Category: Botany Basics (page 1 of 2)

– great galls –

I love when I know the exact word to describe something, whether that “something” is an emotion, a color, taste, or plant part. To help you feel more confident in the words of the botanical world, I’m starting this Botanical Alphabet series. It may or may not be published in exact alphabetical order.

gall: abnormal growth or mass of plant tissue; develops in response to wounds from insects, mites, bacterium, fungus, etc.

Goodness, gracious, great galls of fire. Or of pupating insects. Or bacterium. Whatever.

I think galls are so fascinating. They can be on stems, leaves, twigs, trunks, even on roots. Insect galls form as a defense response to an insect laying eggs inside the leaf or stem tissue. Generally, these galls themselves are harmless to the plants unless they occur in very large numbers on young plants. Galls caused by bacteria, fungus, or nematodes, however, are symptomatic of diseases that can severely reduce plant growth or even cause death.

I think that one of the more interesting galls I’ve come across is the pinecone willow gall (or willow pinecone gall) in the picture above. Like you might guess from the name, it’s a gall that occurs on willows and looks like a pinecone. These galls are caused by a midge named Rhabdophaga strobiloides. The female midge lays an egg in a terminal (tip) bud and the plant reacts to the chemicals secreted by the midge, and from the egg itself, by elongating, broadening and hardening the leaf bud tissue into the pinecone-like gall.

Have you seen any interesting galls lately?

– definitively dentate –

I love when I know the exact word to describe something, whether that “something” is an emotion, a color, taste, or plant part. To help you feel more confident in the words of the botanical world, I’m starting this Botanical Alphabet series. It may or may not be published in exact alphabetical order.

dentate: having outward (opposed to upward, as in serrate) pointing teeth along the margin (or edge) of a leaf

Botanists use a lot of jargon; specific words to describe everything about a plant. I can think of at least a handful of terms, and I’m sure there are more, that are used to describe the edges of leaves alone. Knowing these descriptors comes in handy, though, like when you’re trying to key out a plant. But when you start seeing these descriptors in the scientific names of plants?  Then you can feel like a total plant rock star by knowing something about the plant without ever having seen it! For instance, you’ll find derivatives of the word dentate in Acer grandidentatum (bigtooth maple), Euphorbia dentate (toothed spurge), and Artemesia tridentata (big sagebrush). And, as you might have guessed, they are all toothed!

– curious catkins –

I love when I know the exact word to describe something, whether that “something” is an emotion, a color, taste, or plant part. To help you feel more confident in the words of the botanical world, I’m starting this Botanical Alphabet series. It may or may not be published in exact alphabetical order.

catkin: a spike-like, usually – though not always – pendulous inflorescence of unisexual, apetalous flowers.

If, like me, you are waiting for spring to really come, you’re probably waiting for the flowers to appear. Especially the big showy tree flowers, like magnolia or apple blossoms. But right now where I live, the most common flowering trees to be found are the aspens (in the picture) and the birches. We’ll take what we can get, I guess.

Each catkin is either a group of only male or only female flowers. Some types of trees have both male and female catkins on the same plant (monoecious = one house), others have only one or the other (dioecious = two houses) on a particular plant. Catkins, as you can imagine from their homely, non-descript appearance, are generally pollinated by the wind. And, if you happen to suffer from early spring allergies and are wondering which tree to blame, look for the ones with the catkins and you might find your culprit.

Other trees that have catkins include: willows, hazel, alders, hickory, and mulberry.

Are there trees flowering where you live? Which ones?

– bothersome burs –

I love when I know the exact word to describe something, whether that “something” is an emotion, a color, taste, or plant part. To help you feel more confident in the words of the botanical world, I’m starting this Botanical Alphabet series. It may or may not be published in exact alphabetical order.

bur: a seed, fruit, or other seed dispersal unit that has hooks or teeth for sticking to fur or clothing for dispersal

If you have a dog, and have ever gone hiking with said dog, you are probably very familiar with the burs in the photo. They belong to the burdock plant; this particular one is Arctium minus, or lesser burdock, but there is also an Arctium lappa, the greater burdock. As near as I can tell, the major difference between the two is size (though there are some slight differences in the inflorescence and leaves as well). Regardless of which specific burdock you’re looking at, the burs are the focus here. The hooks on these burs, and their tenacious grip on a dog’s fur, were the inspiration behind Velcro.

So, are they bothersome? For sure. Do they do their job of helping seeds get from one place to another? Yes, indeed. Can you use them in place of Velcro? Quite possibly, though I’ve never tried it myself. If you try, let me know how it goes.

– abundant arils –

I love when I know the exact word to describe something, whether that “something” is an emotion, a color, taste, or plant part. To help you feel more confident in the words of the botanical world, I’m starting this Botanical Alphabet series. It may or may not be published in exact alphabetical order.

aril: the fleshy outgrowth of the funicle (stalk that connects the seed to the fruit wall); partially or fully covers the seed

Pomegranates are such a pretty fruit. And such a misunderstood one. Did you know that a pomegranate is actually a berry? Weird, I know. Especially when you then learn that the fruits we think of as “berries” (strawberries, raspberries, etc.) are actually classified as an “aggregate fruit”.

But back to pomegranates. We talk about eating pomegranate seeds, which, technically we do. But the tasty part – those little sacs of bright red juiciness – those are arils. Each of the hundreds of seeds inside a pomegranate have this extra covering around them that grows out from where the seed attaches to the inside of the fruit wall. All in an effort to get animals, like us, to eat them and spread their seed around to grow more pomegranates.

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