Saturday, February 25, 2012

Big News: Snow in Vermont in February.

2-25-12 VERMONT: Last night we hosted a party mostly for folks on our road to meet some new neighbors. Like all of Judy’s dinner parties, this one was a huge success. The preparation was in the works for several days. I tried to stay out of the way. Everyone brought wine, all of which disappeared by the end of the evening.

It snowed most of yesterday, but the intrepid Vermonters showed up in spite of the weather. We got 6 or 7 inches overnight. This morning the wind started blowing, gusting to the mid-twenties, with the temperature hovering around freezing. The new snow has been creeping eastward across the tops of the ridges, driven by the west wind, and settling into low spots. The sun has occasionally peeked out from between clouds. The roofs are shedding snow, every few minutes there’s a loud thump when it slides off the metal roofs and hits the ground.

There was enough snow for us to snowshoe around the pasture with the dogs which tired them out, as well as us. NJ tomorrow.

That's closer to what Vermont is supposed to look like in February.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Skiway Days.

2-23-12 VERMONT: The last few days have been mild, with a few snow showers, but the pattern of mild, dry winter continues. Europe seems to be getting all our snow and cold.

I did a couple days of skiing at the Dartmouth Skiway. The trails with snow-making were groomed to perfection, groomed well enough for the red carpet on Sunday. The trails without snow-making were almost without snow. From the top of the Holts Ledge side of the Skiway, the views of the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut Valley showed lots of houses and fields with no snow. In New Hampshire, February usually means two feet of snow.

We still have snow in our pasture, but less every day. Our dirt road has turned into rutted mud, which usually happens in April.

Lyme, New Hampshire in February should be white, not brown.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wild flower blooms again after 30,000 years on ice

Fruits hoarded by ancient ground squirrels give new life to prehistoric plants.

Sharon Levy
21 February 2012

During the Ice Age, Earth’s northern reaches were covered by chilly, arid grasslands roamed by mammoths, woolly rhinoceros and long-horned bison. That ecosystem, known by palaeontologists as the mammoth steppe, vanished about 13,000 years ago. It has no modern counterpart.

Yet one of its plants has reportedly been resurrected by a team of scientists who tapped a treasure trove of fruits and seeds, buried some 30,000 years ago by ground squirrels and preserved in the permafrost (S. Yashina et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA; 2012). The plant would be by far the most ancient ever revived; the previous record holder was a date palm grown from seeds roughly 2,000 years old.

The squirrels’ burrows, 70 in all, were found on the banks of the lower Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, 20–40 metres below the current surface of the tundra and surrounded by the bones of mammoths and other creatures. Some burrows contained hundreds of thousands of fruits and seeds, wonderfully preserved by the cold, dry environment.

Researchers had previously attempted to grow plants from seeds found in these ancient burrows, including sedge, Arctic dock, alpine bearberry and the herbaceous plant Silene stenophylla. Those seeds did begin to germinate, but then faltered and died back.

Tantalized, David Gilichinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science in Pushchino decided to try a different approach (sadly, Gilichinsky passed away last week). He and his colleagues took samples of placental tissue from S. stenophylla fruits. The plant placenta — an example of which is the white matter inside a bell pepper — gives rise to and holds the seeds. The tissue produced shoots when it was cultivated in vitro, and the scientists used these to propagate more plants. They are the oldest living multicellular organisms on Earth, the team says.

The plants have already blossomed to produce fertile seeds, which were grown into a second generation of fertile plants. During propagation, the ancient form of the wild flower produced more buds but was slower to put out roots than modern S. stenophylla, which is found along the banks of the Kolyma. This suggests that the original has a distinct phenotype, adapted to the extreme environment of the Ice Age.

“I’m excited that someone has finally succeeded in doing this,” says Grant Zazula of the Yukon Palaeontology Program in Whitehorse, Canada, who has investigated previous claims of ancient seed germination. “There is a good chance that extinct plant species could now be brought back to life from permafrost-preserved seeds.”

Although some members of the mammoth steppe ecosystem survive, no place on Earth currently holds the same combination of grasses, sedge and wild flowers that have been found in the mummified guts of Ice Age mammoths or in the frozen hoards of squirrels (B. V. Gaglioti et al. Quatern. Res. 76, 373–382; 2011). Zazula speculates that living plant tissue from much earlier — hundreds of thousands of years ago — might also be revived, revealing evolutionary change over a longer timescale, and helping scientists to understand the lost ecology of periods such as the Ice Age.

Nature 482, 454 (23 February 2012) doi:10.1038/482454a

A prehistoric plant resurrected from frozen tissue.

A great article from the scientific literature exerpted in Nature this week. BTW, that plant in the picture has five petals, so does that make it a monocot or a dicot? And I hesitate to use seeds more than a year old.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Animal Trackers.

2-20-12 VERMONT: We have been here for a few days. The snow cover is at most five inches, and a quarter of the pasture is snow free. It’s cold overnight, but afternoon daytime temps are in the thirties or low forties. The mild and dry winter continues. We did have a dusting of light snow a couple nights ago.

Val, Maggie and Lucy have been visiting for the weekend, and we all had dinner with Anna for the last two nights, and Erin joined us yesterday at Salubre.

Maggie was walking in the woods yesterday and found some large tracks that turned out to be deer tracks that had melted and refrozen a few times and turned into a blob. While following those, we found tracks in the new snow, heading back and forth to open water spots on streams. We photoed them and some others for ID when we were back in the house.

Some of them are below, and we think we have them pinned down, but if anyone has a better idea, let’s hear it.

The sun behind the cloud gives some refractive color.

Raccoon hind feet in the center and forefoot toward the bottom. The hind feet prints are about three inches long.

Red Squirrel, hind foot, pine needle for scale. The front foot has four toes.

How about this one? Would you believe crow?

Track ID's courtesy of Olaus J. Murie, Animal Tracks-Peterson Field Guides, Houghton-Mifflin.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tomatoes Are Dicots.

2-16-12 SHORT HILLS: Except for the last weekend cold spell, the mild winter continues. While there are no new spring bulbs opening, temps here are in the forties every day and in the low thirties at night. We have had a few showers but no significant precip accumulation.

The tomatoes have started. The Sun Gold germinated first, but the others are all showing activity. Tomatoes are dicots, short for dicotyledon, which means they have two seed-leaves. Dicot flower parts, think of petals, have four or five units or multiples of four or five. Most deciduous trees are dicots. Monocots have one seed-leaf and flowers with three parts or multiples of three. Bamboo, grasses and corn are monocots. True leaves appear after the seed-leaves.

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, eight days old with two seed-leaves each.

Dogwood, four sepals = ?

Phlox, five petals = ?

Lily, double threes = ?
This is not a hard test.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Florida Forecast: windy and cold.

2-13-12 NAPLES, FLORIDA: Yesterday was cold here—45° in the morning. All the Floridians were wearing coats, hats and gloves. In Short Hills and Thetford it was 23° and 9°. Naples was also windy, up to 30 knots.

We did get out, walking out to the end of the town pier. People were surfing and fishing with pelicans watching the fishermen. Other birds were trying to stay out of the wind on the lee side of the shelter at the end of the pier.

We also hit the antique show in town.

Today it’s a bit warmer and calmer, and we’re headed to the airport.

Windblown Royal Tern on the Naples town pier.

Snowy Egret hiding from the wind on the lee side of the shelter at the end of the pier.

Boat Tailed Grackle also sheltering from the wind. Note the dark iris, a winter feature of the usually yellow-eyed grackles.

Judy sheltering under a gigantic banyan tree.

Here are the multiple trunks of that tree, sheltering many smaller plants.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Birds in the Glades.

2-11-12 NAPLES, FLORIDA: We’re back here for our annual visit to Ken and Carol. It’s cool and windy, this morning we thought it would rain, but it didn’t. After breakfast, we drove southeast and visited wildlife preserves on the edge of the Everglades.

Our first stop was the Marsh Trail in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. We saw spoonbills, glossy ibises, anhingas, egrets, a raccoon and many others in an open marsh with extensive standing water fields. Further along Rte. 41, we stopped at Big Cypress Bend in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park where we saw a momma gator with about 6 or 7 cubs, [chicks?, pups?, babies?], more water birds and waders. This trail was in a forested wetland.

Our last stop was on Turner River Rd. in the Big Cypress National Preserve where we saw lots of waders and lots of gators. There were wood storks, turkey vultures, white ibises, egrets, several gbh’s, tricolor herons, little blue herons, immature waders, an osprey, anhingas, moorhens, kingfishers and more. The waterways were sometimes forested and sometimes open wetlands.

Roseate Spoonbills.

Three baby alligators with yellow camouflaging.

Baby alligator about one foot long. We saw 6 or 7 hanging around Mom.

One of many adult gators.

Wood Stork, possibly immature nearing adulthood.

Wood Stork adult.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Tomatoes Are Started.

2-8-12 SHORT HILLS: It’s supposed to be a cold weekend, and there might be snow here tonight. As it happens, we go to Naples to visit Ken and Carol, perhaps good timing for once.

Speaking of timing, my tomato and corn seeds came from Johnny’s Selected Seeds yesterday, and I started the tomatoes. Last year I started them a month or so later than now, and they weren’t quite ready on Memorial Day when they go out in VT. If they’re bigger when they go in the ground, so much the better.

I started five types, two grapes, one Sun Gold and one Red Grape, and three slicers, a Defiant, a Big Beef, and a Heirloom Moskvich. I put 3 or 4 seeds in each of six cups for each variety—thirty cups and about 100 seeds. I expect to put out 3 or 4 of each plant in May.

Naples tomorrow.

Tomatoes-Day One.

Monday, February 06, 2012


Need I say more?

No, probably not, but I will. It was good to see the Brady Bunch go down again, and makes one question the value of prayer as a influence on the outcome of an athletic contest. In the middle of the season the Giants were 6-6, having lost four games in a row. Even making the playoffs seemed like a stretch, but after the Jets game, they got progressively stronger each week. Timing is everything. Eli has had some incredible fourth quarters.

Condolences to the Cowboys, Packers, Niners and Pats. Maybe next year the Giants can beat the Skins.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Ivy Review.

2-5-12 SHORT HILLS: It has turned cold again, but stayed sunny and seasonable. It continues to be a mild February. I haven’t seen any sign of croccus, but star-of-Bethlehem has sent up some foliage.

During the fall I noticed that the English ivy growing on a black pine was flowering and attracting many pollinators. How could anyone forget that post? If you did forget the date, it was 10-19-11. Anyway, I went back to look a few days ago and some berries have formed, they are still green and should ripen to a dark blue.

Green berries formed on some of the flowers.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Springish? Really?

2-1-12 SHORT HILLS: We have spring-like weather with temps in the sixties for a couple days. There was some rain last night, and the snow that we had is gone. We walked the dogs this morning, I wore a baseball cap and didn’t need gloves. Yesterday while in the yard, I saw insects swarming, new hatchlings, ready to pollinate something. Today I found snowdrops open, a dandelion open, a Vinca minor flower opening, some yellow forsythia buds and daffodils shoots up a few inches. All this activity is the result of the warm weather and not photo period. The days are still short, and the sun is still well down south and won’t be even half-way back to the Equator until February 21 or so.

The average January temperature was 37° in Newark, more than 5° above normal. We could have blizzards in February or March, of course, but the bugs and plants seem to be looking for an early end to a mild winter.

New blooms: snowdrop, Vinca, dandelion.

All these pix are from today, but the flowers had started in January!

Snow Drop.


Vinca minor [creeping myrtle].