Carnivorous plants losing ground in the U.S.

Photo: Amina Khan / Los Angeles Times

Decades ago, lush stands of Darlingtonia californica — emerald plants coiled like fanged cobras ready to pounce — grew at this spot [Quincy, CA] in the northern reaches of the Sierra Nevada.

Deep in the ravine, the air is hot and dead. Pieces of bark that have sloughed off trees make every step a danger — nature's equivalent of a thousand forgotten skateboards cluttering a driveway. Slate tinkles underfoot, and the ground feels like stale angel-food cake: stiff yet porous.

[Barry] Rice, a botanist at UC Davis, is not the first to hunt the cobra lily here in Butterfly Valley. In 1875, amateur botanist Rebecca Austin fed the plants raw mutton and carefully observed how they digested it.

Yet to this day, much of the plants' biology and habitat remain unknown — which is why Rice is here, trying to find established populations.

Near the bottom of the crevice, the ground becomes moist. The air cools and softens. This is where the cobra lilies would be. “When you see them, they look almost like animals,” Rice says.

But there are none to be seen.

( Via )

Plants fight predators with chemical signals

Plants have developed a sophisticated defense system. They can not only directly fend off herbivores by producing toxins, but also do so indirectly by emitting odorant molecules into the atmosphere that are perceived by predatory insects; these predators are lured to the attacked plant and feed on the herbivore or parasitize it – thereby providing a benefit for the plant.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology have discovered that saliva from tobacco hornworm larvae (Manduca sexta) activates a substance in tobacco leaves, producing an odorous attractant. The attractant is picked up by carnivorous insects that feed on the hornworm larvae and eggs.

(Via) Press release PDF at Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology

David Benqué's Acoustic Botany

The debate around Genetic Engineering is currently centered around vital issues such as food, healthcare and the environment. However, we have been shaping nature for thousands of years, not only to suit our needs, but our most irrational desires. Beautiful flowers, mind altering weeds and crabs shaped like human faces all thrive on these desires, giving them an evolutionary advantage. By presenting a fantastical acoustic garden, a controlled ecosystem of entertainment, I aim to explore our cultural and aesthetic relationship to nature, and to question its future in the age of Synthetic Biology.

Acoustic Botany - Selective Breeding

"Desired traits such as volume, timbre and harmony are acquired through selective breeding techniques."

Acoustic Botany - Harmony Grafting

"Grafting, an age old practice (since at least 2000 BC.), is used to create harmonic notes combinations on a single tree."

read more (via)



"Light Art controlled by living plants"

Drawing inspiration from Cleve Backster's polygraph tests with plants in The Secret Life of Plants, the Floranium is similar to an ECG (Electrocardiogram), responding to electro-chemical fluctuations in plants.

"FLORANIUM lamps are innovative life indicators that allow you to visualize activities of living plants, caused by movement, touch, changes in climate, environment and many other elements of life."

"A ground probe is inserted into the plant's soil and an electrode is connected directly to the plant's leaf using a special adhesive paste."

"The chemical reaction which takes place at this junction causes an electron flow to occur. The electron flow is measured with a very sensitive bio-signal amplifier. The amplifier is connected to a micro-controller which processes the plant's bio-signal and converts it into a colorful LED display for viewing."

Inventor Martin Heine interviewed on the Beyond 50 Radio Show.

Floranium blog and Facebook page.

Purr Generator leaving AVAM

JP Borum on the Purr Generator at AVAM

The final month to view the Purr Generator at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore is almost upon us. Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness closes on September 6th, 2010.

The Purr Generator will then make it's way to Raleigh, North Carolina where it will be on extended loan to the Gregg Museum of Art & Design on the North Carolina State University campus.