Tag Archives: flowers

Shade from solar panels makes for more and more diverse flowers

Solar panels make for very good real estate — if you’re a flower. A new paper reports that the partial shade these panels generate can increase the abundance of flowers and create a delay in their blooming time, which could help improve our agricultural output. The authors explain that extending bloom times is important for pollinators, as it provides them food later in the season.

Image credits Berkan Küçükgül.

New research at the Oregon State University could have important implications for managers of land under solar panels, farmers, and those concerned with the plight of pollinators such as bees. According to the findings, these devices do impact the plants living in their shade, but that’s not to say they have a negative impact. In fact, the shady areas beneath solar panels increase flower density.

Shady places

“The understudy of solar panels is typically managed to limit the growth of plants,” said Maggie Graham, a faculty research assistant at Oregon State and lead author of the paper. “My thought coming into this research was can we flip that? Why not plant under solar arrays with something beneficial to the surrounding ecosystem, like flowers that attract pollinators? Would insects even use it? This study demonstrates that the answer is yes.”

The team says their study is the first to look at how solar panels impact flowering plants and insects. The findings come just after some states, including Minnesota, North Carolina, Maryland, Vermont, and Virginia, have implemented statewide guidelines and incentives meant to support pollinator-focused solar installations.

Pollinators are an essential lynchpin of virtually every ecosystem on Earth. They’re directly involved in the reproduction of 75% of flowering plant species and 35% of crop species globally, and their services are valued at an estimated 14 billion USD annually. Which is a lot!

That being said, they’re also struggling. One of the most pressing issues they’re facing is a global decline in habitat due to urbanization, agriculture, and other types of land use. Climate change is also having a negative impact on these insects and further impacting their available habitat.

But solar panels — of which there are increasing numbers in the US — could help. Agrivoltaics is the approach of installing solar energy production on agricultural land, such as cropfields or grazing areas. The authors have previously studied agrivoltaics and its potential, finding that it could provide 20% of total electricity generation in the United States with an investment of less than 1% of the annual U.S. budget. It would also slash around 330,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, create jobs, and have a minimal impact on crop yields.

Those findings spurred the current research. The team wanted to better understand how these panels impact plant life around them, so they collected data on pollinators and plant populations in the US from seven, two-day sampling events from June through September 2019. These samplings corresponded with the post-peak bloom times for flowers. The collected data pertained to 48 species of plants and 65 different insect species. The study sites were broken into three categories: full shade plots under solar panels, partial shade plots under solar panels, and full sun plots (not under panels).

Among the most important findings, the team reports that flowers were most abundant in partial shade, where 4% more blooms were found compared to full sun and full shade plots — but there was no difference in the number of (flower) species between the plots. Plots with partial shade had 3% more pollinating insects on average than full-shade or full-sun plots. Partial-shade plots had more insects, and more insect diversity, than full-sun or full-shade spots. Finally, the team didn’t find any difference in the number of insects per flower among the plots.

“Unused or underutilized lands below solar panels represent an opportunity to augment the expected decline of pollinator habitat,” Graham said. “Near agricultural lands, this also has the potential to benefit the surrounding agricultural community and presents an avenue for future study.”

“Solar developers, policymakers, agricultural communities and pollinator health advocates looking to maximize land-use efficiency, biodiversity and pollination services might want to consider pollinator habitat at solar photovoltaic sites as an option.”

The paper “Partial shading by solar panels delays bloom, increases floral abundance during the late-season for pollinators in a dryland, agrivoltaic ecosystem” has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Flower trapped in amber reveals new fossil species

New research at the Oregon State University (OSU) discovered a new species and genus of fossil flower from a specimen encased in Burmese amber.

Valviloculus pleristaminis. Image credits Oregon State University.

Christened Valviloculus pleristaminis, the flower is pretty tiny, around 2 mm across for the specimen, a male. However, it boasts some 50 segments arranged in a spiral pattern with vertical pollen-bearing anthers.


“This isn’t quite a Christmas flower but it is a beauty, especially considering it was part of a forest that existed 100 million years ago,” said George Poinar Jr., professor emeritus in the OSU College of Science.

“Despite being so small, the detail still remaining is amazing. Our specimen was probably part of a cluster on the plant that contained many similar flowers, some possibly female.”

The fossil consists of an egg-shaped floral cup, the outer layer of petal-like structures (tepals), and anthers made up of two chambers. These anthers hold pollen sacs that are meant to split open “via laterally hinged valves”.

Its name reflects the flower’s structure. ‘Valva’ is a Latin word that is the root of ‘valve’, the authors explain, ‘loculus’ means compartment, ‘plerus’ is ‘many’, while ‘staminis’ refers to its male sex organs. The flower was encased in amber on the bygone supercontinent Pangaea. Although its current location was in western Burma, its original source lies some 4,000 miles across the ocean from Australia to Southeast Asia, Poinar explains.

Valviloculus pleristaminis. Image credits Oregon State University.

The geological structure it formed in is known as the West Burma Block, and eventually broke away from Gondwana around 200 to 500 million years ago. The exact date is unknown, but the current discovery can help.

Valviloculus pleristaminis belongs to the angiosperm family, a group of vascular plants with stems, roots, and leaves, which fertilize and develop their eggs inside the flower. Angiosperms only evolved and diversified about 100 million years ago, meaning the block couldn’t have wrenched free before then, Poinar explains. This is a much later date than those currently being considered, so it could spur renewed effort — and interest — into dating the event.

The paper “Zygadelphus aetheus gen. et sp. nov., an unusual fossil flower from mid-Cretaceous Myanmar amber” has been published in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.

Climate change is decoupling bee lifecycles from that of flowers

We know climate change is threatening the pollinators and crops that feed us, but a new study shines light on yet another of its unwanted effects.

Image via Pixabay.

Plants and pollinators are progressively decoupling their life cycles, the authors find, which can lead to massive issues for flowering plants. This decoupling stems from climate change, as average temperatures and snowmelt impacts when plants and beers emerge.

Timing troubles

“We analyzed time-series abundance data collected at 18 sites around the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in the Elk Mountains of western Colorado during a nine-year, National Science Foundation-funded bee monitoring project,” says lead author Michael Stemkovski, a doctoral student at the Utah State University Department of Biology.

“We find bee emergence timing is advancing with snowmelt timing, but bee phenology — timing of emergence, peak abundance, and senescence — is less sensitive than flower phenology,” adds Rebecca Irwin, a professor of applied ecology at of North Carolina State University and senior author of the paper.

The team assessed 67 bee species in the Colorado Rockies using data collected over a 9-year period, finding a “phenological mismatch” between their life cycles and those of flowering plants, driven mostly by changes in temperature patterns. This has the potential to disrupt the relationship formed between pollinators and flowering plants, who have come to depend on one another.

Previous research has looked into the effect of temperature on this relationship, as did the current study. However, the team also looked at how topography and the different traits of various bee species mix into the issue, as well. While species characteristics definitely did play an important part in shaping this relationship, as did elevation, snowmelt timing remained “the most important factor”, they argue.

The issue here is that the lifecycles of bees seem to shift more slowly than those of the plants they pollinate and feed off of. In time, this mismatch could lead to very serious disruptions, as flowers mature before bees are ready to ‘wake up’ from overwintering.

It shouldn’t be that big of an issue by itself, the team argues, because species can shift and adapt to new conditions relatively well. The potential problem here is that, unless we address the root cause of climate change — greenhouse gas emissions — we’ll be placing too much strain on this relationship too fast. Eventually, it can break down altogether.

“In the short-term, we expect mutualist species to suffer fitness losses,” Stemkovski says. “In the long-term, bees and plants may be able to adapt and reestablish some synchrony, unless climate change outpaces the rate of adaptation.”

Pollinators have received a lot of attention lately, because they are vital for our lives as we know them — but they’re also struggling really hard due to human activity. This paper comes as the latest in a long line of warning calls that, unless we change our ways quickly, they will be changed for us, and we won’t like the outcome.

“Given global concerns about pollinator declines, the research provides important insight into the potential for reduced synchrony between flowers and their pollinators under climate change,” Irwin concludes.

The paper “Bee phenology is predicted by climatic variation and functional traits” has been published in the journal Ecology Letters.


Invasive flowering species might overpower native ones because of warming climates

Invasive plants species might be more resistant to climate change than native ones, reports a new study on Midwest blooming flowers.


Image via Pixabay.

Led by researchers at the Indiana University’s (IU) Environmental Resilience Institute (part of the Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative) in collaboration with members from Michigan State University, the study reveals that warming temperatures affect native and non-native flowering plants in different ways. Over longer periods of time, this can end up fundamentally changing the look and composition of local landscapes.

Foreign customs

“The timing of a plant’s life cycle is crucial for species survival,” said study co-author Jen Lau, an associate professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology and a member of the Environmental Resilience Institute.

“When a plant flowers determines whether it will be pollinated by bees or other insects and how much time it will have to produce seeds. Our data makes me worry that we will have a very weedy world in our future.”

Non-native flowering plants could be able to shift their flowering times while native ones can’t, the findings suggest, a difference which could prove important in shaping a species’ success both now and in the future, warmer climates. To reach these results, Lau and her students planted 45 native and non-native species in fields and then simulated progressively warmer climate conditions (i.e. upcoming climate change). For example, some of the plots were heated using infrared lamps to simulate the expected conditions that areas in the Midwest will experience by the end of the century. The others were not, and were used as controls. The team monitored all the plants to determine when they first flowered and for how long.

Non-native flowering plants in the warmed planters bloomed 11 days earlier, on average than their ‘normal’ flowering times. Native plants, in contrast, did not shift their flowering period at all.

“We also found that earlier-flowering non-native species had greater geographic spread, suggesting that flowering earlier may help promote successful establishment across large areas,” said the study’s lead author Meredith Zettlemoyer, a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University, where Lau was previously on faculty.

The findings suggest that there are important differences in how native and non-native plant species respond to shifts in climate. Previous findings can also be weaved into those of the present study. Past research has shown that species which were unable to shift their flowering times over the past century were more likely to dwindle in abundance or go extinct altogether. Taken together, this indicates that native flowering species may be more affected by warming climates than non-native ones.

“Species across the globe are showing us that the climate is changing in ways that affect them,” Lau said. “Flowering earlier in the spring is a big sign that the climate is changing and may be a key strategy for surviving climate change.”

“Maybe the native species that aren’t very good at blooming earlier under warmer temperatures possess other strategies for surviving climate change, but if they don’t, they could be in serious danger.”

The paper “Phenology in a warming world: differences between native and non‐native plant species” has been published in the journal Ecology Letters.

Scarlet monkeyflower.

Plants’ climate-compensation systems will be overwhelmed by climate change

Demographic compensation likely won’t be enough to spare plants from the effects of climate change, a new paper reports.

Scarlet monkeyflower.

Image credits Marshal Hedin / Flickr.

One of the most hellish scenarios that climate change can unleash upon humanity is that of an ecological breakdown at the level of primary producers — i.e plants. Since everything else in the food chain ultimately relies on them for sustenance, ebbs and flows in flora have the potential to impact every form of life across ecosystems.

Complantsating for climate

However, credit where credit is due, plants have been around for a long time and have borne the brunt of climatic changes before. We refer to one of the mechanisms they developed to address such changes as “demographic compensation”. In broad terms, it’s the process through which populations of plants faced with a certain stressor show a decrease in certain characteristics, like survival or growth, and offset these with increases in other areas, such as flowering more and producing more seeds. Such changes are usually in response to different weather and climate patterns across a species range, and are meant to maintain its net characteristics despite variable conditions.

Demographic compensation has been suggested as one possible explanation for the survival of plants that haven’t changed their geographic ranges in the face of climate change. This claim has never been investigated, however, so a team of scientists fromNorth Carolina State University and the University of British Columbia set out to do just that.

The researchers surveyed 11,000 plants in 32 different populations of scarlet monkeyflower (Erythranthe cardinalis), a perennial plant that grows throughout several climate zones in central Oregon, California, and North Baja California in Mexico. The team measured and recorded plant characteristics like survival, growth, and flowering, and compared them between populations in northern and southern latitudes.

The good news is that the theory of demographic compensation seems to stand its ground, as the team found “strong evidence” of such processes occurring across the plant’s range. Throughout the five-year period of the study, plant survival rates were low in the southern part of the monkeyflower’s range (southern California), but flowering rates were high. In the northern reaches of the plant’s geographic range (central Oregon) survival and growth rates from year to year were higher than in the south, but the plants didn’t flower every year.

However, that about wraps it up in the ‘good news’ department. While the team has found evidence to support demographic compensation, they also say it is not enough to insulate plants from the effects of climate change for long. Seema Sheth, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at NC State and lead author of a paper, explains that even though flowering rates were higher in the south, most of the plants there flowered once and then died.

“Overall, the study suggests that all southern populations declined, so demographic compensation alone may not save these populations from extinction,” she says. “But it’s not all doom and gloom. Demographic compensation may buy these endangered populations some precious time for climatic conditions to improve or to allow evolutionary processes to help the plant adapt to unfavorable conditions.”

She adds that the study occurred during record hot and dry years in California (2010-2014). But, rather than negatively impacting the results, she thinks the conditions faced by plants during this period are more akin to what we should expect in the future, as extremes are going to become more common due to climate change.

The team plans to follow up on the findings with a “resurrection approach”. Sheth will grow monkeyflowers from seeds collected across the plant’s geographic range before and after the 2012-2014 study to see what impact strong climate events had on the genetic heritage of the flowers. For example, if southern plants needed to flower earlier to survive, this might have led to a noticeable selection of genes involved in flowering.

“This approach allows us to resurrect pre-drought ancestors from stored seeds and compare them to post-drought descendants in the same environment, essentially allowing us to travel in time,” Sheth said.

The paper “Demographic compensation does not rescue populations at a trailing range edge” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The International Space Station’s incredible flower garden is in full bloom

Remember this article we wrote in November about the astronaut crew that got the longest green thumbs in history by planting a small garden on the ISS?

Well, their flowers have gone in full bloom. This hints at what might be possible on a lunar or even Martian settlement in the not-so-distant future. And we’re here to tell you all about how Scott Kelly and his colleagues managed to grow flowers in a metal box zipping around the Earth with no sunlight and having only limited water and gravity while I can’t even keep a cactus alive.

Image via twitter/Scott Kelly.

This bright orange zinnia was grown in the Vegetable Production System (also known as the gloriously puny “Veggie”), a deployable unit built to sustain a range of crops including lettuce — the first space-grown crop that the ISS taste-tested in August.

Veggie comes equiped with LED lighting and a nutrient distribution system for the plants inside, relying on the surrounding cabin to maintain an optimal environment inside it’s plastic-wrapped growth chamber. Still, it hasn’t been easy for the crew to grow the flowers, and as much as Veggie helped, it also worked agains them.

“There was mould, drought, and flooding in the roots. There were gardening guidelines, urgent, 4am phone calls, and distressed tweets. Some plants didn’t make it and had to be clipped off,” Lonnie Shekhtman reports for The Christian Science Monitor.

Around Christmas the flowers started to get mouldy because of a humidity build-up inside the plastic-wrapped chamber. Early efforts to ventilate the chamber dried out the plants, killing two of the crew’s zinnias. After weeks of tweaking however, the crew figured out how to use fans to gently dry out the plants and two survived to blossom fully over the weekend.

Image via twitter/Scott Kelly

While they’re not the first plants to be grown in space (the Guiness Book of Records gives that distinction to the 1982 Russian astronauts who grew Arabidopsis seeds aboard the ISS) they’re certainly the most beautiful yet. And these plants’ story, with its ups and downs, will play a huge in our eforts to grow our food on other planets in the future.

“The unexpected turns experienced during this Veggie run have actually offered bountiful opportunities for new learning and better understanding of one of the critical components to future journeys to Mars,” says NASA.

via ScienceAlert

Skeleton flower turns translucent when it comes in contact with water

The Diphylleia Grayi flower is also known as the Skeleton Flower and while at first glance it may appear an ordinary bloom, there is actually something quite extraordinary about it.

Just an ordinary flower.
Image via interflora.com.au

This rare flower’s petals are usually white, but turn translucent (their “skeleton” form) when exposed to water. Being completely clear and of striking, glass-like beauty while wet, they turn white again when they dry off.

Image via interflora.com.au

Found in only three locations in the world, the flower hails from the moist wooded mountainsides in the colder regions of China and Japan, and within the United States’ Appalachian Mountains. It grows to a height of 0.4 metres and up to one metre wide. In addition to its transformation capabilities, the flower is also recognized by its large, umbrella-like leaves and bright green and yellow centers. 

For some cool flower time-lapses, be sure to read The Explosive Blooms of the Echinopsis Cactus Flowers.


Global warming brings earliest flower bloom ever recorded

They say April showers bring blooming flowers – but the same could be said for global warming. A recent study conducted by scientists from Boston University, Harvard University, and the University of Wisconsin found that flowers are blooming faster and faster each year, with this year being the peak year.

Global warming is in the flowers.

Earlier flower bloom indicates development of global warming.

In Bloom

Scientists used historical data collected by legendary biologists Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold to graph the values; they used data which was 161 and 80 year-old and nearly 80-year-old, allowing them to see how the flowering patterns have changed over the years. The time period spanned from the early stages of the industrial revolution, where man-made climate change was almost non-existent, to modern times.

They found that for every 1 degree Celsius rise (1.8 Fahrenheit) in average spring temperatures flowers bloom up to 4.1 days earlier, which means that some flowers can bloom earlier with even one week. The big question here is how well can plants keep up with this accelerating rhithm; so far, they seem to be coping, but it’s not clear if they’ll be able to do so in the future..

“It’s just remarkable that they can physiologically handle this,” said study leader Elizabeth Ellwood, a biologist at Boston University in Massachusetts. But Ellwood suspects that “at some point this won’t be the case anymore as winter gets shorter.” “Something’s gotta give.”

The effects are visible in most parts of the world – as the winter keeps getting milder and milder, plants can’t tell the difference between winter and spring; they don’t know when blooming time is, they start blooming sooner, but they body isn’t exactly prepared for this. This is why Ellwood says “something’s gotta give”.

Bret-Harte, who works in Alaska’s Arctic, has already found evidence that Arctic plants are not responding to warmer temperatures in the same way as they used to. Also, as nothern climates warm, southern plants kick in and become more and more competitive, leaving the native flowers with little chances to survive – sadly, the same thing is happening to animal species as well.

Though not a breakthrough, the study is a great illustration of the effects global warming has on the entirety of life on our planet; no creature, big or small, north or south, will be left unaffected – everybody will have to pay the price.

Via National Geographic