For all its raw beauty, nature can be pretty scary too. One minute you’re chomping a beautifully juicy green apple from a tropical branch, and the next your throat is rapidly closing up in a mad dash to the ER. Take the manchineel tree, for example. Sure, it’s nice to look at. But with a nickname like “tree of death,” don’t expect an entirely wonderful experience.
There’s no question that volunteers make a huge impact, but last week the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh undertook a 24-hour volunteer project that could one day be measured from space. The state coordinated the planting of almost 50 million trees by 800,000 volunteers in public spaces.
The tree planting frenzy is the beginning of a reforestation effort the nation of India agreed to during the 2015 Paris Climate Talks, reports Brian Clark Howard at National Geographic. During those talks, India made a commitment to reforest 12 percent of its land by 2030, a $6.2 billion commitment.
“The world has realized that serious efforts are needed to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of global climate change. Uttar Pradesh has made a beginning in this regard,” Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav told volunteers before the planting, reports Biswajeet Banerjee at the AP.
The planting is not just a publicity stunt, though the organizers do hope it raises awareness of reforestation efforts. Though the record won’t be validated for several months, it’s likely that Uttar Pradesh Guinness World Record has blown away the standing record for the most tree plantings in one day. That went to Pakistan in 2013, when volunteers planted 847,275 trees out of the water, reports Howard.
While Banerjee reports that there is usually a 60 percent mortality rate for saplings planted in these kind of projects, state officials say they are committed to monitoring the trees to make sure they survive.
Edward Parson, an environmental law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, tells Christina Beck at The Christian Science Monitor that the 50 million trees is at best just a “small contribution” to India’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it is one more sign the nation is moving in the right direction. Beck points out that besides the reforestation program, India has also implemented an ambitious solar-power program.
As Anit Mukherjee, policy fellow with the Centre for Global Development tells Adam Boult at The Telegraph “It addresses many of the big issues for India: pollution, deforestation, and land use.”
If 50 million trees sounds like a lot, this is likely just the first of many tree planting events on the subcontinent. In May, the country’s Environment Minister announced plans to increase the nation’s forests from 21.34 percent to 33 percent of its land area with a bill that’s been passed by the Parliament of India’s lower house and is now pending approval from the upper house.
The secret behind the world’s largest seed is leaves that serve as good gutters. During rains, they channel lots of water and nutrients right to the plant’s thirsty roots.
Coco-de-mer palms (Lodoicea maldivica) produce these monster nuts, which are a type of seed. The biggest can tip the scales at up to 18 kilograms (roughly 40 pounds). That’s about as much as a 4-year-old boy. Yet the palm outperforms all other plants — at least in seed heft — with a below-poverty diet. These plants grow wild on nutrient-starved, rocky soil on just two islands in the Seychelles. (They’re part of an arc of some 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, off of the East Coast of Africa.)
Christopher Kaiser-Bunbury works for the Seychelles Islands Foundation. Despite a scarcity of nutrients to fuel its growth, a palm forest is “magnificent — it’s like a dinosaur could come around the corner,” he says. Winds can jostle hectares (acres) of stiff leaves. This makes a sound he describes as “crackling.”
Nitrogen and phosphorus are two natural fertilizers — nutrients — that these (and other plants) need. There isn’t much of either on the islands where these palms grow. So the plants are frugal. They sprout fronds using only about one-third the nutrients needed by leaves of 56 neighboring species of trees and shrubs. What’s more, coco-de-mer palms scavenge a lot of the nutrients shed in their own dying leaves. These trees can reuse 90 percent of that prized phosphorus from the fronds it’s about to drop. That’s a record for the plant world, report Kaiser-Bunbury and his colleagues in the May New Phytologist.
Creating its monster seeds uses up about 85 percent of this plant’s supplies of phosphorus, the biologists estimate. And the palms manage this, the researchers conclude, thanks to drainage. The palm’s curving leaves easily can span 2 meters (6.6 feet). Creases in them make the leaves resemble folded paper fans. Any rains falling on them will funnel down the stems. That water washes animal droppings, stray pollen and other materials — a nutrient windfall — off of the palm and onto its hungry roots.
Each giant seed takes a long time to grow, about six years. But that won’t happen until the palm first reaches plant “puberty.” On the nutrient-poor ground, this reproductive coming-of-age may take 80 to 100 years. Only then can one of these palms yield its first seed. Throughout a female coco-de-mer palm’s life of several hundred years, it may bear only about 100 seeds.
Few of those monster coconuts will get a chance to replenish the dwindling coco-de-mer forests, however. Kaiser-Bunbury calculates that 20 to 30 percent of the endangered species’ seeds must sprout to keep the forests growing and healthy. But that hasn’t been happening. Nut poachers have been illegally kidnapping the seeds. Then they grind them into a powder that they sell.
Were you aware that a fungus was capable of hatching? Yeah, neither were we.
Native to New Zealand and Australia, the Clathrus Archeri, also known as Devil’s Fingers or octopus stinkhorn, is a very, very interesting fungus.
Aside from smelling just like rotting flesh, it seriously looks just like something out of a sci-fi alien movie.
Apparently, it smells so horrid because it uses the odor to attract flies, which unknowingly disperse the fungi’s spores.
Watch it emerge from its “egg” in the video above will make you feel quite uneasy.
Now living in Washington, D.C., this bonsai tree outlasted the atomic blast
On August 6, 1945, at a quarter-past 8 a.m., bonsai master Masaru Yamaki was inside his home when glass fragments hurtled past him, cutting his skin, after a strong force blew out the windows of the house. The U.S. B-29 bomber called the “Enola Gay” had just dropped the world’s first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, at a site just two miles from the Yamaki home.
The bomb wiped out 90 percent of the city, killing 80,000 Japanese immediately and eventually contributing to the death of at least 100,000 more. But besides some minor glass-related injuries, Yamaki and his family survived the blast, as did their prized bonsai trees, which were protected by a tall wall surrounding the outdoor nursery.
For 25 years, one of those trees sat near the entrance of the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the United States National Arboretum in Washington D.C., its impressive life story largely unknown. When Yamaki donated the now 390-year-old white pine bonsai tree to be part of a 53 bonsais gifted by the Nippon Bosnai Association to the United States for its bicentennial celebration in 1976, all that was really known was the tree’s donor. Its secret would remain hidden until 2001, when two of Yamaki’s grandsons made an unannounced visit to the Arboretum in search of the tree they had heard about their entire lives.
Through a Japanese translator, the grandsons told the story of their grandfather and the tree’s miraculous survival. Two years later, Takako Yamaki Tatsuzaki, Yamaki’s daughter also visited the museum hoping to see her father’s tree.
The museum and the Yamaki family maintain a friendly relationship and it is due to these visits that the curators know the precious value of the Yamaki Pine.
“After going through what the family had gone through, to even donate one was pretty special and to donate this one was even more special,” says Jack Sustic, curator of the Bonsai and Penjing museum. Yamaki’s donation of this tree, which had been in his family for at least six generations, is a symbol of the amicable relationship that emerged between the countries in the years following World War II. Dignitaries in attendance at the dedication ceremony for the trees included John D. Hodgson, ambassador to Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who said the gift from Japan represented the “care, thought, attention and long life we expect our two peoples to have.”
Today, more than 300 trees make their home at the museum, including bonsai grown in North America and penjing, the Chinese bonsai equivalent.
There are many misconceptions about bonsai, Sustic says. It’s not a type of tree because anything with a woody trunk can be bonsai. Rather, it’s an art form and for the bonsai master, “it’s a lifestyle,” he explains. Another common error is the proper pronunciation of bonsai; it’s BONE-sigh, not BAHN-sigh.
Bonsai trees can be cultivated from trees collected in the wild or in rare cases from seeds; for those whose thumbs are a little less green, they can be purchased at a nursery. They are planted in large containers and pruned frequently to maintain their silhouette. Sometimes, as in the case of the Yamaki Pine, multiple trees are grafted together to enhance the appearance of the tree. Though bonsai masters maintain a degree of artistic freedom they still look to nature for inspiration, recreating what they see in the natural world on a bonsai scale.
“It’s a marriage between horticulture and art,” but it’s unique because it’s always growing,” Sustic says while admiring the Yamaki Pine.
Because they are always growing, bonsai trees require daily attention. Sustic even likens caring for a bonsai tree to having a pet. But it’s due to this constant attention that bonsai like the Yamaki Pine live beyond the natural life expectancy of the trees from which they come.
The Yamaki Pine will take its familiar place near the entrance to the museum’s new Japanese Pavilion when it officially opens next year, and on this 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the tree serves as a reminder of the continued peace between the United States and Japan.
“It’s a very special tree,” Sustic says.
In the grand scheme of strategies to deter predators, sticky columbine takes a rather medieval approach, Sandhya Sekar reports for Science — researchers think it lures innocent bugs to their deaths, then decorates itself with their bodies as “payment” for spiders who attack the plant’s would-be predators.
New research suggests that the sticky leaves and stems of Aquilegia eximia bring a slow death to harmless bugs like beetles and dragonflies, Sekar explains. The dead bodies then serve to attract spiders, which eat the adolescent moth caterpillars (Heliothis phloxiphaga) that threaten the plants’ buds and flowers. The spiders have evolved resistance to the sticky stems and indirectly protect the plant from one of its main predators, writes Sekar.
Plenty of plants, like columbine, have hairy stems covered with sticky droplets of goo where bugs gets stuck and die. Entomologists call them “tourist traps,” notes Elizabeth Preston for Discover. But it’s always been unclear whether the presence of all those bugs is part of the plants’ master plan or more of a coincidence.
To settle the debate, a team of biologists set up some traps with serpentine columbine stalks and some without. Traps with columbine bait snared 21 percent more beetles, dragonflies and other insects. The team also played around with removing the dead bodies from plants in a California reserve. Plants with lower dead body counts had fewer spiders and twice as much caterpillar damage. The team’s results were published in the July issue of Ecology.
The work provides strong evidence that the plants kill the bugs as a kind of payment to spiders, which then serve as their anti-predator muscle. It’s a roundabout system, but it seems to work — and given the prevalence of plants with sticky stems, it might even be pretty common. Just think of it as the plant world’s version of The Bodyguard.
Latex is a really versatile product that has been sustainably harvested and used for hundreds of years. Today, both natural and synthetic latex is commonly used for bedding – such as your pillow – and also for range of household and personal items, including gloves, balloons, dummies, rubber bands, condoms, and clothing.
Natural latex products are made from a milky fluid excreted by trees; it’s found in about 10 per cent of all flowering plants, serving as a defense against wood-boring insects. It is not, as is commonly thought, a sap.
While there are over 20,000 plant species that can produce latex, 14 per cent of tropical plants create it, compared to just six per cent of temperate plant species.
To harvest the latex liquid, the bark of the tree is partially removed and funneled into a small vessel attached to the trunk of the tree.
Generally, because the tree from which the latex is harvested is kept alive, the production of latex is a fairly sustainable process. However, with 93 per cent of global rubber production being in developing countries in tropical areas, some producers have more sustainable methods than others.
There are products on the market that showcase leading examples of natural latex production. There’s a world first in the field – the 100% GOLS-certified organic and carbon neutral certified latex from Sri Lanka that Sleep Made To Measure uses, that we’ve mentioned before here. And Etiko were recently recognised with a Green Lifestyle Award for highly commended fashion product for their rubber thongs. Both of these products support the local communities where they are made, and are of the highest quality – yet easily affordable for the average Australian too.
It is also possible to make latex synthetically from petroleum, oil, and acetylene; but the use of these materials for the synthetic production process is not at all sustainable, and can even cause allergies in some people. The benefit with natural latex is that it’s naturally antibacterial and antifungal – an important consideration when most of the population develops allergic reactions to dust mites that commonly live in our synthetic pillows. And of course with the GOLS-certified organic Sleep Made To Measure method, no chemicals at all are used in the growing and tapping process, so the final product is completely chemical-free (and even compostable)!
It is worth noting that there’s a small percentage of the population that are allergic to natural latex. These people need to bear in mind that more often than not, synthetic latex emits harmful VOCs over it’s lifetime, and so it can be problematic for your health – especially as a pillow, as you would be sleeping on this material and breathing in the VOCs all night.
If your pillow really is made from natural latex (not the synthetic kind) you can rest assured that it is most likely ok for you to have in your eco-home. But for real peace of mind, as with just about any product, it’s best to find out before you buy new if it has been ethically, sustainably produced.