A Flower or a Weed?

Daisy - A Flower or a Weed?
This wildflower can be found growing in fields and meadows. Its soft petals and yellow core make it universally recognizable. Many related plants are called daisies, but the common daisy (Bellis perennis) is native to Europe and is sometimes called the English daisy due to its native location. However, daisies have become so prevalent around the world that some say they make up almost 10% of all flowering plants on Earth. This leads to the question of whether it’s a flower or a weed.

The name “daisy” comes from “day’s eye” because the head closes at night and opens with the sunrise. You may look at the common daisy and believe that the head is a solo flower. In reality, it’s a composite flower made up of a cluster of flowers called an inflorescence. Each inflorescence grows on a single, leafless stem with rounded leaves growing from the base. Common daisies resemble another wildflower known as chamomile. However, chamomile has multiple flower heads growing on the same stalk.

Common daisies are robust and can thrive in many different types of soil, in full sun or partial shade, as long as minimum temperatures remain above -30 degrees F (-34 C). They grow on every continent except Antarctica. Daisies can grow in practically any valley, meadow, or field. If the conditions are right, daisies will populate themselves in enormous numbers engulfing the ground like weeds. A meadow full of daisies is a beautiful natural scene. However, in some areas, they are considered to be invasive weeds. In fact, they are so hardy they may crowd out noxious weeds. So is it a flower or a weed?

Daisies are beautiful to look at, but they can also be beneficial in other ways. Daisies can help improve the biodiversity of the household garden by attracting pollinating insects as well as birds that feed on the insects. Young daisy leaves can be added to salads, and they supply vitamin C. The buds and petals are also edible in soups or salads. Some people have also used them for treating gastrointestinal disorders. Children use them to make daisy chains, and young women count the petals to the refrain “he loves me; he loves me not.”

So the question of whether it’s a flower or a weed depends on your perspective. We prefer to think of them as flowers. Whether wild or cultivated, we find the number and variety of flowers in the world amazing. Apparently, God loves beauty, and He has given humans the ability to enjoy it also. After all, the Creator made us in His image.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Saguaro Desert Old-Timers

Saguaro Desert Old-TimersThe saguaro (pronounced suh-wah-roh) cactus is found only in the Sonoran Desert areas of southern Arizona, northern Mexico, and a small area of southeast California. We call them saguaro desert old-timers for a good reason. Saguaros grow very slowly as a single stem for perhaps 75 years before developing arms. Plants with five arms may be 200 years old.

Saguaro flowers bloom at night from April to June. They close by noon the next day, never to open again. Saguaro flowers can only be fertilized by cross-pollination so there must be a creature to carry pollen from one plant to another. Because the flowers bloom at night, bats are the pollinators. They drink the nectar and transfer pollen from plant to plant.

A successfully pollinated flower will produce a green, oval-shaped fruit with bright red pulp. Many desert creatures eat the fruit and aid the saguaros by spreading their seeds. Only a small percentage of the seeds will ever germinate, but that’s okay because each flower produces as many as 4000 seeds.

Not only do the saguaros have a symbiotic relationship with the bats which consume their nectar and the many creatures who consume its fruit, but it also provides shelter for many desert animals. Saguaros become apartment houses for birds, lizards, desert rodents, and reptiles, as well as a whole entourage of insects.

Saguaros are remarkably well-designed for life in a dry climate. The outside of the plant has pleats like an accordion. The pleats allow expansion for storing large quantities of water when the rains come. As with other cacti, the saguaro has needles rather than leaves to reduce the loss of moisture by transpiration.

Saguaro desert old-timers are designed in a marvelous way to live in the harsh conditions of the desert while providing food and shelter for various desert creatures. They are another indication of a Master Designer of life.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

God’s Horticulture System

God's Horticulture SystemOne of the most interesting designs in the natural world is the way plants are seeded. For plants to grow, there must be soil, moisture, and the planting of the seeds. Many places have moisture and soil that could support plant life, but how do you get the seeds to that area? The solution is God’s horticulture system.

In our area of the world, we have seen human influence cause an area to be bare of significant trees or vines. The building of highways or the destruction of fires and floods can leave an area completely void of any kind of plant growth. Around the interstate highway system in our area, we see the growth of red cedars. These desirable trees are slow growing and can become valuable timber. The state doesn’t plant trees, and yet many red cedars are growing along our highways.

The animals planting these evergreens are birds. The cedars provide valuable habitats for the birds, and the birds plant the trees. Cedars produce blue berries that the birds eat. If you put one in your mouth, you would cringe at their bitter taste and obnoxious consistency. Birds eat them with zest and in large quantities. Birds get nutrition from the berries, and their digestive systems are specifically designed to process the seeds for growth. The birds drop the seeds along with natural fertilizer in barren places. Birds and trees benefit from this symbiosis in God’s horticulture system.

Other important seeders are squirrels. They are designed to bury seeds such as acorns, but their brain limitation causes them to forget a percentage of the seeds they bury. The design of fruits and nuts provide nutrition for animal life while the animals provide a means for the plants to grow in places far from their ancestors.

When scientists look at the diet of dinosaurs by examining their petrified excrement, they find that dinos were the seeders of their day. The plant-eating dinosaurs spread the seeds of the plants they ate along with nutrients that allowed fantastic jungles to form. The meat-eating dinosaurs kept the population of plant eaters under control so they wouldn’t eat all of the plants.

When we look at all the different kinds of seeds, the nutrients they contain, and where they can grow, we see a plan and design. Humans are still learning how to copy God’s horticulture system to feed our growing population.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Ice Algae – Designed Polar Grass

Ice Algae
Have you ever wondered how animals that live near Earth’s North and South Poles survive? What do they eat, and how can any kind of food chain exist? The answer to this is ice algae.

Unlike most plants, algae do not have flowers, roots, stems, leaves, or vascular tissue. However, ice algae, like most plants, provide the starting point for a food chain. In this case, it is a food chain in very cold places. Tiny krill, penguins, seals, polar bears, and blue whales all depend on ice algae to survive. In 2016 Dr. Thomas Brown of the Scottish Association for Marine Science studied polar bears and found that 86% of the polar bears’ nutrition came from a food chain that originated with ice algae.

Ice algae have chlorophyll so they can use whatever light is available for photosynthesis. There are a variety of types of algae that live in different conditions. Some live on the surface of the ocean, some on the floor of the ocean, and some in or on the ice itself. Ice algae produce fatty acids which supply nutritional value for animals that live in what would otherwise be a nutritional void. Because there is ice algae, animal life is abundant under, in, and around the ice at both poles.

God has provided interesting food chains all over the planet. As we study global warming and its effect on life in places like the polar seas, we see more of His handiwork and learn why we need to take care of it. The admonition of Genesis 2:15 to “take care of the garden to dress it and keep it” applies as much to us today as it did to Adam and Eve.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from National Wildlife, February/March 2019, pages 14-16.


Chocolate Flies at Work

Chocolate Flies at Work - Cacao Tree Flowers and Pod
Thank God for chocolate flies. No, we are not talking about chocolate-covered houseflies. That sounds repulsive to us too. We are talking about the tiny flies that are essential to the production of the chocolate we love.

Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) which is native to the rainforests of South America. When early tribes in the Amazon and Orinoco River area discovered uses for the cacao tree, they started what became a chocolate craze that is still going on today. From there, interest in the trees and the tasty substance they produce spread to more of northern South America, into Central America, and into Mexico. The Aztecs even used cacao beans as money.

However, growing the cacao beans is not easy. The tiny white flowers that produce the beans require a small insect pollinator. The flowers grow out of the trunk of the tree where pollination by a bird or mammal would not be practical. Even bees or butterflies are too large. That’s where the chocolate flies come in. The pollinators that can do the job are tiny flies, or midges, in the family Ceratopogonidae. They are small enough to get into the flowers, and they are on the right work schedule. The cacao flowers open just before dawn—a time when the midges are most active. It seems like a planned arrangement. They are not really chocolate flies, but they are essential helpers for chocolate farmers.

As farmers began to grow cacao on plantations, the pollination process was not working well. Human pollination of the flowers by hand is a difficult job and not as effective as the work of the little flies. The midges were not doing the job because they prefer the shade of the rainforest over the open spaces of cacao plantations. Coincidentally cacao trees grow well in shady areas.

Farmers found a solution by planting small areas of cacao in the ecosystem of rainforest areas. Of course, that limits the areas where it can be grown and thus the amount of chocolate produced. However, the people of the world will not give up their desire for chocolate, and a fly the size of a pin-head makes it possible. This is just one more example of the importance of rainforests and the excellent design God has given this amazing planet.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Beneficial Fungus Called Smut

Beneficial Fungus Called Smut
Those of us who have grown sweet corn have almost always had to fight smut. That black and gray growth on corn looks disgusting. It is actually a fungus known scientifically as Ustilago maydis, and it has been around for a long time. Even though we dislike it, in some ways smut is a beneficial fungus.

Archaeologists studying ancient Puebloan people have found significant amounts of corn smut spores in their feces. That indicates that maize (corn) made up as much as 80% of the diet of ancestral Puebloan people and it included a great deal of the fungus.

One of the mysteries of ancient peoples in America is why they didn’t have nutritional diseases that were common in the world at that time. The most serious of those was the skin disease pellagra which is caused by a lack of niacin (vitamin B3) in the diet. The amino acid that prevents pellagra is missing from the maize but is present in high concentrations in the smut.

We generally have a negative attitude toward fungi, but there are many examples of beneficial fungus. Remember that penicillin was derived from a fungus. Now we find corn smut also offers a benefit. God has a use for everything He created, but sometimes it takes us a while to figure out what that use is.

We have a children’s book about beneficial fungi, and you can see it online HERE.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Archaeology, November/December 2018, page 20.

Leaf Designs to Preserve Trees

Leaf Designs to Preserve Trees
We live in a part of the world where there are many trees. We also experience heavy winds that frequently blow down human-made structures. It is interesting that healthy trees are almost never blown down. When you stop to think about it, you would expect trees to be major victims of high winds. That is not the case, and it is due to leaf designs to preserve trees.

To survive strong winds, trees need two things. The most obvious is structural support–strong, flexible branches, sturdy trunks, broad bases, and good root anchorage. A more subtle requirement is leaf designs to preserve trees. Leaves must have minimal wind drag. A fluid, such as air, flowing around an object generates drag. To minimize drag requires some streamlining to reduce the amount of friction between the fluid and the object. A highly streamlined object will usually be gently rounded upstream and elongated and pointed downstream.

For healthy trees, the leaves offer the most surface area and thus the most drag. Trees most commonly blow over when in full leaf, so leaf design is critical to the survival of the tree. Different trees have different design features, but all of them are designed to avoid destruction in a wind storm. American holly leaves have a method that involves the leaves being able to flatten themselves against each other. When the wind becomes strong, the leaves turn and lie flat significantly reducing the drag.

Tulip tree leaf design allows the leaves to roll up when the wind gets strong. The blade of the leaf points away from the stem. As the wind blows against the leaf, it forms a cone pointing upwind at the stem. The blade forms the broad area of the cone away from the wind direction. The higher the wind, the tighter the cone and the less the wind resistance. Black locust leaves similarly roll together to produce a cylinder.

Each of these designs depends on the properties of the leaf. If the leaves were too stiff, they could not assume the right geometry. The flexibility of their stems has to be high, and the surface of the leaf must be carefully designed and restricted. You can argue that natural selection does all designing and that given enough time it will select the proper shape. But remember that changes in climate mean you don’t have infinite time to apply the process.

God’s engineering wisdom gave us leaf designs to preserve trees. The leaf design allows the longest season for each tree. Sit in your backyard on a breezy day and watch what the leaves do to preserve that tree you prize so highly.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Oak Tree Rodent Control

Oak Tree Rodent Control
There have been times in Earth’s history when rodents threatened to overrun areas of the planet. Sometimes humans upset the ecological balance leading to an overabundance of rodents. Then people have to find a way to keep them under control. But what if you are an oak tree with a mouse problem? Is there such a thing as oak tree rodent control?

Among other things, rodents eat acorns which are the seeds of oak trees. How can new oak trees be produced if the mice eat the seeds? Dr. Jerry Wolff of Oregon State University made a study of oak trees and white-footed mice in the Appalachian Mountains several years ago. Dr. Wolff found that oak trees in the Appalachian area synchronize their erratic production of acorns. In that way, they control the rodent population.

When the mouse population is low, the oak trees produce a massive number of acorns which swamps the mice with more acorns than they can eat. These well-fed rodents produce high numbers of offspring. Over the next three or four years acorns will be a scarce commodity, and so the rodent population crashes. At that point, the trees again synchronize and switch back to high volume acorn production. There are fewer rodents around to eat them resulting in a greater production of tree seedlings.

Trying to explain this by some chance process stretches credibility. The simpler view is that the DNA of the trees and the mice were designed to continue providing a constant growth of new trees and the production of acorns for the mice. There are many symbiotic relationships in nature where two species are dependent on each other. This oak tree rodent control is a design to guarantee that both species survive. Design indicates a Designer.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: This study first appeared in Discover magazine in 1992.

It’s Good to be Blue

It's Good to Be Blue Begonia Leaf
It’s a plant that uses quantum mechanics to make maximum use of minimum light, and in doing so, it displays blue leaves. The explanation of why blue begonias are blue is another demonstration of the incredible design built into all living things.

The tropical begonia (Begonia pavonina) that grows in Malaysia has leaves that are iridescent blue. The blue does not come from pigmentation, but rather from structural color, a technique that gives beautiful color to some birds, Butterflies, and beetles. In the leaves of all kinds of plants there are cellular capsules called chloroplasts, and inside those structures is a green substance known as chlorophyll. The chloroplasts are the organic machines that take energy from sunlight and chemicals from the soil to make organic energy that allows the plant grow.

Sunlight is a mixture of light at various energy levels, but green is the highest energy of sunlight reaching the surface of the Earth. Since the chlorophyll pigment reflects green light, the plant is protected from being damaged by the high-energy sunlight. We see the reflected green light, so the leaves look green.

Blue begonias live on the floor of dense rain forests where the forest canopy restricts the light. Inside the chloroplasts of these begonias, there are nano-structures called thylakoids where the energy conversion takes place. Other plants have thylakoids, but they are arranged differently in the begonia. Scientists using an electron microscope discovered that the thylakoids are aligned in a way that they act like crystals. In other plants, they are haphazard in their arrangement. Light bounces around within the thylakoids causing interference at certain wavelengths and reflecting the iridescent blue. The light is slowed down in this process so the plant can use more of the high-energy green and red light while reflecting the blue. These plants are using principles of quantum mechanics which scientists only began to learn about in the twentieth century.

The result is that the blue begonias get the nutrition they need to survive in a location with little sunlight, and we see the leaves as a beautiful blue. One science website described the alignment of the thylakoids in this way: “…they have an amazingly regular structure, which is obviously planned.” Here is the way another science website described the unique way these begonias efficiently use the limited sunshine they receive: “It seems selective evolution led the plants to engineer a nanoscale light-trapping structure, the likes we’ve only seen in miniature lasers and other photonic structures made by humans…”

We believe that planning requires a planner and engineering requires an engineer. As scientists study even the simplest forms of life, they find more and more evidence that God is ingenious in all He creates.

–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Cobra Plant Insect Trap

Cobra Plant
One of the most interesting areas of botany is the functioning of plants that don’t rely on photosynthesis to survive. Recent studies of the California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica), also known as the cobra plant because of its shape, have shown that its design is incredibly complex.

David Armitage at the University of Notre Dame has been studying this plant, and in a recent article in Science News (January 21, 2017, page 4) he reported on what is known about this strange plant. It grows in soil rich in serpentine which would kill most photosynthetic plants. The cobra plant survives by being “meat dependent.” Up to 95% of the nitrogen the plant uses comes from insects trapped inside the leaves of the plant.

The curled leaves of the California pitcher plant serve as an insect trap. It draws insects into the leafy trap by secreting a sweet substance. This secretion is not through its blossoms but from a special roll of tissue near the mouth of the insect trap. When an insect enters the small opening under the cobra-like head of the pitcher, something interesting happens. By a method still not understood, the cobra plant draws water up from the soil and creates a pool in the bottom of the “pitcher.” Putting other substances into the trap doesn’t trigger the water. The plant will only respond to an insect. How the plant knows what is a bug and what isn’t a bug is still not understood. The water contains bacteria which lower the surface tension, so when a bug falls in, it quickly sinks to the bottom and drowns.

Another unsolved mystery of this plant is that it has a forked tissue at the top of the trap called a “fishtail” which resembles a mustache with red veins. It does not lure insects into the plant, but its function is still not understood. Armitage says “The only thing fishtails lure, for the time being at least, are puzzled botanists.”

Those of us who see God’s designing hand in the natural world would see the cobra plant as a special design to meet a particular environment. We would point to the Bible in Romans 1:20 where it says, “We can know there is a God through the things he has made.” The complexity of the California pitcher plant supports such a viewpoint in a special way.
–John N. Clayton © 2017