- 5 days ago
- 2 weeks ago
Mmm mmm coffee. This wonderful elixir has taken over the world. Though individual tastes and preferences vary, there is no denying that most folks who turn to coffee enjoy its effects as a stimulant. Many an In Defense of Plants post has been written in a coffee-fueled frenzy. Even as I write this piece, I am taking breaks to sip on a warm mug of the stuff. Coffee has plenty of proponents as well as its fair share of nay sayers but the health effects don’t really concern me much. Today I would rather talk with you about the shrubs that are behind all of this.
The coffee we drink comes from a handful of shrubs in the genus Coffea. Native to parts of Africa, these shrubs are distant relatives of plants like buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and the bedstraws (Galium sp.). The “beans” that we brew coffee from are not beans at all but rather a type of pit or stone found in the center of a bright red berry. Before they are roasted, the beans are actually green. Plants in this genus produce an alkaloid compound known as caffeine. Though it may seem strange, the purpose of caffeine is not to stimulate the human nervous system (though it is a wonderful side effect) but rather it is produced as a defense mechanism for the plant. Making this compound is a complex process that involved many metabolic steps within the tissues of the plant. There are certain factions out there who would like to argue that this is proof against evolution but, as always, evidence seems to be the downfall of their argument.
Creationists will tell you that the adaptations we see throughout the living world are too complex to have happened by accident. In reality, there is a vast amount of evidence that disputes this. Caffeine is a wonderful example of this. It has evolved independently multiple times in many different plant lineages. Looking at the genome of coffee, researchers at the University at Buffalo (my alma mater) found that the genes involved in the synthesis of caffeine did not arise all at once. Instead, the genes duplicated multiple times throughout the history of this genus and each duplication coded for another step in the process of producing the molecule. The interesting part is that each step of this evolutionary process produced a chemical that was indeed useful to the plant. The precursor compounds are bitter and toxic to the kinds of animals that would like to nibble on the plant.
As it turns out, the benefits that the plants get from caffeine aren’t restricted to defense either. Coffee, as well as other flowering plants such as citrus, produce small amounts of caffeine in their nectar. Researchers at Arizona State University found that bees were 3 times more likely to remember a flowers scent when there was caffeine in the nectar than if there wasn’t! This serves a great benefit to the plant producing it because it means that its flowers are much more likely to get pollinated. As it turns out, humans aren’t the only species that enjoys a good buzz from caffeine.
Before we get too excited over coffee, we must remember that is definitely has its downside. Worldwide, we humans drink roughly 2.25 billion cups of the stuff every day. In order to produce that much coffee, humans have turned somewhere around 11 million hectares of land into coffee plantations. This has come at an extreme cost to the environment. Also, being a tropical species, the types of habitat used to grow coffee were once lush, tropical rain forests. A majority of coffee consumed around the world is produced in monocultures. Where there once stood towering trees and a lush understory is now an open, chemically-laden field of coffee shrubs. There is hope, however, and it is rising in popularity.
If you enjoy coffee as much as I do, you should certainly consider switching over to shade grown coffee. I have attached a fair amount of literature at the bottom of this post but the long story short of it is that growing coffee is much less harmful to the environment when it is grown in a forest rather than open plantations. The structural complexity of shade grown coffee farms allows a greater diversity of plant and animals species to coexist with one another. Species diversity and richness are significantly higher on shade grown farms than on open field plantations.
So, there you have it. Coffee is as complex as it is interesting. We humans are simply lucky to have stumbled across a plant that interacts with our brain chemistry in wonderful ways. Certainly coffee has benefitted in the long run.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Also the human cost is quite high. I don’t care if we have to add a million labels onto it: fair trade, organic, shade grown, cruelty free, not evil coffee tastes far better than the alternative.
(via iontha)Source: indefenseofplants
- 2 weeks ago
An 8-step Plan for Pineapple World Domination
Step 1. In the supermarket, look in the top of each pineapple: is there fungus or rot? If so, keep looking. Many pineapples you buy in the store are already exhibiting the early stages of heart rot. Find your perfect, healthy pineapple.
Step 2. Eat delicious pineapple
Step 3. Cut away all of the sugary flesh, until you are just left with the leaves. It should look like this:
Step 4. Peel back the first few leaves on the bottom. Often, you will notice small, flattened, brownish roots between the layers of leaves; they look like this:
Step 5. Moisten some potting soil, stick the roots in the ground, and pray.
Step 7. Create pineapple standing army
Step 8. Well, you saw the gif.
[All credit for the gifs goes to kanegon-rock]
(via cockatooscreamingrituals)Source: kanegon-rock
- 4 weeks ago
- 1 month ago
Other toxic flowers for cats:
- Amaryllis (Amaryllis sp.)
- Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale)
- Azaleas and Rhododendrons (Rhododendron sp.)
- Castor Bean (Ricinus communis)
- Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum sp.)
- Cyclamen (Cyclamen sp.)
- English Ivy (Hedera helix)
- Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe sp.)
- Lilies (Lilium sp.)
- Marijuana (Cannabis sativa)
- Oleander (Nerium oleander)
- Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum sp.)
- Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
- Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
- Spanish thyme (Coleus ampoinicus)
- Tulip and Narcissus bulbs (Tulipa and Narcissus sp.)
- Yew (Taxus sp.)
(via biodiverseed)Source: thenagaqueen
- 1 month ago
Sometimes when plants look sick or appear to be under attack by insects, the symptoms are actually a sign that the plant is being stressed by environmental factors. Here are some common symptoms of stress and the conditions that cause them.
image source [x]
Wilting can indicate insect or disease problems, but is most commonly due to a lack of soil moisture. Don’t assume plants have enough water if the soil surface is moist. Dig down and make sure it is moist to a depth of at least 6″ for most vegetable plants and other annuals. If soil is too dry, water plants thoroughly; they should recover within 24 hours.
Soil that’s too wet can also cause wilting, as excess water pushes air out of the soil and suffocates the roots. If the soil is too wet, discontinue any supplemental watering and wait for the soil to dry out. If the plants do not recover, water may not be the problem (or the damage was too severe).
Wilting is also a normal response to extreme heat. This physiological reaction indicates that the plant has temporarily shut down to minimize moisture loss. Wait to see if the plants recover in the evening when temperatures cool.
Newly transplanted seedlings and other plants that have recently been moved outdoors, will also wilt when first exposed to sun and wind. Shield them in a lightly shaded, wind-protected area or cover them with garden fabric until they get acclimated.
Bleached areas on the foliage of new transplants or plants that have been moved from indoors to outdoors, can indicate sunburn. Discoloration will be most pronounced on the leaves most exposed to the sun. To prevent sunburn, seedlings and other tender plants should be exposed to direct sunlight gradually, over a period of several days. Plants will usually outgrow minor sunburn.
Black areas on leaves can indicate frost damage. The most exposed leaves will show more damage if the plants have been nipped by a light frost. Foliage that has been damaged by a late-spring frost will not recover, but the plants will usually outgrow the damage. Allow damaged foliage to remain until the threat of frost has passed and the plant has begun to show new growth.
Ragged foliage can be the result of heavy winds, rain or hail. Though this is largely a cosmetic issue, it also makes the plant more vulnerable to invasion by disease pathogens. For this reason, it’s usually best to remove damaged foliage. In most cases the leaves will be quickly replaced.
Off-color foliage can be caused by a nutrient deficiency. If the color is paler than normal, it may indicate a nitrogen deficiency. If the leaf veins are green but the area between them is yellow, suspect an iron deficiency. Plants with a phosphorus deficiency often have a reddish or purplish cast. Stunted growth may mean there is an overall shortage of essential nutrients.
Organic fertilizers generally provide a broad spectrum of slow-release nutrients, including micro-nutrients. Check soil pH and adjust it if necessary for the plants you are growing (most vegetable plants prefer a pH of about 6.8). Improper pH can prevent plants from absorbing soil nutrients, even when they are present in the soil.
Dried leaf margins can indicate fertilizer burn or wind burn. Always apply fertilizers according to label directions to avoid over-fertilizing. Organic fertilizers rarely cause burning because the nutrients are released slowly over time. Young plants should be protected from wind by garden fabric, neighboring plants, or a wind break.
Burned foliage, especially in one specific area on the plant, may indicate damage caused by herbicide overspray or animal urine. Spray foliage with clear water and prune away any permanently damaged foliage.
(via mangoestho)Source: mangoestho