Welcome to the wonderful world of weedy plants!
Weeds are superevolutionary products of human civilizations and activities - without humans there would be no weeds, just wild plants.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Going once, going twice, going invasive!

I just read an interesting article (see citation at bottom) that describes various ways that species become invasive, and if invasive is really a good word to use.   Often there is a lag time between the first introduction until a species becomes common, overwhelming, and invasive.  The author argues that this lag time often is not a result of a biological process, but simply a continuous time for more introductions of the species to the area and human-mediated dispersal. Here are some quotes, laying out this theory:
"A single initial introduction may act as exclusive founding population. In the British Isles, all populations of the highly invasive Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica are supposed to descend from one single clone probably introduced in 1848."

"Most frequently, however, successful non-native species are introduced repeatedly and often discontinuously over long periods from one or more original ranges into a new one."

"The success of these species was, in terms of naturalisation, poor with 7.4% naturalised. In contrast, 41.2% of the deliberately introduced taxa achieved naturalisation." {this is from a 1912 study in France}
Note the comment at the end, that deliberately introduced and spread taxa are the ones that become invasive, much more so than the accidentals.  The article describes the situation in Germany, but I think you would have a similar case in the US.  Some of our worst weeds were deliberately spread by humans and promoted as solutions to problems (kudzu for soil erosion and multiflora roses for hedges, for example).  Very interesting read.

Article, source for quotes: Kowarik, Ingo. 2003. Human agency in biological invasions: secondary releases foster naturalisation and population expansion of alien plant species. Biological Invasions 5: 293–312, 2003.

Species: Kudzu, Pueraria lobata, Fabaceae.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

From the blogs: The IKEA Maskros Chandelier

The Design Ties blog is writing about the popular lamp from IKEA that was inspired by a dandelion ('maskros' in Swedish) in fruit, with all the little feathery parasols ready to blow off.  Click on this link to the blog, and check out the various photos.  Pretty nice!

[Species: Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae]

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Some plants have really unusual features.  This edible crop and weed, purslane (Portulaca oleracea), has capsular fruits with a top that 'pops off', so that the seeds are then exposed to weather and wind.  This particular type of capsule is called circumscissile, and for this particular plant is could be that the part that is left below with the seeds functions as a splash cup.  I don't know, but it is not unlikely.  The little black seeds would then splash out of the cup when a raindrop hits the cup, and disperse further than just normal falling down out of the capsule. (Note to myself, research needed!)   

Splash cups are not that common, but also occur in the bird's-nest fungus. While looking up purslane I found out that one plant can produce more than 240 000 seeds per season.  Well, it is good it is edible then.

You can read more about purslane and this photo here

Photo credit (c) Arjo Vanderjagt on Flickr

Species: purslane (Portulaca oleracea, Portulacaceae)

Company named after weeds: Cirsium Garden Design, UK

Cirsium is the name of a garden design company in Hook, Hampshire (UK), and also the Latin genus name for one of the thistle genera. I love their logo - go to their website to see a larger version.

Genus: thistles, Cirsium, Asteraceae

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Interior design: Cow Parsley wallpaper by Vanillaprint

Cow parsley is a weed of Europe, and much loved (at least in Sweden) for its detailed, airy white flower heads in early June. By late fall the fruits are still standing on the dry stalks and they often last partly through the winter. 

It is in the same family as the American Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota), which is the same species as carrot.

The interior design company Vanillawood in Portland, Oregon, USA, made a wallpaper featuring this species.  It comes in many colors, take a look here. Lovely pattern!

I don't know how or why this company settled on this species, but cow parsley is becoming an invasive weed here in the US. It is classified as a "Class B noxious weed" in Washington State, USA, and is widespread as an invasive weed both in both northwestern and northeastern USA.  It is mostly called wild chervil in the US.

It is a bit disturbing that a lovely wildflower plant you remember from your childhood and that you strongly associate with long Swedish summer nights are suddenly horrible weeds in another country.  The same thing happened to purple loosestrife, which was one of my favorite flowers on the Baltic seashores.  Here in the US it also is a horrible invasive species. 

Image (c) Vanillawood, used with permission.

Species: Anthriscus sylvestris, Apiaceae, cow parsley, wild chervil

Friday, February 3, 2012

Taste testing: Fentiman's soda - Dandelion and Burdock

Fentiman's is a UK brand of sodas licensed to be made in the US. This Dandelion & Burdock version includes extracts from two weeds: dandelion root and burdock root.  It also includes ginger, anise, and pear. I wrote about this weedy product earlier, but here is a more scientific investigation.

I had a little taste test of this carbonated drink that I found (surprisingly!) in a local supermarket.  I asked over 20 students and family members to write down their thoughts on the smell and the taste and if they liked it or not.  The result?  Overwhelming positive!  Funny enough, many people said it smelled like bubblegum, and in particular Bazooka Bubblegum.  I better look that up, maybe there is some burdock in the Bazooka brand.

Comments from tasters:
Tastes like bubble gum. Tastes exactly how it smells
Strong smell – mellow taste – almost like cream soda/root beer – I liked it
Harsh nose – alcoholic almost – light on palate – doesn’t hold carbonization – flat – does not linger on palate
Delicious! Smells a little strange, but tastes great!
It’s good. A cross between root beer and bubble gum. And perfectly carbonated.
Love it! I bet it would be good with vanilla ice cream, or by itself as an after-dinner treat.  It has a nice fragrance.
Smell – sweet, like cream soda. Taste – light, not overpowering sweet, bazooka bubblegum aftertaste, but scant.  Overall quite delicious.
It tastes like black licorice, smells like a bad cough medicine.
A grassy licorice taste at first, a sweet aftertaste.
Tastes like Dr. Pepper, mixed with Jaegermeister (I assume it is the herbal qualities I am picking up). There is a slightly cherry or plum sort of undertone that probably gives me the Dr. Pepper. Also reminds me a bit of Ricola throat drops. These are all positive, however. It’s more refreshing than super sweet fruit sodas and colas.
I think it tasted good, light and fresh. Just like cola with some herbs.
Taste like one of the traditional Chinese medicines, a little bitter for the first 5 seconds and then coming with really good sweet taste. I like it!
I found this to be nice and light, less sugar than other sodas.
Overall, not bad, but needs more sugar. Nice texture and taste; aftertaste like bubblegum.
I liked it, but didn’t love it… It’s a bit too sweet for my taste. And very ‘fruity’. I would drink it with no effort, but it is not my favorite drink in the world.
Not enough flavor for a soda.  Maybe more sugar, it lacks a flavor kick.
It is really sweet. I don’t really like it, it is too sweet.
It kind of reminds me of cough syrup.
Weird aftertaste. Reminds me of Peptobismol, but I like that, this is all right. Smell like old-fashioned Amish candy.
It is the best tasting soda I have ever tasted in my life.
It smells good. It tastes good, just too sweet.
There is clove in this smell.
Smell – I really don’t like it, some old weird candy.
Smells like Bazzooka bubble gum.
Species: Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae
Species: Burdock, Arctium, Asteraceae