Flowers bloom for a second time this year

UK plants are flowering for a second time this year because of the unseasonably warm weather.

With temperatures soaring, plants such as foxglove and cowslip, which usually flower in the spring, are in full bloom six to eight months early.

Cold nights experienced across the UK in August are thought to have led to the early onset of autumn colours.

This warmer spell now has plants acting like it is spring.

Gardeners at the Kew’s Wakehurst Place gardens in Sussex said they are working from a “new rule book” to keep up.

“It is a very unsual year…I’ve been gardening for 30 years and have never seen anything like this,” said Wakehurst Place’s head Andy Jackson.

“We are increasingly seeing that plants are not synchronised with what the weather is doing,” he added.

In the last year, the UK experienced a severe drought, then lots of rainfall and a cold snap in the summer, all before this warm spell explained Mr Jackson.

From mid-August, gardeners were seeing trees turning yellow and orange; it is unclear what will happen now with temperatures reaching into the thirties (eighties) in parts of the South, East and the Midlands.

The BBC’s meteorologist Liam Dutton explained that the position of the jet stream north of the UK has allowed high pressure to build, bringing in the very warm air from western Europe.

:: Read original here ::

Green Eggs and Salamanders

It might sound like something out of a Dr. Seuss story, but biologists have long told tales of the green eggs of the spotted salamander. Ambystoma maculatum lays its brood in ponds each spring up and down North America. These marble-sized gelatinous sacs quickly turn green (bottom left and top right images) as photosynthesizing algae grow around the developing embryo and feast on its waste. In turn, the embryo enjoys the oxygen produced by the algae. Now scientists have discovered that the algae gets a little closer than they thought. Using long-exposure imaging, the researchers detected algal fluorescence (main image) inside the developing salamander. This is the first case of an algae living symbiotically within a vertebrate, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences. How the photosynthesizing algae gets there, and how it survives inside the tissues and cells of this predominantly nocturnal amphibian is still baffling to scientists. But one thing’s for sure, the discovery means rewriting textbooks to add salamanders to a short list of organisms, including coral and bacteria, that form symbiotic relationships with plants.

:: Read original here ::

Loosing the Louse on Europe’s Largest Invasive Pest


Don’t be duped by its delicate pale flowers; Japanese knotweed can be a sinister plant. Native to eastern Asia, Fallopia japonica was intentionally introduced into gardens in Europe 200 years ago by fans of its attractive blooms; from there it spread to North America. What makes this invasive weed so menacing is its ability to grow through solid concrete foundations, forcing contractors to abandon infested building sites. In England alone, about a half-million homes are uninsurable, and in the United Kingdom, damages and removal cost $288 million a year.

Now the British government has taken a bold step to solve this knotty problem, and North American researchers might not be far behind. Last week, after more than 5 years of research into the matter and an initial pilot trial, the United Kingdom approved the widespread release of one of the plant’s natural enemies. While there are dozens of biological controls already in use against insect pests, this is the fi rst offi cially sanctioned release of one against a weed in the European Union. “This is an extremely important step. … If this is successful, it will really open the doors and open the minds of people for this control method in Europe,” says weed biocontrol specialist Hariet Hinz of CABI Europe in Delemont, Switzerland, a nonprofi t agricultural research organization.

:: Read original here ::

The Oldest Buttercup Yet

Darwin called the origin of flowering plants an “abominable mystery.” They appear in the fossil record and immediately grow abundant and varied, creating a problem for his theory of slow but continuous change. The unearthing of a new fossil in northeast China, described online today in Nature, could explain the apparent contradiction. The ancient flowering plant, Archaefructus liaoningensis, resembles a modern-day buttercup, with slender stems and three-lobed leaves. Its discovery pushes back the date of when flowering plants diversified to around 127 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous period. That’s a couple of million years earlier than Darwin had previously thought, suggesting that these ancient blooms had longer to evolve than he suspected.

:: Read original here ::

World’s Fastest Moving Carnivorous Plant

fastestcarnivorousplantGrabbing a quick nibble between meals? Bet you can’t slurp your snack as quickly as Utricularia. These aquatic plants, commonly called bladderworts, are sustained via a root system but supplement their diet by trapping small invertebrates, like copepods, in underwater bladders. Catching this on film for the first time, researchers have discovered that bladderworts engulf prey in less than a millisecond (slowed down to a 10th of the real speed in the first part of video), making this the fastest trapping mechanism of any carnivorous plant, including the Venus Flytrap. Close analysis of the video reveals that as prey trigger hairs on a bladder, a semicircular trapdoor swings in rapidly and the walls of the bladder expand, creating pressure that sucks in water and the prey, researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B . The door then snaps back into place, ensnaring the small morsel, which the plant then surrounds in digestive juices. That’s a new record for fast food.

:: Read original here ::

Ancient ‘Seaweed’ Rewrites History

The discovery of leaf-thin, seaweed-like fossils in China nudges back the moment when ancient life went from microscopic to merely tiny. At 600 million years old, the new fossils—called the Lantian Formation—are 27 million years older than the so-called Avalon fossils found in Canada and England, which, until now, were the earliest known fossil assemblage of multicellular life. The new specimens, some resembling modern day seaweeds, represent 15 or so photosynthetic algae researchers report online today in Nature. Unlike the Avalon fossil organisms, which thrived in deep-water environments, these ancient “seaweeds” lived in shallow marine seas. That means paleontologists need to rethink their theory that oxygenation of the deep oceans triggered the rise of more complex organisms.

:: Read original here ::

Dinosaur Munchies May Have Bulked Up Pinecones

The next time you step on a big, spiky pinecone, blame a dinosaur. A new study suggests that these seed carriers used to be soft and thin but that they had to toughen up when dinos with long necks started nibbling on them.

Conifers, such as today’s cypresses, Douglas firs, and giant redwoods, produce two types of cones: slender male cones that release pollen and bulky female cones that house the seeds. Ancient conifers also produced two cones, but palaeobotanist Andrew Leslie of Yale University noticed that they were both slim and unassuming, like today’s male cones.

Eager to find out what made the female cones bulk up, Leslie scoured the world’s herbariums—calipers in hand—in search of well-preserved fossil conifers. He compared the 70 or so specimens he found with more than 200 living species. Leslie’s early observation stood up: Female cones have gotten fatter. This widening was not a result of larger seeds but instead a broadening of the scales with which the cone arms itself against grazers, he reports online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Leslie found the first cases of wider seed cones in the Jurassic period, a time when very large vertebrate herbivores, such as the long-necked sauropods Diplodocus and Barapasaurus, roamed Earth. These dinosaurs would have been able to graze much higher than earlier species, putting female cones at risk.

Scientists are still debating whether sauropods lifted their necks to feed from the tops of trees, as giraffes do. But even without reaching up, they could graze up to a height of 5 meters. “This still represents a notable increase in browsing height compared to previous vertebrate herbivores, which were mostly browsing around 1 meter or less,” Leslie says.

“It is quite a striking pattern now that someone has pointed it out,” says plant evolutionary biologist Peter Crane of Yale, who was not involved in the study. Still, one shouldn’t rush to blame sauropods, he says. “I don’t think we should forget early birds and mammals.”

Leslie agrees: “The fossil record is pretty useless for showing what was living up in the trees.” This makes it difficult to establish whether conifers were arming themselves against taller dinosaurs or against early mammals and birds that were also beginning to appear in the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods. Even insects could have played a role. “We also see an increase in the types of insect mouth parts,” Leslie says, so insects could have broadened their diets to include conifer cones.

:: Read more here ::

Surviving drought

We’ve all felt it: a quickening of the heart and a slight shortness of breath as you walk into an exam room. Most of us recognise that the hormone adrenaline is responsible for this reaction, but we’re not unique in responding to stress with a release of hormones.

Plants do this too – but unlike you and I, they don’t have the option to flee; rooted to the spot, they can only stay and fight it out. To do this, plants release the hormone abscisic acid (ABA), which coordinates their response to stresses such as drought, extreme temperature and high salt levels.

ABA acts as a chemical courier, relaying messages from one cell to another. Cells respond to the hormone if they possess a receptor, which, once bound to the hormone, signals to the cell to go on the offensive. For plants, this means closing the tiny holes in their leaves to avoid water loss, diverting resources to their roots to increase water uptake and switching on the production of proteins that protect cells from dehydration.

:: Read more here ::