Spanish Moss is not a Moss

Infamous is heading south and you will see some pictures of that.  The first plant in this exciting journey is Spanish Moss.  As I recall, this is an epiphyte in the flowering plant family called Bromeliads.  Bromeliads are famous for pineapples and colorful houseplants.  Spanish moss is in the Genus Tillansia sp. 

It is not a parasite, as some folks claim.  An epiphyte simply hangs from a host tree for support. It’s photosynthesis works just fine.  Epiphytes usually grow in areas of high humidity since they have no roots in the soil.  They can catch rain, but mostly they just slowly absorb water from the air. 

Epiphytes do not directly harm their host trees as a parasite would.  However, they may become so thick and numerous that they block some sunlight to the host’s leaves.  They also can cause a problem from their weight hanging down the branches of the host.  They may also catch the wind and harm the host in that way.  Usually, though the host remains healthy and not affected by the epiphyte.

Spanish moss grows from mid Virginia into the deep south where the temperatures are mild.  It seems to prefer Live Oak trees because of the minerals exuded from thier leaves.  These serve as a source of nutrients for the plant.

Hanging tresses of Spanish Moss


Photo of the Day: English Ivy

A winter picture of the mature morphology of Boston Ivy, Hedera helix.

Freeze Protection with Irrigation

I have been asked by one of my avid readers to explain why agricultural crops are often protected from freezing weather by spraying them with water.  That is a good question since if you were to spray a warm body, like a person or animal , with water, they would be very cold.  Plants are not warm bodies and are not affected by windchill in the classical sense. 

First, I must say that there are many factors that go into making a plant winter hardy.  The rootstock, the variety of fruit, the nutrient level of the plant the previous summer, the weather prior to the freeze, the fruit load,  the soil type and the topography of the plantation all impact cold hardiness. 

Assuming all other facters are equal, what is the deal with spraying water all over them?  The short answer is the heat of fusion.  When water changes phases from a liquid to a solid, it emits a burst of energy as heat.  As I recall, it is very small, but something like 2-3 calories per gram of water freezing is emitted.  That burst of heat, of course melts the ice and turns it minutely back into water liquid.  If a liitle drop of water begins to freeze, emits it’s heat, and cold continues to be around it, of course, the cold overcomes the tiny little heat and just freezes it.  In other words, there is a little bit of resistance on water’s part to turning phses and becoming ice.  If all the water on the trees were just frozen, the little heat would be dissipated and the tree would freeze.   If, however, you keep putting water on the tree from an irrigation sprinkler, there is always liquid water coming in.  By its definition, liquid water must be warmer than 32 degrees, plus, it keeps making that heat of fusion burst a few calories to keep it on the knife edge. 

It seems like this would be very minimal and it would not really work that well.  It is true, we are talking saving the trees a few degrees in order to just barely keep them alive and not frozen.  A citrus tree, with all its internal sugars and juices will exprience freeze damage if it is exposed to 28 degrees for more than 4 hours. This is without the irrigation water on it.   So if the water can keep the treess to a minimal level of warmth, it will save the trees.

There is another aspect of irrigating to preserve trees, and that is evaporation.  This is usually a minor point.  Imagine if you sprayed water on a warm body like a human and set that person outside.  The evaporation of the water would cool him even further.  So in order to not have the heat loss of evaporation, there must be about 100 percent humidity.   The math behind it is this.  You must have 7.5 gallons of water freezing and changing phases to produce the heat necessary to counteract evaporation i n a normal situation, say 75% humidity.  That is usually easily done since the method of adding water to the trees is by overhead irrigation and you can pour lots of water on them.  I just mention this because in certain weather conditions such as low humidity, wind, etc. it can become a factor.  Usually by the time all this overhead water pours down, the humidity near the tree’s branches is near 100% anyway.

It is a myth that the ice you see covering trees in the new’s pictures is serving as an insulator and keeping the buds warm.  Ice is a very poor insulator.  Although I think it would block evaporation.  heh-heh

I hope  I will not see any examples of this on my upcoming trip to Florida. Right now I have no pictures to show you.  If you want to read more about this, try this link:

Some Botany for a change

Movie Review: Up in the Air 4.5 Stars

OK, I’ll admit it.  This movie got a bump in the rating because of Clooney.  He is very well dressed in this film.  He plays a businessman who lives, literally, on the road.  He likes the high style of business class everything from airline seats, to hotel rooms.  His home life does not exist.  When he is not traveling he sublets a room from a friend and keeps minimal items there.  His life goal is to try to get Continental airlines’ highest frequent flyer card and all the perks that come with it.

Enter a real person in all the business class madness.  He meets a nice woman who makes him think about entering into a real life.  A charming costar in Vera Farmiga.  I have not seen her in anything else, but she was good.  Also as a kind of comic co-star, Anna Kendrick plays Clooney’s trainee fantastically.  She is a future star, very good.  4.5*/5*

Movie Review: Book of Eli 2 Stars

If you want to see yet another post apocalyptic movie with medium writing, this is the movie for you.  Denzel Washington is Eli, a sojourner heading west with the last copy of the Bible known on Earth.  He meets evil villans and folky nice people.  There is blowing up and gun play.  Eli repairs a point-blank gut shot on his tummy with duct tape and continues on his journey.  Cute girl/woman becomes enamored with him although he is too gentlemanly to do anything about it.  Movie ends with an interesting twist. 

I did like a couple scenes very well.  Eli feeds a piece of roasted cat he is eating to a curious mouse.  I liked the duct tape surgery scene.  Other than that, I would say wait for the video.  It is an OK movie, but not great.  2*/5*

Manure’s Disease

I am posting this information because I keep hearing about this condition.  It is actually spelled Menieres disease.  The best description is a few brief sentences from Wikipedia.

Ménière’s disease (pronounced /meɪnˈjɛərz/[1]) is a disorder of the inner ear that can affect hearing and balance. It is characterized by episodes of dizziness and tinnitus and progressive hearing loss, usually in one ear. It is caused by lymphatic channel dilation,[2] affecting the drainage of endolymph. It is named after the French physician Prosper Ménière, who first reported that vertigo was caused by inner ear disorders in an article published in 1861.”

Just as when you hear a new word, you start noticing it all over the place, I keep hearing about cases of this.  I think this is because the symptoms are somewhat vague and occur frequently alone.  When vertigo, hearing loss, tinnitus and a feeling of fullness in the ears all occur together, it is probably a diagnosis one should discuss with one’s physician.  I think I keep hearing about this because of the company I keep.  As I age, my contemporaries are starting to get these problems that plague the elderly.  I also believe one of the causes of fluid retention in the middle ears is high blood pressure and eating too much salt.  We eat sodium in many products.  Try it for yourself.  Look at food labels and see if you are consuming too much sodium in your diet.  Try to get less than 2000 mg.  If you have blood pressure problems or symptoms of Menieres disease, some doctors recommend as little as 400 mg.  It would be darn near impossible to keep to that restrictive a diet, but we all could do better by some awareness and caution with sodium.

An attempt at Humor

WHAT PETS WRITE IN THEIR DIARIES  (This is not original, completely stolen from an internet email and pictures of our pets added.)

Excerpt from a Dog’s Diary……..

The scurvy dog. He must be retarded.

8:00 am – Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am – A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am – A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am – Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm – Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm – Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm – Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm – Milk Bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm – Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm – Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm – Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Excerpt from a Cat’s Diary…

Held captive

Day 983 of my captivity….

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets.

Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a ‘good little hunter’ I am. Bastards.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of ‘allergies.’ I must learn what this means and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow — but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released – and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now .

Turkey Genetics

Yes, Well, continuing on with our study of wierd genetics, today we consider the Turkey.  The bird, not the country.  I know nothing about Turkish genetics, just turkey genetics.  The Beltsville Small White, specifically.

A long time ago, in a state we shall call Maryland, there were agricultural scientists called breeders.  In Beltsville, MD, some breeders developed a fowl from the turkey which had white feathers.  White is easier on the eyes when you pluck the feathers off a bird on its way to becoming Thanksgiving dinner.   The turkey breeders were massing a bunch of birds into a pen and discarding the  boy turkeys because their meat might be tough to the consumer.  When a wonderous thing happened.  Although the pen consisted of all girl turkeys, they continued to lay eggs.  (That isn’t the wonderous part)  The eggs hatched.  Girl birds lay eggs all the time, just as most females ovulate routinely.  The mystery is how the eggs turned into live turkeys if there were no boy turkeys in there?

And then here we come to the most wonderous part.  Turkeys do not need men turkeys in the short term.  Turkeys are parthenogenic.  Girl turkeys can cook up a perfectly functional baby turkey from NOTHING.  They just lay an egg and out comes a baby turkey.  However, in a cruel twist of fate, all the parthenogenic baby turkeys were boy-turkeys.

Unlike the XY sex determination system in your upper, normal animals like kitties and humans, turkeys are on the ZW system.  Girl turkeys have the genotype of ZW and can make an egg for either a girl (W) or for a boy (Z).   Double u-ness equals girl turkey.  Z-ness is boy.  So a diploid girl turkey is ZW and a diploid boy turkey is ZZ.  In turkeys, WW is a lethal gene combination.  So no parthenogenically created turkeys will ever be WW.  So that leaves ZZ which is a boy.  So turkeys can get one generation from creating fertile eggs without mating.  That generation will be composed entirely of guy turkeys.  The ladies can get away with it at first, but sooner or later, they need the guys.

All us girls are fierce and proud

Bee’s Genetics

Bee genetics

One of my favorite people is taking genetics in school now. That class can tell you some weird biology. One of my favorites is the fun facts of bee genetics and sex. Bees live in a social colony with only one queen laying eggs. The workers scatter throughout the hive taking care of it.  They fly out gathering nectar and pollen to provide for the members of the hive. Workers are aptly named because they do all the work and the queen does nothing except have babies (eggs). The queen has a full complement of chromosomes, 2X. One X comes from her mother and one X comes from her father. She has 2x and when she is ready to mate, as in all most animals, she makes eggs by meiosis which are 1X. She needs a mate to supply the other half of the chromosomes, (1X) . Where does her mate come from? Well, from the previous queen usually. When virgin queens fly out of the hive on mating flights, they are looking to mate with a boy bee called a drone. The queen only flies and mates once for her whole life. She then stores the sperm in her body and uses a little at a time as she cooks up eggs that need it. She only lives a year or two, but that is still some impressive longevity for an insect. As she uses up her stored sperm, workers are created. The egg has half the chromosomes and the sperm has the other half. The fertilized eggs grow up to become worker bees. They stay worker bees unless they are fed royal jelly as infants by the workers. So the queen and the workers are both genetically diploid organisms. Now for the males. The queen makes males when her supply of sperm gets depleted. Her eggs are 1X and if they are not fertilized by any sperm, she lays them anyway as 1X organisms. In insects, 1X, or haploid organisms occur sometimes. These are the drones or boy bees. The guys are only made of half the normal chromosone number, so when they make sperm, they do not do meiosis or reduction division, they just do gametogenesis by mitosis, or regular cell division. When the queen begins laying drones, the workers take a cue and start making a bunch of new queen cells because they know the end of the current queen is near. The new queen cells grow and hatch. New queens must fly and mate before they can lay eggs. One hive may produce numerous new queens who either fly away and make a new colony or fight with each other for dominance of the current colony. Summary: Queen=2x, make eggs by meiosis. Eggs=1x Drones=1X, make sperm by mitosis Sperm=1x Eggs 1X+sperm 1X =2X workers= BEES! Cool genetics, huh?

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