Saturday, November 16, 2013

UF campus plants, part II

More photos from walks around the UF campus with Walt Judd (see part I for more information). These photos are from November 11, 2013 – and we saw some ferns!

Clerodendrum wallichii
Pteris vittata
Pteris vittata – fertile leaf with sporangia along the margins
Pteris vittata – dried up pinnae with dehisced sporangia
Baby Pteris vittata
Nephrolepis sp.
Phlebodium aureum
Senna bicapsularis

Saturday, November 9, 2013

UF campus plants, part I

Over the last couple of weeks, I've taken the first two of what will hopefully become a series of walks around the University of Florida campus, so that I can start to learn the local flora. My guide has been Dr. Walter Judd, professor emeritus at UF and a walking encyclopedia of plant knowledge. The flora of Florida is very different from the floras I've lived with before (in New York, Wisconsin, and Arizona), so these walks are a fantastic introduction to the local plants. They will also come in particularly handy starting next fall, when I begin teaching Practical Plant Taxonomy, an undergraduate course covering systematics and taxonomy of vascular plants. It's always great to give students local examples in courses like this, so I'm taking lots of notes and pictures to incorporate into my lectures and the students' labs and field trips.

The plant diversity in Florida is staggering – even here in northern Florida, where the climate is not technically tropical (as it is in the very southern part of the state). As a result, there's no way I can post photos of all the plants we will see, but I'll include some highlights as our walks proceed over the weeks and months. There are many more angiosperms than ferns, of course, but I'll try to slip in some seed-free taxa whenever we see them! This first set is from October 30 and November 6, 2013, around Bartram and Carr halls, and north of McCarty Woods. Enjoy.
Bidens alba
Galphimia gracilis
Heliotropium angiospermum
Holmskioldia sanguinea
Holmskioldia sanguinea
Indigofera spicata 
Platanus occidentalis
Sapindus saponaria
Solanum diphyllum – flowers
Solanum diphyllum – fruits
Solanum diphyllum – the leaves it's named for
Left, Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish moss); Right: Tillandsia recurvata (Ball moss)

Monday, October 7, 2013

FL and LA fern books

Nothing gives me more pleasure than getting a new fern guidebook in the mail, particularly when they are well designed and useful. Above is a photo of my fern bookshelf - much larger now that I'm a professor! These books are a great resource for learning about the floras of places I can't get to easily. However, I recently acquired fern books about places I can get to - Florida, where I am, and Alabama, a few hours' drive away. As I work on learning the fern flora of the southeast, these will both prove helpful.

Both are great books. The Florida guide starts with an introduction to ferns generally, with drawings of leaf forms and other helpful features. The bulk of the book is keys, followed by descriptions of the families, then genera and species, that are keyed out. Drawings of some taxa or features are included sporadically, and there's a set of plates in the center of the book with color photos of nearly every species listed. There are 160+ species of ferns and lycophytes in Florida, and they all fit nicely in this slim volume.

The Alabama book is twice as thick as the Florida one, and is very sleek and attractive. It begins with introductory information about ferns, and the geology and geography of Alabama, followed by a key to the fern genera and then species. Descriptions of all the species are next, and each includes one or more photos, a drawing, and a map of the state colored by county to show where each species occurs. These maps are really useful, and are a great feature of this book.

There is a fair amount of overlap in the species in these two states, at least between northern Florida and most of Alabama, and in the field I would probably take along the Alabama guide. Unless I were roaming in south Florida, where a tropical element creeps in that is better covered by the guide for this state.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fern Field Trip at Botany

There is always a fern field trip at the annual Botany conference, and this year was no exception. These trips are a wonderful way to visit new places, see lots of ferns, and catch up with old friends. I look forward to them every summer. This year's trip took us west and a bit south of New Orleans, eventually to Avery Island, the home of Tabasco Sauce, among other things (gators, egrets... see below). We didn't see a huge number of fern species, but there were some exciting items on our "spotted" list, including Ceratopteris pteridoides, a close relative of the nearest thing we have in ferns to a model species - Ceratopteris richardii. I've never seen any Ceratopteris in the field before, so that was a fun siting. Here's the full list of species we saw, at least by my count:

  • Asplenium platyneuron
  • Azolla caroliniensis
  • Ceratopteris pteridoides
  • Equisetum hyemale
  • Lygodium japonicum
  • Pleopeltis polypodioides
  • Polystichum acrostichoides
  • Salvinia minima
  • Thelypteris palustris
  • Thelypteris dentata

And some photos of the ferns and folks that day:
Fay-Wei Li  and Mike Barker with Ceratopteris pteridoides
Ceratopteris pteridoides
Azolla caroliniensis

Pleopeltis polypodioides
Asplenium platyneuron
The following photos are of Lygodium japonicum... a terribly invasive fern in parts of the southeastern U.S., but I have to admit that I have always found it awesome looking. There are relatively few true vining ferns, and the Lygodium species are among them. They have dimorphic leaves, with the fertile and sterile pinnae looking decidedly different (lower photo). There is also a native species, Lygodium palmatum, which I've seen in South Carolina.


 And always a great find - a gametophyte and baby sporophyte! ID unknown, even by the experts with us.
Tiny sporophyte emerging from remains of a gametophyte
Finally, no field trip in the southeast is complete without alligators, apparently. There is a beautiful egret rookery on Avery Island that we stumbled upon as we rounded a corner - the trees in this swamp were filled with hundreds of snowy white birds (not sure, actually, if they were Snowy Egrets or another species). After admiring them for a few minutes we noticed that several log-like objects were moving through the water towards our party - never a good sign down in these parts. These were smallish gators, and were satisfied with watching us closely (as they usually are), though they swam alongside us at our walking pace as we turned to leave, like a reptilian escort away from (undoubtedly) their nesting grounds. Creepy. I wouldn't be an egret in that swamp if you paid me.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Nathalie's blog

There are numerous wonderful plant blogs on the internet these days, a small sampling of which you can follow in the sidebar on the right of this page. There's a new addition to the list there, a blog by my friend and fellow fern-fancier Dr. Nathalie Nagalingum. Nathalie is based at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia, and her research focuses on the evolution of ferns and cycads. She has spent the past several weeks traveling around North America, going to conferences, working at herbaria, and visiting old friends and haunts (Nathalie's academic journey has included stops at Berkeley, Duke, and Harvard). I was lucky enough to see her not once, but twice, first at Botany in New Orleans, and then in Gainesville when she stopped here for a few days. She has been chronicling her travels on her blog, and it's been great fun to follow along. She's currently in Mexico, where she's been seeing ruins and visiting the stunning UNAM herbarium - see her post about it for pictures! I'm flattered that I also got a mention - thanks Nathalie! Can't wait to see you again!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Botany 2013 conference in New Orleans

Last week was the Botany conference, an annual coming-together of plant scientists hosted by several professional societies including the Botanical Society of America, American Society of Plant Taxonomists, and American Fern Society. Botany is always a great place to catch up with old friends and colleagues, establish or check in on collaborations, and immerse oneself in all things plant science for about a week.

Don Farrar, Iowa State University
Emeritus professor

This year the meeting was held in New Orleans, and it was particularly wonderful, partly because I got to see many dear friends from Madison and grad school. At last year's conference I had just left Madison a few weeks prior, but now a year has passed and I hadn't realized how much I missed all those folks until we were reunited in NOLA. In addition, there were several great symposia and colloquia this year, including two focused on polyploidy, and the usual highlights of the Fern Society/Pteridological Section activities. This year these included the usual fern field trip on the Saturday preceding the conference (to be covered in another post), the standard Pteridological Section half-day of talks and American Fern Society lunch, and also a special colloquium called Frontiers in Fern Gametophyte Research (link goes to the schedule of talks). This was organized by my friends and collaborators Eddie Watkins and Josh Der, and it was great! The talks focused on various aspects of current fern gametophyte research, including physiology and light relations, hormones, chloroplast movement, and the issues involved in outbreeding when you have underground gametophytes, a challenge faced by members of the genus Botrychium. The Botrychium talk was given by Don Farrar, who was also the honoree of the colloquium - he has long worked on Botrychium (pictured below) and gametophytes, and for just as long has been an inspiration and friend to the entire fern community.

Another exciting, though more sober, happening at the meetings was a session called "Yes, Bobby, Evolution is Real!", a not-very-subtle callout of Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal, and Louisiana's blatantly unscientific Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which mandates teaching "alternative explanations" for the origins of Earth's diversity. The session was picked up by many local news outlets and made its way to the HuffingtonPost, in an article that received over 5600 comments in less than 24 hours. Another Botany attendant and friend, Dr. Chris Martine, beautifully summarized the hubbub about the session and some of the relevant issues in evolution education in his own column at HuffPo. It's not often that Botany makes the headlines in such a big way, and I'm glad the conference contributed to this important discussion about the future of science education in America.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Move to Florida, and Florida Fern Guide

Greetings from sunny Florida! Actually, it's raining at the moment, and has been with staggering frequency for the entirety of July. This month Gainesville has already received over 11 inches of rain, nearly double its normal rainfall for July. Despite the deluge, I'm pleased to say that I will be able to report on Florida's weather regularly now - I moved here from Tucson about two weeks ago, to take up a position in the Department of Biology at the University of Florida (UF) beginning in August. I'm thrilled to be here, and to once again have regular access to ferns!

The UF Extension office has a neat publication about the Ferns of Florida, which is a great introduction to basic fern identification and some of the common species in the state. The guide is available to download as a PDF.

I can't wait to get started learning the ferns and other plants of this region, particularly so I can put a local spin on the plant taxonomy classes I will be teaching at UF! In the meantime I will try to stay dry, and enjoy the new plant and wildlife here, including the living version of UF's mascot, a large one of which is lurking in the photo below...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Apomixis in ferns

I've been reading an interesting article published last year (2012) in the Journal of Botany (here; subscription required) on "The Evolutionary Dynamics of Apomixis in Ferns". Apomixis is a really interesting process of asexual reproduction that is fairly common in ferns, and involves modification of two critical steps in the life cycle. First, when the sporophyte produces spores, this usually occurs via meiosis and is accompanied by a reduction (by half) of the total number of chromosomes. So if you happen to be a fern in the genus Dryopteris, with a base chromosome number of 41, your diploid sporophytes will have 82 chromosomes, and this will be reduced to the base of 41 during meiosis. If that reduction does not happen and your spores retain the full complement of chromosomes, that is known as diplospory. Those spores will then germinate into gametophytes, and rather than producing eggs and sperm via archegonia and antheridia, respectively, which go on to perform fertilization and sexual reproduction, often no sexual structures are produced at all, and new sporophytic tissue will arise from somatic (body) cells of the gametophyte itself (known as apogamy).

Apomixis and apogamy have long interested botanists because they get at a fairly fundamental question in the evolution of life - is it better to be sexually reproducing or asexually reproducing? There are advantages to both strategies, and I will do a tremendous amount of boiling down here to summarize them thus: sexual reproduction involves many processes that tend to shuffle genetic material and will lead to increased genetic diversity, which will provide raw material for natural selection. If your particular genetic makeup is well-suited to your current environment, mixing things up might not be advantageous, and reproducing asexually will be more likely to allow you to maintain the status quo. As environments change, however, having additional variation will improve the changes that a new genetic combination will be better suited to the new environment. There is a lot more to the story than this, and a huge literature on apomixis and apogamy in flowering plants, and to a lesser extent in ferns, if you're interested.

The authors of the paper I mention above have also put together a website summarizing what's currently known about apomixis in ferns, including a complete list of fern species known to be apomictic. It's a great resources if you're interested in fern reproductive strategies! Here's a shot of the site:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Finally, ferns!

You may have noticed that for a blog about ferns, fern-centric posts have been sparse here since last summer. That coincides with my move to Tucson, Arizona, and the sad fact is that I just haven't found that many ferns in the desert. I know they're here! But they aren't as easy to find as in other climates. However, I'm happy to say that I've gotten a fern fix! I just had the opportunity to spend a few days in northern Florida, and even in late February things were lush and there were ferns out in force (I'll cease the letter f-based alliteration now).

There were three ferns I kept running into during my visit, and they're a combination of things that are common in the southeastern U.S. (Thelypteris sp. and Pleopeltis polypodioides), and in subtropical/tropical climates generally, at least in the New World (Nephrolepis sp.). Here they are:

Thelypteris sp.:

Pleopeltis polypodioides:


There are actually several species of both Thelypteris and Nephrolepis found in Florida, including a hybrids of both (my favorite things!). You may recognize Nephrolepis if you have a "Boston Fern" as a houseplant; it's the same genus, and the original Boston fern belongs to Nephrolepis exaltata, which is a frequent escapee in congenial climates. There's a great explanation of the Nephrolepis species of Florida, along with a detailed key, in the July/August 1996 edition of the FL Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Botany Circular. That link goes straight to the PDF. Unfortunately I didn't find this before leaving, so I didn't have a chance to confirm which species I was looking at, but I strongly suspect that it was N. exaltata.

And of course, it wouldn't have been a proper visit to Florida without a gator sighting: