Plant Blindness and You

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Can you tell the difference between a big leaf maple and a Japanese maple tree? If not, then you may suffer from plant blindness. Hopefully you can tell them apart when looking at them though. The concept of plant blindness is not so much being able to name every species as it is to appreciate the variety of species that exist. It’s also very easy to cure – just go look at plants.

One key to reducing plant blindness is increasing the frequency and variety of ways we see plants. This should start early – as Schussler, who is a professor of biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, puts it, “before students start saying they are bored with plants”. One citizen science project aiming to help with this is TreeVersity, which asks ordinary people to help classify images of plants from Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum.
Everyday interactions with plants is the best strategy, says Schussler. She lists talking about conservation of plants in local parks and gardening.

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Flowers Reduce use of Pesticide Spraying in Farms

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Farms in the UK and Switzerland are trying a classic approach to reducing their use of pesticides: flowers. Yes, the flowers provide nutrients for insects that eat crops, but they also provide for predators. The difference in the approach for these experimental farms is how they arrange the flowers so the insects get what they need while not enough to damage the crops. Rows of flowers are spaced precisely so that insects can’t travel to far on these factory farms. Smaller farms might naturally benefit from insect proximity already.

As a bonus, the flowers make the farm a little prettier and smell better.

Similar studies have tested the same approach elsewhere. In one study in Switzerland, researchers planted poppies, cilantro, dill, and other flowers along fields of winter wheat. The plants fed and sheltered insects like ladybugs that ate the bugs that eat wheat, and ultimately reduced leaf damage 61%. The researchers estimated that choosing the right mix of flowers could increase yield 10%, making it economically self-sustaining or even profitable to keep planting flowers.

They also want to understand the economic value of the approach, and how it can be incorporated with modern farming tech. “We hope this will underpin a rethink of farming practice to include a more ecological approach to agriculture where farmers actively enhance the underlying ecological processes that benefit crop production,” they say. “We also intend to use this experimental network to demonstrate this approach to industry and to train farmers–our experience has shown that farmers often need to see these approaches in action on real farms before they adopt them.”

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These Plants Clean Your Household Air According to NASA

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A few years ago we looked at a TED talk on how to grow fresh air inside. The information was based largely on NASA’s research done in the 1980s called Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, which looked into which plants are best for cleaning interior working spaces. They first looked at what is in the air in an average office then set out to find plants that remove chemicals that harm humans.

Here’s the list from NASA and the TED talk:

  • Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  • Weeping Fig
  • Money Plant (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Kimberley Queen Fern
  • Moter-in-law’s Tongue (sansveria trifascata)
  • Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)
  • Lillyturf
  • Barberton Daisy
  • Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
  • Rubber Plant (Ficus robusta)
  • Flamingo Lilly
  • Dwarf Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
  • Spider Plant
  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Ficus Alii (Ficus macleilandii “Alii”)
  • Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata “Bostoniensis”)

More information can be found here.

Build Butterflyways for Beautiful Pollinators

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Every pollinator is beautiful and there is an easy way to see more of them while helping the world: butterflyways. The concept is simple: bees and butterflies are under a lot of pressure from human activity so help them on their pollination journey by feeding them. All you have to do is look up what pollinators love in your local area then plant a small garden for them, then tell others. By combining efforts with other gardeners or community groups you can create a pleasant route for our little friends.

In May and June, activities ranged from creating butterfly-themed costumes and a bike-trailer garden that won second prize in a Victoria parade, to adopting city parks in Richmond. In Markham and Toronto, Rangers built on a project started through the foundation’s Homegrown National Park Project, installing a dozen wildflower-filled canoes in parks, schools and daycares. In Toronto’s west end, a pair of Rangers led the Butterflyway Lane art project, painting butterfly-themed murals on two dozen garage doors, walls and fences in a laneway facing Garrison Creek Park.

In late June, Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood and Richmond, B.C. surpassed the target of a dozen Ranger-led plantings, earning kudos from the foundation for creating Canada’s first Butterflyways. The project is spreading, with neighbouring city councillors and groups clamouring to get their own Butterflyways.

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Efficient Beans to Beat Drought Conditions


Beans are delicious, so delicious that earlier this year the UN declared 2016 to be year of the pulse. Around the world beans are cultivated for their protein and their ability to grow in many places. Some beans are better at growing in wet areas while others in drought conditions. This has led botanists to look into why some beans are better than others in terms of the drought resistance. They figured it out thanks to crossbreeding the beans!

What the researchers have now found is that the plants have developed two distinct strategies, depending on the soil in which they were planted and the length of the dry periods they had to endure.

One group has developed deeper roots so they can reach the available moisture in soil that retained water even when there was no rain.

The second group has smaller leaves and closes down their operations to wait for better times. Some varieties use what little resources they have left to grow as many beans as possible, to ensure the survival of the next generation.

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Thanks to Delaney!

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