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Ah, Spring! The North Takes a Deep Breath

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Ah, Spring!  The North Takes a Deep Breath

One of my earliest science class memories (and maybe one of yours, too) is learning that people and other animals “breathe oxygen” and plants “breathe carbon dioxide”.  I carried this gem all the way to AP biology in high school, when things got complicated.  As it turns out, plants need and use oxygen for all the same things that we do, and they exhale carbon dioxide to boot!  So what’s going...

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(World) Water Day is March 22

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(World) Water Day is March 22

“World Water Day” conjures up images of far-away problems (e.g. a billion people around the world do not have access to clean and safe water – with more than a third of these people living in Sub-Saharan Africa). If such alarming stats summed up World Water Day, however, the most anyone living in Denver could do would be to send money to an international water charity. Water issues, really, are not...

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The Importance of Being Ephemeral

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The Importance of Being Ephemeral

The first daffodils are peeking through the soil, and some of the earliest bulbs—crocus and galanthus—are finishing up their flowering cycle.  As spring progresses we will watch the annual parade of our favorites:  tulips, allium, eremurus, and others will flower and vanish before the worst of summer heat.  Denver is a great place to grow ephemeral plants of many kinds because the harsh seasonality it experiences annually is the sort of...

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Permafrost, Squirrels, and 30,000-Year Old Plants

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Permafrost, Squirrels, and 30,000-Year Old Plants

  Perhaps the largest botanical newsbreak of the past week was the publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America that several mature, fully functional individuals of Silene stenophylla (a member of the carnation family that still exists today) had been grown from fruits found buried 38 meters underground, in permafrost, in Siberia.  The fruits had been taken there some 30,000 years ago...

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Better Red than Dead

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Better Red than Dead

The classic explanation of winter reddening is that red pigments protect plants from the effects of too much light.  This makes sense in observation--plants in full sun in the winter often turn red, while shaded members of the same species stay green.  It’s initially perhaps a bit of a stretch to imagine that plants can suffer from excess light—after all, we’re taught from a young age that plants adore the...

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Evergreens You Might Not Notice

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Evergreens You Might Not Notice

Plants, like most organisms, must overcome a number of challenges before they reach maturity.  Seeds are heavily preyed upon by insects, birds and mammals, and new seedlings face stiff competition from one another for light, water and nutrients.  Germinating in the fall or early winter when many competitors’ seeds are dormant is one of the strategies some plants use to overcome competition from other seedlings. Fall-germinating plants typically send down some...

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The Art & Science of Plant & Fungi Herbarium Collections

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The Art & Science of Plant & Fungi Herbarium Collections

After several months of bare tree branches, I am ready for the arrival of spring and with it returning to Colorado’s flower filled natural areas. The gardeners I know spend these short days and long cold nights perusing seed and plant catalogs to gear up for the next season. In lieu of shiny catalogs, botanists, like myself, and mycologists work with specimens (mycologists study organisms in the kingdom Fungi). Specimens are...

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A Bank You Can Trust: the Seed Bank

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A Bank You Can Trust: the Seed Bank

As the Greek government, its creditors, and the bankers at the International Monetary Fund continue to discuss Eurobonds and interest rates, my thoughts have wandered from the European Central Bank to another sort of bank altogether—the seed bank. In a previous blog post I described how before germinating many seeds commonly go through dormancy which can last a few weeks, a few years, or even a few decades.  Those patiently waiting...

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Seed Dormancy: Botanical "Hibernation"

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Seed Dormancy:  Botanical "Hibernation"

While taking advantage of the warm daytime temperatures in recent weeks to get some pruning in, I was hailed from the pathway nearby. "Do you ever worry about seeds coming up early during warm spells like this?" In a word, "no."  But why not? The seeds of most temperate plants have evolved a variety of mechanisms to avoid arriving on the springtime stage ahead of cue.  Together, these mechanisms are generally known as...

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Another successful field season for the Research & Conservation department

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The changing of the seasons is marked in the Research & Conservation department not only by the fact that the days are getting noticeably shorter, but by the fact that we have all returned indoors for the year. The growing and collecting season has dwindled for our botanists and mycologists, and we are now busy processing and analyzing the fruits of our summer labors.[gallery] Despite our monitoring season getting off to...

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