Tag Archives: botany

The botany of henna

Photos: Henna body art NYHENNA via flickr.com CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Henna flowers and leaves J.M. Garg via wikipedia.org CC BY-SA 4.0

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

 

Henna-based body art has thousands of years of history in India, Africa, and the Middle East, and it’s an increasingly common sight in the Western world too.  The intricate designs are beautiful, and many traditional designs are packed with symbolism and story.  But the henna itself has a story, too – a botanical one.  For those of us who love plants, history, and naming, there’s a lot to like about henna. Continue reading

Life under the snow

Photo: Vole tunnels revealed by melting snow, © John Fowler (johnfowler.photoshelter.com), used by permission.

 Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

             On a cold February day, when breath hangs visible in the frigid air and even our winter-resident birds are huddling out of sight, it’s easy to think that life outdoors waits suspended for a thaw.  Think twice, though, because when that thaw comes it will bring evidence – like the networks of vole tunnels in the photo above – that this apparent suspension was just an illusion.  There’s a lot going on, even on the coldest days of winter; but a lot of it is happening out of sight, under the snow. Continue reading

Spring, light, and strategy on the forest floor

Image: Trout lily, Erythronium americanum, dw_ross via flickr.com, CC-BY-2.0

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I write for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden. I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license . If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.


Spring is upon us, and it’s a great time for a walk in the woods that are part of our Botanic Garden.  In a deciduous forest, spring finds the forest floor sprinkled with green and with flashes of colour from blooming “spring ephemerals”.  The trout lily pictured above is an example, as are wood anemone, trillium, bloodroot, and a bunch of my other favourites.  But if you walk the same trail in July, you’d be hard pressed to know some of these spring bloomers were ever there – not only is their flowering finished, but their green leaves and stems have withered and gone.  Why? Continue reading

To love or to hate Miss Rumphius?

Photo: Lupines at Svínafellsjökull, Iceland (photo S. Heard). Book cover, Miss Rumphius, Viking Press, fair use. Georg Rumpf, portrait from his Herbarium Amboinense (1741), public domain.

This is my 100th post on Scientist Sees Squirrel. You’ll notice it hits some of my favourite themes (but not statistics; everyone needs a break sometime). I hope you enjoy it, as I hope you’ve enjoyed a few others of my first 100.

I should hate this book, but I can’t.

330px-MissRumphiusBookCover“This book” is Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius (Viking Press, 1982; links below) – a picture book for young children that’s both lovely and profound. I read it to my son perhaps a hundred times, and if it weren’t for him thinking he’s outgrown the book (and being read to), I’d read it to him a hundred times more. I flinch every time I read it, but I keep coming back. I’ll explain both. Continue reading

What’s in a (Latin) name?

Photos: Magnolia blossoms CC0 via pixabay.com; bust of Pierre Magnol CC BY-SA 3.0 by Albertvillanovadelmoral via wikimedia.org

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I write for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden. I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license . If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

Our Garden has hundreds of plant species – many planted, and many more growing wild. That’s just the tip of the botanical iceberg, though – there are about 400,000 plant species on Earth. Keeping track of these is a big challenge, and of course the first step is to give them all names. Continue reading

Wonderful Latin Names, Part 6: Syzygium aromaticum

Photos: S. aromaticum flowers by Hafiz Issadeen CC BY-ND 2.0 via flickr.com; S. aromaticum leaves by Forest & Kim Starr CC BY 3.0 via wikimedia.org.

A couple of weeks ago I described the evolutionary history in each jar of my mango chutney. My chutney has 19 botanical ingredients, and I looked up the Latin name of each one to locate it on the angiosperm phylogeny. I was delighted, in doing so, to discover that cloves are Syzygium aromaticum*.

The species name aromaticum is certainly appropriate to cloves, which have one of the loveliest aromas to grace my kitchen. We can thank Linnaeus for aromanticum, but that’s not what makes the clove tree the 6th installment in my series on Wonderful Latin Names. Instead, it’s the genus name Syzygium that made my day. That’s because it shares roots with one of my very favourite English words, syzygy. Who wouldn’t love a word that flies off the tongue like a feather-fletched arrow leaving a bow? A word with three vowels, all of them y’s? A word with meanings in poetry, biology, and astronomy? Continue reading

How plants prepare for winter

Image: Winter spruce, CC-0 via Pixabay.com

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden. I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license . If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.


Winter is here, and you’ve probably been getting yourself, and your home and garden, ready. Our Garden is making its own preparations. Our plants can’t head inside, or put on parkas and tuques, so they have to be ready to be cold. And there’s a lot more to that than meets the eye.

There are actually two problems that plants need to solve in winter. Continue reading