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  • It's Alive

    How slow plants make ridiculous seeds

    The secret behind the world’s largest seed and its sexually extravagant plant is good gutters.

    A prodigy among those seeds can weigh as much as 18 kilograms, about the weight of a 4-year-old boy. Yet the plant that outdoes the rest of the botanical world in the heft of its seed manages with below-poverty nutrition. Coco-de-mer palms (Lodoicea maldivica) are native to two islands...

    05/01/2015 - 13:10 Plants, Evolution, Conservation
  • 50 Years Ago

    Medfly control methods were ready for pest’s influx

    U.S. ready for fruit fly — A reception committee is always ready to greet the dreaded Mediterranean fruit fly if it should stray across the U.S. border from Central America. The fly, probably the world’s most destructive fruit pest, does not now...

    04/30/2015 - 10:40 Plants, Animals, Ecology
  • Wild Things

    A protein battle underlies the beauty of orchids

    One of the main characteristics that make orchids so attractive to us and to pollinators is shape. Unlike a flower such as a daisy, orchids don’t have a uniform pattern of petals and sepals. Instead, one of the orchid flower petals has been modified into a lip that can serve as a...

    04/28/2015 - 16:00 Plants, Evolution
  • News in Brief

    Bits of bacterial DNA naturally lurk inside sweet potatoes

    Sweet potatoes farmed worldwide picked up a bit of genetic engineering — without human help.

    Samples collected from 291 cultivated sweet potatoes carry at least one stretch of DNA from Agrobacterium, says plant molecular biologist Godelieve Gheysen of Ghent University in Belgium. The Agrobacterium genus includes the main bacterial species that makes intentionally...

    04/20/2015 - 15:00 Plants, Genetics, Science & Society
  • News

    From lemons to kumquats, roots of citrus variety dug up

    The mother of all citrus plants lived about 13 million years ago, scientists have learned by tracing the maternal side of the citrus family tree. Yet it is dad’s contribution that has revealed the growing family’s entire portrait.

    Starting about 8.08 million years ago, the citrus family tree began branching out. That’s when Australian limes and citrons split from the original Citrus...

    04/14/2015 - 17:00 Plants, Evolution, Genetics
  • Science Ticker

    Plants suck in nicotine from nearby smokers

    Plants turn out to be secondhand smokers, taking in nicotine from humankind’s tobacco and fumes. And lab tests suggest that slipping a cigarette butt into a plant’s pot sends a temporary surge of nicotine into its leaves.

    Researchers sprinkled 100 milligrams of American Spirit tobacco — about an eighth to a tenth of a cigarette — onto the soil of potted peppermint plants. Nine days later...

    04/13/2015 - 12:27 Plants, Science & Society
  • Science Ticker

    Plant growth patterns changing on much of Earth’s surface

    Patterns in when and how much plants grow have changed markedly over the past 30 years, scientists report March 2 in Nature Climate Change.

    Researchers looked at satellite data of vegetation on the Earth’s surface from 1981 to 2012. They examined 21 markers of plant growth, including the dates when plants start sprouting and...

    03/02/2015 - 15:40 Plants, Climate
  • News

    Tropical plant knows whose bill is in its flowers

    Some plants crave a long bird bill. One tropical plant can even recognize which kind of hummingbird is slurping its nectar by the shape of its bill, scientists report online March 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    In Heliconia tortuosa, long-billed hummingbirds can reach in and...

    03/02/2015 - 15:00 Plants, Animals, Ecology
  • News in Brief

    Beetle RNA makes crops a noxious meal

    To keep pests at bay, try giving them a taste of their own genes. Hungry beetles spurn crops bearing the insects’ genetic material, scientists report in the Feb. 27 Science. When pests munch the engineered plants, beetle RNA in the leaves switches off key genes in the bugs.

    The Colorado potato beetle is a...

    02/26/2015 - 14:00 Plants, Animals, Agriculture
  • It's Alive

    Fairly bad pitcher traps triumph in the end

    Incompetent, says who? Carnivorous pitcher plant traps rarely catch much, but their lackadaisical hunting turns out not to be so lame after all. Ask the ecologist who set up hospital IV drips to test Nepenthes rafflesiana traps in the shrubbery of Brunei.

    Biologists have observed that pitcher plants “have pretty lousy traps,” says Ulrike Bauer of the University of Bristol in...

    02/06/2015 - 13:21 Plants, Ecology