Plant Facts! Texas Bluebonnet

The Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) is an annual flowering plant endemic to Texas. (i.e. only found in Texas) It comes as no shock, then, that it is also Texas’ state flower!

Fun facts about the Texas Bluebonnet:

  • Bluebonnets are a part of the legume (bean) family, and they have a symbiotic relationship between Rhizobia bacteria around their roots. This allows them to grow in terrible soil conditions. Have you ever seen the fields and fields of bluebonnets along the median of Texas state highways?

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    Freshly dug peanuts Wikimedia Commons

  • The seed coats of bluebonnets are hard and tough, and wind, rain, and weather has to work over months–even years–to penetrate the coat and cause germination.
  • Bluebonnet seeds actually germinate and sprout in the fall (so you should plant them then). They stay small and inconspicuous during the winter, while they grow a massive root system. Come spring, they grow like crazy and send up a plume of flowers.

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    Wikimedia Commons

  • Bluebonnets rely heavily on bees to pollinate their flowers. White on the flowers attracts the bees while pollen is ready (bees can see white very well), and red on the flowers indicates the window for pollination has passed. (Bees can’t see red)

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    Wikimedia Commons

  • Texas actually has five state flowers: all of them different bluebonnet (Lupinus) species!

    Big Bend Bluebonnet

    Big Bend bluebonnet Wikimedia Commons

 

Stay tuned for facts about chrysanthemums next!

 

Peace

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Plant Facts: Agave

While I bide my time, here are some fun facts about the plants in my book. (If you’re just now joining me, check out my other blog post, where I talk a little about my book.)

The agave is a succulent plant native to the hot, arid regions of the Southwest US, Mexico, and tropical parts of South America. It has several adaptations that allow it to not only survive, but thrive in these conditions:

  • Thick, tough, and waxy leaves, allow it to retain as much water as possible and prevent evaporation through transpiration. The leaves are also very sharp and have spines along the edges to ward off any animals that might try to eat its leaves….gotta guard that water!! (think, cactus)agave_americana_r01
  • A shallow root system comprised of rhizomes (continuously growing horizontal underground stem that puts out lateral shoots and adventitious roots at intervals), which allows the plant to soak up as much water from rainfall, dew, and any other moisture. 

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  • In addition to producing seeds, agave also produce little offshoots of new plants from their runners, called “pups”.
  • When an agave blooms, it’s stalk rises high above the plant, in order to be out of reach of anything that would attack it. The stalks can reach up to 30ft in height! After the bloom finishes, the agave dies.DCIM105GOPRO

Here are some more fun facts:

  • Agave are not cacti, nor related to cacti…or even aloe. They are hard to place in the phylogenetic tree, because the variations between species are huge, and some species could simply be variations of other wild species. It’s just confusing.
  • Agave spines are so sharp and tough, ancient peoples often used them for sewing needles.
  • The agave (and saguaro–a cactus) rely on bat pollination for survival. Two species–the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-tongued bat–migrate from Mexico into the Southern United States every spring. These two species are listed as endangered, and you can read more about them here.

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    Lesser long-nosed bat Wikimedia Commons

  • Agave nectar, as we know it, is derived from the sap of the plant, not the flowers. (Although, there is nectar in the flowers as a treat for pollinators.) Once an agave has been growing for 7-14 years, its leaves are cut off, and the juice is extracted from the piña–or core–of the plant. It then goes on through processing for human consumption. (Now you know why it’s so expensive….)

  • Four major parts of the agave are edible: the flowers, the leaves, the stalks (or pups), and the sap–in Spanish aguamiel (“honey water”).

Stay tuned for fun facts about Texas bluebonnets!

Peace

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Alphabet Book of Plants!

Since I’ve had my little twin boys, I’ve fallen in love (again) with children’s books….especially picture books…board picture books. 😉 Eric Carle is probably one of my all time favorites, and I’ve been collecting his books every time I get the chance. Whenever my husband and I go to Half Price Books, I head straight to the special shelf dedicated to Eric Carle to see if there are any I don’t have yet. I love his books. So much.

Anyway, so I decided I wanted to write (and illustrate) a children’s book, because I love reading them to my boys, and….I just really wanted to do it. I love the age group 0-2 ish, so I decided I wanted to write an alphabet book (yeah yeah, like the world doesn’t have enough of those….shut up.)…..of plants! I love nature (surprise!) and pictures, and books, so it just worked.

As of right now, I have the manuscript ready, I just need to get the pictures. Funny story: I was planning on drawing each plant, but after drawing after drawing, I decided that my skills are not good enough for what I wanted on the page. (I’m actually a decent artist….just not decent enough!) I though about IF my book were to be chosen by a publisher, what kind of illustrations would I get? Do I want do self-publish and hire an illustrator? No. I want this whole book to be MINE. [insert Gollum quote: “my precious”] Long story short, I decided to use photographs. I want to use mine, but no way on earth do I have the time or resources to go around photographing every plant (many of which don’t even grow where I live…) with twin baby boys. Then I thought, “Hmmmmm…..is it kosher to use stock photos in books?”. Screw it, yes it is. The only problem is finding high quality stock photos…which I like to think I’m pretty good at…..I may be mediocre at many, many things, but the Internet is not one of them! Just ask anyone close to me: I’m pretty much the Queen of Finding Things on the Internet. So I’ve found what I need, I just need to buy the licenses. $$$….well, not actually that expensive, but one thing I’ve realized: after you have twins (or any kids, for that matter), you will never have money ever again. Tangent–let’s go through the list:

  1. Get AC repair guy to come inspect and fix AC unit
  2. Twins get hand foot and mouth (THE WORRRRRRRRRSST)
  3. Different AC unit breaks (two story house…in Texas…in July)
  4. Pay $$$ to fix old car so it can pass inspection enough to last another year (maybe)
  5. Buy a minivan (I literally couldn’t fit two of the next size car seats in my tiny little car)
  6. AC breaks again…different part replace
  7. Replaced leaking water heater
  8. Root canal for momma, because she put her face too close to Baby-With-A-Huge-Plastic-Cup
  9. AC breaks again….completely different part
  10. Need a new tire
  11. Etc.

You get the point. Now I sound super complainy, but that’s what’s happened. I’m waiting until we aren’t paying a bajillion dollars every month to spend a little money on some pictures. (which I’m super excited about!!! I found pretty much exactly what I had pictured–no pun intended)

After that, the plan is to set up a Kickstarter project so that I can publish the books myself. I looked into self-publishing with Amazon and others, but it just wasn’t what I wanted. I’m going to print the board books with Print Ninja, and hopefully sell lots of them on Amazon and whatever website I decide to set up. I really like the book, and I hope y’all do too! (But hey, if no one is interested in funding me, I’ll just make some for myself and my friends…..but I really want other people to be interested….because I’m normal. Ish.*)

Peace

*No. I am not normal. Not even “ish”.

Garter Snakes: she-males?

Come again?

In short: female mimicry to increase one’s fitness.

Let me explain. Every winter, garter snakes hibernate underground in massive groups. (Not unlike the snakes in the cave in Indiana Jones: The Raiders of the Lost Ark…they are virtually harmless, though.)

When the time comes to emerge from their den, they emerge at roughly the same time and start mating. Now, males that have just come out of hibernation don’t act, smell, or “taste” like males at all. In fact, they look exactly like females…except for the fact they are males. We will call these “she-males”. (an article in Nature called them that, so I will too)

The she-males secrete the same chemicals as females, make the same movements as females, and even try (very successfully) to get normal males to mate with them.

Oddly enough, this she-male state is only temporary. After a while, the she-male returns to a normal male and he goes off and mates with a female…hopefully a real one.

So why on earth does this happen?

There are several possible reasons:

  1. Males are aggressive towards other males, so by masquerading as a female, the she-male avoids potentially dangerous situations.
  2. The male may be confused by the she-male, and thus the she-male may get better access to the mating ball while the poor normal male is trying to mate with non-females [1].
  3. Males (of this species) don’t have unlimited “resources”, so a male who mates with a she-male wastes his resources and therefore his chances of producing young…and possibly gives the she-male the chance he could have had.
  4. The third reason ties in with this: Males aren’t ready to mate immediately out of the den, so they bide their time getting other males who have been out longer (and are ready to mate) to waste their resources while they prepare their own.

Basically, this she-male state is a way to increase the fitness of the individual.

Note: Fitness does not refer to strength or health in this case; rather, the number of offspring of an individual who survive to successfully reproduce.

Really interesting stuff. Wish I could find a video about this…