Category Archives: Plants & People

That Pristine Jungle? Humans Have Been Altering It For 45,000 Years

The first review of the global impact of humans on tropical forests in the ancient past shows that humans have been altering these environments for at least 45,000 years. This counters the view that tropical forests were pristine natural environments prior to modern agriculture and industrialization. The study found that humans have in fact been having a dramatic impact on such forest ecologies for tens of thousands of years, through techniques ranging from controlled burning of sections of forest to plant and animal management to clear-cutting. (Click on title for full story.)

Remnant Prairies Survive In Forgotten Cemetaries

Illinois once had 22 million acres of tall-grass prairie. Today, only 2,300 acres remain. But of those acres, many of the finest examples of untouched, pre-settlement prairie sit on 29 tenuous pioneer cemetery plots, fragile islands of untamed land in what is now an ocean of agricultural conformity. Together these cemeteries, often left undisturbed because they are burial grounds, make up about 50 acres. It is as if the pioneers, in their deaths, left us a few seeds of life. (Click on title for full story.)

Urban Forests Save Energy By Taming Urban Winds

To study the effect of trees on wind, the researchers built an incredibly detailed model of a Vancouver neighborhood by scanning every building, street, and tree using LIDAR technology and combining that with wind data that’s accurate down to a 1.6 feet from a University of British Columbia research tower. Using the data and an algorithm they developed to model wind speed, the scientists were able to create a virtual model using supercomputers in Switzerland. They found that when running the model without any trees, the wind speed increased by a factor of two. (Click on title for full story.)


Cash Payments To Preserve Trees In Uganda Pay Dividends

A two-year project that paid a total of US$20,000 to 180 people in 60 Ugandan villages not to cut down trees on their land was worth the money, researchers say. By delaying carbon dioxide emissions, the project’s benefits to society were more than double its costs. (click on title for full story.)


All Of Our Potatoes Started Here 11,000 Years Ago

“Our study has found the earliest evidence of potato use in North America, It’s about the rediscovery of wild potatoes native to North America and [the plant] being a very important food resource for the past 10,000 years up until today.” (Click on title for full story.)


Some Plants Grow So Slowly They Require More Than One Botanist’s Lifetime For Proper Study

In 1974, a graduate student named David Inouye marked a small plant in an alpine meadow in Colorado with an aluminum tag. Forty-three years later, Inouye, now a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, is still waiting for it to flower. “I’m hoping I live long enough,” he says. (Click on title for full story.)


American Chestnuts Will Return… Eventually

Very few people understand the magnitude of the breeding challenge embarked upon by The American Chestnut Foundation when it began in 1983. Just to complete the B3F2 generation of breeding and selection — the final generation as originally envisioned — has meant that 73,000 trees must be created by hand pollination and grown and tested in plantations for a minimum of three years. (Click on title for full story.)


Did Early Hunter-Gatherers KNOW They Were Domesticating Crops?

“We know very little about how agriculture began, because it happened 10,000 years ago – that’s why a number of mysteries are unresolved. For example why hunter-gatherers first began farming, and how were crops domesticated to depend on people. One controversy in this area is about the extent to which ancient peoples knew they were domesticating crops. Did they know they were breeding domestication characteristics into crops, or did these characteristics just evolve as the first farmers sowed wild plants into cultivated soil, and tended and harvested them?” (Click on title for full story.)


How Marketing Turned The Unfortunate “Alligator Pear” Into A Foodie Superstar

So the avocado growers rallied. They funded research and put out studies meant to extoll the virtues of the fruit. They leaned on the fat-friendly Mediterranean diet, and ran television ads. they skated by into the nineties, but sales still lagged. People simply didn’t know how to eat the fruit. They weren’t waiting for it to ripen; the growers began to educate supermarkets on the difference between a ripened fruit. It was around this time they hired Hill & Knowlton, a public relations firm. Their mission was to make avocado an everyday, accessible item to American shoppers. (Click on title for full story.)


4,000 Year Old Garden Uncovered And It Is Just As The Tomb Paintings Showed It

“The plants grown there would have had a symbolic meaning and may have played a role in funerary rituals. Therefore, the garden will also provide information about religious beliefs and practices as well as the culture and society at the time of the Twelfth Dynasty when Thebes became the capital of the unified kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt for the first time. We know that palm, sycamore and Persea trees were associated with the deceased’s power of resurrection. Similarly, plants such as the lettuce had connotations with fertility and therefore a return to life. Now we must wait to see what plants we can identify by analysing the seeds we have collected. It is a spectacular and quite unique find which opens up multiple avenues of research”. (Click on title for full story.)