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  • 06 Sep 2017 5:47 PM | Julia Dupuis (Administrator)

    This article was originally posted on newatlas.com.

    Sixteen years after a controversial biodegradation plan allowed 1,000 truckloads of orange peels to be unloaded onto a barren, deforested area of Costa Rican land, a team of Princeton researchers has discovered unexpectedly positive results. The area that was covered with orange waste is now a lush, overgrown forest with richer soil and more tree species than the adjacent land that was untreated.

    The Area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG) is a World Heritage-listed and government-managed conservation area in northwestern Costa Rica. In the early 1990s, it was discovered that a large-scale orange plantation was being established on one of the ACG's borders in order to sustain a new orange juice manufacturing plant called Del Oro.

    On the right is the lush forest that was loaded with orange peel waste and on the left is the untreated land (Credit: Tim Treuer)

    In 1996, two ecologists from the University of Pennsylvania, who had worked for many years with the ACG, had a radical suggestion. What if the organic waste from the orange juice factory could be recycled to accelerate the reforestation of some barren spaces in the conservation area?

    A deal was signed and the orange juice company dumped 12,000 metric tons of orange pulp and peels onto a three-hectare stretch of former cattle pasture. Many newly designated conservation areas in the ACG suffer from rocky, nutrient-poor soils due to the prominent history of overgrazing and fire-based land management in the region. The hope was that this plan would be the perfect synergy between industry and conservation.

    The initial results were positive, yielding rich black soils and a variety of multi-species broadleaf herbs. A follow-up deal was struck between ACG and Del Oro, with ACG agreeing to take 1,000 truckloads of orange waste a year for 20 years.

    But all was not well in the competitive orange juice business in Costa Rica.

    A rival orange juice company, Ticofruit, was not happy with the deal between the government and its competitor, so it launched a court case against Del Oro, claiming this dumping of orange waste was "sullying a national park." Despite the fact that the original deal was actually between the government and Del Oro, Ticofruit's lawsuit went all the way to the country's Supreme Court and politics ultimately prevailed over common sense.

    Ticofruit won the lawsuit, and the court determined the deal between ACG and Del Oro must be terminated. Progress on the initiative halted, and the land strewn with orange peels was left alone, untouched for the following 15 years.

    Fast forward to 2013 and Timothy Treuer, a graduate student at Princeton was on the hunt for research topics. In his talks with one of the original ecologists who worked on the ACG project it was suggested that a follow-up study on the effects of the orange peel on the land had never been properly done. So Treuer went to visit the site and was stunned by what he found.

    "It was so completely overgrown with trees and vines that I couldn't even see the 7-foot-long sign with bright yellow lettering marking the site that was only a few feet from the road," says Treuer. "I knew we needed to come up with some really robust metrics to quantify exactly what was happening and to back up this eye-test, which was showing up at this place and realizing visually how stunning the difference was between fertilized and unfertilized areas."

    He returned to the site in 2014 with a team and thoroughly examined just what was going on inside this lush, overgrown forest. Comparing the orange-peel site with an adjacent control plot, the team found the orange-peel site had accelerated in growth significantly compared to the control.

    As well as a three-fold increase in the richness of woody plant species, the team calculated a 176 percent increase in aboveground woody biomass compared to the control area. Deep in the soil the team also identified significantly elevated levels of macro and micronutrients.

    "Plenty of environmental problems are produced by companies, which, to be fair, are simply producing the things people need or want," say study co-author David Wilcove. "But an awful lot of those problems can be alleviated if the private sector and the environmental community work together. I'm confident we'll find many more opportunities to use the 'leftovers' from industrial food production to bring back tropical forests. That's recycling at its best."

    The project not only highlights how the industrial impact on land can be mitigated through clever environmental work, but how agricultural waste can actually prove to be beneficial in regenerating land that has previously been damaged.

    The team's research study was published in the journal Restoration Ecology.

    Sources: Princeton UniversityUniversity of Pennsylvania

  • 28 Aug 2017 10:30 AM | Julia Dupuis (Administrator)

    This article was originally published on Science Daily.


    In a paper published today in Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group), researchers at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, detail for the first time the opportunities for plant sciences that are now available with portable, real-time DNA sequencing.

    Kew scientist and co-author of the paper Joe Parker says; "This research proves that we can now rapidly read the DNA sequence of an organism to identify it with minimum equipment. Rapidly reading DNA anywhere, at will, should become a routine step in many research fields. Despite hundreds of years of taxonomic research, it is still not always easy to work out which species a plant belongs to just by looking at it. Few people could correctly identify all the species in their own gardens."

    Over the last forty years, DNA sequencing has revolutionised the scientific world but has remained laboratory-bound. Using current methods, a complete experiment to identify a species, from fieldwork to result, could easily take a scientist months to complete. Species identification is, by nature, a largely a field-based area of pursuit, thereby limiting the pace of discovery and decision making that can depend upon it. Using new technology to identify species quickly and on-site is critical for scientific research, the conservation of biodiversity and in the fight against species crime.

    In this new study, Kew scientists used the portable DNA sequencer, the MinION from Oxford Nanopore Technologies, to analyse plant species in Snowdonia National Park. This was the first time genomic sequencing of plants has been performed in the field.

    This technology, commercially launched in 2015, has since been used in Antarctica, in remote regions affected by disease, and on the International Space Station.

    One of the successes illustrated in the paper is the field identification of two innocuous white flowers, Arabidopsis thaliana and Arabidopsis lyrata ssp. petraea. This was achieved by sequencing random parts of the plants' genomes, avoiding the tricky and time consuming process of targeting specific pieces of DNA which is the more traditional approach for identifying species with DNA.

    The researchers compared their new data to a freely available database of reference genome sequences to make their identification. Crucially, replicating their experiment in Kew's Jodrell Laboratory with other DNA sequencing methods allowed them to devise sophisticated statistics to understand the useful properties of this new kind of data for the first time.

    Alexander Papadopulos, Kew scientist and co-author on the paper, says; "Accurate species identification is essential for evolutionary and ecological research, in the fight against wildlife crime and for monitoring rare and threatened species. Identifying species correctly based on what they look like can be really tricky and needs expertise to be done well. This is especially true for plants when they aren't in flower or when they have been processed into a product. Our experiments show that by sequencing random pieces of the genome in the field it's possible to get very accurate species identification within a few hours of collecting a specimen. More traditional methods need a lot of lab equipment and have often only provided enough information to identify a sample to the genus level."

    There are other useful properties of their data too. This field sequenced data can be used to assemble a whole genome sequence, act as a reference database for the species and help understand evolutionary relationships. Currently, the team is exploring the feasibility of rapidly generating a reference sequence database from the incredibly diverse collection of plants help in Kew's living collection and herbarium as well as applications for monitoring plant health.

    Story Source:

    Materials provided by Royal Botanic Gardens KewNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

    Journal Reference:

    1. Joe Parker, Andrew J. Helmstetter, Dion Devey, Tim Wilkinson, Alexander S. T. Papadopulos. Field-based species identification of closely-related plants using real-time nanopore sequencingScientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-08461-5
  • 25 Aug 2017 5:41 PM | Julia Dupuis (Administrator)

    This was originally posted on Science Daily

    It cannot run away from the fly that does it so much damage, but tall goldenrod can protect itself by first 'smelling' its attacker and then initiating its defenses, according to an international team of researchers.

    "We found another weapon in the arsenal of defenses that plants might employ against their herbivore attackers, in this case eavesdropping on a very specific chemical signal from an herbivore to detect its presence and prepare for future attack," said Anjel Helms, postdoctoral fellow in entomology, Penn State.

    According to Helms, the gall-inducing flies (Eurosta solidaginis) are specialists that, in Pennsylvania, feed only on tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima). The male flies emit a blend of chemicals that is attractive to females. Once the females arrive and the eggs are fertilized, the females deposit their eggs within the stem of a goldenrod plant. After the eggs hatch, the larvae begin feeding on the tissue inside the stem. Chemicals in the saliva of the larvae are thought to cause the plant to grow abnormally and form a gall, or protective casing of plant tissue, around the larvae.

    "The flies strongly reduce the plant's fitness by decreasing the number of seeds it produces, as well as the sizes of those seeds," said John Tooker, associate professor of entomology, Penn State. "That's because when the plant's tissues are damaged by the insect, it diverts its energy away from seed production and instead toward production of the gall."

    Helms and her colleagues previously found that goldenrod plants exposed to chemicals from the male flies produced greater amounts of a defense chemical known as jasmonic acid when they were damaged by herbivores.

    In their current study, the scientists aimed to identify the specific chemical compounds goldenrod plants are detecting and to determine how sensitive the plants are to the compounds. The researchers, including those at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of Hamburg, Germany, and ETH Zurich, first identified the chemical compounds that make up the male fly's chemical emission. After identifying and quantifying the compounds in the male fly emission, the researchers exposed goldenrod plants to the individual compounds and examined their defense responses. They found that the plants responded most strongly to a compound in the blend called E,S-conophthorin.

    "E,S-conophthorin is the most abundant compound emitted by the flies," said Helms. "The compound appears to provide a strong and reliable cue for the plants to detect."

    Next, the team examined goldenrod's sensitivity to E,S-conophthorin by exposing plants to different concentrations of the compound and measuring their defense responses.

    "We found that goldenrod plants are sensitive to even small concentrations of this compound," said Tooker. "This is significant because it likely means that the plant has a dedicated mechanism to perceive this compound. The results provide evidence that goldenrod can detect a single compound from the fly, supporting the idea that there is a tight co-evolutionary relationship between these two species.

    In other words, over time, as the fly has adapted to take advantage of the plant, the plant has adapted to protect itself from the fly."

    The findings appear in Nature Communications.

    According to Tooker, the team's previous work was the first to demonstrate a plant "smelling" its herbivore, and its current work is the first to document exactly what compound the plants are detecting.

    "How plants perceive volatile chemicals is poorly understood," said Tooker, "so having a somewhat unique or distinct molecule to explore that mechanism is promising, and a direction we will explore in the future."

    Story Source:

    Materials provided by Penn StateNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

    Journal Reference:

    1. Anjel M. Helms, Consuelo M. De Moraes, Armin Tröger, Hans T. Alborn, Wittko Francke, John F. Tooker, Mark C. Mescher. Identification of an insect-produced olfactory cue that primes plant defensesNature Communications, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00335-8

  • 24 Jul 2017 12:29 PM | Julia Dupuis (Administrator)

    This article was originally published on Treehugger.

    The Lorax might have spoken for the trees, but it turns out that trees can speak for themselves. At least to other trees, that is.

    While it's not news that a variety of communication happens between non-human elements of the natural world, the idea of mycelia (the main body of fungi, as opposed to the more well-known fruiting bodies - mushrooms) acting as a sort of old-school planetary internet is still a fairly recent one, and may serve as a spore of a new breed of forestry, ecology, land management.

    Paul Stamets famously posited that "mycelia are Earth's natural Internet," and a variety of research has borne out that concept, but like many things we can't see an obvious connection between, most of us tend to ignore the micro in favor of the macro. And when it comes to conservation and natural resources, our systems may be falling prey to the lure of reductionist thinking, with a tree being considered merely a commodity in the forest, which can be replaced simply by planting another tree. In fact, many reforestation efforts are considered successful when a large number of trees are replanted in areas where clearcutting has rendered large tracts of land treeless, even if those replanted trees are essentially turning a once diverse forest into a monocropped 'farm' of trees.

    A recent talk at TEDSummit 2016 by forest ecologist Suzanne Simard seems to put the lie to the idea that a forest is merely a collection of trees that can be thought of as fully independent entities, standing alone even while surrounded by other trees and vegetation. As Simard, who has put in about three decades of research work into Canada's forests, puts it, "A forest is much more than what you see."

    "Now, we know we all favor our own children, and I wondered, could Douglas fir recognize its own kin, like mama grizzly and her cub? So we set about an experiment, and we grew mother trees with kin and stranger's seedlings. And it turns out they do recognize their kin. Mother trees colonize their kin with bigger mycorrhizal networks. They send them more carbon below ground. They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings. So we've used isotope tracing to trace carbon moving from an injured mother tree down her trunk into the mycorrhizal network and into her neighboring seedlings, not only carbon but also defense signals. And these two compounds have increased the resistance of those seedlings to future stresses. So trees talk." - Simard

    I'm a bit of a fungi nerd, and with good reason, as fungi are one of the key elements of life on Earth while being one of the least understood, at least in terms of the sheer volume of varieties and how they interact with the rest of the systems on the planet. I'm currently reading Radical Mycology: A Treatise on Seeing and Working With Fungi, which is an incredible foray into the world of fungi, and was kind of blown away by the fact that of an estimated 15 million species on Earth, some 6 million of them may be fungi, and yet only about 75,000 of them, or 1.5%, have been classified as now. This means that the study of mycology is one of the areas of the life sciences that is still relatively untapped, and because of what we're now starting to learn about fungal networks and mycelial 'internets,' could be a key element in our journey to a more sustainable world.


  • 03 Jul 2017 10:27 AM | Julia Dupuis (Administrator)

    This article was originally posted on Science Daily.

    Scientists have identified a unique mechanism that the soil dwelling bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens uses to effectively exploit nutrients in the root environment.



    P. fluorescens is a common soil bacteria that colonises plant roots, entering into a “marriage of convenience”, where it improves plant health in return for exuded nutrients from the plant. (Stock image)

    Credit: © Okea / Fotolia

    Scientists have identified a unique mechanism that the soil dwelling bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens uses to effectively exploit nutrients in the root environment.

    The breakthrough offers multiple new applications, according to the team of John Innes Centre scientists behind the discovery: for the study of human pathogens, for synthetic biology, and for the productions of biosensors which help detect biological changes in plants and their environment.

    P. fluorescens is a common soil bacteria that colonises plant roots, entering into a "marriage of convenience," where it improves plant health in return for exuded nutrients from the plant.

    The team at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, showed how the "twin" transcriptional factors HexR and RccR can remodel central carbon metabolism in P. fluorescens, enabling the bacterium to adapt to its surroundings.

    The paper, titled "One ligand, two regulators and three binding sites: how KDPG controls primary carbon metabolism in Pseudomonas" is published in the Journal PLOS Genetics. The study provides a fundamental new insight into how bacteria tune their metabolic responses to available nutrients.

    In particular, the RccR protein employs a unique and sophisticated two-way switch that enables it to simultaneously suppress and activate the expression of different genes.

    Dr Jacob Malone, a project leader at the John Innes Centre said: "The RccR protein functions in a completely different way to conventional regulators of this type. Virtually every regulator we know of operates via an on-off switch -- it either binds to DNA or it doesn't. RccR on the other hand uses an either-or switch. The principles underpinning RccR function make it an incredible tool for use as a biosensor, and have lots of potential for use in synthetic biology and the production of a new generation of genetic circuits."

    The study not only explains how P. fluorescens adapts its metabolism to exploit nutrients secreted by plant roots, but it also suggests medical applications.

    The report co-author Rosaria Campilongo, a research assistant at the John Innes Centre, explained how her findings can be applied to the study of the human pathogen Pseudonomas aeruginosa, a major factor in cystic fibrosis lung infection: "The RccR system is shared by all Pseudomonas species, including human pathogens. This means that characterising RccR in P. fluorescens may open new insights into the pathogenesis and potential treatment of P. aeruginosa."

    Story Source: Science Daily


  • 27 Jun 2017 6:12 AM | Julia Dupuis (Administrator)

    This article was originally published on Science Daily.

    Researchers have discovered a new, yet simple, way to increase drought tolerance in a wide range of plants. The study reports a newly discovered biological pathway that is activated in times of drought. By working out the details of this pathway, scientists were able to induce greater tolerance for drought-like conditions simply by growing plants in vinegar.


    The effect of several organic acids on plant drought tolerance after 14 days. From left to right, water, HCl, formic acid, acetic acid, butyric acid, lactic acid, citric acid. Note, only plants treated with acetic acid survived.

    Credit: RIKEN

    Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science (CSRS) have discovered a new, yet simple, way to increase drought tolerance in a wide range of plants. Published in Nature Plants, the study reports a newly discovered biological pathway that is activated in times of drought. By working out the details of this pathway, scientists were able to induce greater tolerance for drought-like conditions simply by growing plants in vinegar.

    Led by Jong-Myong Kim and Motoaki Seki at RIKEN CSRS, the large collaborative effort began with the discovery of novel Arabidopsis mutants that have strong drought tolerance, although the reasons were unknown. These plants have a mutation to an enzyme called HDA6 (histone deacetylase6), and the first goal of the current study was to determine exactly how this mutation allows the plants to grow normally in severe and extended conditions without water.

    Kim and Seki say that this project has led to several important discoveries. Not only did they discover that external application of vinegar can enhance drought tolerance in the Arabidopsis plant, but they also found that this pathway is regulated epigenetically and conserved in common crops such as maize, rice, and wheat.

    Initial testing in normal Arabidopsis under drought stress showed that genomic-wide expression of hda6 was linked to activation of the biological pathway that produces acetate, the main component of vinegar. In the mutated plants, they found that under the same conditions, this pathway was activated even more, and plants produced larger amounts of acetate. Further analysis showed that activity of the HDA6 enzyme acts as a switch that controls which type of metabolic pathway is active. Normally plants break down sugar for energy, but in time of drought, they switch to the acetate-producing pathway.

    The team next measured acetate levels in normal plants and found that the amount of acetate produced by plants during drought directly correlated to how well they survived. To confirm this, they tested plants with mutations in two of the genes found in the acetate-biosynthesis pathway. Results showed that these plants produced less acetate and were more sensitive to drought than normal plants.

    These results predicted that increasing the amount of acetate in plants could help them survive drought. The team tested this hypothesis by growing normal plants in drought conditions and treatment with acetic acid, other organic acids, or water. They found that after 14 days over 70% of the plants treated with acetic acid had survived, while virtually all other plants had died.

    The scientists mapped the entire signaling pathway from the HDA6 switch, and realized that this pathway is highly conserved across different plant species. They performed the same experiment as described above, and found that drought tolerance also increased in rice, wheat, and maize when the plants were grown in optimal acetic acid concentrations.

    Kim notes the significance of this finding. "Although transgenic technologies can be used to create plants that are more tolerant to drought, we must also develop simple and less expensive technologies because genetically modified plants are not available in all several countries. We expect that external application of acetate to plants will be a useful, simple, and less expensive way to enhance drought tolerance in a variety of plants."

    Story Source:

    Materials provided by RIKENNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

  • 30 May 2017 11:06 AM | Julia Dupuis (Administrator)

    This article was originally published on Science Daily.

    Beekeepers across the United States lost 33 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2016 to April 2017, according to the latest preliminary results of an annual nationwide survey. Rates of both winter loss and summer loss -- and consequently, total annual losses -- improved compared with last year.


    Total annual losses were the lowest since 2011-12, when the survey recorded less than 29 percent of colonies lost throughout the year. Winter losses were the lowest recorded since the survey began in 2006-07.

    The survey, which asks both commercial and small-scale beekeepers to track the survival rates of their honey bee colonies, is conducted each year by the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America. Survey results for this year and all previous years are publicly available on the Bee Informed website: https://beeinformed.org/results-categories/winter-loss/

    "While it is encouraging that losses are lower than in the past, I would stop short of calling this 'good' news," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and project director for the Bee Informed Partnership. "Colony loss of more than 30 percent over the entire year is high. It's hard to imagine any other agricultural sector being able to stay in business with such consistently high losses."

    Beekeepers who responded to the survey lost a total of 33.2 percent of their colonies over the course of the year. This marks a decrease of 7.3 percentage points over the previous study year (2015-16), when loss rates were found to be 40.5 percent. Winter loss rates decreased from 26.9 percent in the previous winter to 21.1 percent this past winter, while summer loss rates decreased from 23.6 percent to 18.1 percent.

    The researchers noted that many factors are contributing to colony losses, with parasites and diseases at the top of the list. Poor nutrition and pesticide exposure are also taking a toll, especially among commercial beekeepers. These stressors are likely to synergize with each other to compound the problem, the researchers said.

    "This is a complex problem," said Kelly Kulhanek, a graduate student in the UMD Department of Entomology who helped with the survey. "Lower losses are a great start, but it's important to remember that 33 percent is still much higher than beekeepers deem acceptable. There is still much work to do."

    The number one culprit remains the varroa mite, a lethal parasite that can easily spread between colonies. Mite levels in colonies are of particular concern in late summer, when bees are rearing longer-lived winter bees.

    In the fall months of 2016, mite levels across the country were noticeably lower in most beekeeping operations compared with past years, according to the researchers. This is likely due to increased vigilance on the part of beekeepers, a greater availability of mite control products and environmental conditions that favored the use of timely and effective mite control measures. For example, some mite control products contain essential oils that break down at high temperatures, but many parts of the country experienced relatively mild temperatures in the spring and early summer of 2016.

    This is the 11th year of the winter loss survey, and the seventh year to include summer and annual losses. More than 4,900 beekeepers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia responded to this year's survey. All told, these beekeepers manage about 13 percent of the nation's estimated 2.78 million honey bee colonies.

    The survey is part of a larger research effort to understand why honey bee colonies are in such poor health, and what can be done to manage the situation. Some crops, such as almonds, depend entirely on honey bees for pollination. Honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops in the U.S. annually.

    "Bees are good indicators of the health of the landscape as a whole," said Nathalie Steinhauer, a graduate student in the UMD Department of Entomology who leads the data collection efforts for the annual survey. "Honey bees are strongly affected by the quality of their environment, including flower diversity, contaminants and pests. To keep healthy bees, you need a good environment and you need your neighbors to keep healthy bees. Honey bee health is a community matter."

    Story Source:

    Materials provided by University of Maryland. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

  • 17 May 2017 5:26 PM | Julia Dupuis (Administrator)

    The original article is available here.

    Which homeopathic remedy has the reputed power to:

    • strengthen weak and spindly plants
    • turn deserts into fertile fields, and
    • convert water repelling soils into moisture loving ones?

    Silicea!

    No other remedy has the reputation for doing so much with so many plant and soil problems. Silica, known within homeopathy by its Latin name of Silicea, should have pride of place in everyone’s garden shed – once tried, no farmer or gardener wants to be without it. Let’s find out why.

    How it Began

    Homoeopathic silica has long been used for human and animal health problems but knowledge of its ability to treat plant and soil sicknesses is relatively new.

    In people (and animals) it is used for: lack of confidence, weakness, fatigue, delayed development, slow healing of wounds and infections, and failure to thrive.

    When homoeopaths realised the same complaints seemed to exist in plant form they began to wonder if Silicea could have a wider use. Its important role for horticultural and agricultural problems was then discovered.

    Silicea for Strong and Healthy Plants

    Without the presence of chemical silica within their cells, plants would not be able to stand upright or even grow. It regulates all cellular processes, including reproduction, brings a healthy resilience to brittle growth, and adds strength and ‘grit’.

    When silica is missing from the soil, or when plants have trouble using it, homoeopathic silica makes a world of difference – puny plants with weak and straggly growth, or those prone to fungal attacks, frequently grow strong and vigorous within days of being sprayed.

    Silicea as a Soil Tonic

    Silica is difficult to add to soil as a nutrient or supplement, and is rarely missing from soil – but when it is, a spraying of homoeopathic silica improves plant health and helps it to absorb whatever silica is present.

    As an added bonus, homeopathic silica assists soil to absorb and retain moisture (more on this later).

    Silicea for Transplant and Other Shocks

    Plants that are in shock stop growing, wilt in the sun, drop their leaves, and are at risk of dying. Plant shock mainly happens with transplantation but also with damage to the root ball or extreme changes in temperature. A single spray of Silicea, before or after transplant, helps to strengthen the plant and prevent exhaustion.

    Silicea to Strengthen Plants against Pests and Diseases

    Homoeopathic silica helps plants protect themselves against fungi, moulds, mildews, root sliminess, and some forms of rust. It also strengthens them against pests such as aphids, budworm, citrus mite and dried fruit beetle. One spray is all that is needed.

    In his book, Homeopathy for Farm and Garden, Kaviraj recounts one instance of a sapling being affected by dieback that only had one quarter of loose and drying bark left around its trunk.

    After being given one dose of Silicea the bark miraculously reattached to the cambium (the layer of cells lying between the wood and bark from which new bark and wood cells are produced), and after one week the top branches started to grow new shoots and leaves.

    With dieback being such a problem in many countries of the world, this knowledge could be invaluable.

    Silicea Stimulates Seed Germination

    One single dose is usually sufficient to help generate the seeds of perennials and biannuals so that they lead healthy lives right from the moment of being sown.

    The plants that sprout from the seeds are noted for growing strong roots along with firm shoots and leaves. They are also resistant to damping off and less prone to insect attack.

    Silicea Produces Beautiful and Prolific Flowers

    One spray of Silicea as flower buds are forming has been shown to increase the size and number of flowers produced.

    Silicea Sets Fruit and Stops Fruit Fall

    If sprayed at the beginning of flowering, Silicea has been shown to help trees and plants set their fruit so that it doesn’t drop during early development. Only spray once, though or the reverse may happen – the tree may not produce fruit.

    Silicea Makes Water-repelling Soil Absorbent

    Some soils just hate water. Potting mixes, sandy soils, dusty soils, and soils high in organic matter are the worst offenders in this regard. They often absorb water so poorly that it simply rolls off them, leaving the plant dry and thirsty.

    Silicea changes that. Once added to the soil, water repelling particles become hydroscopic creating more absorbent soil.

    Silicea Greens a Desert

    One of the most exciting things about Silicea is its potential to green a desert in a remarkably short space of time. One treatment, watered in, has been shown to produce desert sand that holds large amounts of water for long periods – up to 6 weeks even in the absence of rain.

    Kaviraj speaks of an early experience during the 1990s when he was in Western Australia. On one farm north of Perth he and a small group of men began a tree planting project in an arid area that was almost completely sand.

    First, they sprayed the ground with homeopathic Silicea and then left it to rest for 6 or so weeks. On their return to plant several hundred saplings, they found the soil was so moist that wet sand clung to their spades as they pulled them out of the ground.

    On their next visit, 6 weeks later, they were met by an army of thriving young saplings that were larger, stronger, and more vigorous than could have been expected for the soil they had been planted into – and all from a single spray of Silicea. To Kaviraj’s knowledge, that once arid piece of land remains green to this day.

    While not exactly a desert, Kaviraj says that similar results can be achieved with bowling greens and other similar courses where a watering with Silicea onto patches of bare ground and ‘fairy spot ring’ will stimulate the rapid growth of thick healthy turf.

    He concludes with the following statement, “This greening of the desert can add tremendously to our surface of arable land and thus increase the CO2 uptake by another 30 to 40 %. It will also help in alleviating world hunger and provide enough food for all the world’s inhabitants – provided of course we divide the benefits equally.”

    Silicea has Benefits for Moon Phase Gardeners

    Silicon is one of the major components of the moon. For this reason, those who use the phases of the moon to guide their planting say that homeopathic silica should be applied at the full-moon phase if wanting to induce flowering, and that plants that germinate during certain moon-phases are strongly influenced by it. Fruit-setting and the reaching of maturity are also seen to be influenced by phases of the moon.

    It is interesting to note that in humans and animals, those who need homeopathic silica often experience an aggravation, or sometimes an amelioration of their symptoms during different phases of the moon.

    Caution!

    Sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much. Farmers and gardeners who practice agrohomeopathy will be quick to tell you that the repeated and unnecessary use of Silicea can be counter-productive. For example, when a healthy tree is repeatedly sprayed with Silicea, its bark can be crippled. (The reason for this is explained in full in tutorials 6, 15, and 16).

    The same is true for fruit and seed setting. If plants are sprayed more than once at the time of flowering, fruit and seed production will be hindered rather than helped. This is obviously not desirable for fruit.

    While Silicea will also green a desert, it will just as quickly create one if it is over-used. One dose is all that is needed to start the greening process – more will be too much.

    Bringing it all Together

    In short, one single application of Silicea has a profound effect of long duration on soil productivity and every stage of a plant’s life. It is able to:

    • Antidote manganese toxicity in soils
    • Change the ionisation of soil particles in water-repelling soils so water is easily absorbed
    • Stimulate seed germination of grasses, plants and trees
    • Help plants survive and even thrive in low rainfall or desert areas
    • Strengthen weak and struggling plants
    • Produce trees with hard and dense timber that is more resistant to termite attack
    • Prevent and treat dieback
    • Increase plant resistance to disease and pests
    • Produce larger and more prolific fruits and flowers
    • Replace brittle stems and leaves with those that are resilient and supple
    • Stimulate healing and recovery from tree cancer, galls, injuries, and ulcerating wounds from pruning, storms or mechanical damage.
    • Aid recovery from transplant shock and stress

    And the way Silicea achieves these remarkable things? By improving the underlying health of the troubled plant or soil. This is the exact same mode of action involved in the homeopathic treatment of unwell humans or animals.

    So, if you have plants problems that seem to be caused by a lack of stamina, resilience, or ‘grit’, why not give them a dose of homeopathic silica? You might be amazed by the results.


  • 08 May 2017 5:46 AM | Julia Dupuis (Administrator)

    From NY Times

    Written by Margaret Roach

    Thomas Rainer and I have both been doing the botanical thing for decades; we know, and use, many of the same plants — and even much of the same horticultural vocabulary. But what he and I see when we look at a butterfly weed or a coneflower, or what we mean when we say familiar words like “layering” or “ground cover,” is surprisingly not synonymous.

    It turns out I’ve been missing what the plants were trying to tell me, failing to read botanical body language and behavior that could help me put plants together in combinations that would solve challenges that many of us have: beds that aren’t quite working visually, and garden areas that don’t function without lots of maintenance.

    As we gardeners shop the catalogs or the just-opening local garden centers with an eye to finally “fixing” that bed out front that has never quite cooperated, I asked Mr. Rainer, a landscape architect based in Washington, D.C., to lend us his 3-D vision.

    In his career, Mr. Rainer has designed landscapes for the United States Capitol grounds, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the New York Botanical Garden, as well as gardens from Maine to Florida. He is an author with Claudia West of the 2015 book “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes.” He is a principal in the firm Rhodeside & Harwell, but will leave soon to start a new firm with his wife, the landscape architect Melissa Rainer, and Ms. West. He advocates an ecologically expressive aesthetic that interprets rather than imitates nature.

    Q. You visit a lot of gardens, and probably hear from gardeners like me with beds that just aren’t working. What’s the most common cause?

    A. First, we have to understand that plants are social creatures. Our garden plants evolved as members of diverse social networks. Take a butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, named this year’s Perennial Plant of the Year by the industry group the Perennial Plant Association), for example. The height of its flower is exactly the height of the grasses it grows among. Its narrow leaves hug its stems to efficiently emerge through a crowded mix. It has a taproot that drills through the fibrous roots of grasses. Everything about that plant is a reaction to its social network. And it is these social networks that make plantings so resilient.

    So if we think about the way plants grow in the wild, it helps us understand how different our gardens are. In the wild, every square inch of soil is covered with a mosaic of interlocking plants, but in our gardens, we arrange plants as individual objects in a sea of mulch. We place them in solitary confinement.

    So if you want to add butterfly weed to your garden, you might drift it in beds several feet apart and tuck some low grasses in as companions, like prairie dropseed, blue grama grass or buffalo grass.

    Start by looking for bare soil. It is everywhere in our gardens and landscapes. Even in beds with shrubs in them, there are often large expanses of bare soil underneath. It’s incredibly high-maintenance. It requires multiple applications of bark mulch a year, pre-emergent herbicides and lots and lots of weeding.

    The alternative to mulch is green mulch — that is, plants. This includes a wide range of herbaceous plants that cover soil, like clump-forming sedges, rhizomatous strawberries or golden groundsel, and self-seeding columbine or woodland poppies.

    Q. If I want to try to do it more as nature does, what am I aiming for? Where do I take my cues?

    A. The big shift in horticulture in the next decade will be a shift from thinking about plants as individual objects to communities of interrelated species. We think it’s possible to create designed plant communities: stylized versions of naturally occurring ones, adapted to work in our gardens and landscapes. This is not ecological restoration, it’s a hybrid of ecology and horticulture. We take inspiration from the layered structure in the wild, but combine it with the legibility and design of horticulture. It is the best of both worlds: the functionality and biodiversity of an ecological approach, but also the focus on beauty, order and color that horticulture has given us. It’s possible to balance diversity with legibility, ecology with aesthetics.

    And it is a shift in how we take care of our gardens: a focus on management, not maintenance. When you plant in communities, you manage the entire plantings, not each individual plant. This is a pretty radical shift. It’s O.K. if a plant self-seeds around a bit, or if one plant becomes more dominant. As long as it fits the aesthetic and functional goals. We can do much less and get more.

    Q. Sort of gives new meaning to the phrase “community garden,” doesn’t it?

    A. Yes. And plants each also have particular behavior — whether it wants to hang out with other plants of its own species or not. So many gardening mistakes are a result of not paying attention to this.

    Q. You make them sound like social animals, which makes me think I’ve been shallow, objectifying plants — choosing among them for just another pretty face, instead of reading their body language to get at their true nature.

    A. One of the most useful ideas that came out of our research was this German idea of sociability, developed by Richard Hansen and Friedrich Stahl. They rank a plant’s predilection to spread on a scale of 1 to 5. A low-sociability plant is one that in the wild is almost always found by itself (Panicum virgatum, for example, is almost always found by itself in a meadow). A high-sociability plant is one that spreads into large colonies (Epimedium or Tiarella cordifolia are Level 4 plants; Carex pensylvanica and Packera aurea are Level 5). You arrange plants according to their sociability level: Plants of lower levels (1 and 2) are set individually or in small clusters. Plants of higher levels (3 to 5) are set in groups of 10 to 20-plus, arranged loosely around the others.

    It sounds geeky, ranking plants on a scale, but it’s useful because it informs which you should mass, and which you should mingle. It’s why a mass of 50 echinacea (Level 2) tends to flop. They’re just not meant to cover ground. But if you scatter a handful of echinacea in a mass of prairie dropseed or sideoats grama, it will look great.

    For years, I would pack together large grasses like switchgrass, or flowers like garden phlox (both Level 1 plants) and wonder why they got rust or powdery mildew. But if you find phlox in the wild, it will never have mildew. It’s growing out of a lot of lower plants, so it gets good air circulation. This idea changed the way I look at plants and pay attention to how they behave.

    Q. I know that nature doesn’t plop a 50-foot tree in a mowed lawn (or mow its lawn at all, actually), so that’s not the winning design tactic. I also know that more diverse layered designs are richer ecologically — and now you are saying they are easier to manage, too. But how do I figure out how to fit the right plants together?

    A. We need to start thinking about how, not what. So many garden books focus on what to plant, but so few focus on how to arrange plants to fit together in ecological combinations. When we fit our plants together like a tight jigsaw puzzle, the maintenance goes way, way down. They start becoming resilient systems rather than random objects.

    To do this, we need to pay attention to a plant’s shape. Its shape is often an indication of where it grows in the vertical strata of a plant community. Upright plants with low or minimal basal foliage like Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium) or spiky upright plants like beargrass (Nolina bigelovii) have adapted to growing through other plants. Horizontally spreading rhizomatous plants like Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) or beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) have adapted to grow underneath others. You almost have to look at a plant from the vantage point of a chipmunk to see its shape.

    What I love about this layering idea is that it gives gardeners flexibility. Those lower layers should be very biodiverse: lots of different plants covering the ground and providing stability. But diversity in this layer does not really look messy, because most of these plants are growing underneath our taller ones, so you don’t really see them.

    In my garden, I have a corner with dry shade where I have a handful of shrubs that screens a busy road. Lately I’ve been adding white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata), Appalachian barren strawberry (Geum fragarioides) and Pennsylvania sedge and watching them fill the gaps. Upper layers, on the other hand, are the ones I consider the “design” layers because they shape your impression of the planting. You can arrange them naturalistically, or in neat clumps — whatever style you like. That’s the flexibility: The order and legibility of the upper layers combines with the diversity and functionality of the lower ones.

    The really cool thing is you can combine this layering idea with the sociability idea. Those Level 1 and 2 sociability plants tend to be those taller upright plants you use in the top layers of your garden because they like to grow through others. The Level 3 to 5 plants tend to be your lower spreading ground-hugging species.

    Q. So I am not shopping for plants solely as decorative objects, but for plants with a purpose — for instance, as a living mulch or a good companion to others. Of course none of that, neither the “sociability” nor the plant’s layer, is on the plant labels. A tag might say “for containers or landscapes” or that the plant is “trailing” or “upright” or “mounding,” but that’s about it. What should the label say to help me put plants together successfully?

    A. My dream label would describe things that are actually useful to understanding how it grows. It would describe its shape, its root system (taprooted, deep fibrous roots, shallow horizontal roots); its life span (a short-lived pioneer like columbine, or a long-lasting lavender); its sociability level; its adaptation to stress (quick-establishing, but short-lived ruderal species like Gaura lindheimeri or Nassella tenuissima; a thuggish, fast-spreading competitor like Monarda didyma; or a slow but steady stress-tolerator like Hosta or Calamintha). These are really the factors that explain how it will grow in our gardens.

    Q. Where can we learn more? Being Northeastern, I love studying plants on the Go Botany plant finder from the New England Wildflower Society, for instance.

    A. The Mt. Cuba Center, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the California Native Plant Society websites all have excellent information about how a plant grows in the wild and what it grows with. But mostly, I think gardeners can get to know their plants by going outside and getting reacquainted. Take a look at their shape, how they spread and see what they are trying to show you. You can learn a lot.


  • 06 Apr 2017 12:57 PM | Julia Dupuis (Administrator)

    Source

    Three trillion. That's the staggering number of trees on Earth, according to a new tally that astounds even the scientists who compiled it.

    Three trillion is three followed by 12 zeroes, which is more than the number of stars in the Milky Way and more than the number of cells in a human brain. If the new sum is accurate – and other scientists think it is – the planet boasts roughly 420 trees for every living person. An earlier count pegged the global tree total at a mere 400 billion, but that study relied on less sophisticated methods.

    The gold medal for tree numbers goes to Russia, with 642 billion. The United States is fourth with 228 billion, behind only Russia, Canada and Brazil, although the United States lags behind many more countries in tree density. The figures are published in this week's Nature.

    The total is "astonishing," study co-author Thomas Crowther, who did the research as a postdoctoral student at Yale University, told reporters. When Crowther asked forestry experts to predict the total, they made wildly incorrect guesses, he said in a separate interview. "No one could comprehend the scale of the things we were seeing."

    In a more sobering find, Crowther and his team calculated that roughly 15.3 billion trees are cut down each year, and humanity has reduced the Earth's tree population by nearly half since civilization began. Around the world, one of the biggest influences on the number of trees is the corps of humans wielding chainsaws and axes.

    The scientists didn't have to count the world's trees one by one. But they still needed two years, data amassed by thousands of tree huggers and a good chunk of supercomputer time to add up all those oaks and palms and pines. The team combined actual tree counts made in wooded areas, around the world, with satellite pictures. By counting actual trees and comparing them to satellite pictures, they learned how to predict the number of trees in places where satellite views were the only source of information. The result is the first full-coverage map of the entire planet's tree density and one of the very few estimates that sees the trees and not just the forest.

    Other scientists cheered the new statistics. The three-trillion estimate is "reasonable" and based on good science, Richard Lucas, a professor of remote sensing and biogeography at Australia's University of New South Wales who was not involved with the study, said via email. The data will lead to a better understanding of global diversity, he said.

    The new information also speaks for the trees, which may seem endless but in fact are rapidly disappearing.

    The results provide "another way of saying we are really, really, really having an incredible impact on our natural ecosystems," said tropical forest ecologist Hans ter Steege of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, a Dutch museum and research institute. The study shows "we've actually taken away almost half of the trees already. … That for me was pretty alarming."


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