Sunday, 30 November 2014

Paeony goes full circle

As we reach the end of November our Paeony plant has finally come full circle. Here is the story of its year's growth.

Paeony plants are only visible above ground in the spring, summer and autumn. In winter their above-ground shoots die down. When the spring comes, new shoots appear at ground level and rapidly expand to form large shoots, about 2 feet tall. At the tip of each shoot, a large flower appears. When the flowers have set seed and the weather turns cold again, the nutrition from the shoots is drawn back into the storage structures under ground, and the shoots die back.

This is a paeony plant in the earliest few days of its spring growth, on the 13th March. The buds are clearly beginning to grow up and expand, but they have not got very far yet.

Partially expanded Paeony buds, 13th March.

The photo below shows a close up of one of these partially expanded buds.

A paeony shoot rapidly expanding at the beginning of spring.  This shoot is about 5 cm tall. 13th March.

After two days of further grown a similar bud on the same plant looks like this:

Partially expanded Paeony bud, 15th March. 

Two weeks later, the whole plant has exploded into growth, producing large green leaves, with large spherical flower buds at the tips of the shoots. 

Well expanded Paeony buds 29th March. 

Below is a close up of the shoot that was shown at the top of the page. It has clearly changed at great deal in only a couple of weeks, and is almost ready to flower. 

Well expanded Paeony buds 29th March. 

The plant flowers, but then remains much the same until about the end of August or a bit later. By the end of November the nutrition in the leaves has almost all been drawn back down into the underground storage tubers. The is clearly seen in the photo below, with all of the leaves turned brown and dry.

29th November of the same year. 
At this point it is quite reasonable to cut all of the old foliage off, which leaves the plant looking much as it did at the top of the page. The photo below shows the plant with its leaves all gone, and the new buds for next year all poking out, and ready to go.

29th November of the same year. 
 The photo below shows a close-up of these new shoots. They are ready to burst into growth as soon as the conditions signal to the plant that spring is firmly established. When that happens the buds will grow in exactly the same way as we saw in the first photographs above.

29th November of the same year. 

The paeony is a remarkable plant that is able to go through this explosive cycle of growth and renewal ever year. In particular it has the uncanny ability to shut down all of its used leaves at the same time as producing the new buds for next year. This must take some pretty serious organisation, as it is akin to waking up and going to sleep at the same time. Yet another fascinating area of botany just waiting to be explored.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Geranium robertianum

Things are a bit quieter in the garden at this time of year. The weather is quite cold, reaching only 10 degrees C in the daytime and 5 degrees C at night. Most things have stopped growing. The main exceptions are nasturtiums (Tropaeolum), and herb robert (Geranium robertianum), the flower of which is shown below.

Taking the photo was hard because it is pretty dark even during the day at the moment. Whoever invented ISO-2500, they did me quite a favour. :-)

Specs for the photo:

aperture: f/7.1
1/160th second exposure

Happy November to you!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

How closely are these two plants related?

Sometimes we find two plants with unmistakable similarity, and we might wonder how closely they are related? Can we, as enthusiastic gardening bods, burrow into the scientific data online and figure this out for ourselves? Yes, we can!

Academic science is all made public via journals, and increasingly via big bioinformatics databases.

This means that if we want to find out how closely two plants are related then it only takes a couple of minutes work, and no expense to figure this out. 

First we go to the NCBI Taxonomy Browser:

We search for the first of the two plants that we are interested in: Iris reticulata Harmony

Iris reticulata Harmony
The complete lineage if the species is shown near to the top of the page under the word "Lineage":

cellular organisms;

The second plant that we are interested in is a marsh orchid, which I think is probably Dactylorhiza majalis.

A marsh orchid, probably Dactylorhiza majalis
Searching for this plant name gives the lineage below:

cellular organisms

If we take the two lineages of these plants and look for the categories in common we can see where the two species are believed to diverge, just below the  Asparagales:

                                         cellular organisms;














                             Iridaceae;                          Orchidaceae

                                  Iris                                     Orchidoideae




Clicking around in these pages it is possible to see that our two plants are also related to other plants in the Asparagales group, for example Agapanthoideae (African lily family), Allioideae (onion famly), and Asparagaceae (asparagus family).

So the answer is that they are pretty closely related, but there are a bunch of other things that are in that group too, which are also fairly different. 

It is very easy to find out which plants are also in this group, and we might like to consider growing some to see if they enjoy the same conditions as are two existing plants. Remember though, a marsh orchid that thrives in wet Scottish soil and a tropical orchid are unlikely to like the same ground, even though they may be in the same family group, so this is careful work. We definitely want to read up on these related plants before we go spending hard earned cash on plants. 

Good! So now we have done some bioinformatics with our gardening. That's a pretty good day by any measure.