Category Archives: Plants & People

Does Rock Climbing Popularity Threaten Cliff Ecosystems?

Some researchers and park managers are optimistic about the possibility of training climbers to look out for certain rare plants and help rangers collect data. Others counter that including climbing organizations in biodiversity studies could introduce bias into the results. All agree that cliff ecology is riddled with unknowns and that more cliffs need to be studied. A before-and-after study of a cliff in development as a climbing route might be a good first step, but cliff ecosystems vary widely. What applies to limestone cliffs may not apply to sandstone cliffs, and climbing may have more of an effect on some ecosystems than others. The angle of a rock face can affect the amount of moisture and light plant communities receive as well as the climbing techniques climbers use. In some places, climbers only scale a relatively narrow sliver of a large cliff, while other cliffs are covered with dozens or hundreds of climbing paths. The effects that rock climbing can have in deciduous forests such as New River Gorge may be nonissues in drier or rockier locales. (Click on title for full story.)

Developing Crime Fighting Techniques To Stop Wood Burl Thieves

Burls grow like large, knotted tumors from the base and spine of a tree, but are filled with smooth flesh. That makes them perfect for use in manufacturing tables, mantels, picture frames and souvenirs like salt and pepper shakers. For poachers—often dubbed “midnight burlers”—they’re accessible and surprisingly valuable. Large slabs can fetch thousands of dollars; one furniture manufacturer estimated that a heavy stump with a burl could retail for upwards of $3,000. (Click on title for full story.)

Kudzu’s Sordid History In North America

Each week, on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m, Cope would eloquently, humorously, and voraciously champion kudzu on his radio broadcast from the creaky floors and big swing bench on the Yellow Farm porch. His editorials in Atlanta’s newspapers also helped kudzu’s cause, and they were reprinted in Business Week, Reader’s Digest, and Gentleman Farmer. He became Georgia’s “Conservation Man of the Year” in 1945. The same year, he and his wife answered 3,000 fan letters. Cope knew kudzu was pernicious; he received mail every month from people also asking him how to get rid of it. But Cope stood by his position; the ground was disappearing, after all. (Click on title for full story.)

How Development Over Wetlands And Prairies Enabled Houston Hurricane Disaster

Since Houston, Texas was founded nearly two centuries ago, Houstonians have been treating its wetlands as stinky, mosquito-infested blots in need of drainage.

Even after it became a widely accepted scientific fact that wetlands can soak up large amounts of flood water, the city continued to pave over them. The watershed of the White Oak Bayou river, which includes much of northwest Houston, is a case in point. From 1992 to 2010, this area lost more than 70% of its wetlands, according to research (pdf) by Texas A&M University. (Click on title for full story.)

Botany Prevents Dangerous Bird Strikes At Airports

Pigeons are potentially the most dangerous bird when it comes to plane strikes, so staff knew they needed a plan. A botanist was brought in to take a closer look at the airport’s vegetation. The team matched certain plants and seeds with what they found in dead birds. Using certain herbicides and other treatments, they were soon able to drastically reduce the tasty vegetation. (Click on title for full story.)

Dense Tree Plantings Along Roads Increase Levels Of Harmful Pollutants

More trees mean cleaner air, right? Not necessarily, suggests a new study looking at the wooded areas next to roadways. Instead, lines of trees known as “greenbelts” might actually trap a common pollutant from vehicle exhaust—nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—boosting on-the-ground levels of the gas up to 21%. That could make breathing hard for bikers and pedestrians with asthma or other respiratory diseases. (Click on title for full story.)

The Long Storied History Of Citrus Arriving In The West

Lemons were the acai bowls of the ancient Romans — prized by the privileged because they were rare, and treasured for their healing powers. In fact, this coveted fruit, as well as the citron, were the only citrus fruits known in the ancient Mediterranean — it took centuries for other fruits, such as oranges, limes and pomelos to spread westward from their native Southeast Asia, a new study finds. (Click on title for full story.)

Plants From Mayan “Pompeii” Reveal Disappeared Daily Life

his unique preservation setting provides visibility to what is often archaeologically invisible: namely, the difference between living and curated plants. Using GIS, it is possible to present visually a range of plantscapes in which the inhabitants lived, thus providing a unique glimpse into their work, storage and eating places, and their daily plant-tending chores. Beans, for example, are infrequently encountered in archaeological sites, especially in warm and humid environments. Cerén, however, contained abundant quantities of beans distributed throughout many structures and located both near and far from structure walls. The exact location of each of these specific plants at Cerén has provided direct evidence for analogous practices and tasks of plant-use and provisioning at other Late Classic Maya settlements. (Click on title for full story.)

Learning About Food Security From Neolithic Farmers

Millets have an unparalleled genetic diversity both because of their long history of cultivation, and because they’ve been grown in so many regions of the world, including very harsh ones. This means they’ve retained the wild traits that give them resilience to changes in growing conditions. They don’t need much water, they grow quickly, and they have a great nutritional balance. (Click on title for full story.)

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Gardening Benefits Children In A Great Many Ways

Whether in your own little plot or as part of a larger space, gardening can provide children with a variety of benefits few other activities can. (Click on title for full story.)