Archive for January, 2014

Palm Trees–Not Trees After All!

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

I once heard, many years ago when I lived in Florida, that a palm tree is not really a tree;  it’s a grass!  I had never investigated the truth of that statement.  But spending time recently in San Diego and admiring the many tall palms towering high over houses and even over other trees, made me want to find out whether it is, in fact, true that palm trees are actually grasses.

Even though palms seem like trees, with their height, their leaves, and what seems to be a trunk, it turns out that those traits are not enough to make them trees.

In fact, there are important differences between actual trees and palms.  For example, unlike trees, palms have no bark or woody tissue.  Palm trees do not produce a cambium layer–that part of a tree between the bark and the interior, that produces new growth each year.  A horizontal cut through a tree’s trunk would show growth rings;  a cut across a palm’s would not.  A palm’s ‘trunk’ is simply a mass of spongy, hardened material that expands as the palm grows taller.

And palm trees lack a key ability trees have–to resist death from disease or injury.  A tree can ‘seal off’ a damaged portion, entirely separating it from the tree’s healthy part, so that the tree can continue to live and grow.

In addition, conventional trees experience a secondary growth phase, when functioning tissues are replaced with younger cells.  But palm trees do not undergo such a process of cell replacement.  Instead, a palm tree’s individual cells endure for the plant’s entire lifespan of 100-740 years.

Palm trees, of which more than 2,000 species exist, are grouped botanically with grasses, sedges, bamboo, grains, lilies, onions, and orchids.  In fact, as it turns out, a palm tree has more in common genetically with turf grass or corn than it has with an oak tree!  A palm tree is truly a grass giant!

Palm trees are indeed amazing.  But, as it turns out, they’re amazing grasses, not amazing trees.–April Moore

 

If You Love Trees. . .or Even Like Them. . . . . .

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

 

I thank Dusky Pierce for posting the following AMAZING photos of some truly wondrous trees on her website, www.Duskyswondersite.com.  Almost all of the trees in the photos are beautiful; some are even whimsically shaped by humans.  

I think it would be hard to look at some of these photos without being slack-jawed with wonder!  

Just click on the link below.  You’re in for a treat!–April Moore

Amazing trees around the world

 

 

The Beak of the Toucan

Friday, January 10th, 2014

the brown-mandibled toucan

My husband and I had the good fortune two years ago to visit Costa Rica.   Some of my happiest memories of that trip are of sitting outside our rustic room at a rainforest eco-lodge and watching toucans.  High in a tree just yards away, these colorful birds would perch on a branch and  leisurely  pluck the tree’s round fruits with their massive beaks.

And I mean massive!  Toucans have longer beaks relative to body size than any other birds in the world.  Some of the several dozen toucan species have a beak that accounts for a third of the bird’s length and as much as half its surface area.

I can’t help but wonder what evolutionary advantage such a massive beak serves.  Even scientists don’t know how the process of natural selection led to such an outsized toucan beak.

The kinds of answers that explain many other adaptations in nature don’t seem to apply to the toucan’s beak.  For example, sexual selection does not account for the size of the toucan’s beak, since the beak of both genders is about the same.  Nor would the bird’s diet lead to such a giant beak.  After all, toucans are fruit eaters, as are many other avian species with much smaller beaks.  A giant beak is not necessary to get the fruits toucans consume.

While scientists don’t know why the toucan evolved its large beak, they have learned in recent years more about what the beak does for the toucan. Scientists now view the toucan’s beak as a system to warm or cool the bird’s body as needed.  

Unlike humans, birds don’t sweat.  But the surface of the toucan’s beak is full of tiny blood vessels, which play a key role in the toucan’s ability to maintain a comfortable body temperature as the ambient temperature rises and falls.

Scientists used thermal-imaging cameras to record toucans’ bill and body temperatures separately in rooms where the temperature could be adjusted up and down over a range of temperatures the birds encounter in their natural habitat.  As the room heated up, the surface of the toucan’s bill warmed rapidly.  The body was ‘dumping’ excess heat to the bill.  At cooler temperatures, the reverse happened;  the body needed the warmth and the bill cooled.  

In the heat of a tropical day, scientists have learned, the toucan’s beak may be 10 degrees Centigrade warmer than it is at sunset.  And during sleep, the toucan’s beak temperature fluctuates, as a constant body temperature is maintained. 

While scientists have increased their understanding of the toucan beak’s ‘thermoregulating’ function, they are unsure if natural selection increased the bird’s bill size for the purpose of regulating temperature, or whether that function is simply a beneficial byproduct of some other selective process.  After all, if the thermoregulating function is so important, why don’t more birds have it?April Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions With the Planet In Mind

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Greetings Earth Connection readers.

I wish you a happy and healthy 2014.  

Here are some green New Year’s resolutions from a woman who writes for the Monterey County (California) Herald.  While I believe that the individual decisions we make in our daily lives cannot possibly be enough to prevent environmental disaster, still, we must each do what we can.  

What we really need is strong leadership at the highest levels if we are to effectively address climate change, mass species extinctions, and so much more.  Nonetheless, we should all try to lighten our impact on our suffering planet.  April Moore

 

Kathryn McKenzie: Small steps to take for Earth in 2014

Click photo to enlarge

Kathryn Mckenzie

Have you made your resolutions for the New Year?

Many of us are planning to drop a few pounds, get in shape or focus on ourselves in some other way that involves self-improvement.

But here’s another idea for your resolution list: Think about the ways in which you can live a more sustainable lifestyle — good for you, and good for the Earth.

Like many other things, being green is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It is, for most of us, a series of small steps that lead us closer to the ideal. And the more steps we take, the easier it is to make more. I don’t propose any grandiose goals for myself, like producing zero waste from my household in 2014. It’s an admirable goal, but one that I realize is not realistic for me (although I do greatly admire people who have come close to this).

Rather, I continue to look for ways to reduce waste and also to recycle more, and I think I’ve made some progress this year. For instance, I have greatly cut down on my use of paper towels by using rags and towels instead. I am doing better at remembering to take my reusable grocery bags to the store (well, most of the time, anyway), thus reducing my need for single-use bags. When I do get single use bags, I’m recycling them in my Waste Management container, which is pretty convenient. I’m also recycling all that annoying plastic wrap, bread bags and bubble wrap, bundling it all inside a plastic bag and putting it on top of the other recyclables. I am attempting to compost. Although I have failed at this in the past, I am giving it the old college try once more. Now I must exercise patience while the microbes do their work.

I also took one big step toward sustainability last month by having a solar system installed at my home. It’s in place and it’s working, but I am waiting for interconnection with PG&E so that I can be credited for the extra electricity that the solar panels produce. This has been an interesting undertaking, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about this in the New Year after it’s a go.

So what can you do to give yourself a greener 2014? Here are some easy ways to do it, in addition to what I’ve described above.

· Choose glass containers rather than plastic, since glass can be recycled and remanufactured indefinitely.

· Buy organic produce when you can, especially from our local farmers.

· Reduce your electricity usage by replacing incandescent bulbs with vastly more efficiently CFLs and LEDs, installing ceiling fans for cooling, and just like Mom told you, turn off the lights when you leave the room. If you are able to, also power down cable boxes, TVs, stereo systems, computers and peripherals.

· Save water whenever you can — plant drought-tolerant landscaping, get rid of your lawn if you can, take shorter showers and install drip irrigation.

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