Thursday, May 24, 2012

More Than a Leaf

Many new and exciting things have been happening in my life, currently the very best one is I have been given an opportunity to study and learn from an amazing person all about plants!  I have only been up to the ranch twice but I have learned so much and feel truly inspired.  So in honor of the wonderful world of plants I want to write about a subject I taught about in my good friend Gilly's 4th grade class, leaves!
I went to Gilly's class to discuss biomimicry and more importantly taking a closer look at the world.  I finished my talk by giving every student in the class a piece of wheat grass and asking why they thought it was designed the way it was.  They had some great and inventive answers, just a small reinder about how we loose the power of imagination and thinking outside the box as we age.  But back to my topic, leaves are a great example of how form follows function.

A plants leaves serve the very important task of food production. They contain chloroplasts which use the power of sunlight to turn water H2O into oxygen O2 via photosynthesis.  This process can get infinitely more complicated depending on the type of plant, but for today we will keep it simple and just do the process and structure of an average leafy plant.  The leaves also transpire i.e. let gases and even water escape via leaves. 

Now this diagram shows the structure for an average leaf, but each of the above sections can be expanded or condensed based on the plants environment.  Cacti have modified leaves in the form of spines, I assure you these really are their form of leaves.  They have condensed the leaf volume down drastically because they live in an volatile sun and heat environment.  They also have developed a very thick waxy cuticle to literally seal in water and prevent transpiration. 

So compare the succulents with their complete opposite, plants on the jungle floor, like the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa).  This is a plant with giant dark green leaves.  So why have huge wide leaves?  Well this plant normally lives on the jungle floor where only traces on sunlight sneak through the dense canopy.  The most efficient way to get enough sunlight is to cover as much area as possible.  Jungles are also subject to high rain volume and humidity, so large leaves allow excessive water to transpire, but humidity doesn't allow the plant to become dehydrated.

For the last plant today, lets look at one of the worlds most popular plants, a rose.  Roses typically like moderate sun and light watering.  They are notoriously hardy and easy to maintain.  Their leaves are smaller and moderate in amount.  This makes sense, have leaves that are a conservative size because they happily exist in open sun areas.  They do not need to be ultraconservative to survive extreme temperatures so the conventional leaf shape is still acceptable.  They have a drier leaf because they do live in direct sunlight and lower humidity areas.  they can't afford to let too much water transpire.

I hope taking a look at three types of leaves inspires you to take a closer look at plants and life on this planet in general.  Nature designed everything with a purpose.  Use your inquisitive brain and take a deeper look and ask why.

That's it for now,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Last Unicorn

Trying to get back into my science mind set lately, really looking forward to some great opportunities I have coming up in my life.  My goal has been and continues to be conservation of our planet and the plants and animals that inhabit it.  My mind often wanders on how best to accomplish my mission, thus far my best answer has been to continue on my path.  So enough with the life goal talk, lets get to the animals! 

I often joke how cool it would be to have a unicorn or Pegasus but few people realize that there are animals that have been suspected of being mythical in earlier times.  The Oryx has been accused of being a unicorn by several civilizations and high authority figures.  Aristotle and Pliny the Elder both thought the Oryx was the unicorn prototype.   The unicorn belief was likely perpetuated because a Oryx's horn is made of bone, therefore when a Oryx looses one via injury it will not grow back.  Their profile also hides one horn behind the other.  This would likely lead to several unicorn "sightings". 

The Oryx resembles an antelope or large deer.  It is very large (400 lbs), white with dark markings around eyes and on shoulders, and their most prominent feature are their two long horns.  There are a few types including the Arabian Oryx and Scimitar Oryx.  They prefer grassy steppes or semi-desserts.  They used to roam over Eastern Africa, and North American, they are considered extinct in the wild.  Zoos across the country have untied to get a large breeding program together and they are making a comeback. 

The Oryx is extremely good at adapting their body for hot temperatures.  They can reduce the rate of evaporation from their body to conserve water.  They can modify their body to 46.5 degrees Celsius before perspiration, while also being able to lower their temperature to 36 degrees Celsius at night.  They have a network of very fine blood vessels that travel from heart to the brain that pass through the nasal passages.  This allows blood to cooled before it hits the brain.  Due to their special kidneys which can stop urination, an Oryx can survive 9-20 months without water.  They can get their water requirement met by eating water rich plants. 

Hope you enjoyed learning a little more about a real life unicorn, the Oryx. 
That's it for now,