Tag Archives: plants

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 This Beetle Is Whiter Than Anything Human Technology Can Produce

If you ever visit Southeast Asia, you might come across the whitest thing you’ve ever seen.

And it’s not this guy:

“Double dream hands!”

It’s the Cyphochilus beetle, a beetle whose shell is whiter than even the whitest paper, the whitest snow, even the whitest paint.

In fact, it’s brighter than anything that human technology could create using a material as thin as the beetle does.

So what is this material? Well, it’s called chitin.

Chitin is similar to the cellulose, the main material in a plant’s cell wall. It forms complex, tightly-knit networks of filaments that build the shells of crustaceans and the exoskeletons of many insects.

A close-up of the chitin filament network on the Cyphochilus beetle’s shell. Click to enlarge (Image: Lorenzo Cortese)

But on it’s own, chitin is not a very good reflector of light at all, so researchers at the University of Cambridge and the European Laboratory for Non-linear Spectroscopy in Italy came together to try to uncover the secret behind the Cyphocilus beetle’s extraordinary brilliance.

What they found was that it was not the material itself that made the beetles look so white, but the geometric pattern in which the chitin filaments had arranged themselves.

A close-up of the beetle. Click to enlarge (Photo: P. Vukusic)

The colors we perceive come from the ways in which different colors of light reflect off of different materials.

However, the structure of the beetle’s shell reflects light anisotropically. This means that all the different colors of light get reflected in the same direction, which is why the shell appears to be such a brilliant white (mixing all of the colors of light gives you white light).

But unlike man-made reflectors, which tend to be fairly thick, the beetle’s individual scales are only thousandths of a millimeter thick. This keeps them light, minimizing the amount of energy the beetle has to expend while flying.

Read more from the New Scientist here.

The Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya, India (Photo Gallery)

Earlier this week, I was watching an episode of the BBC series Human Planet and saw clips of some amazing, natural-looking root bridges in India.

I immediately wanted to know more about them.

Cherrapunji is a subdivisional town in the East Khasi Hills district in the Indian state of Meghalaya. With over 75 feet of annual rainfall, the climate in this region is one of the wettest in the world.

A map of the region

The intense rains have created a perpetually wet and often harsh environment. Local villagers are forced to cross numerous rivers, many of which can turn into violent rapids during the rainy season.

But the wet climate has also given locals there a gift: it allows the Ficus elastica tree to thrive, giving the locals a solution to their problems.

12 Pieces of Street Art That Seamlessly Mesh With the Nature Around Them (Photo Gallery)

Street art is one of the more creative art forms around today. Because of its visibility, it is often used to make political or social statements, like the street art that emerged in Brazil before and during the World Cup.

But some street artists like to use their work to bring out parts of the natural environment that we might otherwise take for granted. Check out some of the best examples below (click an image to enlarge):

(h/t Bored Panda)

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:

New Study: Species Are Going Extinct 1,000 Times Faster Since People Arrived On the Scene

“We are on the verge of the sixth extinction… Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions.”

These are the words of Stuart Pimm, a well-known biologist and conservationist from Duke University. Pimm is the lead author of a new study which looked at the rate of extinction for plant and animal species, and how it has been affected by the rise of the human race over time.

Pimm has spent years researching how species emerge and disappear from our planet. He was less interested in the exact number of species that disappear every year, choosing rather to study the rate of disappearance for all species every year.

Stuart Pimm (Photo: Alex di Suvero/New York Times)

This “death rate” is simply the number of species that die out every year per million species. In 1995, Pimm had calculated the pre-human extinction rate to be 1, but further research and observations prompted him to refine this number to closer to 0.1 (meaning that only about 1 species per every 10 million total died out every year before humans emerged).

According to Pimm, that rate is between 100 and 1,000 today. There are lots of reasons for this, but it seems that by far the biggest factor is habitat loss.

Click to enlarge

The exponential growth and spread of humans has encroached on the historical habitats of countless species, crowding many of them out.

Also, the introduction of foreign invasive species into new habitats (almost always caused by humans, whether intentionally or unintentionally), have posed another major threat to many species that were already struggling with declining habitats.

Click to enlarge

Five times during Earth’s history, a large portion of all the plant and animal species have died out in what are known as mass extinctions. The last one, around 66 million years ago, wiped out all the dinosaurs, as well as 75% of the other species on Earth at the time.

Pimm and co-author Clinton Jenkins of the Institute of Ecological Research in Brazil believe that the rapid advancement of humans in modern times may be causing the 6th mass extinction.

Click to enlarge

They do note, however, that modern technology has also given us invaluable tools to fight the trend, including scientific advances that help breeding programs and social media campaigns which can quickly raise awareness.

Whether we choose to actually use these tools to reverse the trend of extinctions remains to be seen.

Read more from the Post Bulletin here.

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.