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Botany Week

Friday, August 17, 2012

How botany kept me from freezing to death

Posted By on 08.17.12 at 06:41 AM

My old college pal, Pelargonium Tetragonum
  • Michael Wolf
  • My old college pal Pelargonium Tetragonum
I spent grade 13 at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where I tried to finesse my freshman science requirement by taking a class in horticulture. Not that I had any reason to think I'd do well at it. I grew up in an apartment, the child of people whose idea of communing with nature was pulling the cellophane off a head of lettuce. My dad would occasionally take us for rides in the country—that is, west of Morton Grove—and point out the cows as we whizzed by them. "Look, kids, cows," he'd say, and then we'd go home. My mom once took me aside to show me some tiny gnatlike things buzzing around a potted plant she kept on a windowsill at home. Since we were 19 stories up and the windows didn't open, she'd been wondering how they got there. Her solution was that they'd sort of effervesced out of the soil—life from dead matter—and this discovery was what she wanted to share with me. Mom wasn't a stupid person. She held down a demanding job and was absolutely great at negotiating life. She just didn't know that the theory of spontaneous generation was no longer considered cutting-edge science.

Anyway, horticulture didn’t seem to require much math, and since that consideration far outweighed my complete ignorance of the subject, I signed up.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Precolonial menstrual solutions? Plants, of course

Posted By on 08.16.12 at 06:46 AM

Dont burn that papyrus! Theyre perfectly good tampons!
  • Ingo Wölbern
  • Don't burn that papyrus! They're perfectly good tampons!
I've been in Berkeley, California, all this week. Plants and flowers proliferate. Streets are big gardens made of smaller gardens; the sidewalks sprout flowering things from fractures caused by nearby roots. Even the gutters grow. Way up in the Berkeley Hills near Grizzly Peak, where I am lucky enough to be staying, you can walk a few blocks to the nearest bus stop and pass raspberry and blackberry bushes, and lemon, orange, pear, plum, and apple trees. Lavender, tarragon, mint, rosemary, sage, and thyme spring up almost at random. Then there are the flowers: bleeding hearts, pink flowering currants, drooping pink foxglove, purple lilac, yellow geraniums, fuzzy blush-brush flowers with long and floppy pine-needle finger-shaped leaves. Oh, and redwoods grow in people's backyards.


I thought nothing could be better suited to Botany Week than a post about California horticulture. That—plus two camping trips into coastal redwood forests—provides for plenty of material. But then I received an e-mail from my mother about Softcups ("Have you heard of these?  My co-worker uses them and says they’re great. Love Mom"). I thought about what menstrual solutions were available to women before the Internet.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Who wants to live next to a grow house?

Posted By on 08.15.12 at 06:50 AM

The grow house next door: not popular with the neighbors
  • Andrea Bauer
  • The grow house next door: not popular with the neighbors
I first got the sense that the 10000 block of South Exchange wasn't a good place to set up a grow house about three minutes after arriving.

I was there with two colleagues to look into the story of a professor and a school librarian prosecuted for growing nearly 200 marijuana plants in the basement of a modest single-story home. We noticed it was a neighborhood of neat frame houses and low-cut lawns and singing birds—the kind of place where home owners obviously take care of their property.

As if we needed confirmation, a huge barking dog burst out of a home on the corner, followed by a pug of a man—short and strong, with his hands on his hips. "I was about to shoot you," he announced.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Silent Running: Hollywood's greatest plant movie

Posted By on 08.14.12 at 06:50 AM

Bruce Dern shoots the shit with his robot BFFs in Silent Running
  • Bruce Dern shoots the shit with his robot BFFs in Silent Running
Botany is a course of study that's gone noticeably unrecognized in cinema. So while the world waits for a Carl Linnaeus biopic, we'll have to make do with perhaps the greatest Hollywood plant movie ever made: 1972's Silent Running directed by Douglas Trumbull—one of the pioneering figures of special effects in cinema and the key mind behind the technological innovations of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and most recently, The Tree of Life—and cowritten by Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter, Heaven's Gate).

Silent Running, appropriately set in the year 2001, tells the story of a dedicated botanist (Bruce Dern) who tends to the last known plant life in existence aboard the Valley Forge, a large spaceship orbiting Saturn. When he's ordered to jettison his gardens, which are housed in massive geodesic domes, and return to Earth, he cuts all communication to his superiors, kills the four crew members keen on carrying out the orders, and enlists the help of three robots dubbed Huey, Louie, and Dewey to help him continue his research.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

All week long, the Bleader gets a lo-botany

Posted By on 08.13.12 at 06:40 AM

How does this garden grow? Answer: Illegally!
  • How does this garden grow? Answer: Illegally!
In last week's cover story, Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky tell a tale about the skunky investigation, arrest, and court case surrounding a local teacher and the grow house he operated on the south side of Chicago. The investigation began when a police sergeant spotted the teacher and an associate uploading equipment into their van, purchased from a store called the Brew and Grow, which sells tools and equipment for home beer making and hydroponic gardening. Well, with a story like this, it was pretty obvious to us what subject we would choose for this week's Variations on a Theme. Why, botany, of course! After all, we already dedicated a week to the mighty herb which just happened to be sprouting in the grow house.

In case you missed it, click here to read Olympian Week, where our fair-weather badminton and trampoline correspondents discussed all things having to do with the five-ringed, British-based summer sports.

And since it's botany week here on the Bleader, here's a list of local botanical gardens you can check out this week.

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