Asia?

“It was a real puzzle,” says Bruce Smith, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Then, in 2005, a study was published that seemed to solve the mystery once and for all. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers analyzed the genetics of bottle gourds for the first time and found that pre-Columbian bottle gourds in the Americas appeared to be more closely related to the Asian subspecies than the African one. They concluded that the ancestors of New World bottle gourds must have been carried by people as they made their way across Asia, over the Bering land bridge, and down into the Americas.

But many scientists—including several of the study’s authors—had “lingering questions” about that hypothesis, says Andrew Clarke, a plant biologist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, U.K. and an author of the 2005 study. Most glaringly, how could the bottle gourd, a tropical plant, make it through years of traveling across the Arctic? And if humans carried it with them across the Bering land bridge, why is there no archaeological evidence of bottle gourds in Siberia, Alaska, or the Pacific Northwest?

Read Full Article Here

Can Plants Think?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


photo by Eric Hunt

Scientists debate a new way of understanding flora.

The leaflets of the Mimosa pudica, or “sensitive plant,” fold up when touched. It’s “that rare plant species with a behavior so speedy and visible that animals can observe it,” writes Michael Pollan.

In his latest piece for The New Yorker, Michael Pollan discusses the scientific controversy regarding the field of “plant neurobiology,” and whether plant intelligence exists. Some plants, he writes, can hear caterpillars chomping on a neighbor’s leaves. Others display altruistic behavior towards kin, restraining their growth to allow relatives to thrive. But is any of that evidence of intelligence?


Medicinal Plants And Their Health Benefits

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Nature has offered and bestowed us with a large collection of useful herbs, plants and trees. The number of useful medicinal plants and herbs may surprise you and the types of medicinal uses they have may leave you stunned. There are many important medicinal properties and due to these, some plants can help fight fever, provide pain relief and cure various kinds of infections and allergies as well. Let’s find out about some of the best medicinal plants and their benefits.


California Poppy

This plant is an effective nervine which means that it is an anxiety reliever and is safe to be used also in the case of children.  This plant also helps to provide quick relief from nervousness and tension and this can be done by converting it into tea.

Blood Flower

Blood Flower

This is a type of a tropical milkweed which has long been favoured as a heart stimulant and is also effective as a worm repellent.



Tansy is another really popular medicinal plant which too has many kinds of benefits and advantages. This plant is often used for flavouring beers and stews.  It is also a very good insect repellent and is used for this by people across many countries where it is grown.  Rubbing this plant on the skin can make it a good bug repellent as well.


Korian Mint

Korian mint or regular old mint has many health benefits as well as medicinal properties. It helps in soothing headaches, calming the stomach and also fighting nausea. This plant can also prove to be effective in reducing nervousness and fatigue.  Since it is an antiviral, it helps to fight colds and flu as well.

Plantastic Mysteries: Bio-Electric Plants

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

photo by (Flickr/CCHarmon)

illustration via Engineering and Technology Magazine

Harnessing Solar Energy from Plants

According to Science World Report “Plants are tiny powerhouses. They have the amazing ability to convert sunlight into the energy that they need to conduct internal processes that allow them to survive. If it were possible to duplicate photosynthesis, a large number of the world’s energy problems could be solved. Now, scientists have made an important step forward when it comes to creating artificial photosynthesis. They’ve created a tiny “antenna” to collect sunlight that involves combining self-assembling DNA molecules with simple dye molecules.”

An article published in Wired magazine claims that “Scientists are researching the potential of photo microbial fuel cells, or photo-MFCs, which are essentially potted plants that act like miniature power plants and transform sunlight into electricity that can power iPads. They aren’t as efficient as traditional photovoltaic solar cells, but are more eco-friendly to manufacture.”

Plantastic Mysteries: How Flowering Plants Changed the World

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Photo by Shotaku

Continuing with the spring floral vibes, I dug up some fun facts about flowers on National Geographic. We can all agree that flowers are beautiful and  smell delightful, too (well, most of them anyway). But if it weren’t for flowers, we wouldn’t exist. “As a food source flowering plants provide us and the rest of the animal world with the nourishment that is fundamental to our existence. Botanists call flowering plants angiosperms, from the Greek words for “vessel” and “seed.” Today flowering plant species outnumber by twenty to one those of ferns and cone-bearing trees, or conifers, which had thrived for 200 million years before the first bloom appeared.

“Before flowering plants appeared,” says Dale Russell, a paleontologist with North Carolina State University and the State Museum of Natural Sciences, “the world was like a Japanese garden: peaceful, somber, green; inhabited by fish, turtles, and dragonflies. After flowering plants, the world became like an English garden, full of bright color and variety, visited by butterflies and honeybees. Flowers of all shapes and colors bloomed among the greenery.”

Insects doubtless began visiting and pollinating angiosperms as soon as the new plants appeared on Earth some 130 million years ago. But it would be another 30 or 40 million years before flowering plants grabbed the attention of insect pollinators by flaunting flashy petals. Sometime between 70 and 100 million years ago the number of flowering plant species on Earth exploded, an event botanists refer to as the “great radiation.” The spark that ignited that explosion, said Friis, was the petal.

Eventually humans evolved, and the two kingdoms made another handshake. Through agriculture angiosperms met our need for sustenance. We in turn have taken certain species like corn and rice and given them unprecedented success, cultivating them in vast fields, pollinating them deliberately, consuming them with gusto. Virtually every nonmeat food we eat starts as a flowering plant, while the meats, milk, and eggs we consume come from livestock fattened on grains—flowering plants. Even the cotton we wear is an angiosperm.”

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