Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.


Volume 31, Number 2 - December 1984

I Didn't Know That! Plants

Vol. 31, No. 2 - December 1984 - I Didn't Know That! Plants

PDF of this issue

ABOUT THIS ISSUE

Published by EMPORIA STATE UNIVERSITY

Prepared and Issued by THE DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

Editor: Robert F. Clarke

Editorial Committee: Tom Eddy, Gilbert A. Leisman,
Gaylen Neufeld, John Parrish, John Ransom


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Gilbert Leisman & Robert Boles

The authors of this issue have written numerous issues of the Naturalist the years. Dr. Leisman is well-known paleobotanist and Professor of Biology at Emporia State University. Dr. Boles is Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University and a former editor of the Naturalist.


I Didn't Know That! Plants

by Gilbert Leisman & Robert Boles

This issue of the Naturalist is one of a series devoted to interesting and little known items about the world around us. This one has many bits of information concerning plants of the world. You are encouraged to investigate in greater detail, in various references, the plants you find especially interesting to you.

❖ ❖ ❖

Early travelers through Kansas left letters for wagon trains in a hollow of the Post Office Oak in Council Grove between the years 1825 and 1837. The old tree, with its hollow, may still be seen in Council Grove.

❖ ❖ ❖

Kapok is a light, soft, lustrous, cotton-like fiber. It comes from the seed pods of the kapok, or silk-cotton tree, a relative of the baobab and balsa. The tree grows in such places as India and Tropical America. When the supply of kapok used in life jackets became limited in World War II, Professor Gladfelter, now retired from the Biology Department of Emporia State (then KSTC), was on a team that collected milkweed seeds, so that this plant could be planted as a crop to produce "fluff" to replace the kapok. With the end of the war and kapok again available, the milkweed reverted to its role as a "weed."

❖ ❖ ❖

An alkaline ash may be made by burning certain seaweeds called kelps. The ash used to be an important source of iodine, which must be in the diet of humans to prevent the condition called goiter. The ash is still used today as an important source of potash.

❖ ❖ ❖

The huge leaves of the Traveler's Tree pull up so much water from the ground that, when the leaf stalk is cut, sap spurts out like a spring of fresh water. This sap can provide a good drink for a thirsty traveler.

❖ ❖ ❖

The leave of the giant round water lily may be as much as six feet across, and strong enough to hold a boy or girl like a raft.

❖ ❖ ❖

Research in World War II discovered some interesting uses for lemons other than a source of lemonade and vitamin C. For example, the researchers found that paper sprayed with a substance made from lemon pulp resisted oil. Cartons made of paper sprayed with this substance would hold gasoline for months, freeing metal for more important uses.

❖ ❖ ❖

Mahogany may be the finest cabinet wood in the world. It is also one of the heaviest woods.

❖ ❖ ❖

The mangrove is a tropical tree that grows in salty ocean water. As the tree develops, it sends down roots from its branches. There may be hundreds of roots that support that leafy crown above the water. The roots look like stilts. By catching silt in the water, mangroves help in building up the land. In doing so, however, they may bring about their own death. The roots, thus, need to be washed by ocean water for the plant to survive.

❖ ❖ ❖

There are about 100 species of larkspur, or Delphinium. Some kinds are poisonous to cattle, but sheep are almost immune to the poison, and horses are only slightly affected. One European species of larkspur is used in medicine.

❖ ❖ ❖

Lavender is a small species of bush that bears fragrant flowers and leaves. The name of the plant comes from the Latin word lavo, meaning to wash. This name was used because the Romans put the flowers and leaves in water when they bathed. In tradition, lavender represents purity.

❖ ❖ ❖

Almost half of the some 1000 different kinds of cacti grow in Mexico.

❖ ❖ ❖

Desert plants tend to be widely spaced-partly due to water availability and partly due to the chemical inhibition of neighboring plants.

❖ ❖ ❖

The Passionflower got its name because early missionaries thought the flower parts seem to represent Christ's crucifixion. They thought the 10 colored sepals and petals represented the 10 apostles present at the crucifixion. Inside the flower, colored filaments form a showy crown, which was thought to represent the crown of thorns. The five pollen-bearing anthers suggested Christ's wounds. The divisions of the pistil represented the nails of the cross. The blade-like leaf was symbolic of the spear that pierced His side. The coiling tendrils suggested whips and ropes.

diagram identifying different parts of a flower

Johnny Appleseed was the name given to John Chapman, an American pioneer, who spent his life planting apple trees.

❖ ❖ ❖

The most dreaded of the poisonous mushrooms are two members of the Amanita group. One is the death cup, and the other is the Fly Amanita. The poison of the death cup acts like the venom of a rattlesnake. No antidote is known for its poison. It is easy to see how one member of the group, which is pure white, got its name - the destroying angel.

❖ ❖ ❖

In the 1700s, British sailors carried crates of limes on their ships and drank the juice to ward off scurvy. This is the origin of the slang term for a British sailor - "limey".

❖ ❖ ❖

Locoweed got its name from the Spanish word for crazy, because of the strange actions of animals poisoned by it.

❖ ❖ ❖

Mexicans use the juice of the maguey, a type of agave plant, to make pulque, a fermented drink, and tequila, a distilled liquor. Parts of the flowers and flower stalks may be eaten. Other species of agave yields commercially important leaf fibers, such as sisal and henequen.

❖ ❖ ❖

The pimpemell is a small annual plant. It is sometimes called the poorman's weatherglass because the flowers close at the approach of cloudy or rainy weather.

❖ ❖ ❖

Quinine is a bitter medicine made from the bark of the cinchona tree. It has long been used as a treatment for malaria. It has several other valuable medical uses, but in large doses causes ringing in the ears, dizziness, and headache. It may have a dangerous effect upon blood pressure, and can even cause death. A synthetic quinine was discovered in 1944.

❖ ❖ ❖

Raisins were once an expensive food, and only the wealthy ate them. Come to think of it - they aren't very cheap today.

❖ ❖ ❖

The redbud is sometimes called the Judas tree. The name comes from the belief that Judas Iscariot hanged himself on one of them.

❖ ❖ ❖

Rhubarb stalks are fine eating in pies and sweet sauces, but don't eat the leaves. A person may become ill from eating them because they contain poisonous oxalic acid salts.

❖ ❖ ❖

People in India and Japan eat an average of about one pound of rice every day. Many Asians eat rice three times a day, and have little else to eat. In the United States, the average is only about five pounds a person per year.

❖ ❖ ❖

Peas have almost as much protein and energy value as meat. Soybeans have almost twice the protein and energy value of lean beef.

❖ ❖ ❖

Persimmons are best for eating when they are so dead ripe and soft that they look wrinkled and almost spoiled. Indians made a kind of bread by mixing persimmons with crushed corn.

❖ ❖ ❖

In spite of the fact that smoking contributes, directly or indirectly, to the 50,000 or so lung cancer deaths each year, and is primarily responsible for the great rise in emphysema, the amount of tobacco used by Americans is almost unbelievable. For instance, it is estimated that if the packages of cigarettes used in a year were laid end to end they would go around the world about 21 times.

❖ ❖ ❖

Sunflower, the Kansas state flower, has a "flower" that is about three inches or so across, and is about three to five feet tall. Sometimes whole cultivated fields are filled with them in the fall. Imagine how impressive the view would be if they grew as large as some of the domesticated kinds - up to 14 feet tall, with a "flower" as much as 17 inches or more in diameter. The term "flower" is a misnomer since it is actually an inflorescence or cluster of very small flowers numbering up to several hundred. The brown ones in the center are called disc flowers and the yellow ones on the edge ray flowers.

diagram of a flower head

Some seeds will not germinate at all unless they have been subjected to an animal's digestive processes. On the island of Maritius, in the Indian Ocean, there are only 11 huge trees of a species found nowhere else. All of the trees are about 300 years old. Each year they produce a crop of fruit containing huge seeds with thick coats - but the seeds never germinate. In this species, germination cannot occur unless the seed is passed through the crop (gut) of a bird native to the island, Raphus cucullatus, better known as the Dodo. The problem is, the trusting and helpless Dodo was killed in great numbers by 17th century Europeans, and the last one died 300 years ago. So, year after year, the seeds just lie around waiting for the bird that will never come. (This tragic tale may yet have a happy ending, as the naturalist who discovered this curious phenomenon recently managed to get several of the seeds to germinate by passing them through a turkey).

❖ ❖ ❖

The juicy fruits of some kinds of cacti are eaten raw or cooked. The seeds of some species are ground into a meal and made into cakes.

❖ ❖ ❖

Plants transpire (lose water by evaporation) far more water than they use in photosynthesis, or the manufacture of food. The amount is almost unbelievable. For example, during the growing season, each wheat plant may transpire over 100 quarts of water. A corn plant can lose 220 quarts per season.

❖ ❖ ❖

Some plants respond by being touched. Pressing the leaflets of the "sensitive plant," Mimosa, will cause it to close its leaflets, almost spasmodically, as the petioles droop. One guess is that by doing so the plants tend to discourage browsing animals, while another theory is that it helps the plant avoid excessive water loss when the leaves are stimulated by hot, dry winds.

❖ ❖ ❖

Diatoms, which are microscopic, one-celled aquatic plants, construct cell walls of silicon dioxide (glass). The glassy cell walls may be intricately patterned in beautiful shapes and designs. Unfortunately, they are so tiny they must be examined under extremely high magnification to see the details. Sometimes the population of diatoms may build up so high that a cubic yard of water may contain some 35 million of them.

❖ ❖ ❖

Many seeds can lie dormant, but viable (capable of germinating and producing a new plant), for a long time. The record is probably held by a delicate flower in the Yukon, which grew into a fine plant after having lain in the frozen soil of the far North for over 10,000 years.

❖ ❖ ❖

In ancient times many persons believed that a forked hazel twig had supernatural powers. Stories tell about how divining rods of hazel can be used to find water and precious minerals underground. Even today, some people believe that this is true.

❖ ❖ ❖

A complex mutualistic relationship has evolved between the thorny acacia trees of Central America and Africa and certain ants. The ants hollow out and occupy the thorns of the acacia. Some acacias produce a juice that the ants use for food. In exchange for "room and board," the ants attack and kill other small insects that feed on acacias. By biting the larger insects and other herbivores, they discourage browsing.
Acacias grown without their ant associates have slower growth and a lowered survival rate.

drawing of an ant on a tree branch

The United States has no flower emblem, but each of the states has a flower.

❖ ❖ ❖

There are about 200,000 known kinds of flowers. They range in size from water blossoms so small they can be seen only with a microscope, to tropical flowers that are three feet wide and weigh up to fifteen pounds.

❖ ❖ ❖

Not all flowers have a pleasant, attractive odor. For example, the starflower of South Africa smells like  rotting meat and is pollinated by carrion flies.

❖ ❖ ❖

The duckweed plant, often seen in small, stagnant ponds, is the smallest flowering plant - about 1/50 of an inch long and 1/63 of an inch wide.

❖ ❖ ❖

The secret of making paper from wood was discovered by a French scientist in the early 1700's. He got his idea by observing how wasps chewed up wood to make their paper-like nests.

❖ ❖ ❖

The compass plant gets it name from the way the leaves usually point in a north-south direction, so that it escapes the strong midday sun.

❖ ❖ ❖

Wheat and barberry shouldn't be grown in the same vicinity. The barberry is host to one of the stages of black stem rust, a serious disease of the wheat crop.

❖ ❖ ❖

The petrified forests are the remains of plants that have turned to stone.

❖ ❖ ❖

Elephants are vegetarians, eating grass, leaves, small branches, and bark. Using its head as a battering ram, an elephant may knock down a tree thirty feet tall and two feet in diameter to get the tender leaves at the top of the tree.

❖ ❖ ❖

A small cactus called peyote grows in northern Mexico and southern Texas. The cactus contains a powerful narcotic used by Indians in certain religious rites.

❖ ❖ ❖

The flower head of the teasel plant is used to raise the nap of cloth. The heads are cut in two and attached to a cylinder, which revolves against the cloth. The best heads are used to raise the nap on men's garments. The largest are used for raising the nap on blankets. No mechanical device has ever been invented that can replace these heads satisfactorily.

flower drawing

In the British Isles, people call corn maise, or Indian corn. They use the word "corn" for such grains as oats, barley, and rye.

❖ ❖ ❖

Unless sweet corn is kept refrigerated, it quickly loses its flavor after harvesting. This happens because heat turns the sugar in the kernel to starch.

❖ ❖ ❖

Popcorn "pops" because when the kernels are heated rapidly, the moisture in them turns to steam. The pressure bursts the kernel's outer shell, and the entire inside of the kernel puffs out.

❖ ❖ ❖

A single giant redwood may give as much as 480,000 board feet of lumber.

❖ ❖ ❖

More than 350 kinds of insects feed on the roots, stalks, leaves, and kernels of corn. Corn is also attacked by many kinds of diseases, especially smut and rot, as well as by rats and mice.

❖ ❖ ❖

The cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney, could do the work of 50 men removing the cotton seeds from the fibers.

❖ ❖ ❖

According to legend, coffee was discovered in Ethiopia when goatherds noticed that their flocks stayed awake all night after feeding on coffee leaves and berries.

❖ ❖ ❖

The bright colors, sweet odors, and nectar of certain flowers are adaptations to attract insects.

❖ ❖ ❖

Though most plants make their own food, some get their food supply from other plants. The orange-colored dodder plant, sometimes seen in the fall in Kansas, spread like a net across the plants it is parasitizing, is an example. Even the beautiful Indian paintbrush is at least a partial parasite.

❖ ❖ ❖

Many desert plants, such as the yucca and cacti, probably owe their survival to armor of sharp thorns.

❖ ❖ ❖

The grassy plains of South Africa are called velds. In Russia they are called steppes. The corresponding areas in our midwest would be called plains or prairies.

❖ ❖ ❖

Cocoa and chocolate are made from cacao beans which have been fermented, roasted, and ground. Both are much used in the making of candies and such drinks as hot chocolate. The cocoa plant should not be confused with the coca shrub, which grows in South America and the West Indies, and whose leaves are used in making the seriously a bused drug, cocaine.

❖ ❖ ❖

Natives in the Andes Mountains of South America chew leaves of the coca plant as a powerful stimulant. Distances are measured in cocadas rather than in miles. A cocada is the distance one can travel on a one chew of coca leaves.

❖ ❖ ❖

The earliest breads made were hard and flat. They were made from a mixture of ground grain and water, and baked in the sun or on hot rocks.

❖ ❖ ❖

The bristlecone pine is one of the world's oldest trees. A tree in the White Mountains of eastern California is estimated to be over 4000 years old.

❖ ❖ ❖

The male and female flowers of the date plam are on separate trees. Therefore, they must "make a date!"

❖ ❖ ❖

Some of the giant dinosaurs, such as the 80-foot long Brontosaurus, had a diet that consisted entirely of plant material.

❖ ❖ ❖

Blackberries are members of the rose family.

❖ ❖ ❖

A single Banyan tree may reach the size of a small forest. One tree on the island of Ceylon has 350 large trunks and over 3000 smaller ones. (Actually there is only one main stem or trunk. All the other "trunks" are extremely large prop roots.) The tree gets its name from a word meaning "trader", because Hindu merchants often spread their goods in the shade of these trees.

❖ ❖ ❖

silhouette of a Baobab tree

The peculiar looking Baobab tree of Africa may be sixty feet tall, with a trunk up to thirty feet in diameter.

❖ ❖ ❖

George Washington Carver discovered over 300 products from peanuts, ranging from instant "coffee" to soap and ink. He also made 118 products from the sweet potato, including flour, shoe blacking, and candy. He produced 75 products from the pecan.

❖ ❖ ❖

Mexican "jumping beans" get their "jump" from the jerking movements of the larvae of little beetles inside.

❖ ❖ ❖

More than 300 kinds of insects are known to live in the bark of the apple tree, some of which do damage to the tree.

❖ ❖ ❖

Primitive man used the bark of trees for many purposes, such as clothing, and to make houses, weapons, and canoes.

❖ ❖ ❖

Most people know that Kansas grows large amounts of corn and wheat, but not much barley. However, the world production of barley is about 4,000,000,000 bushels a year. Most of this is used as animal feed and as malt in the making of beer.

❖ ❖ ❖

Aureomycin is but one of many antibiotics produced from molds (fungi); Penicillin is another. The most productive strain of the mold producing Penicillin was found growing on a rotting cantaloupe in a grocery store in Peoria, Illinois.

❖ ❖ ❖

Pioneer women colored their clothing with dyes made from natural plant materials such as butternut, hickory, and various roots and berries.

❖ ❖ ❖

Lumbermen cut about 360,000,000 board feet of lumber in Alaska each year.

❖ ❖ ❖

Alder plants produce seeds so small that 500,000 of them may weigh less than a pound.

❖ ❖ ❖

Alfalfa is one of the richest feed crops grown for livestock. It has large amounts of proteins, minerals, and vitamins.

❖ ❖ ❖

Alfalfa can be grown in rather dry areas, as the roots may extend twenty-five feet into the soil in search of water.

❖ ❖ ❖

Scientists are studying ways to use the oxygen produced by algae during photosynthesis as oxygen in space ships.

❖ ❖ ❖

A blue-green alga, which is actually red in color, causes the color of the Red Sea.

❖ ❖ ❖

Though most algae are tiny plants, and composed of from one to a few cells, some brown algae in the sea grow as long as 200 feet.

❖ ❖ ❖

Red algae, which usually grow in the ocean, supply agar, an important substance used in bacteriological laboratories. Agar is also used as a jelling agent in canned meats. Several kinds of red and brown algae are used for human consumption in the orient.

❖ ❖ ❖

The Indians crushed and soaked acorns to remove the bitterness before using them as food. The early pioneers also ate acorns when food was scarce.

❖ ❖ ❖

Barley was probably the first cereal cultivated by man.

❖ ❖ ❖

Indian pipe plant

Indian pipe is a ghostly white plant often mistaken for a fungus. The plant looks like a group of white clay pipes. Because it lacks green leaves it must get its food from rotting leaves and stems of other plants.

❖ ❖ ❖

Some plants are "short-day plants" so will only flower when the days grow shorter in the fall. Two such examples are the chrysanthemums and poinsettias. "Long-day plants," on the other hand, begin to flower when the days begin to be longer. Such plants tend to bloom in the spring and early summer. Kids in the tropics don't have to worry too much about having to eat spinach - it won't flower because the days are never long enough to exceed its 14-hour critical photoperiod. By the way, the "long-day" and "short-day" are misleading, as the changes are really determined by the length of night.

❖ ❖ ❖

The gingko, or maidenhair tree, is the only surviving species of a group of plants that lived millions of years ago. It was thought to be extinct, but was found existing in Chinese monasteries. Now it has been planted around the world.

❖ ❖ ❖

Mistletoe, a parasitic plant that also carries on photosynthesis, is associated with many traditions and holidays, especially Christmas. In many countries, a person caught standing under mistletoe must forfeit a kiss.

❖ ❖ ❖

Bottle corks come from the bark of the cork tree, a species of live oak that is native to the Mediterranean region. The tree must be 20 to 30 years old before the bark is thick enough to be stripped for its cork.

❖ ❖ ❖

The skin disease known as ringworm isn't caused by a worm at all, but by a parasitic fungus.

❖ ❖ ❖

The Douglas Fir tree, common in the Pacific Northwest, may reach a height of 250 feet and be 12 feet thick through the trunk. Today, it is by far our most valuable timber tree, with a standing volume of about 600 billion board feet.

❖ ❖ ❖

Balsa wood weighs only about half as much as oak. It gets its name from a word meaning "raft".

❖ ❖ ❖

Bamboo is really a grass. It may reach a height of up to 120 feet, and have a stalk almost a foot thick. The pandas of China are presently threatened with extinction due to the dying off of the species of bamboo that is their primary food supply.

❖ ❖ ❖

A banana plant, though it may grow to twenty-five feet in height, is not a tree. It will grow to full size in twelve to fifteen months.

❖ ❖ ❖

Indian mallow is commonly called velvet leaf or pie marker in Kansas. The fruit pod was once used to stamp a design on butter or pie crust. This accounts for another common name - stamp weed.

stamp weed

❖ ❖ ❖

The United States imports about 70,000,000 bunches of bananas a year.

❖ ❖ ❖

Banana flour is made by grinding the dried, unripened fruit. A pound of banana flour is estimated to be as nourishing as two pounds of wheat flour. It is especially valuable as a food for babies.

❖ ❖ ❖

Cereal crops, or grains, are man's most important crops. The three most important ones are wheat, maize (corn), and rice.

❖ ❖ ❖

Hybrid corn produces between one-fifth and one-third more than other kinds of corn.

❖ ❖ ❖

Botany is the study of plants. Paleobotany is the study of plants that lived ages ago.

❖ ❖ ❖

Hemlock is a poisonous biennial herb sometimes called poison hemlock. The ancient Greeks made a brew from the plant and gave it to criminals condemned to death. The philosopher Socrates died from drinking the brew. Hemlock is also the common name for a stately evergreen tree belonging to the pine family.

❖ ❖ ❖

The saxifrage was given its name because it usually grows between rocks in mountainous areas. The word saxifrage means "rock breaker".

❖ ❖ ❖

Indigo is a deep blue dye used to color cotton and wool. In past times, this dye was taken from the indigo plant, a member of the pea family which grows chiefly in India.

❖ ❖ ❖

Most people think of the dandelion as a weed. However, it has several valuable uses. Young dandelion leaves can be used in salads or they may be cooked. Wine is sometimes made from the flowers.

❖ ❖ ❖

The cashew tree, from which we get cashew nuts, is related to poison ivy, and the shell of the cashew nut contains an irritating poison. People who touch the shells sometimes develop skin blisters. However, roasting removes all of the poison from the nut.

❖ ❖ ❖

Castor oil, long used as a laxative, is made from seeds of the castor bean plant. The spiny fruit, or bean, contains the seeds, which are extremely poisonous if eaten.

❖ ❖ ❖

The General Sherman tree is about as old as the ancient pyramids of Egypt.

❖ ❖ ❖

Frankincense, which the Bible says the wise men brought to the baby Jesus, is the fragrant gum resin obtained from certain trees in East Africa and northern Arabia.

❖ ❖ ❖

About 72 pounds of white flour can be made from 100 pounds of wheat.

❖ ❖ ❖

The "chew" in chewing gum is provided by a juice taken from trees that grow in tropical rain forests. Chicle, one of the most important latexes used in gum, was first chewed more than a thousand years ago by the Mayas in Yucatan. It was first brought to the United States in the 1860's.

❖ ❖ ❖

Coal was formed from plants that lived millions of years ago - some perhaps as many as 400,000,000 years ago.

❖ ❖ ❖

Copra is dried coconut meat. The United States imports thousands of tons of copra each year. Most of this is used as a source of coconut oil.

❖ ❖ ❖

Americans drink over 500,000,000 cups of coffee every day. Each year the United States uses almost 3,000,000,000 pounds of coffee beans. All these berries must be hand-picked because no one has found a way to harvest them successfully by machine.

❖ ❖ ❖

The asafetida plant produces a drug with a strong, disagreeable, and persistent odor. People once wore it in little bags tied around their necks, believing that it warded off colds. It may well have helped in cutting down their chance of catching a cold, as the asafetida stunk so badly that no one, with or without a cold, wanted to come close.

❖ ❖ ❖

Spanish moss is an "air plant" growing upon the branches of such trees as the live oak. It is found in the southern states, where the air is often damp and the humidity high. It is not a parasite upon its host. It is also not a "moss" since it produces small yellow flowers and is closely related to the pineapple.

❖ ❖ ❖

The apple is the most valuable of all the fruits that grow on trees. There are nearly 10,000 kinds, or varieties, of apples grown in the world. Apples cannot be grown in the tropics since they require freezing temperatures to promote flowering, fruiting, and seed germination.

❖ ❖ ❖

The skunk-cabbage flower is surrounded by one of the most unusual specialized leaves to be found among our common wild flowers. This plant comes up in cold swampy places in late winter when nights are still freezing. The heavy, curving, hood-like leaf protects the flowers and acts as a tiny heating unit. The leaf is mottled with red splashes that let the red rays of the sun filter through and warm the air pocket inside where the flowers are located. This keeps the temperature of the skunk-cabbage leaf warmer than the cold surrounding air. The heat is such that it will actually melt the snow surrounding the plant, even when the air temperature is below freezing.

❖ ❖ ❖

Have you ever wondered where the flavor "licorice" comes from? It comes from the seeds of the anise plant.

❖ ❖ ❖

Century plants got their name from the mistaken idea that only bloom once in 100 years. Actually, some kind of century plants may flower every year.

❖ ❖ ❖

Early settlers enjoyed roasting chestnuts around the fire. However, most of the wild chestnut trees in North America were destroyed by a fungus disease.

❖ ❖ ❖

The English eat the roots of cattails under the name Cassock asparagus. Cattails provide a silky down that has been used to dress wounds and for upholstering. During World War I this down was used in the manufacture of artificial silk and served as a substitute for cotton.

❖ ❖ ❖

Celtuce is a plant grown in China that tastes like a combination of and lettuce.

❖ ❖ ❖

The peanut is the fruit of the peanut plant. It is not a nut, but a pea. It differs from the other types of pea plants in that the pods underground.

❖ ❖ ❖

An arboretum is an outdoor laboratory where trees, shrubs, and other woody plants are grown under natural conditions.

❖ ❖ ❖

The sweet potato we eat is a fleshy root with a lot of stored food, but the Irish potato is a fleshy, starchy, underground stem.

❖ ❖ ❖

The name tulip comes from a Turkish word which means turban. The beautiful blossoms look like little turbans.

❖ ❖ ❖

An average-sized apple tree can lift and distribute four gallons of sap per hour. The force that raises the sap is so great that it could lift the fluid to the top of a tree almost a mile high.

❖ ❖ ❖

Peaches and nectarines come from identical trees. Nectarines often grow from seeds, and may come from nectarine seeds. Botanists do not know which came first, nectarines or peaches.

❖ ❖ ❖

The navel orange is a double orange. A small fruit that does not develop is embedded in the end and produces the so-called navel. All citrus fruits occasionally double fruits, but navel oranges do so regularly.

❖ ❖ ❖

The squirting cucumber shoots its seeds into the air in a series of ejections. It is being studied today as a possible source of a male contraceptive.

❖ ❖ ❖

The fruit of the tree is hard and has an acid taste, so is never eaten fresh. It has a pleasant flavor when cooked.

❖ ❖ ❖

The Bitterroot Mountains in Idaho and Montana were named after the bitterroot plant.


BOOK TO SEE

FOR MATING ANIMALS, THREE'S A CROWD; BUT FOR MOST PLANTS IT'S A NECESSITY

THE SEX LIFE OF FLOWERS (Published by Facts On File, Inc., 460 Park Ave. South, New York, N.Y. 10016)

For most of us the idea of a flower engaging in an aggressive sexual act is hard to imagine. It is difficult to picture a flower mustering enough energy to do anything but bloom and grow. Although rooted in place, flowers succeed admirably in consummating the reproductive act by manipulating animals, insects and the elements to do their sexual bidding.

This fascinating story of the intricate relationships that have evolved between flowering plants and the animals which carry their pollen is the subject of THE SEX LIFE OF FLOWERS by Bastiaan Meeuse and Sean Morris (Publication data: October 1984, Price: $19.95, hardbound). Based on the acclaimed BBC film "Sexual Encounters of the Floral Kind," soon to be shown on PBS, the book is the first of its kind to treat this subject with a combination of stunning full-color photographs and fascinating scientific fact.

Combining color photographs with stimulating commentary on how plants pollinate, THE SEX LIFE OF FLOWERS offers an excellent introduction for the novice nature buff, as well as a wealth of obscure, fascinating facts for the seasoned botanist.


The Kansas School Naturalist Department of Biology 
  College of Liberal Arts & Sciences 
Send questions / comments to
Kansas School Naturalist.
 Emporia State University