24 November 2014

The Victorians and the case of the dead houseplants

Imagine yourself in the 1800s, Queen Victoria has been on the throne for a few years now. You've probably heard of a chap called Charles Darwin who's book about his jolly in the Beagle has been making the rounds. And you've probably heard of a new-fangled bicycle that allows you to pedal yourself around rather than pushing along with your feet on the ground.

Over the past few years gas lighting has been introduced, first in London and then Preston, Lancashire, but now it's gradually appearing in more homes. You've even recently installed it in your own home - but around this time you've noticed that all of your house plants have been dying.

So, you speak to some of your friends and they've heard that a particular species of plant does well even when all others have died.

Over time you eventually get a name of the plant and find that it's called Aspidistra elatior. This amazing plant can last up to 50 years even with minimal care, but what allows this plant to survive when others die?
By User:Nino Barbieri (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0
To answer that question, we need to ask another. What's in the gas that causes the other plants to die? Researchers found that part of the natural gas included ethylene. As well as being a colorless flammable gas, ethylene is also a plant hormone.

Plants use ethylene for many reasons, but the main two must be for ripening fruit and for the leaf abscission. Ethylene production is increased when a fruits seeds are ripe, but ethylene also increases when a fruit has been wounded; such a bruised or sliced. You may have heard the saying 'one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel' and this refers to that single apple being bruised or wounded in some way. This increases the amount of ethylene, which ripens all the other apples in the barrel - meaning that they go over very quickly!

As I mentioned above, ethylene is also used for leaf abscission. This is seen during autumn when the leafs of broadleaf trees change colour and then drop. The increase of ethylene causes that leaf to drop at this time. But, it doesn't have to be autumn for ethylene to make a plant drop its leaves. However, Aspidistra elatior, also known at the Cast Iron Plant, is unusually tolerant to ethylene.

So when all other house plants where dying due to the ethylene content of the gas used for lighting, the cast iron plant was happy as larry and continued to thrive, thus solving the case.

This made the plant so popular during the Victorian Era, that it's still known for its ethylene tolerance to this day.

Ethylene is just one of a few plant growth regulators. Click the links, ff you'd like to read about Auxin or Gibberellins.

17 November 2014

Beggars Knoll Garden, Wiltshire

This June we went to visit a fascinating garden near Westbury, Wiltshire.I wondered what such a garden would look like as it's near Westbury White Horse and is a very steep area, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

10 November 2014

Rhythm and Blue: Plant Circadian Rhythms

Anyone who's suffered from jet lag will know that circadian rhythms are an important process. But perhaps what you didn't know is that plants are also regulated by a circadian clock - and - that the same receptor is used in both plants and animals.