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Showing posts from December, 2009

Festuca paradoxa and why we know we know nothing

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The mention of fescue often brings to mind tough, stringy, silica-laden strands of grass being pulverized by the broad molars of cattle, cudding its way through the four steamy stomachs of the beast only to be expelled in a watery, brownish-green ooze of hot acrid defecation upon an overgrazed, cracked and sore, field that once harbored an intricate assemblage of native organisms but that is now reduced to a monoculture of fescue. Or at least it does to me. But there are good fescues in the world. Ones whose histories are not synonymous with the death knell of Midwestern natural systems. Folks with a remedial knowledge of Midwestern natural communities are aware of Festuca subverticillata (Nodding Fescue); a native species commonly found in woodlands and forests of decent remnant natural integrity. Others might be surprised to know there is another native fescue in our midst. I am writing, of course, of Festuca paradoxa.

Festuca paradoxa resembles F. subverticillata in gross morphology…

The Board

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One of the best classes I took as an undergraduate was Plant Taxonomy. Not just because I drool over the topic, but because the professor, Dr. Robin Kennedy, taught it with great enthusiasm. She also developed a wonderful structure for the class; lab and lecture. Our exams were a mix of live and pressed plant specimens that we had to identify by their visible characters. We were also given lists of characters to which we had to match families. For example, what family has tetradynamous stamens? Why, Brassicaceae, of course. We covered over 60 families of vascular plants over the semester and the mental organization of information for all these families, their characters, associated terminology and their floral formulae was mind melting. However, we were given a tool.

In the first lab session we were handed a manila file folder which we placed on a light board and upon it we traced a series of rows and columns. Each column was given a heading like “United Carpels” or “Zygomorphic”. As t…