Tag Archives: Plants

A Brown Thumb

All the grass around me dies,

For two miles as the crow flies.

And you should never think to doubt

That the seeds I plant will die as they sprout.

It’s been years since I saw a flower bloom;

When they meet me they meet their doom.

And you will not see a living tree

Within fifteen miles of me.

I don’t know why, just that I can’t

Prevent the death of any plant.

In fact, I kill them with greater ease

Than any insect, animal, vine, or disease.

At first, I thought it might be something in the dirt,

But I now know it’s me who causes their hurt.

I once hoped bad water might be the cause,

But truthfully the fault lies in my own flaws.

I cannot keep a plant alive,

No matter what amenities I contrive.

A good life I cannot provide,

For a potted plant kept inside.

And outside there is only death,

For any plant the feels my breath.

Not even a cactus will manage to thrive,

Not so long as I survive.

I may never see a flower bud,

For every seed I plant becomes a dud.

I’ve now given up on growing a garden,

And soon I think the ground will harden.

I know now that I’d have to be dumb,

Not to realize that I have a brown thumb.

Spring in the Alumni Gardens

The below photos were taken by Radford’s own Patricia Forehand. Patricia collects a variety of plants and enjoys photography. Walking through the Alumni Gardens near McConnell library in the spring of 2016, Patricia noticed a variety of beautiful garden trees in bloom. She took the amazing following photos of the foliage around campus.

Muse Flowers


Flowers in space?

Astronauts on the International Space Station have been trying to cultivate edible plants in microgravity for around two years.

After various unsuccessful attempts at growth, you’d think these astronauts would be weary after these failed growth cycles. However, their perseverance has proven to be worthwhile, because they now have their first ever zinnia flowers blooming in space.

Zinnia is a genus of plants of the sunflower tribe within the daisy family. They are cultivated for their vibrant flowers, but they are also edible.


Scott Kelly, U.S. astronaut, posted a picture of one of the zinnia flowers on Twitter.


According to a recent NASA blog, after mold started growing on some of the leaves because of high humidity, Kelly was able to bring the flowers back to life.

This isn’t the first time plants have sprouted in space, however. The International Space Station team brought their Veggie plant system to life halfway through the year 2014. The team have also grown red romaine lettuce.

The “Outredgeous” lettuce was grown aeroponically — in an air or mist environment without soil. Plants grown in these environments require much less water and fertilizer without a need for pesticide. These plants also are less prone to disease, and grow up to three times faster than plants grown in soil, NASA has stated.

NASA, in a blog post, wrote that this was the “first time a flowering crop experiment will be grown on the orbiting laboratory”.

Some have argued that a sunflower was actually the first flower to grow in space, although NASA has not yet commented.

Don Pettit, astronaut, grew a zucchini, sunflower and broccoli out of zip-lock bags on the International Space Station as a personal science experiment, documented in a NASA blog called “Diary of Space Zucchini”, in 2012.

Alexandra Whitmire from NASA’s Human Research Program said that NASA’s Veggie project could also provide crucial information for various other missions. For example, understanding watering schedules in microgravity, and knowing what to do if there is mold growth or other challenges in these extreme conditions on Mars.

“In future missions, the importance of plants will likely increase, given the crews’ limited connection to Earth,” Whitmire wrote in a NASA blog.

NASA hopes the veggie project will become a regular facility for International Space Station astronauts to grow fresh food in space.


Roses conducting electricity

A team of Swedish analysts have created flexible electronic circuits — produced using pliable organic materials — inside a rose. Their material makes them conceivably compatible with tissues and has impelled research endeavors to utilize them to diagnose and treat diseases.

Their idea was to utilize the plant’s own structural engineering and biology to assist them in assembling devices on the inside. They aimed to assemble polymer-based “wires” on the inside of a plant’s xylem. They expected that on the off-chance that they could break down conducting polymer building blocks in water, maybe plants could pull them up the channels and connect them into wires.

Swedish researchers have created a circuit inside the stems and leaves of rose cuttings. Graphic from Linkoping University.
Swedish researchers have created a circuit inside the stems and leaves of rose cuttings.
Graphic from Linkoping University.


After Magnus Berggren, a materials scientist and electrical engineer at Linköping University, Norrköping, in Sweden, and his associates tried more than a dozen different polymer electronic building blocks — all unsuccessful — they tried an organic electronic building block called PEDOT-S:H. Each of these building blocks comprises of a short, repeating chain of a conductive organic molecule with short arms coming off each section of the chain.

Each of the arms has a sulfur-containing group bonded to a hydrogen atom. Berggren’s group found that when they set them in the water, the rose stems promptly pulled the short polymer chains up the xylem channels. The intact plants pulled the organics up through the roots also, much more gradually, however, Berggren says.

Once inside, the chemistry in those channels pulled the hydrogen atoms off the short arms, a change that provoked the sulfur groups on neighboring chains to link together. The team then added electronic probes to opposite ends of these strings, and found that they were wires, directing electricity all down the line.

When that worked, Berggren’s group included other electronic patches on the surface of their rose stems to make transistors that could switch the current in a wire on and off. As they report in Science Advances, they went ahead to utilize an arrangement of different techniques to show they could get leaves to take up organic electronics, creating an array of pixels.

This isn’t the first time researchers have infused plants with electrical materials, but the first time they’ve utilized the plants’ own vascular framework to form a circuit. This innovation could give a method of controlling plant biology for experimental exploration, to collect energy — or as another option to genetic engineering.

In the long run, the development may permit individuals to collect energy from trees and shrubs, not by chopping them down and utilizing them for fuel, but by connecting them directly into their photosynthesis hardware. It also may be possible to harness plants’ photosynthesis capacities to create electricity directly, allowing us to procure the sun’s energy without destroying the plants.

Bioluminescent cities

In an age when society is trying to reduce energy consumption in everyday life, designers are increasing turning to nature for inspiration – called biomimicry – the method of imitation systems found in nature to solve design problems.

One Dutch designer, artist, and innovator Daan Roosegaarde is interested in lighting streets without using electricity. He is working with Alexander Krichevsky, a biotech researcher from State University of New York, and founder of BIOGLOW™, a St. Louis-based biotechnology firm that developed the first light-producing plant. Dr. Krichevsky makes the glowing plants by splicing DNA genes from luminous marine bacteria within the chloroplast genome from a common houseplant to create ‘Starlight Avatar’, which emits a light similar in type to that made by fireflies. They plan continuing their work in the United States, where it has received approval from the U.S. Department of Agrictulture for genetic engineering research.

The glow-in-the-dark plant concept has been around for a while. A University of Cambridge team modified genetic material from fireflies and the luminescent bacterium Vibrio fischerito to boost the production of light-yielding enzymes that can ultimately be inserted into genomes — they called it BioBricks.

The phenomenon of living organisms producing light or “glowing” in nature is called bioluminescense. There are over twenty independently evolved bioluminescent mechanisms found in nature as seen in deep sea fish and fireflies.

glowing plants
“Another project called Glowing Nature is designed to make ‘normal’ trees glow without using genetic modification.”

Autoluminescent plants – shrubs that produce light – are created by introducing the light-emitting pathway from marine bacteria into a plant’s chloroplasts.

Another project called Glowing Nature is designed to make ‘normal’ trees glow without using genetic modification. Using non-invasive technique, they apply a fine coating of ‘biological paint’ onto mature to make the trees glow at night. A website called Glowing Plant was successfully funded on Kickstarter, where you can pre-order your own autoluminescent plant.

Spray-on light absorbing dust would give public buildings, roads and pathways a phosphorescent shine at night, helping to improve the safety of parks and alleyways.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an independent organization, lighting–including street lights across America’s millions of miles of urban routes–accounts for more than 1/5 of all commercial energy consumption.

The spray-on dust and glowing trees would make street lighting less necessary, thus reducing the carbon footprint of urban centers, making them more environmentally friendly.

In the not so distant future, glow-in-the-dark plants and trees could light up our cities, buildings and streets.

Secondhand smoke affects everything around you — even plants

It’s not new information that, over time, secondhand smoke is just as dangerous as actually smoking. However, a new study shows that it’s not just the people around you who are negatively affected by secondhand smoke–plants also suffer due to the toxic exposure.

The study was done in Germany at the Technical University of Braunschweig. The findings indicated something highly alarming, although not altogether surprising for people against cigarettes–plants can absorb nicotine from secondhand smoke.

Nicotine itself is natural. While it’s mostly associated with tobacco, other vegetables do naturally contain low volumes of the chemical (such as eggplants and tomatoes). Despite its being found in nature, nicotine can be dangerous to humans in high doses. According to MetroHealth.org, nicotine “causes a short-term increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and the flow of blood from the heart. It also causes the arteries to narrow.” It’s not rocket science to see that all of these side effects can led up to massive heart problems.Cigarette_smoking

The lead author of the study, Dirk Selmar, watched the plants’ progress as they were exposed to the secondhand smoke over time. At first, he wrote that there seemed to be no real effect on the growth or overall health of the plants. As time wore on and nicotine levels were tested, it became apparent that the plants had, “tremendously elevated nicotine levels”.

This problem had been seen before, when farmers used to use pesticides containing nicotine. Since the chemical occurs naturally in some vegetables, people believed that nicotine-based pesticides were the future of organic farming. Studies came out disproving that theory and showed the real dangers that high levels of nicotine can have on the human body, leading to the pesticides being banned in the United States and Europe.

Despite the ban on these pesticides, Selmar acknowledges that using cigarette tobacco as mulch is still a common pest-control technique and can also spread nicotine through the plants. This is dangerous, because as the plants absorb the nicotine either through secondhand smoke or from tobacco, they hold onto the toxins. When they die and decay, those toxins are absorbed into new plants as nutrients. This is a problem for crop rotation because it could potentially mean that many patches of soil are contaminated.

Selmar notes that although he used peppermint plants as the test subjects in his study (a plant that naturally contains a low amount of nicotine), he believes that all plants can absorb nicotine. He also states that although the peppermint plants’ nicotine levels did spike a fair amount, that amount of nicotine they contained was still not in the zone that he believes is dangerous to human beings.

While this study does not prove that humans are in any danger now, it does show that practices concerning nicotine need to be changed in the near future.