I can see the stone wall of the Missouri Botanical Garden from my front porch. It often beckons to me. Though my walks are often brisk, I bring a camera to slow me down to catch a brilliant color, an engaging pattern or a playful reflection. Sometimes, I sit for 5 or 10 minutes and try to meditate.
At the MBG, there’s people watching, of course, and this often causes me to think of the people I care most about–how could this not be the case in such a beautiful place?
But the two things come to my mind almost every time I visit the garden:
1. David Attenborough’s “Private Life of Plants.” (It’s about the only thing I keep my VCR for – it’s not available in Zone 1 on DVD). It’s a beautiful video series that blurs the line between flora and fauna, when plant growth is run in fast-motion.
In the NYT, Carl Zimmer writes about the so-called races, based on real evidence:
In 1924, the State of Virginia attempted to define what it means to be white.
The state’s Racial Integrity Act, which barred marriages between whites and people of other races, defined whites as people “whose blood is entirely white, having no known, demonstrable or ascertainable admixture of the blood of another race.”
There was just one problem. As originally written, the law would have classified many of Virginia’s most prominent families as not white, because they claimed to be descended from Pocahontas.
So the Virginia legislature revised the act, establishing what came to be known as the “Pocahontas exception.” Virginians could be up to one-sixteenth Native American and still be white in the eyes of the law.
People who were one-sixteenth black, on the other hand, were still black.’
On average, the scientists found, people who identified as African-American had genes that were only 73.2 percent African. European genes accounted for 24 percent of their DNA, while .8 percent came from Native Americans.
Latinos, on the other hand, had genes that were on average 65.1 percent European, 18 percent Native American, and 6.2 percent African. The researchers found that European-Americans had genomes that were on average 98.6 percent European, .19 percent African, and .18 Native American.
I’ve studied sex in the wild, at least somewhat, but I learned more than a few thing during this entertaining talk by Carin Bondar. Most bizarre is her description of the hectocotylus, a detachable swimming penis of the paper nautilus.
After watching this talk, I followed up by reading more about unusual animal genitals.
Back in 2008, I read Neil Shubin’s book, “Your Inner Fish.” I posted on it here. PBS has worked with Shubin to present a documentary that covers and expands on Shubin’s work. What a great compliment to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. You won’t want to miss this. It’s a story about plasticity, about how your body is bursting with evidence of your animal ancestors. Another reason to watch this: Shubin’s enthusiasm is contagious.
I visited the Missouri Botanical Garden today, not knowing that it was the last day of their annual orchid show. After I found this out at 4:30 pm when I was at the entrance to the show. I ended up staying 15 min after closing time–I was the last one out.
Looking at the wide variety of orchids reminds me of Charles Darwin, who extensively studied orchids, along with finches and everything else he could get his hands on. Just on aesthetic level, viewing these living beings is phenomenal. Just last night I watched Episode 2 of the new version of Cosmos, a broadside attack on creationists, where Neil deGrasse Tyson commented that many people are unnerved when compared to the other primates. Then he mentioned trees, asking how it felt that we are related to them too. I immediately knew how I felt, because I’ve written about the fact that trees are my cousins. That idea is a wonderful idea, that we are all one big (capital D) Diverse family. I had that same feeling today looking at the extraordinary variety (and beauty) of orchids. It didn’t help things that some of the orchids have what appear to be faces (see the first photo).
While I was trying to photograph some of the orchids, a woman asked me, “Do you grow?” I hesitated for a second, to figure out what she was asking, then confessed, “No, I don’t grow.” She said, “You should. They are surprising easy to grow.”
For more photos, click the title and then visit the thumbnails on the gallery at the bottom of the post.
Alan Turing was an amazing man. London researchers have recently substantiated one of his theories regarding repeated biological patterns:
[The] study, funded by the Medical Research Council and to be published online in Nature Genetics, not only demonstrates a mechanism which is likely to be widely relevant in vertebrate development, but also provides confidence that chemicals called morphogens, which control these patterns, can be used in regenerative medicine to differentiate stem cells into tissue.
The findings provide evidence to support a theory first suggested in the 1950s by famous code-breaker and mathematician Alan Turing, whose centenary falls this year. He put forward the idea that regular repeating patterns in biological systems are generated by a pair of morphogens that work together as an ‘activator’ and ‘inhibitor’.