Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Just when I thought I know about everything, my friend Larry, Palm biologist, Ph. D. taught me a new thing I did not know anything about: a herbarium, which is a library where all kinds of plant specimens are stored and made available to scientists doing research on plants. The specimens in herbaria (that's the plural form of herbarium) are often used as reference material in describing plant taxa.

This herbarium belongs to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and it now houses the collection that belonged to the Florida Atlantic University.

Plant specimens collected in the wild are identified, parts of which are then prepared by preservation techniques that are quite involved: pressed, dried, frozen, mounted and stored away in controlled environments. The photo shows Larry pretending to look up some specimens that are stored as families with weird botanical binomial names. So, if you do not know the family name of a species of plant that you are interested in, good luck to look it up in here.

France has the largest herbarium in the world: Musée national d’histoire naturelle, located in Paris, France and in many other parts of the country. It is no surprise the French are on top here because France started the first ever herbarium, the Royal Medicinal Plant Garden created by King Louis XIII (pronounced ex aye aye aye) in 1635. I guess when the King was not feeling well, he had at his disposal tons of magical herbs he can try out. Later, the boy-king Louis XV (pronounced ex vee) on 31 March 1718, removed the medicinal part and changed it to the Jardin du Roi (King's Garden)—to focus on natural history. He obviously did not like to taste the weird plant roots. There, you now know as much about herbaria as I do.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Long-jawed orb weaver

My backyard is full of sticky webs. Navigating around, I need to be very careful not to destroy these homes built by spiders day in day out. If I were a Leucauge venusta, like the one in this photo, I would be very upset if you walked right through my home and I will have to start rebuilding it from scratch!

Do you know why this species has the name venusta in its binomial name Leucauge venusta? Look at the photo. It's beautiful! This photo is high resolution and you can click on it to see what I mean. Venusta means just that, beautiful in Latin. Remember Venus?

The orchard spider is a long-jawed orb-weaver spider. The Venusta orchard spider is among those orb weavers that spin their webs near the horizontal plane. Females almost always sit underneath, at the center bottom side up. These spiders are tiny. From above, they look like a pair of orange eyes watching you. These are the spots on their rear end. Quite deceiving, aren't they? Because they are hung upside down, the head is below, hidden by the beautiful long green legs.

It is not easy to take snap shots of these spiders whose webs constantly sway in the wind. I had to use my digital camera and a macro lens. If you are curious, this photo is resampled from a raw shot of 18 Megabyte using a 100mm Canon macro lens at widest aperture of f2.8, at the speed of 1/160 second and ISO 400.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Medusa Gorgon

Wikipedia says, and I quote "Petrified wood (from the Greek root petro meaning "rock" or "stone"; literally "wood turned into stone") is the name given to a special type of fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation. It is the result of a tree or tree-like plants having completely transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization. All the organic materials have been replaced with minerals (mostly a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure of the stem tissue."

Contaminating elements produce these related color hues:

carbon – black
cobalt – green/blue
chromium – green/blue
copper – green/blue
iron oxides – red, brown, and yellow
manganese – pink/orange
manganese oxides – blackish/yellow

Physically, the buried organic material is oxygen starved, but not completely dead while mineral-laden underground water flows through and deposits various mineral in the dying plants' cells.

Now you know how the deadly Medusa half-lady-half-snake Greek mythology creature turned foolish human warriors into stone. She used this process, but instead of it taking centuries, hers happened in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

But... Wikipedia talks again, and it says:

"Artificial petrified wood has been produced in a Washington laboratory. In the process small cubes of pine are soaked in an acid bath for two days, then in a silica solution for another two. The product is then cooked at 1400 °C in an argon atmosphere for two hours. The result was silicon carbide ceramic which preserved the intricate cell structure of the wood."

Now, can you tell me if this petrified specimen in the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is real, or is instant man-made?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Zamia furfuracea

Look at this beautiful plant classified as an endangered species. It's a cycad native to southeastern Veracruz state in eastern Mexico bearing the scientific name of Zamia furfuracea. If you feel that's too exotic a name, you can call it by its alternate name of Cardboard Cycad. This is a female plant with child. It must be grown near a male plant to produce the egg-shaped cones bearing seeds. Pollination is by an insect named Rhopalotria mollis. Again, you can call this insect by its easier to remember name of belid weevil. I know, it's easy for me to say.

Cardboard Cycad plant can only be reproduced by the fleshy, brightly crimson-colored seeds as seen here. The germination process is very slow and difficult to achieve in cultivation. As a result, many plants sold for horticultural use are illegally collected in the wild, leading to the species being classified as endangered.

It's pretty, but you must know that all parts of this plant are poisonous to animals and humans. The toxicity causes liver and kidney failure, as well as eventual paralysis. Dehydration sets in very quickly. No treatment for the poisoning is currently known. Lucky for me to learn this because I thought this may make a good drink for the evening. Somehow, the animals all know this and these seeds are left untouched.
Pretty but Poisonous

Monday, February 17, 2014

Orchids Grow on Trees

To clear up my mind, I took the time to return to Miami's Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden this morning. Here is a look that can calm one's soul. These orchid plants are here for display, and not in their natural growing locations. But if you come here, look around and you will see many orchid plants attached to tree branches as orchids in their natural habitat. These blooms are always a feast for the eyes and senses.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I'm Back... Sort of...

OK... Here is Miami Every Day trying to restart after a long, long, long, LONG sabbatical leave of absence. Actually, that is not entirely correct! It is more like I was busy in Miami's swamps with all kinds of alligators... and somehow I had to get out so here we go...

This is a very young and talented quintet from the University of Miami giving a free concert at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden at 13:00 today. The students are in their third (Junior) year, obviously from the department of music. From left to right, the instruments are flute, oboe, horn, bassoon and clarinet. I didn't recognize any of the music, but it was delightful.