Top 10 Hedgerow Plants

Hello! I have been working on my dissertation for my masters which is all about hedgerows and their conservation. This has meant I’ve got to know the plants in Cornish hedgerows really well so without further a do here are 10 of my favourites!

  1. Red Campion (Silene dioica) – This is one of the most common wild flowers I found as part of my research. Traditional medicines used the seeds to treat snakebites and its genus name comes from the greek word sialon which means saliva.
  2. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) – Easily the plant I was most aware of in my research because I had all the stings to prove I had found it. However, stinging nettles have their place in the hedgerow and provide an excellent habitat and food source for lots of my favourite butterflies.
  3. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – This was one of the main shrubs I found in my hedgerows. It can be extremely dense but provide food and habitat for up to 300 different species of insect. It was once said that if you brought a hawthorn blossom into your house illness and death were to follow so perhaps admire this plant from afar.
  4. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) – Another common hedgerow shrub also known by the name of sloe bush. It’s berries are commonly made into sloe gin but another interesting fact is that blackthorn wood was associated with witchcraft.
  5. Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) – Otherwise known as the species with the best latin name I have ever heard of. I commonly found creeping buttercup at the bottom of hedgerows. It used to be a favourite game of mine and my friends at primary school to hold a buttercup flower underneath each others chins and if you could see the yellow reflection of the flower it meant you liked butter. Not particularly sure why that mattered but it’s still a delightful little flower.
  6. Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) – Fun fact sycamore trees are actually my favourite tree. They have the most beautiful colours in them all year round as the young leaves and stems are red before going green. They are actually an introduced species in the UK but they have been here since the 17th century. They can live for up to 400 years so I think the Sycamore is here to stay!
  7. Fools Parsley (Aethusa cynapium) – This one wasn’t very common so I definitely had to dig around to find it but I did! In some areas it grows quite commonly but every hedge is different.
  8. Dogs Violet (Viola riviana) – This is another very sweet wildflower that I found in my research. If you do happen upon a violet looking flower it’s more than likely going to be this one.
  9. Hazel (Corylus avellana) – This is another very common hedgerow tree. It provides an excellent resource for many other species but often suffers when cut back to vigorously. The stems are very bendy in spring so much that they can be bent into a knot without breaking!
  10. Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) – This species was introduced to the UK in the 19th century as an ornamental species and has since escaped from gardens and can be found in lots of areas. I found some specimens in the base of my hedgerows but was always careful of them as the sap from this species can cause irritation and even blisters.

If you fancy finding out more about hedgerows I’m talking a lot about them in my becoming a master series which comes out on Sundays!

See you soon!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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Why aren’t all plants green?

earlyspring13 025a

As part of my time off I took yet another visit to kew gardens with a friend who had never been before. Every time I go I learn a little something different and this time I was wondering about colours of plants. Most plants are green in colour but not all! Today I thought we would explore why this is?

Why are plants green?

Plants are green because their cells contain chloroplasts which have the pigment chlorophyll. This pigment absorbs deep-blue and red light, so that the rest of the sunlight spectrum is being reflected, causing the plant to look green.

What other plant colours can you get?

Think of a colour any colour, you can almost definitely find a plant that colour! Often the colours are found in the flowers but some plants have different coloured leaves too!

Why do plants have different colours?

Often the colours are an adaptation to attract different pollinators. The colours come from different chemicals that absorb different wavelengths of light leaving different colours behind!

Hope you feel like you’ve learnt something a little different this Wednesday! See you on Sunday!

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The Monthly Species: April

Hello and welcome to Day 24 of BEDA, the end is in sight! Today I’m bringing you one of my favorite plants in the whole world. Fun fact when I go to Kew I always make a trip to the carnivorous plants room because they are just that cool! It is of course the Venus Fly Trap.

Dionaea muscipula

Venus_Flytrap_showing_trigger_hairs

Scientific Classification:

Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Droseraceae
Genus: Dionaea
Species: D. muscipula

Size: Plants are built with a rosette of four to seven leaves. Each stem reaches a maximum size of about three to ten centimeters. The longer leaves with robust traps are usually formed after flowering. Flytraps that have more than seven leaves are colonies formed by rosettes that have divided beneath the ground.

Habitat: Bogs and wet savannah, or areas are nutrient poor. Its actually only native to North and South Carolina in the US. However it has been transplanted to several locations across the world.

Conservation: The species are currently classed as vulnerable in the IUCN red list. In North Carolina there is a law stating that the removal of naturally growing venus fly traps are is a felony.

The Coolest Thing Ever About This Species:

The coolest thing about venus fly traps is of course there carnivorous capabilities. The venus fly trap is adapted to living in poor nutrient soils because it gains nutrients from the insects. The leaves have very sensitive adapted trigger hairs that when they feel pressure the movement is activated. This then closes the two leaves together and the poor insect is trapped. Digestive enzymes are then released which then turns the insect into a kind of mush and the plant can then obtain the nutrients. It’s a bit gory but I find it so cool! I’m sure that says alot about me in some way!

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The Poisons Collection: Blister Bush

imagesNormally the plants I’ve looked at in the poisons collection have had relatively unassuming names. However, the blister bush goes for the more direct approach. This is a plant native to south Africa and grows in partially shady areas on medium to high altitudes. It’s leaves look a little like parsley but the shrub itself can grow up to 2 and a half metres tall.

As the name suggests the blister bush can cause blisters but it does it in a slightly unusual way. The surface of the plants leaves are covered with a cocktail of different chemicals. If you were to walk past it and brush these leaves you wouldn’t feel anything untoward at all. However as soon as the area that touched the leaves is exposed to any UV light thats where the problem starts. The chemicals cause a phototoxic reaction which causes blistering and severe itching. It can be extremely gruesome and from reports it can be extremely painful. Some reports have said that it can be like a bad sunburn.

In terms of treatment there are a few methods to counteract the plants defenses. Firstly being obviously not to touch it and to wear clothing that covers the skin. Secondly is that if you have touched the plant to wash the area immediately, cover it in sun tan lotion and then cover the area to prevent the phototoxic reaction. Thirdly, if the blisters have developed to wash them regularly and to keep covered. Once the itching and weeping of the blisters subsides you can uncover them to let them heal.

Either way I’d stay well away from this rather unassuming plant!

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Jack and The Beanstalk – What is the species of that beanstalk?

“Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman”

Fairyology Episode 7

Jack.png

Hello and welcome to the first of four fairy fridays! Today we’re taking on the fairytale of Jack and the Beanstalk. Lets first take a little run through this little tale! Once upon a time there was a woman and her son Jack. They lived on a small farm but were struggling with money. So the woman told her son to go and sell the cow they had. Instead he returns with three magic beans. Jacks mother was not best pleased about the sale. Jack planted a bean and went to sleep. The next day there was a giant beanstalk. Jack then climbed up the beanstalk to find a giants castle filled with gold, but it also had a white hen (that laid golden eggs) and a harp. Jack took the white hen and harp home as well as all the gold he could carry. His mother was ecstatic but then the giant came calling. Jack quickly chopped down the beanstalk and the giant fell and died! Then Jack his mother, the hen and the harp lived happily ever after (1).

So the beanstalk appeared overnight and it grew right into the heavens. Although I know of no plant to grow overnight there are some very speedy plants. So what could the beanstalk be? Well I have a couple of theories!

Theory 1: Bamboo

I’ve written before about the wonders of bamboo which you can check out here. One of its features is that bamboo is incredibly fast growing! It can grown up to 5 foot a year. Its also an incredibly strong plant  that would allow the perfect climbing frame for Jack to climb up (2).

Theory 2: Mile a minute Vine

As the name suggests this plant grows really fast. Otherwise known as Polygonum baldshuanicum can grow up to 13 feet in a year! The only issue is that it can be a little flimsy but this does make it believable for Jack to be able to cut it down quickly!

Theory 3: Royal Empress Tree

I had to include one tree and this one grows incredibly fast. It can grow up to 80 ft tall and has massive leaves which would be perfect stepping stones for Jack.(4)

Let me know what you think the beanstalk was on my twitter and I’ll see you all tomorrow!

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Sources

(1) = http://www.dltk-teach.com/rhymes/beanstalk/story.htm

(2) =http://www.bamboogarden.com/FAQ%20general.htm

(3) = http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/plant_pages/313.shtml

(4) = https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/details?plantid=1388

The Monthly Species: February

Another month has flown by, as they always do! I’m really excited for spring to finally roll around. So to celebrate that my species of the month is actually a genus! Commonly known as the snowdrop! This genus actually has 20 species and have been cultivated to produce giant snowdrops and even yellow ones! The traditional snowdrop as we know it has the scientific name of Galanthus nivalis.

Galanthus nivalis.jpg

Scientific Classification:

Genus: Galanthus

Size: 7-15cm tall. Natural snowdrops only have one flowerhead growing on one stem.

Habitat: Woodland areas and damp areas

Conservation: 

Some species of snowdrop are under threat in there natural habitats due to habitat destruction, illegal collecting and climate change. Some species have regulation in their trade under CITES.

The Coolest Thing Ever About This Species:

The snowdrop is often considered to be a wildflower in the UK but they weren’t recorded as growing wild until the 1770s and the snowdrop plant may be said to look like three drops of milk hanging from a stem. This accounts for the Latin name Galanthus which means “milk-white flowers”.

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Bamboozling Bamboo

I was rereading a book given to me over Christmas called “50 plants that changed the course of history” by Bill Laws. He wrote about bamboo, now I have studied biology for a number of years now and I’ve watched a few presentations on the wonders of bamboo. However I’ve never written anything much about bamboo myself. Well all that is going to change! Here are 5 things that I find completely bamboozling (fantastic word) about bamboo.

Bamboo

1.Bamboo is a type of grass and is among the fastest growing plants on the planet. One Japanese species rockets skywards at a rate of a metre a day.

2.Bamboo as an ancient herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years in Asia. Often used for its tonic and astringent properties, it is also considered an aphrodisiac.

3. Bamboo has so many practical uses! One of my favourites being it can be used as scaffolding. I went to Hong Kong a few years ago and it was the most amazing site to see massive buildings being built using bamboo as the scaffolding. The picture below has loads more amazing uses!

bb0a3ee756c5c35dbea28592f8877db2.jpg

4.Bamboo produces 30% more oxygen than trees. Bamboo does not need to be replanted, is self generating and can be harvested every three to five years.

5. Bamboo has been used as a trap. Particularly in the Vietnam war where bamboo was shaped into sharp stakes. These stakes could continue to grow and were used in many different traps.

4527222-bamboo-trap-the-least-brutal-of-the-booby-traps-0

Hope you’ve enjoyed todays slightly shorter blog! Also a quick thanks to the new followers here on ThatBiologist, your support means alot! Til next time!

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Mini Wiki 5: But What About Plant Cells?

Last time, it’s here if you didn’t read it, I spoke about animal cells. So this time it seemed only right to talk about plant cells. Are they really all that different from there animal counter parts? Let’s find out! As always if you’re feeling lazy I’ve put my 5 highlights at the end!

animal_vs_plant_cell

How are plant cells different from animal cells?

There are a number of different ways plant cells are different from animal cells. Firstly plant cells have a cell wall. This is outside of the cell membrane that provides protection and structure, it’s made of predominately cellulose. This leads on to another difference and that is shape, plant cells have a more rigid rectangular shape compared to animal cells, which tend to be more varied. Plant cells also contain one central large vacuole, animal cells have smaller vacuoles that are more doted around. The other main difference is plant cells contain chloroplasts which are essential for the process of photosynthesis.

What are the main similarities between plant and animal cells?

Both animal and plant cells contain a lot of the same organelles. Such as the nucleus, mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum. This will be the topic of the next mini wiki!

Are there specialised plant cells, like there are specialised animal cells?

Yes, there are loads of specialised plant cells performing all sorts of different functions for plants to exist. Some plant cells synthesise and store organic products, while others help to transport nutrients throughout the plant for example root hair cells. Specialised plant cells combine to form specialised tissues like phloem and xylem.

5 things you need to know about plant cells

  1. Plant cells have a rigid structure, thanks to the cell wall which gives protection.
  2. Plant cells contain the organelle chloroplasts which are essential for photosynthesis.
  3. There are many specialised plant cells that perform specific functions.
  4. Phloem cells and tissues move sugars up and down the plant to provide each area with energy.
  5. Xylem cells and tissues move water up the plant away from the root cells.

Sources

Bailey, R. (2016). Plant Cell. Available: http://biology.about.com/od/cellbiology/ss/plant-cell.htm. Last accessed 11 July 2016.

Boundless. “Vascular Tissue: Xylem and Phloem.” Boundless Biology. Boundless, 26 May. 2016. Retrieved 11 Jul. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/biology/textbooks/boundless-biology-textbook/seedless-plants-25/seedless-vascular-plants-157/vascular-tissue-xylem-and-phloem-614-11834/

Diffen. (2016). Plant Cell vs Animal Cell. Available: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Animal_Cell_vs_Plant_Cell. Last accessed 11 July 2016.

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The Poisons Collection: Getting Foxy

Foxgloves are a fairly common plant, they are found over most of western europe and even further. They come from the genus Digitalis of which it has about 20 species. All of which are poisonous when digested. The name Digitalis comes from the latin for finger, this links back to the fingertip like flowers on foxgloves.

digitalis_purpereaThe plants grown in mainly acidic soils but they can adapt to lots of conditions. The plants are quite hardy and can grow up to 2 and a half metres. Digitalis species are normally biennials (two year lifespan) or a short lived perennial (more than a two year lifespan).

All parts of the plant contain a concoction of cardiac glycosides. These glycosides affect the heart muscle causing the ehart to slow down. This then causes the heart to go under a massive amount of stress. The stress has the potential to cause a fatal heart attack.  Although foxgloves when consumed in large quantitys can cause vomiting. If vomited back up then you might just avoid the deadly heart attack. The plant is toxic to many animals as well as humans.

imagesIn 2005, an amateur botanist committed suicide by eating foxglove leaves. Knowing of their emetic effect, he limited his consumption to two leaves. It was twenty-four hours later before he suffered a fatal heart attack. Many incidents of foxglove poisoning occur from the young leaves of the plant being mistaken for comfrey leaves and then made into herbal teas.

Digitalis lantana is the species of foxglove that is often grown comercially for pharmaceutical use. Some of the cardiac glycosides, particularly digitalin, is used to aid medical conditions where there is an irregular heartbeat.

Personally they are a stunning plant and they grow all over my garden at home. However I think I’ll stick to my english breakfast tea and admire the purple flowers from afar. Til next time.