The Soil

Hello everyone,

During the last months, I have talked about various plants and fungi, but I haven’t talked about something, which all of them need – except Tillandsien – and it is the soil. The soil is the key to start… basically everything.

Imagine, without (clean, nutritious and healthy) soil there wouldn’t be agriculture, trees and plants, and this would affect everything, the whole ecosystem. This is why when corporations or consumers pollute their soil, is like pointing the gun towards ourselves.

Let’s start our journey in the garden. You go outside and dip up some soil. In that small amount of soil, you can see more diversity than anywhere else. On the top (humus) layer, you can find various plants, seeds, mosses, fungi, bugs, bacteria and even animals (if it is a big piece of soil of course :)), the more you go down (top soil – subsoil and finally bedrock) and more hidden world appears in front of us. You can find a waste network of plant roots, the underground network of fungi, “gardening” earthworms, maybe some borrowing animal (mole) and millions – billions of microbes.

soil-life
Source: http://www.ezrasorganics.com

This clearly shows that soil is providing home, food and generally life for all of us. But what is it made of?
– 45% minerals
– 25% water
– 5% organic matter
– 25% air*

I will not go into too much in the detail, but all the 4 elements above are crucial to create a healthy cycle of life – if you are interested in it more detailed, feel free to read about it here.

what_is_in_soil_usda
Source: USDA

* data from United States Department of Agriculture

We can also talk about multiple type of soil. There are areas which are rich in minerals, while others are poor. Different colours, from brown, white, red or black. Different textures from rocky to sandy places, but surprisingly nature found a way to adopt to most of these terrains and conditions. The soil texture is dependent on 2 aspects, such as natural (weather) and non-natural (human) interventions. The biggest changes occur, because of humanity, agricultural and urban development interventions and climate change.

soil2baround2bworld
Source: USDA

Sadly, due to humanity we are faster and faster destroying the soil. With the increasing population we need bigger and bigger areas for agriculture, and where agriculture is present it destroys the ecological balance of the soil. By nature, the upper layer of the soil is slowly losing its mineral content due to wind and water – this is what we call soil erosion. To this soil erosion process, agriculture plays a significant role. It has speed up the process by 10-40 times.

2560px-water_erosion_map
Source: Wikipedia

As you can see from the map, huge areas will be affected in the near future if we can’t find a solution to soil erosion. Everyone can do a bit to preserve their healthy environment. The next time you plan to use chemicals in your garden, think about a more biologically friendly solution!

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Rose of Jericho, the resurrection plant

Hello everyone,

Today I would like to talk about a very interesting plant. I am sure you know my common phrase “the world of plants can’t stop to amaze me, with its diversity”. I could repeat myself. This plant can literally “cheat death” with its unbelievable strategy to survive without water.

I am talking about the Selaginella lepidophylla, aka (fake) rose of Jericho. This plant has a strategy to survive dry conditions. In fact it can survive without water for years and years. This plant is native in the Chihuahuan Desert (Mexico/USA). It forms a tumbleweed, which means they are blown by the wind around the desert. By the first look, they seem to be a bunch of dry, dead sticks and leaves.

 

rose-von-jerichoSource: http://www.krautrausch.de/rose-von-jericho

But when it gets in contact with moisture, it starts to “resurrect”. It begins to curl out and the yellow/brownish color starts to turn green – this is why it received the name, resurrection plant.

Selaginella lepidophylla is easily confused with Anastatica both species are resurrection plants and form tumbleweeds, they share the common name “rose of Jericho”.
Source: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selaginella_lepidophylla

In some traditions, the plant symbolizes energy renewal, good luck, good business and health.

Lately I have purchased 2 specimen to seem them coming back to life before my eyes. It takes couple of hours to unfold, so I have decided to make a video out of it. The video can be seen on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-1rIzd5mCE

Thank you for reading! 🙂

THE TERRARIUM EXPERIMENT – PART 2

Hello everyone,

As a continuation of last week’s topic, I am now going to talk a bit about plants in a closed environment. Last week, I have showed you, how I made a terrarium from a starter kit, and this week I would like to talk about the principle behind it.

So why is it an interesting experiment? First of all, it demonstrates in a micro environment how different organism work together to create an ecosystem. An ecosystem (as you can guess from its name) must something to do with interactions. To speak scientifically ecosystem is: An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system. (Wikipedia). This is simple and complex at the same time. Simple in sense to understand how it work, it is a circle of life/activities, and complex in terms of chemical and biological procedure – luckily nature invented it and it works perfectly. In this process are key non-living components like Water(H20), N2(Nitrogen), Oxygen(O2), Carbon Dioxide(CO2) and living components like plants, fungi, bugs and animals.

nitrogen_cycle
The nutrient cycle

In fact, you don’t need to make this experiment, you are already part of this experiment – by living on the planet. Nevertheless it is fun to see how a micro environment evolves.

So from now on, we will talk about the process in a terrarium. And let’s start from the bottom upwards…
There are 4 key elements to understand:
1. Drainage, it is key to avoid the rotting of the roots and keep the water sitting in the soil.
2. Charcoal layer, it cleans the water and soil fresh and removes toxins (unfortunately in my kit there was no such)
3. Soil, obviously one of the most important since plants need a growing medium. It needs to be clean, high in minerals and non-chemically treated.
4. Plants, to enable the ecosystem to cycle.

Afterwards, the only component you need to add, is water and ready to experience how our ecosystem works.

3b829844c59309d711c6d00767b05532
An overview

In action you can see, how it looks like:

949444e995941fbc8596bca2aa21d9c7

Our planet works on the same principle and just like in the your glass jar, the earth consists of different layers – of course a little bit more complex

what-are-some-types-of-soil-5-638

To simply explain I will use the explanation from BottledPlants.com:

They divided it into 2 categories. 1. Water cycle and 2. Gaseous Exchange

1. Water Cycle:
Terrarium-Ecosystem-–-Water-cycle.png

Starting from the plant itself:

  1. Plant Transpires – This means the exchange of gas between the environment. This also means gas in the form of water vapour, as technically, water behaves like gas in this stage of the water cycle.
  2. Water Condenses – Water vapour given out by the plant condenses into water droplets. These water droplets may form on the wall of the enclosure or in the air itself as mist. Usually mist will form during cooler temperature. However, if the terrarium is overly watered, water droplets on the water will be visible throughout the day. This is when you need to ‘air’ the plant.
  3. Soil Wets – Mist in the air and water droplets on the wall sips into the soil. This of course includes you watering the soil. Always use a sprinkler so as to maintain top soil layer’s landscape.
  4. Water Absorption – Water is taken into the roots following a few methods.
    • Osmosis – This happens when there is a lower concentration of salt in the soil than in the plant at the root. Water basically flows into the roots along the concentration gradient, from a lower salt concentration to a higher salt concentration. This process does not take up energy.
    • Reverse Osmosis (RO) – This takes place when there is a higher concentration of salt in the soil than in the plant at the root. Not to be mistaken by dryness of soil, a relatively dry soil can still be low in salt concentration. This process requires the use of energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). ATP is manufactured in the leaves during photosynthesis.
    •  Capillary Action – This action takes place simultaneously during Osmosis or RO. Basically it makes use of surface tension and suction effect to draw water. The molecular forces in the Plant’s stem attracts water molecules on it’s inner surface and draws water up against gravity. Transpiration of the plant also creates a suction effect (think sucking water through a straw) which suck up water on the surface of tubes in the stem

This lesson on the water cycle happening in a terrarium ecosystem does not take into account how the plant makes use of the water. However, it gives you a basic idea of the water cycle.

2. Gaseous Exchange:

Terrarium-Ecology-Gaseous-Exchange.png

As mentioned at the beginning there are numerous important gases which are required to ensure a healthy ecosystem. CO2 and O2 you know they are important, but there is also another very important component, N2 – Nitrogen. It important to have in the the air of the terrarium, but too much will kill the life inside. As a solution, you can use lichen (as it was included in my starter kit).

All in all, having a sealed terrarium is easy to maintain – in theory – but in practice you see that the chemical and biological processes are very complex and too much or too little from one component can destroy the whole life.

Finally, I leave you with a thought to think about. Our planet. Our planet was engineered perfectly by nature, but one component – human activity (over exploitation of resources, pollution, over population, etc.) threatens the whole system. We can see how easily everything can collapse and everyone will experience the consequences!

Thank you for reading!

The Terrarium Experiment – part 1

Hello everyone,

Today I would like to share an easy and interesting experiment, which demonstrates in a micro environment how our planet works. It is a fun for everyone experiment, no matter how old are you, and you can observe some interesting facts about our nature. In part 1, I will talk about the creation of a terrarium, while in the part 2 the scientific explanation how things work and what process is going through inside the glass.

First of all, let’s talk about how to make it and what you will need:
– a glass container
– a lid (preferably corkwood, but others will do too)
– rocks
– soil
– plants

You can either do it yourself or buy kits in shops – either way, it should be easy. In my case I will use a kit and in the future I plan to do my own version. If you are doing your own version, it can be more advanced – later I will tell your more about it.

So let’s start!

What did I get in the kit? I got some Asparagus aethiopicus seeds, a bag of Pozzolan (volcanic) stones, dried and pressed coconut coir soil, couple of stones (decoration), 2 panda figures (decoration), Lichen.

IMG_4086

You may ask, is it good or enough to build a terrarium? Yes, but of course it could be improved slightly.
Before I have started to build my terrarium, I have soaked 2 paper towels in lukewarm water and wrapped it around the asparagus seeds.

Then I have left the seeds in a fairly warm location (it is summer so close to the window) for 24-48 hours to start the germination process. Now comes the waiting…

After 1,5 days, I took the seeds out of the wet paper towels. Now the terrarium was ready to get assembled.
I have put the pozzolan stones on the bottom, to ensure that the access water wont sit in the soil to prevent mold.

IMG_4087

Next step was the soil. I received dried coconut coir soil, which means I needed water to make “useable” soil. I have added double amount of water than the volume of the coir, and let the soil sit in the water for couple of minutes.

At this point, I recommend you to use gardening gloves or latex gloves to avoid messy situations – especially if you are indoors like me! 🙂 Next with a spoon or small shovel (or with hands like I did), you can add the coconut coir on the top of the rocks and spread it on the surface equally. Do not mix it with the stones, the purpose is to let the access water drip down through the stones.
Next step are seeds. First, I have dropped them on the top of the coir and then carefully to push them in the soil, about 1 cm deep.

If you have a small wooden stick, it can help a lot to arrange the seeds nicely.
Finally all I had to do is place the lichen on the top. Before doing so, I have placed it in water for couple of minutes to ensure it soaks some water up and get it a little bit more clean. The reason why the lichen is there is not because of decoration, but because of a very important task. It will stabilize the environment.

As a final touch I have added couple of drop (distilled) water, and my terrarium is read to get sealed tightly. I didn’t add the decoration elements to give more space for the plants to grow, but if you want, you can do so.

I leave it on my table in the living room, close to the window where it gets enough light and warmth. During summer, especially if you have hot a strong sun, it is advised to move it to a more shady location, while during winter closer to the window. Also don’t be surprised if during winter it dries out, it can happen if you keep it too close to heater. In this case, just remove the lid and add couple of drops of water.
At this point you can also ask, how do I know I had added enough water and not too much/little? It isn’t a problem if you can’t get the right amount right. First of all, after you have sealed the lid, you can see some drops on the side of the glass.

It is normal and if you see this, you did right. The problem starts (example on picture) if you see the walls are foggy and not dripping water. That means you should open the lid and wait couple of hours/ half a day, so access water will evaporate from the glass, and then again seal it tightly. It is a bit challenging to find the right balance, but not impossible. So don’t forget, if you see water dripping of the wall is good, if you see that the walls are foggy (like mine), just open it and let the access water evaporate!

In case you wish to “upgrade” or make your own terrarium, I highly recommend to watch the following YouTube videos by SerpaDesign:

He mentions various rocks, soils, plants and even life within the terrarium. He also highlights the importance of springtails in the closed environment and why their presence is beneficial. I highly recommend to check it out!

I hope my experience made you curious to start your own terrarium! In couple of days, I will publish my follow up post on “how does a terrarium work?”

Thank you for reading!

My bonsai experience – with a lot of pictures!

Hello everyone,

Today I would like share & mark a special occasion with you. Lately I was busy with moving and traveling, but now I finally managed to bring a very special content to you. This is something I know people love to see and experience – and as you could read from the title – yes it is a bonsai post, hurray!

I usually share my stories about plants, with sometimes some scientific posts, but this time the post’s main purpose will be to please the eyes. Please note this isn’t a commercial, I was just really lucky enough to find this shop not far from my flat and the owner was kind enough to show me around and allow me to take photos about the plants. So here is the story…

It was a normal day in Brussels, Belgium. I was walking around enjoying the sunny weather when I found a sign:

IMG_3930
The bonsai store at Rue Lesbroussart, 30 in Brussels, Belgium

I was surprised and as a bonsai and plant fan like me, I had to go in. I wasn’t disappointed. Next to “typical” bonsai plants I saw really magnificent ones. It had 2 sections. Indoor and outdoor bonsai. The owner was a really stunning and helpful woman, with whom we talked a lot about the bonsai and the shop. Eventually I had to ask if I can take some photos for my blog and she kindly agreed. Now came the problem.. I wanted to take a photo from all plants, but then I would be still there, shooting photos. I tried to make a selection of the most interesting plants. I am curious how many species you can recognise! I made a slideshow about the individual plants:

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Even many single specimen were beautiful, but as a whole, the outside garden was stunning!

Just look at these beautiful colors! This is why I love spring!

But it is not over yet. For a grand final I would like to share with you one of the most beautiful bonsai I found in the shop.  It is a 35+ years old Azalea in full bloom! If this doesn’t make you WOW! than nothing will! 🙂

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So all in all, I had a great, short trip experience in the shop. If you are in Brussels, I definitely recommend you to visit the place, you can find there many beautiful bonsai and expertise from the owner!

Let me know in the comments which is your favourite one! 🙂

A different kind of lily…

Hello everyone,

Today I would like to talk about a plant, commonly called as voodoo lily. When you heard the word lily, people think about something pleasant smelly, colourful plant. Well, not this time…

This plant is commonly called as voodoo lily or Sauromatum venosum, Arum cornutum or Arum venosum. It’s actual binomial name is Typhonium venosum, and in fact this species is an aroid, not a true lily.  What!?!?! An aroid? So what is an aroid?

Aroid is the common name for members of the Araceae family of plants, sometimes known as the Philodendron or Arum family. The sometimes beautiful and sometimes bizarre combination of spathe and spadix known as the inflorescence, and sometimes referred to as a “flower”, is a distinguishing feature of all aroids. The densely flowered spadix is subtended by a spathe, a modified leaf that protects the spadix and is often important in pollination. The flowers on the spadix are pollinated by flies and beetles that are attracted by the sometimes foul scents, or by bees attracted by sweet scents. Heat occasionally plays a role in pollination. That is, the spadix increases in temperature to volatilize scents which in turn attract insects. Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, which may even melt its way through snow, is known for heat production in its spadix. The varying colors of the spathe and the spadix may also play an important role in pollination.

– International Aroid Society

It is a truly unique plant with some unique features, that is why I had to acquire one. Its flower is fascinating me as much as bad it can smell (cow manure, rotting flesh, or a dirty wet dog) luckily the scent last for up to 2-3 days only, but this plant definitely shouldn’t be kept indoors during that time. Sometimes I think, I am too crazy with my hobby.

img_3824

For now the plant doesn’t look anything special. A bulb and shoot. It will take a bit more time to flower so I decided to plant it now.

I have put normal garden soil, mixed with old/used soil and covered the bulb 5-6 cm deep. Interesting to me that roots will come out from the top of the bulb and not from the bottom like in case of many bulb plants (amaryllis, hyacinth). If you watch carefully you also see a blog/gardening fan on the balcony…

img_3829
Common blackbird (Turdus mercula)

But going back to the plant. It a plant from temperate and tropical Africa and Asia and it can grow up to 50 cm. Eventually it will need a quite large pot, unless you keep it in your garden. As I already mentioned it has a strong foul smell during flowering to attract pollinators like calliphorid flies and silphid beetles. If you ask yourself, after knowing all this, why this plant is called voodoo lily, the answer is because of its ability to flower from a corm without soil and water. Still, I have decided to pot it, hopefully it will produce small bulbs on the side!

For now that is all I can share with you, but if you follow my facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/explorebotany) there I will share some picture when it will start blooming and lucky for you, there won’t be any smell!

As always, thank you for reading! Hope I could show you an unique plant today!

 

 

 

Plant dormancy – simplicity in complexity

Hello everyone,

Where I live, the winter starts to get to an end. Outdoor, plants start to wake up and you can see a lot of green surface everywhere. If you are lucky you can even see some flowering plants. I thought because of this occasion I would like to talk about dormancy. What it is and why it is happening.

To start with, majority of the living organism have some sort of resting/dormancy period. From plants, through animals to humans everyone experiences it. Winter (cold) period is considered harsh and plants/animals need to survive this period. There are many different survival strategies, but in this writing I will focus on plants only (it is a huge topic by itself and can’t cover every single aspect, but I invite you to read more).

The first question can be, when we talk about dormancy? Is it when a tree loses its leaves? The answer is no. During a dormancy period a organism’s life cycle stops temporarily. That means there won’t be any growth or development – in fact the organism reduces its life functions – metabolic activity, to minimum.

What is a metabolic activity? It is what “moves” plants – in fact every living creature. Metabolism is a chemical process which powers living organism. It converts food into energy, ensuring that the cells, in any living organism – can be sustained with enough energy, and energy is needed to do everything.

Let’s get a little bit more biological! 🙂 We take an example… What is the difference when we talk about metabolism during, and after the dormancy period of an American black bear (Ursus americanus) from a tree?

01_Schwarzbär
Source: Wikipedia

The question might sound silly. It is an animal and the other one is a plant. The American black bear hibernates itself during the winter, just like plants go dormant. Both happen to have their dormancy period during the winter, so what is the difference then? Short answer is how they acquire and process food. The real distinction lies in cells and structure (which is quite boring :)) and complicated. In terms of plants we talk about autotrophs and about animals we talk about heterotrophs.

Autotrophs vs. heterotrophs? It is actually not a competition. In fact, it is evolution. One goes right and the other goes left. Below you can see a picture which shows briefly what it is all about.

1280px-Auto-and_heterotrophs
Source: Wikipedia

Autotrophs require simple substances like carbon dioxide and water to create food and finally energy. Heterotrophs, on the other hand, require a source of more complex substances. In the very details I don’t want to go, and it isn’t the purpose. But I happily invite you to read more about this. Simply speaking if I put outside a plant it sustains itself (CO2, H2O and sunlight), but if I put a bear outside it will die if it won’t find a food source. Why? Because plants and algae can do something heterotrophs can’t and it is photosynthesis. Photosynthesis occurs through the leaves, plant cells which contain chloroplasts. The purpose of this process is to create “food” – sugar and carbohydrates, from CO2 and sunlight + water.

Plagiomnium_affine_laminazellen-2
A plant cell with chloroplasts              Source: Wikipedia

A basic drawing how photosynthesis works is demonstrated below.

Photosynthesis
Source: Wikipedia

After all this information you might ask, but what this all have to do with dormancy? Actually everything. During dormancy this whole process temporarily stops, why? because of the conditions are not meant to fulfill this process:
– temperature: in minus degree water would freeze and damage plant cells/leaves
– lack of light: wouldn’t make photosynthesis possible, so it wouldn’t be possible for the plant to create its own food
Dormancy is a survival strategy to store the nutritions and keep the plants alive under harsh conditions. At the end of the autumn leaves start to turn yellow and red, indicating that the sugar and carbohydrates will be transferred to the roots. Now the plant is ready to become dormant.

After this you can ask… but are there plants which don’t go dorment? The answer is yes. As I mentioned at the beginning majority of the plants go dormant, just because of harsh conditions (usually it is because of winter, can be other reasons, but I don’t go into these details), but if a plant lives at a “nearly” perfect environment, it can thrive throughout the whole year. An example can be the Nepenthes

Nepenthes_peltata
Nepenthes (Pitcher plant) – source: Wikipedia

As you can see, to understand dormancy, it is a very complex process. In fact, it is more complex than I have written it – I am not a scientist, just someone who is curious. I am fascinated how a tree, full with flowers and rich in leaves can become barren in just weeks, and when the conditions are right again reborn to its full beauty. But is the winter really that bad? It is hard yes, but plants get some benefits. It kills pest like harmful insects, it is necessary for some seeds’ germination process and it refreshes plant cells (new fresh leaves).

I hope you could learn something new from me, if you have questions, comments or remarks feel free to share it with me!