Photography by ThatBiologist – Kew Gardens – 20/01/2018

Photography

A rather rainy and wintery Saturday cut this little photo shoot short, but I do really love the few photos that I’ve got! Enjoy:

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All photos taken on my Iphone (one day I’ll get a nice camera!)

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Latin – The not so dead language for science

Miscellaneous

I first heard about Latin when I was studying French in school, it was introduced to me as a dead language that no one speaks anymore but is the basis for many modern day languages. It’s one of the reasons why French, Spanish and Italian can sound similar. Yet when I started on my rather long quest to become a biologist I had to get my head around using Latin on a pretty regular basis. This is because all described organisms (that is all the organisms we know exist on this earth) have a scientific name which is in Latin.

How do scientific names work?

Scientific names are created using binomial nomenclature (that’s the posh way of saying the two word species name). It made up by genus name which is sort of like a family name and then the species name. The genus name starts with a capital letter and the whole name is normally italicized or underlined if being handwritten.

But why do we have scientific names?

Most species go under common names like the Badger which has a scientific name of Meles meles. However, lot’s of species have many common names. The book I’m currently reading stated perfectly that species with many common names are either really useful or deadly.

However, when a species has many names it can be confusing. I could be talking about Bison grass and you could be talking about sweet grass or peace grass and we could all be thinking we’re talking about different species when actually they are all one species. This is where scientific names come in. If we all instead referred to the grass by it’s scientific or Latin name Hierochloe odorata we would know that it’s all the same species.

By using scientific names in scientific reports, websites and texts it avoids confusion!

But why Latin?

Latin used to be used by academics across the world. In years gone by only the academics in every discipline that had mastered Latin were considered to be good enough. So when Linnaeus (the father of the modern day naming system) came up with the system it was a natural choice. Latin also is not spoken by anyone and therefore won’t be changing or adapting anytime soon. Therefore the Latin names mean the same thing three hundred years on.

Notable Scientific Names

Lots of species have been described and then named after famous people in the recent past. There aren’t many rules when it comes to naming a new species that you’ve found, just as long as you stick with the family name (if your species has a family it belongs to) and that you don’t name it after yourself (that’s just tacky). So as teams of people have been describing new species that have been discovered you’re bound to end up with some slightly interesting scientific names. Here are four of my favorites:

Hieracium attenboroughianum – A lovely daisy named after of course Sir David Attenborough.

Source: Novataxa

Begonia darthvaderiana – Just a subtle Star Wars reference for this dark plant.

Image result for Begonia darthvaderiana

Photo by jamessim18

Neopalpa donaldtrumpi – A beautiful moth with a familiar hair do!

The moth is under threat from urbanisation

Source: Telegraph

Scaptia beyonceae – a rare horse fly named after a queen B

Image result for beyonce species name

Source: Telegraph

Let me know your favourite scientific names in the comments or in a cheeky tweet!

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The Monthly Species: December

The Monthly Species

Hello! So this is my penultimate post of the year, it’s been a crazy and fantastic year for ThatBiologist but I shall save that for my business meeting post. Today I’m going with everyone’s favorite parasite as my final species of the month. It’s European Mistletoe!

Scientific Classification:

Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Core eudicots
Order: Santalales
Family: Santalaceae(Viscaceae)
Genus: Viscum
Species: V. album

Size: Mistletoe grows in a shrub high up in trees. It has stems that are approximately 30-100cm with dichotomous branches with opposite leaves!

Diet: Mistletoe is a hemiparasite. This means it grows on trees and uses the trees for water and nutrients. However being a plant it does photosynthesise producing sugars for the plant to use. It is most commonly found on broad-leaved trees such as apple, lime, hawthorn and poplar.

Uses: Mistletoe has been used as the base flavor for a liqueur. It has also been used as an alternative medicine!

The Coolest Thing Ever About This Species:

There are lots of myths, legends and traditions surrounding Mistletoe. The most common tradition is that you must kiss if under some mistletoe at Christmas time.

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Photography by ThatBiologist – Giverny, France – Claude Monet’s Garden – 24/10/2017

Photography

On a family holiday to Normandy we stopped in on Monet’s house. I instantly fell in love with the beautiful garden and could have spent hours taking pictures of all the beautiful plants. However, here are 12 of my favourite images:

The Monthly Species: July

The Monthly Species

Hello everyone I know its not exactly near the end of the month yet but I will be taking next week away from all things internet so it’s time for the species of this month! It’s something that has been keeping me going this month and one little specimen of this species sits on my desk every single day it is of course!

Arabica Coffee

Image result for arabica coffee plant

Scientific Classification:

Scientific Name : Coffea arabica

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Gentianales
Family: Rubiaceae
Subfamily: Ixoroideae
Tribe: Coffeeae
Genus: Coffea

Size: Wild plants can grow between 9 and 12 metres tall with open branching systems. In coffee plantations the growth is often more formalized.

Habitat: This species is endemic to the Yemen and Ethiopia. However now there are coffee plantations in Africa, Latin America, South east Asia and China.

Use’s: This wonderful plant accounts for 70% of the world’s coffee production! The coffee we know and love comes from roasting the seeds which are found in coffee berries. The berries are often picked by hand to make sure they’re ripe enough or the plants are shaken so that only ripe berries fall off and on to mats that are placed at the base of the bush.

Conservation: Coffee plantations have been the reason why forest habitats have been destroyed reducing habitats for many species. However, climate change affecting rising temperatures, longer droughts and excessive rainfall has affected the sustainability of coffee plantations.

The Coolest Thing Ever About This Species:

Coffee was the first food to ever be freeze dried!

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Top 10 Hedgerow Plants

Miscellaneous

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!

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Why aren’t all plants green?

Miscellaneous

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

The Monthly Species

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

The poisons collection

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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