Monday, December 5, 2016

Unity College Dartmouth Greenhouse Week 6 (Final)

Week 6: 11/28/16-11/30/16: ~ 8.2 hours extra; Total hours= 188.2 hours worked on site

I can't believe that this was actually my last week working at the Greenhouse as an intern. Time itself seems to have travelled so fast.  I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some really great people over my time as an intern.  This has been very enjoyable experience for me.  I feel as though I have learned a lot and not just in botany or entomology but in the networking and organization required for a full-time job with out a drivers license.  I had so much support from the people surrounding the greenhouse, whether it was my rideshare driver or the maintenance staff or the OSHER botanical illustration class!

Probably the most popular and noticeable plant that we have in the Greenhouse is the 'Corpse Plant' or Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum, Family: Araceae) (I will not be explaining the meaning of this particular scientific name as I am unsure it would be suitable for the blog.  Those of you who understand the later part of the genus name can guess why I say that).  The largest and oldest specimen we have is nicknamed "Morphy".  Morphy had just recently bloomed earlier in the year which was a major excitement as this species only blooms once every 4 or 5 years after reaching maturity.  The reason it takes so long to bloom is because the bloom itself can get up  ~7-10 feet tall at most.  The flower is so huge that when it blooms the whole plant is just the flower and root ball or corm.  This takes up a lot of energy, so the plant then goes into dormancy for a chunk of time before anything grows.

A photo of what the flower bloom would typically look like (left). The pot in which Morphy lives in (right).

Unfortunately Morphy was already way past prime when started working so I have no good photos of it.  We do have two other younger Amorphophallus titanum individuals but none are old enough to bloom.  'Snape', the next oldest A. titanum  leaf stalk got an infestation of aphids and had to be cut to the corm. ("Snape got wizard lice!" I can't resist making the reference!).

A (Catasetum spp) orchid male bloom.

I learned about a very cool type of orchid this week call a Catasetum.  This type of orchid is dioecious, meaning it has the male and female reproductive parts on separate flowers.  The male flower attracts male bees with its unique smell which the bee uses as pheromones to attract female bees.  Once in the flower, the bee will hit the trigger hairs on the flower and shoot a capsule containing the pollen cap and anthers onto the bee. The capsule itself has an attachment base that looks very similar to a house fly's labium and has a sticky resin that soon cements into a consistency not unlike hot glue. The force at which it attaches is surprisingly strong given how small the capsule is.  Once it is attached, the bee flees from the flower due to the force of the capsule being expelled.  Since the female flowers look completely different than the males the bee has a different association and will pollinate the flower.  Catasetum only produce female flowers when in optimal conditions and must be a large enough to handle going dormant in winter with seed capsules.

The pollen capsule and trigger hairs of a male Catasetum expansum flower.

The released pollen capsule and anther cover (left) and the pollen capsule without cover and showing the anthers (right). Photos taken by Terry.

Carnivorous Plants of Dartmouth College's Life Science Greenhouse:

Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula, Family: Droseraceae).  This species is actually the only one in its genus and can easily be recognized by most. The 4 trigger hairs on the inside of the leaf-traps react when enough pressure is exerted, closing the leaves with surprising swiftness.  Despite the fact that they live in harsher environment like wetlands, they can be fairly finicky to care for and require distilled water to survive.  When raising carnivorous plants from young they need special attention so we relegate them to the Sick Orchid Room.

There is almost nothing quite as adorable as 'baby' Venus Flytraps when working in the Greenhouse.  This particular baby's leaf-traps are only about 4mm wide.  Watering at this size will be enough pressure to close the leaf-traps.  The adults are in winter dormancy now so they are not quite as photogenic as the younger ones.

Sundew flower stalk (Drosera spp, Family: Droseraceae) blooming in the Sick Orchid Room

Lance leafed sundew (Drosera adelae, Family: Droseraceae) in the Tropical Room.

While sundew are in the same family as Venus Flytraps, only the flower looks similar.  When a carnivorous plant flowers, they often will produce the flower stalk a good distance higher than the insect traps in order to prevent accidental consumption of pollinators.  I have always liked sundew (both the flowers and the leaves).  It is a very attractive plant for multiple reasons.  The leaves have little hair-like extensions that excrete sweet smelling sticky substance that attracts and then traps unwary insects.  The leaves then slowly fold around the captured 'prey' and digests it.  They are very hardy plants depending on the species. Some are found as far north as Newfoundland, Canada.

Two different types Pitcher Plants (Family: Sarraceniaceae): Sarracenia x wrigleyana 'Scarlet Belle' (left) and Heliamphora heterodoxa (right).

These are the typical types of pitcher plants we see around New England wetlands. These specific species are not found locally but they are very similar in morphology.  The 'pitcher' part of the plant is a modified leaf that has been fused partially to create a pool for insects to fall into and be digested by the enzymes within the plant.

Tropical Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes stenophylla) (I like to call them 'hanging pitcher plants'). This particular group of pitchers are epiphytes that live in the understory of Southeast Asian rainforests.  The pitcher section of the plant is actually an modified extension of the midvein of the leaf.  The lid is used to prevent runoff from collecting in the pitcher cup. When an insect is attracted by the sweet smelling rim, it will fall in and be trapped while digestive enzymes slowly consume it over time. The lid is also used to prevent any escape from the "prey" (I use that term very loosely).

Photo taken by Terry.

This internship has been wonderful.  I have really learned a lot and enjoyed myself.  Working and handling plants is a lot more messy and involved then many people expect first coming in, but I really like that aspect.  Sure you come home with your nails caked in soil or spend an afternoon taking out cacti spines from your hands with forceps but that's all part of the fun.  You can't really work with plants without getting messy.

I came to the internship with the hope to learn specific skills that will help me in future career paths.  They were to: Gain experience with the application of Integrated Pest Management; Learn techniques for caring for plants with narrow tolerance limits; Gain experience with combatting a variety of plant pathogens; Improve my skills with organization and professional development; Learn to identify a broad range of plant species.  I feel as though I was able to develop all those skills to an extent and should be able to apply them to my next steps where ever they may be.

I will definitely miss the Greenhouse and the people who work in it! This has been a really great internship and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in botany or entomology.  You have to be willing to get dirty and be on pest-patrol.  But they really do welcome any amount of help.

On a more somber note, I just heard about the passing of the Unity student, John Fox. While I didn't personally know him that well, I want to send my sympathy and support to the Fox family and those at Unity.

Until Next Time!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I learned a lot from this post. More wonderful photos. Beautiful plants! I had a much longer comment but I lost it and I am so tired I didn't want to type it all again :)

I am looking forward to your presentation. What a wonderful place for your internship. I won't mention the unmentionable :) Good call.

Take care and see you soon!