Tag Archives: botany

Did You Know… There’s A Plant That Produces Both Tomatoes and Potatoes?

The “TomTato” is a veggie lover’s dream: above ground, it’s a tomato plant; below ground, it’s a potato plant.

The idea was the brainchild of the horticultural firm Thompson and Morgan, based in Ipswich, England.

Although the concept sounds crazy, the plants are not genetically modified; rather, they are created using grafting. This process involves making matching incisions into two different plants which allows you to connect them.

A similar process was recently used by a professor from Syracuse University to create a tree that produces 40 different types of fruit.

A basic diagram of the grafting process. Click to enlarge

The current version of the TomTato is the culmination of 10 years of development.

Early versions of the plant had issues with taste, but advances in grafting technology have allowed Thompson and Morgan to perfect their process.

“It has been very difficult to achieve because the tomato stem and the potato stem have to be the same thickness for the graft to work,”

said Thompson and Morgan director Paul Hansord.

According to the horticultural firm, the tomatoes ripen right around the same time that the potatoes can be dug up.

The “TomTato” plant in all its glory. Click to enlarge

Many people in England have their own small vegetable gardens, but don’t have the space to grow as many different types of vegetables as they would like.

Thompson and Morgan hopes that the plant will gain popularity amongst these people, and possibly even start a trend towards more vegetable hybridization in the future.

If the tomatoes and potatoes really are as good as the company’s director claims, the TomTato could very well start popping in up vegetable plots all over the world.

Read the original story from the BBC here.


Why Are People Paying As Much As $5,000 per Stem for This Orchid? (Photo Gallery)

The Rothschild’s orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum) is one of the rarest and most expensive flowers on the planet.

Those familiar with the black market say that the plant fetches sums of up to $5,000 a stem.

A close up of the rare orchid. Click to enlarge

So you are probably asking why in the world this plant is so valuable? Well, here are some of the key factors that put such a high price tag on this crchid:

  1. The  Rothschild’s orchid is only native  to Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia. This strain of the orchid species is scarce even there so it is protected by the government.
  2. This specific species of orchid was not discovered until 1987 and, according to MySabah.com, “the flower only grows on the slope of Mt. Kinabalu between 500 and 1,200 meters in altitude”.
  3. Since the plant is endangered and protected by the Malaysia government it is illegal to pick. The plant is only available from smugglers on the black market at a price of up to $5,000 per stolen stem.
  4. The flower itself can take up to 15 years to take bloom. This is one reason they are so rare, and even at Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia they are extremely difficult to find.

Scientists and plant lovers alike are extremely excited to learn more about the rare and relatively new species, but they were that illegal trade on the black market could wipe out the orchids before we really have a chance to study them.

According to the BBC…

“…scientists say the illegal collection of orchids is pushing species to the edge of extinction, with dire consequences for biodiversity. With some vulnerable species available on the black market before they can even be formally named, biologists and customs officers alike are battling to preserve the captivating plants.”

The flower is also known as the Rothschild’s Slipper orchid or the “Sumazau” orchid. The second name was given because the orchid’s long stretched side pedals resemble the arms of someone participating in Sumazau, the most traditional type of dance in the Malaysian state of Sabah, where the orchids are found.
A Malaysian woman performs the Sumazau dance
The orchid is also known to the locals as “The Gold of Kinabalu” because of the plants high value and rarity in Kinabalu National Park.

Check out a few more pictures of the extremely rare Rothschild’s orchid below: 


How In the World Is This Tree Able to Produce 40 Different Kinds of Fruit??

Sam Van Aken is an art professor at Syracuse University in New York. He wasn’t always immersed of the world of art though- as a child, he grew up working on his family’s farm before pursuing his art career.

So, in 2008, when Van Aken learned that the orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station was about to be destroyed because of a lack of funding, he knew he had to put his farming past to use.

Many of the trees in the orchard were 150-200 years old, and grew ancient, antique native stone fruits varieties that have been mostly hybridized or modified by modern agricultural practices (commercially-grown fruits are selected for their look and size more than any other factors, including taste).

Syracuse art professor and “Tree of 40 Fruits” creator Sam Van Aken

Aken knew he had to save these rare and ancient fruit varieties, so he bought the orchard and spent the next couple years trying to figure out how to graft parts of multiple trees onto one single tree.

He started by creating a timeline of when all the varieties of fruit (about 250 total) blossomed, so he could know precisely when to graft a new variety onto the main tree.

The grafting process basically involves making an incision in the main tree, and then inserting a shoot from the tree you want to add.

When the tree was young, he grafted directly onto its root structure. Once it reached two years old, Aken began using “chip grafting” to add new varieties of fruit to various branches.

An illustration of the grafting process

Chip grafting involves cutting a small notch into a branch of the main tree. Then, a sliver of the tree to be added (including a bud) is inserted into the notch and taped in place. Over winter, the tree heals the incision, and in doing so incorporates the new fruit variety into that branch.

After five years, Aken completed his first “Tree of 40 Fruit”, as he calls them.

For most of the year, it looks pretty much like a normal tree, but in spring, it explodes with white, red and pink blossoms before bearing its various ancient varieties of plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds.

Since then Aken has planted 15 more “Trees of 40 Fruit” in museums, community centers and art galleries around the country. His next plan is to create an orchard of them in a city setting.

Read the original story from Science Alert here.

You can watch a TEDx talk that Van Aken gave about his Tree of 40 Fruit below:

The Coolest Places On Earth: The Crooked Forest- Poland (Pictures)

Near the small town of Gryfino in northwest Poland lies one of the strangest forests you will ever see.

The Crooked Forest, as it’s known, is a collection of around 400 pine trees. These are no normal pines, though. At the base of each tree, the trunk takes a 90 degree bend before gradually curving back upwards. All of the curves point in the same direction: north.

Click to enlarge

It is estimated that the trees grew for 7-10 years before they were held down, creating their oddly-curved trunks. What caused this, however, is a bit of a mystery.

Some people think it was a natural phenomenon. One theory suggests that a massive snowstorm buried and flattened all of the trees for an extended period of time when they were young.

Some even hypothesize that unique gravitational forces in the area morphed the trees, though there is little to no evidence to support either of these theories.

Click to enlarge

Because of the consistency and apparent deliberateness of the deformations, it’s likely that they were man made. The most widely-spread theory is that local farmers planted and manipulated the trees back in 1930, hoping to create exquisite furniture with the bent shapes of the trees.

The story goes that the onset of World War II forced whoever was tending the forest to abandon the project. We may never know what actually caused these trees to grow the way they did, but either way, they’re a pretty phenomenal sight.

Check out some more pictures of the Crooked Forest below. Click an image to enlarge:

(h/t EST Facts)

Scientists Just Discovered A New Metal-Eating Plant Species

A group of scientists from the University of the Philippines- Los Baños recently discovered a new species of plant that has developed a taste for metal, more specifically for nickel.

The plant, which they named Rinorea niccolifera because of its appetite for the metal, is able to absorb nickel in extremely high amounts, accumulating it at up to 18,000 ppm (parts per million) in its leaves without being poisoned.

These levels are a hundred to a thousand times greater than in most plants. According to the CDC, levels of Nickel above 5 ppm are “immediately dangerous to life” for humans.

Rinorea niccolifera (click to enlarge)

Nickel hyperaccumulation is a very rare attribute- only about 0.5-1% of plants living in nickel-rich soil have the ability. This new species was discovered in the iron-rich western region of the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

Plants with this extraordinary ability could prove to be extremely useful to us in the near future. Here’s Augustine Doronila from the University of Melbourne’s School of Chemistry, who co-authored the report which was published in Science Daily on May 9th:

“Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, ‘phytoremediation’ and ‘phytomining’.”

Some close ups of the plant at various stages in its development (click to enlarge)

Phytoremediation is the use of hyperaccumulators like this new species to remove heavy metals from soils contaminated by industrial processes. Nickel contamination can destroy entire ecosystems.

Phytomining, on the other hand, is the practice of growing hyperaccumulators to collect metals from the earth so that the metals can be harvested from the plants and used commercially.

Read more from Science Daily here.

Scientists Just Discovered a “Chameleon” Vine That Can Make Itself Look Like Any Tree It’s Growing On

The practice of mimicry is pretty popular in nature. Whether its a harmless king snake posing as a venomous coral snake or a cuckoo bee pretending to be its much more dangerous cousin the yellow jacket, animals often use mimicry as one of their tools for protection.

Moths often have large eye-like spots on their wings to mimic owls and scare away potential predators

Before now, scientists had only found a handful of plant species that exhibited mimicry (which is known as crypsis when referring to plants), and all of these species mimicked only one other type of plant.

The recently-discovered Boquila trifoliolata tree vine is in a class of its own when it comes to crypsis, however. The vine, native to Chile and Argentina, exhibits a quality known as mimetic polymorphism which allows it to change its appearance in a number of different ways, depending on its environment. Before the discovery of the vine, butterflies were the only known species to exhibit this quality.

As the B. trifoliolata vine climbs a tree and spreads to its branches, the vine is able to change the size, shape, color, orientation and even the vein patterns of its leaves to match the foliage of the branch it’s growing on.

These leaves, which have totally different sizes and shapes, came from the same vine

If it happens to cross over to a nearby tree, it adapts to match the leaves of the new tree as well, even if they’re many times larger and shaped differently than the leaves of the first tree.

This mind-bowing ability provides the vine with protection by camouflaging it from plant-eating bugs like weevils and leaf beetles.

Scientists still don’t know how the vine figures out what its host tree looks like to be able to mimic it, but they hypothesize that it could be reading subtle cues from the odors or chemical secretions of the host tree.

Read more from Science Mag here.

Cherry Seeds Were Taken Into Space. When They Were Planted Back On Earth Something Crazy Happened

Back in 2008, 265 cherry seeds from various cherry trees across Japan were sent up to the International Space Station. They arrived at the ISS in November of 2008 and returned in July of the next year, after orbiting the Earth 4,100 times.

Some were taken in for lab testing, but a few of them were re-planted in the same places they came from. The nurseries of the Ganjoji Buddhist temple in the city of Gifu in Southern Japan is one of these places.

The type of cherry tree that was planted in the temple’s nurseries usually takes around 10 years to flower. However, on April 1st, one of the cherry trees that came from a space seed burst into bloom at just four years old, a mind-boggling six years ahead of schedule. Even more crazy: a seed from the parent tree has never even sprouted before, according to Masahiro Kajita, chief priest at the temple. He added,

“We are very happy because it will succeed the old tree, which is said to be 1,250 years old.”

The Ganjoji Temple and its ancient cherry tree
The ancient cherry tree of the Ganjoji Temple

The flowers themselves were also very unique: each has just 5 petals, compared to about 30 per flower on the parent tree.

This phenomenon isn’t isolated, however. In 4 of the 14 locations in which the seeds were re-planted, blossoms have already been spotted. In one of these locations, a tree that usually takes eight years to blossom did it in two.

Researchers and scientists are still trying to figure out why these cherry seeds are developing so quickly. Here’s Kaori Tomita-Yokotani, a researcher from the University of Tsukuba who was part of the project:

“We still cannot rule out the possibility that it has been somewhat influenced by its exposure to the space environment … Of course, there is the possibility that exposure to stronger cosmic rays accelerated the process of sprouting and overall growth.”

Read the full story from the Times of India here.