Sunday, January 20, 2013

Guest Blog: Yunal Sapir and The Shy Red Bride

Anemone coronaria
Dr. Yuval Sapir is Director of the Tel Aviv University Botanical Gardens

The red-crowned anemone, Anemone coronaria, is one of the most common and beloved wildflowers in Israel. It's Hebrew name, Kalanit, is from the Hebrew word for bride, dressed beautifully in a red dress. From January through March, red carpets of anemones cover the hills in the Mediterranean region, with beetles buzzing in and out the flowers. These are glaphyrid beetles that are adapted to forage pollen and to mate on the red, bowl-shaped anemone flowers. The beetles are attracted by the large amount of pollen in the numerous anthers of the flower. While eating or mating inside the flowers, their body is covered with pollen grains that transferred on to the next flower.

Anemone flowers live for two weeks, but only in the start is the stigma receptive to accept pollen grains. Although the flowers are hermaphrodite, containing both sexes in the same plant, the female (stigma) is matures earlier than the male (pollen), effectively mandating that sex has to be between two different flowers. When the male function is active in the flower, there are other younger flowers that have their stigma ready. Interestingly, during its two-weeks life time, the anemone's flower keeps growing. Young, female flowers are small and perfectly red. Later on, the male flower is larger and also develops white ring around the center where the pollen is available for the pollinating beetles. Of-course, the male function of the flower benefits from being prominent on the white background. The more seen, the more visits and the more pollen grains spread out to females. The female function, on the other side, needs very little number of visits, because one pollen grain fertilizing an ovule is enough to make a seed. So no need to be prominent like the male; the small red flower is just enough to get pollen. The shy female will get what it needs soon enough.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Guest Blog: Yuval Sapir and 50 Shades of Pink

A field of wild anemones flowering in early January.
Note that most of the flowers are not red.
Dr. Yuval Sapir is Director of the Tel Aviv University Botanical Gardens

The crowned anemone, Anemone coronaria, is well-known for its red flowers. But its flowering season, January to March, is also characterized by non-red anemone flowers, particular early in the season. 

While the red flowers are pollinated by glaphyrid beetles, the non-red ones are pollinated by any possible insect hovering around in the winter. All except beetles. But no worries - beetles are anyhow not around in this early period of the winter (January). Indeed, the non-red anemones flower earlier than the red ones, even where they grow in the same place. 

Another difference between the two types (red and non-red) is that while the red ones are common everywhere, from extreme desert to the northernmost Mediterranean parts of Israel, the non-red anemones are unique to humid Mediterranean ecosystems. This is probably due to drought tolerance trait linked to the red-color allele. The genetic system for the color of the anemone includes two possibilities (alleles): red, or non-red. Red is recessive, this means that a only if both alleles are red, the flowers are red. If one of the alleles is non-red, the flower will be any other shade of pink, from white to purple. Despite the superiority of the non-red alleles, they are non-exist in the southern populations, in the dry Mediterranean and in the desert. This linkage between flower color and environmental adaptation is interesting, and has not been extensively studied.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ebony or Rosewood? Guild D-40 or Guild D-50?

I've said over and over, that every aspect of our life is influenced by plants. Music is a great example of how plant anatomy influences our lives.

I've been the proud owner of a Guild D-50 acoustic guitar since 1983. Before I purchased this beauty, I spent days, together with my friend Mo, frequenting the music stores of mid-town Manhattan and trying every guitar possible. We kept coming back to two Guild models: the D-40 and the D-50.

The ebony fret-board on my guitar
One of the main differences between these two great guitars is the wood used to make the fret-board: The D-40 boasts a fret-board made from rosewood, while the D-50's is made from ebony. In the end we both opted for the latter.

Ebony cost roughly 10 times more than rosewood, so what characteristics does it have that made us forkout the extra funds for these guitars?

Ebony has a very has a fine grain and is much harder than rosewood. This difference in density is felt in the fingertips which feel as if they move faster between fingerings. Aside from the feel, ebony boards impart the guitar with a unique sound which the trained ear can pick up. It enables great sustain, and a crisp sound with percussive overtones. But I wouldn't recommend an ebony fret-board for a novice guitarist; rosewood is much more forgiving.

Rosewood boards also gives a richer, warm sound. This is partly because of the anatomy of the wood. Rosewood has larger pores than ebony, and these microscopic pores absorb overtones.

This is just one example of how wood, which basically old, dead and filled xylem tubes, the tubes that trees use to transport water, influences music.