Tag Archives: plants

How One Scientist Is Helping Plants Survive California’s Worst Drought

Every living thing has its own natural responses to stress.

When critical nutrients are in short supply, our bodies, for example, find ways to maintain normal function until those nutrients are replenished. Plants do the same. In drought conditions, natural processes kick in to keep them alive until they can be watered again.

When faced with a water shortage, plants produce a stress hormone known as abscisic acid (ABA), which signals the plant to consume less water. ABA binds to a specific protein receptor in the plant, signaling stomata—or unique guard cells—to close and reduce the amount of water lost. This receptor is so important that its discovery by UC Riverside’s Sean Cutler, his team and others was listed as one of 2009′s breakthroughs of the year by Science magazine.

To help plants survive extreme drought conditions, some have tried spraying ABA directly on crops during water shortages. The move can improve crop yields, but ABA is expensive to produce and breaks down easily, even before a plant can absorb and use it.

Read more about how Sean Cutler is helping plants survive California’s worst drought

Image credit: Adam Shomsky

Could cherry blossoms one day be blooming in winter?

Chery Blossoms

The cherry blossoms in Washington D.C.’s annual festival now bloom five days earlier than when the festival was celebrated in 1921 (on average). Scientists theorize that with the drastic warming of the globe, future decades could see blossom times not just a few days early but advanced by almost a month.

To better understand the situation, researchers need large amounts of data about different all types of plants in order to analyze. Gathering all of this data is not easy.

UC Santa Barbara’s Susan Mazer explains why researchers need the public’s help to gather this information:

Facebook for Nature

Can a status update from a tulip tell us anything about climate change?

The science of seasonal observation has always mattered, but never has it been so urgent. Each year, our seasons unfold. Perhaps they feel the same to us each time, or maybe we notice the slight differences. A lack of rain in the west, and a barrage of snow in the east. Flowers are blooming earlier, fruit is ripening sooner. OK, so what’s the big deal with some slightly confused flora? Well, that confusion ripples outward, and that matters because of how beholden all living things are to other living things. The timing of our ecosystem, complicated as it is in the most ideal of times, is off-kilter.

The California Phenology Project, a collaboration between UC Santa Barbara, the National Park Service, and The National Phenology Network endeavors to document plant ranges, flowering dates, and other relevant data to assess climate change responses throughout the state of California. In the UC Natural Reserve System there are 3,300 plant species. The list reads like a poem of plants you may have never heard of: Awned Fescue, Ripgut Grass, Winecup Clarkia. The idea is that when these plants bloom within the season (and how that differs year to year) is actually a clue, indicative of the world they are blossoming into.

The phenological observations of scientists and citizens alike will all contribute to the Pheonology Project’s online resource, Nature’s Notebook, a kind of Facebook for Nature (I would totally friend request the California Poppy, golden and archetypal as it is, and Winecup Clarkia too, in all its hot pink, magenta splendor). But unlike the existential quandaries posed by the ubiquitous social media site, this online notebook will begin to reveal some of the patterns of our natural world and what that might mean for us. Since the task at hand is too large for just the professional scientists, now is the chance for people to reconnect with their environment and become contributors to this project, citizen-scientists observing and noting the plant species in Golden Gate Park or in their own backyard. We are all capable of phenological observation. The California Poppy accepts your friendship request! What will you do now?

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Converting tobacco plants into fuel for cars and airplanes

Picture 2013-01-25 at 4.30.31 PMScientists at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s FOLIUM Project, funded by ARPA-E, use light to convert the carbon in tobacco leaves into biofuels.

“Once we have a plant and a production yield that promises commercial levels within the near future, I think we will be able to attract the interest of the big tobacco companies. Growing tobacco for cigarette consumption is a dwindling industry and we believe that converting tobacco into a bioenergy crop will also generate a new market for tobacco farmers.”
— Christer Jansson