Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Unique Chameleon Woody Vine Discovered in Chile!!!

ScienceShot: 'Chameleon' Vine Discovered in Chile

Move over, Sherlock Holmes. There is a new master of disguise—and it’s a plant. Camouflage and mimicry are usually reserved for the animal realm. The hawk moth caterpillar scares away predators by resembling a snake. Myrmarachne jumping spiders imitate ants as they creep up on unsuspecting insects—fangs ready. Fewer examples of mimicry—or crypsis—are known for plants. But as in some mistletoe species in Australia, all of these imposters copy only one other species. That’s not the case with the woody vine Boquila trifoliolata, which transforms its leaves to copy a variety of host trees. Native to Chile and Argentina, B. trifoliolata is the first plant shown to imitate several hosts. It is a rare quality—known as a mimetic polymorphism—that was previously observed only in butterflies, according to this study, published today in Current Biology. When the vine climbs onto a tree’s branches, its versatile leaves (inset) can change their size, shape, color, orientation, and even the vein patterns to match the surrounding foliage (middle panel; the red arrow points to the vine, while the blue arrow indicates the host plant). If the vine crosses over to a second tree, it changes, even if the new host leaves are 10 times bigger with a contrasting shape (right panel). The deceit serves as a defense against plant-eating herbivores like weevils and leaf beetles, according the researchers. They compared the charlatan leaves hanging on branches with the leaves on vines still crawling on the forest floor in search of a tree or scaling leafless trunks. Herbivory was 33% and 100% worse for the vines on the ground and on tree trunks, respectively. It is unclear how B. trifoliolata vines discern the identity of individual trees and shape-shift accordingly. The vines could read cues hidden in odors, or chemicals secreted by trees or microbes may transport gene-activating signals between the fraud and the host, the researchers say.

Source: Science Magazine

Friday, May 9, 2014

Paper or Plastic?

As a landscape architect, I am always thinking about how the natural world can play a larger role in our urban environments. Obviously trees and parks are the primary methods that come to mind.  But I recently came across an article in Architect Magazine that examined the role cellulose could potentially play in our urban environments...that is, in the role we currently see played by conventional plastics.

Conventional plastics are inexpensive and can be found everywhere.  Site furniture, play structures, and decking are just a few of the items I immediately think about with practical use in landscape architecture.  If these items were replaced with an 'environmentally persistent compound' that provided ecological benefit, there could be vast improvements concerning the vitality of our urban environments.

This new product, created by Zeoform, is made of nothing more than recycled paper waste and water. Zeoform mimics the characteristics of plastic and wood and can be molded, routed, sanded, engraved, and laser-cut into about any shape you could imagine.

Image courtesy of Zeoform.

There are a few questions I have been thinking about.  With this material being biodegradable and made of cellulose and water, is there a high potential for the material to loose its structural qualities and acquire mold? The product is "a combination of fiber entanglement and hydroxyl bonding" but how will this hold up to the everyday wear and tear in the urban environment?

I am excited to see how this product will play out.  Like Ecovative Design's Mushroom Materials (see past blog post), These are the types of innovations we like to see here at The Sharp End of the Green Stick!