Botanist’s Log

October Progress Report

A busy month for us here as Pamela was back in China, lobbying for the use of new Power Converters in domestic households. Jason was getting to grips with his new Research Team and Nastiya had her hands full with a new strain of plant DNA from Africa.

Power Converters for Beijing

“China has a bad reputation throughout the Western world for being one of the largest contributors to global pollution – with it’s CO2 emissions estimated at being over twice that of the United States and three times as much as the entire European Union put together. This has been the case for some time but, instead of the Chinese authorities looking at the figures as a catalyst for change, it has simply become a fact to be stated. Despite pressure from the international community, it appears like the problem is not going to cease any time soon.

beiking-pollution

Last month, I travelled back to my home city of Beijing to speak to my family, old colleagues and research partners about trying to empower change in behavioural patterns – for the sake of the planet’s well being. The main thrust of my argument centred around the use of AC/DC Power supplies, when approaching domestic power consumption. Instead of relying on wasteful chemicals and petroleum to supply energy, I hoped to start a grass-roots movements that would ignite a passion for the environment amongst the local communities. Only time will tell if these communities will embrace change and start having a positive impact on their environment.”

New Research Fellows Cause Headaches

“We’re a relatively small team here at AVP – but we have grand ideas, so we often need to enlist help to ensure that we have half a chance of executing them. Luckily we’re based in the centre of Liverpool’s Academic Hub – just a stone’s throw away from thousands of well-trained science students, just itching to get some professional experience on their portfolios. Thanks to our connections with the local Science Departments, we were able to stick up a few flyers, so pretty soon our phone was off the hook with excitable students looking for work.

student-researchers

This is my first year in charge of students – I mistakenly thought it was going to be a cake-walk. I know now that it is immeasurably easier looking out for ‘number one’ compared to watching out for a handful of other underlings. The new team are wonderfully enthusiastic, but equally chaotic to have around. The equipment we use here is expensive and I’ve already lost count of the amount of test tubes that have been shattered. It’s going to be an interesting few months, bring on Christmas!

Tree Tumbo DNA Is Bizarre

“I’ve recently had a massive batch of welwitschia DNA sent through from our partner trust in Angola. Although it’s the only species in it’s genus, it’s a relatively safe species as the large majority of it’s population is confined to the Namib desert, which is spotted with land mines that keeps collectors at bay. Unfortunately, it also makes for a tricky specimen for scientists to study. Luckily, we have local knowledge in the area that gives us the edge over the dangerous terrain and allows us to study this fascinating plant.

tree-tumbo-2

The Tree Tumbo is a bizarre plant, with some specimens being recorded as being over 1’000 years old. The leaves that it grows are permanent, conserving the scarce water that can be found in the desert and converting it into giant receivers for the plentiful sunshine that beam down for nearly 13 hours a day.

We’ll try and keep you guys updated with as much as possible, but November’s looking to be one of our busiest yet!

Bio-Mass Research For Beijing

A Brand New Project Is Underway!

Since returning from her trip to Beijing, Dr. Ming has been intensely researching different avenues of energy sources that have the potential to be shipped to her home country of China. Now, with some funding from some local investors, we have the time and resources to start doing some research!

The Idea

In the next month, alongside the work that Dr. Ming has already conducted in the realms of AC/DC Power Converters, we are hoping to present important business and political forces in China with alternatives to the wasteful energy production methods that they are currently using. After taking a wide look at the state of energy production as it stands today, we’ve narrowed our options down to three possible resources. Over the course of the next month, we are hoping to rigorously test each method of energy production, so that Dr. Ming can return to Beijing with a selection of options for local communities to embrace

These are the 3 options that we are hoping to explore:

Gas From Landfills

Waste disposal is a huge issue in Beijing, with 45,000 cubic metres of garbage accumulating in the surrounding villages over the past few years. More than a thousand unauthorised dumps have sprung up in the areas outside the capital in recent years, leading to serious health risks as a result of water and soil pollution. Although the Chinese government began combating the increasing amount of urban waste in the 90s, they have been unable to keep up with the demand that the growing city population has created.

landfill-gas

Although standardised landfills were initially built at a quick rate, this has slowed down in recent years – leading to unofficial dumps popping up. One of our ideas is to harness the natural methane gases that are produced by the waste here and re-purpose them into energy that can help local communities, rather than hinder them. 

Refuse

Although China’s CO2 emissions have been recorded as the highest produced by any other country (three times as much as the entire European Union!), in order to decrease this we may well need to look into producing more in the short term – another way of dealing with Beijing’s rising mounds of refuse could be to burn it. Many countries have found that processing their burnable waste for fuel has been an effective measure in producing energy, as well as getting rid of excess waste.

rubbish-burning

The environmental effects of simply burning waste obviously needs to be investigated. We’re hoping to collect varying kinds of rubbish from the local council authorities and burn these using different methods – to see if incineration of refuse could be the way forward for China’s pollution problem. 

Wood Production and Burning

Lastly, the burning of wood – although evidently archaic – might just be the step backward that could bump down China’s pollutant heavy energy production methods. The use of Short Coppice Rotation methods have been used (and subsidised) for a long time in the UK. Willow trees can be grown in a relatively short space of time and can yield a high amount of energy, once processed and burned.

wood-waste

There’s been plenty of research put into the growing of Willow trees in the UK – what we’re interested in is the environmental impact of burning these wood pellets (which we’ll source from http://www.liverpoolwoodpellets.co.uk/) as well as the species of trees that could possible be cultivated in Beijing’s surrounding villages.

We’ll be pooling resources from all over the World for this project, but it’s something that we know Dr. Ming has a big passion for – let’s hope we can give Beijing the answer to renewable energy that is so desperately needs!

5 of the World’s Scariest Plants

Plants can be just  as scary as anything else Mother Nature can throw at us…

Here are 5 of the World’s Most Monstrous Plants that you should definitely avoid this Halloween:

The Vampire Vine

This particular species of the Cuscata vine has the positively vampiric skill of sniffing out and sucking the nutrients out of nearby plants. Soy beans, coffee beans and grape vines are all at risk of these vicious vines (which are closely related to the much friendlier Morning Glory). However, there is one pant that has figured out a way to stop the Cuscata in it’s tracks. The C. reflexa Tomato plant, from Asia, has the uncanny skill of reflexively forming an impenetrable scan, preventing the cuscata from penetrating with his sharp fangs.

dodder

Find out more about the ‘Vampire Vine’ here at ScienceNews.org

The Venus Fly Trap

A long used trope in the realms of video games and science-fiction movies alike, Dionaea muscipulae may only be able to grow up to 15cm tall, but their 3cm wide mouths still have the potential to swallow up and digest all manner of insect-life. Each leaf of this killer-plant has two primary regions. The ‘leaf-base’ functions like most other plant leave, carrying out photosynthesis so that the plant can continue to grow and the ‘lamina’ that composes the trap itself. Within each trap lies between two or five ‘trigger hairs’ which, if touched, cause the trap to shut tight – trapping any unfortunate insect souls inside.

venus-fly

Discover more about the Venus Fly Trap here at ScienceMag.org

Carrion Flowers

The Carrion Flower is both disgusting by name and by nature. Strictly speaking, the term applies to any plant that gives off the scent of rotting flesh or death. The most horrific example of this would have to be the Amorphophallus titanum – it’s Greek name is derived from the words ‘giant misshapen phallus’ – rather on the nose, but succinct nonetheless. They can weigh up to 50kg, although there have been some specimens known to grow to almost twice that weight. Why does it smell so bad, you ask? The smell of rotting has long been something that pollinators find attractive – mistaking the carrion flower for a dead animal, carrion beetles and flesh flies do all the hard work for the plant – using them to lay eggs in their flesh.

carrion-flower

National Geographic has the scoop on Carrion Flowers here…

Rafflesia

The Rafflesia is a peculiar creature. Strictly parasitic by nature, it has no stems, leaves or even roots. Grabbing hold of any vine that it can find in it’s indigenous home of the Southeastern Asia rain forests, there are 28 species of these strange creatures that are often confused with aforementioned Carrion Flower, Amorphophallus titanum. The titanum is often referred to as being the largest flower – leaving the unsung hero, the Rafflesia, out in the cold. Unknown to many, the Rafflesia has largest single flower of any plant. It’s large, bulbous and grotesque – but it’s also a record-breaker.

rafflesia-sabah

Kew Garden’s fact sheet on the Rafflesia has all the knowledge on these guys.

Tree tumbo

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the Welwitschia is some kind of washed up piece of seaweed, if it weren’t for the fact that it only grown in the Namib desert, within Namibia and Angola. Often referred to as a ‘living fossil’ it is the only living genus within it’s family making it a uniquely sad plant. Named after it’s discoverer Friedrich Welwitsch – upon finding the plant he was said to have knelt by it in disbelief, fearing that it was a a figment of his imagination. If only that were so. The leaves that grow on this plant are permanent, giving it a dead-like look.

tree-tumbo

LiveScience.com has the scoop on this endangered plant right here.